The genocide in Rwanda.
Residential schools in Canada.
The financial bailout of 2008 and subsequent bonus payouts.
Each of these is a situation where individuals with power or wealth used their positions to the determent of others in society.
Each a situation where we can say we know better, we can do better, we expect better.
Each is a situation where we might hold another individual or organization accountable for its actions.
Each is a situation where we could easily be a member of the guilty party.
Amos Provides a Hard Lesson – Audio Sermon
In Canada, and North America in general, we have enjoyed several decades of economic prosperity. However, not everyone has prospered. The gap between rich and poor has grown and in recent years the middle class has felt squeezed. As our government seeks to pay down debt that has been incurred due to war and mismanagement various social programs are cut or altered. Politics inevitably serve the interest of those in power. The recent Senate scandals, cancellation of power plants all appear to be political decisions, decisions that benefit those in power. Invariably the poor, the overworked have no advocate other than a just and holy God and those who serve that God.
Amos holds the people of Israel accountable for their actions. His prophetic words cut deep and provide a stark picture for Israel. He holds a mirror up to society and says, “Look, see what you have done and how you have behaved.”
Amos’ ministry occurs during a time of prosperity and co-operation between the kingdom of Israel in the north and Judah in the south. This prosperity leads to wealth for some and with that wealth the covenant responsibilities of Israel begin to erode. The people forget their obligations to the poor, the needy and the stranger in their midst.
The section of Amos we are looking at this morning comes near the end of the prophet’s writings. It is a challenging piece of scripture, for it is ominous in its tone and intent. It begins with a pun in the Hebrew. The word for ‘summer fruit’ and ‘the end’ in Hebrew sound similar. The NIV translation maintains the pun translating the section as the “The time is ripe for Israel.” What is also interesting about this section of Amos is that the prophet is not speaking to Israel right now. Instead we are party to a private conversation between Amos and God. And in this scripture God is telling Amos that the time has come for Israel, they have strayed for too long and too far from their covenant responsibilities.
Consider that God says in verse 3 “the songs of the temple shall become wailings in that days … the dead bodies shall be many, cast out in every place. Be silent!” When God is rendering judgment on you in such a way it would be wise to pay attention.
The people of Israel are more concerned with skipping the Sabbath and getting back to work. Not so they can run an honest business, but so they can buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals. The images in this passage and indeed in all of Amos are stark. They are disturbing and they should be. As theologian Willis Jenkins notes, “Amos’ creative hyperbole illustrates how life within an unjust social ecology can make it nearly impossible to hear God’s words … Amos’ words must silence society’s discrediting religious noise and political spin long enough for people to hear simple words of justice.”
In providing his prophetic message Amos is not shy about naming names. He calls out the king, the wealthy, the merchants, those with power and access within society. Amos is a book that should make us uncomfortable, it should make us queasy. Will Willimon writes, “if a congregation squirms under such close prophetic scrutiny – if they thing that the preacher has lapsed into mixing religion with politics and spirituality with economics – then they ought to be reminded of the precedent set by Amos and the requirements for worshiping the true and living God! There is no shortage of names that can be named today.” And I include my own name in that list.
I think we often fall into the trap of thinking about God on Sunday. But that isn’t what God wants from us. That we are followers of Christ goes with us to the office on Monday, to little league on Tuesday night and on and on through the week. Worshiping and serving God doesn’t end when this service is over, it carries on. God doesn’t want lip service, God wants it all.
This is the message that Amos had for Israel. Stop paying lip service and live up to your obligations. Israel and us by extension are fortunate enough to serve a God who calls us to account, who holds us responsible for our actions and demands more from us. This message is not unique to Amos, in Psalm 52 which we read this morning we hear an echo of Amos. The Psalm is angry and in verse 7 we read, “Here now is the man who did not make God his stronghold but trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others!” This is not the behaviour that God is searching for in us, this is not the behaviour that God expects from us.
I know that the congregation here at Trafalgar is already committed to issues of justice and equality. The work the congregation does in partnership with Donaghey Square is testament to this. However, are we just paying lip service to this to feel good? Are we helping our neighbours out, but ignoring the systematic and political realities that keep them in this place within society? I’m not saying that the work that is done here, the mission and the ministry are bad. Far from it! But do we go far enough in advocating for others?
Now I’m not talking about us as individuals. I’m not referring to you, or you, or you and what you are doing as an individual about that. Rather I am talking about us. Are we as the church doing enough or could we do more?
What is required today in order to get the plight of the poor on the political radar of an indifferent governing class? How in our highly integrated economic system do we say that profit is not what God is interested in, but instead the way to be in line with God is to advocate for the poor, the homeless and the powerless?
Are we in line with God’s plan or does the message of Amos hit a little too close to home? Again I’m not speaking of us as individuals; but us as a society, us as the church.
Perhaps our gospel lesson summed it up best. Are we Mary, sitting and listening at the feet of the Lord? Or are we Martha too busy with the day to day and our own concerns to notice the truth that is before us. Too busy to truly engage in the covenant call. This is the message that Amos delivered to Israel. At what point do we say enough is enough and demand change from those who are able to influence change. Amen.
Text: Amos 8: 1-14