Stories of the OT: Amos

Image by Amber Clay from Pixabay

Opening Hymn

Reading: Amos 5:18-24 (NLT)

18 What sorrow awaits you who say,
    “If only the day of the Lord were here!”
You have no idea what you are wishing for.
    That day will bring darkness, not light.
19 In that day you will be like a man who runs from a lion—
    only to meet a bear.
Escaping from the bear, he leans his hand against a wall in his house—
    and he’s bitten by a snake.
20 Yes, the day of the Lord will be dark and hopeless,
    without a ray of joy or hope.

21 “I hate all your show and pretense—
    the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.
22 I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings.
    I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings.
23 Away with your noisy hymns of praise!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice,
    an endless river of righteous living.

Sermon by Colin Udall (Lay Reader)

When I was growing up in London, things were very different to what they are now.  When you watch British films of the 60’s and 70’s you see that the traffic was actually moving and people could park right outside the shops they wanted to visit, even in the busy areas of the West End.  And that’s how it was.  Security wasn’t as heightend as it is today.  You could walk into the Houses of Parliament to lobby your MP.  On a scout treasure hunt across London once, we were asked to get the autograph of the policeman on duty in Downing Street.  There was just one.  He was stood on the steps of No. 10.  There was nobody else about and we got his details and his autograph.  There were no massive gates at the end of the road and there were no armed officers anywhere.

Occasionally my dad and I would go into London to see particular sights or to walk around Hyde Park.  At Christmas we occasionally looked around Hamley’s toy store on Regent Street.  Once or twice we went to Speaker’s Corner, near Marble Arch to listen to the people on their soap boxes, trying to gather a crowd to hear what they had to say.  There was one man who always had a crowd.  I didn’t know him then, I was too young, but in time I learnt that it was Lord Soper, the Methodist minister who would be at Speaker’s Corner every Sunday afternoon, and before that at Tower Hill on a Wednesday, preaching and teaching on his favourite subjects in the Bible.

And this is how I imagine how Amos, our Old Testament character for today spent his ministry. Lord Soper would preach about pacifism at the time when the Cold War meant that we were continually building nuclear weapons  all over the world as a threat to each other.  In many ways pacifism was the LAST subject people wanted to hear about.  Just about as popular as a talk today on why increasing Income Tax for everybody would be a good thing.

Amos was born in Judea around 780BC but called to preach to the Israelites in the northern kingdom.  At a time of prosperity in Israel, it was also a time when people didn’t believe they needed God, because they already had everything they wanted.  They were relatively well-off, the harvests were good, trade with other nations was good and it was a fairly peaceful time in Israel’s history.

Amos wasn’t a prophet by profession, he was a sheep herdsman and a sycamore fig grower.  It is thought he began preaching around 782BC, as he mentions an earthquake, which records show happened around 780BC, and which must have been quite a sizeable quake as it is mentioned by Zechariah several hundred years later.

It is thought that the Book of Amos was written by him personally, partially as a record of what he had said, but also as a continuing message to the Israelites after he was banned from preaching in Israel by the chief priest at the time, Amaziah, so returned to Judah to write instead.

So the passage we have today is Amos teaching a message of justice.  I am sure some of you will have sometimes wondered what it would be like if Jesus returned today. Would it be a good thing?  Would He take the World’s stage and fix all the bad things, get everyone’s attention and show us the way ahead so that the world can live in peace and prosperity?  Or would it be Judgement Day when the sheep and the goats would be separated?

Amos here is telling them it would be the latter.  God will come to judge us all.  For us today, Jesus has ALREADY shown us the way to live in peace and prosperity with our neighbours.  We as a society, as a world, choose, in the main, to take or leave that message.  We, here in the UK, for all the other difficulties going on at the moment, live in relative prosperity, in peaceful times.  The supermarket shelves are full and we can usually get what we want and need.  And, if we choose to share our wealth properly, we can ensure that everyone else has what they need, too.

It is this final point that Amos is really driving home.  Just as Jesus did hundreds of years later, when he called the Pharisees “hypocrites” for all their religious pomp and outward show, whilst the poor and the widows were forgotten, Amos is giving the same message to the Jewish people.  Being Jewish or Christian isn’t just about turning up to the Temple or Synagogue or churches and doing the religious things; being seen to sing hymns and pray in front of others, but it is also about looking after the poor, the homeless and the widow.  It is also about making sure that you don’t exploit your workers or your refugees.  As Amos says in the passage that precedes today’s reading, in verses 12-14 he says “you oppress the righteous and take bribes, you deprive the poor of justice in the courts…seek good not evil, that you may live, then the Lord God Almighty will be with you just as you say He is” (NIV)

Amos and Jesus have both given us the message and all the teaching we need about what God really wants from us and the lives we need to live.  It is not about going to church, good though that is; it is so much more about how we make sure that everyone is treated equally; how we use our money, time and talents to serve others and arguing for change when we see wrong things happening.  We can see how global campaigns DO make a difference.  Drop the Debt in the past, #Me Too and Black Lives Matter more recently.  We can ALL make our world a better place; we can all do our bit; we can all help the streams of justice and righteousness flow.

Amen

Intercessions

Lord God, we pray today for all the people
given the great privilege of spreading your gospel.

We pray for the Church worldwide,
but in particular in the places where people
are still persecuted for their beliefs.

We pray for our ministers,
who prayerfully seek your face, and bring us the words
and understanding we need to become more faithful followers of you.

We pray for writers and poets, as they pore over your Word,
and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit
to bring your message to life on the page.

We pray for artists and all craftspeople who draw inspiration
from your Word, and speak to us through their creations.
Amen.

(Taken from rootsontheweb.com)

Closing Hymn

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