“SOMETIMES GOOD NEWS STINKS”
AMOS 7.7-17 July 14, 2019
He is a simple man of less than average means. Okay, let’s be honest, he is poor. Most of us would call him “dirt poor”. He works on land that others own. He was born in a country to the south of the very rich nation in which he now finds himself. Long before he was born, the larger, more powerful country to the north had subdued the political leaders of his country into submission. And in his search for work, food, basic survival; for himself and his family, he has been forced to cross the border, into the land of prosperity. It is called a land of promise and hope.
A herdsman of good experience – he works well with both cattle and sheep. Yet, things being like they are; he often finds himself working on the farms and in the orchards instead. But whenever the opportunity presents itself he prefers to work with the animals. He likes being out on the hills. The animals trust in him. He can love and care for them without fear of getting hurt. I guess you could say he sort-of prefers the quiet, awe-inspiring power of nature, over the brazen, loud, threatening power of people who look down on him as worthless.
Sitting for hours at night on top of the rolling hills, he can look out across the flat valley floor for miles and miles. He can see the patchwork of crops below and it is almost as if he can reach up and touch the stars surrounding him in glittering light.
Out there, alone, it is almost like being back home. He misses his village, his wife and family. Back home – he knows everyone by name. He is an important man. They are so proud of him for making money to keep them alive. He prays God’s blessing on them. He hopes – he prays maybe, one day soon, he will be able to go back; but not yet. Sure, they don’t have much in his village, but everyone is in the same boat together. Share and share alike. Family to family. No one ever stuffs themselves at dinner; if they know their neighbor has nothing for their table. Better all in the village have only one meal each day, than for some to go hungry.
And the festivals. Can they throw a party! Everyone turns out when the church celebrates its holy days. Of course, no one ever misses the Sabbath. All they have and are, their very existence depends on God. It is God who waters their crops, who cares for them in giving birth, it is God who carries them home when they grow too old and weak to walk. Maybe someday he will be able to go back. But not today.
Today, he has been released from the flock. The lambs are ready for market now and his services are no longer needed. Hopefully, the orchards are ready to harvest. Then he can continue to eat and help his family.
You know, it hardly seems fair. He had come to this country, this land of opportunity, with the best of intentions. He is a hard worker, he never expects something for nothing. However, it is hard to understand why the merchants and landowner are so greedy – always wanting more – caring nothing that their workers are hungry. He puts it this way, “They sold the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trampled the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and pushed the afflicted out of their way.” Surely, this was never God’s plan for his people.
The greed really bothered him, but it wasn’t the straw that finished off the hay wagon, it was the obvious incongruity between what these wealthy folks practiced and what they preached. They seemed to have no fear of God.
Oh, some of them still went to worship, at least they went through the motions, but it was apparent it was all mere formality. Just in case, God really was the one and only God. Just in the off chance there was truth in the notion that their fine and pleasant lives really did hinge on a covenant made years and years ago. Just covering their bets as it were, in the event YHWH might demand of them their soul that very night.
They aren’t really worshipping and praising God, they are marking time until they can get back to making more and more money at the expense of the poor. Our friend puts it like this: “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the Sabbath, so we may offer wheat for sale?” The real object of their worship is themselves. They are no better than any of their neighbors who worship idols. Just part of the culture they profess to be better than.
Yes, our friend is a foreigner in a nation that has forgotten who is “The God” and who are “the people”. And from all accounts, life is good for this country to the north. They have no reason to want to change their way of living – the nation is in a grand period of economic prosperity. Overall, they seemed to be a blessed people – chosen by God. Except for an occasional prophet of doom – but those can be easily silenced. “Go back home to your village!” (the powerful and prestigious political and religious leaders of the nation say. “Make your noise on somebody else’s time.” Nobody wants to hear all that bad stuff!
And then it happened. Our friend could not take it anymore.
The young of the poor had lost all hope. They were becoming thieves and joining together in gangs. Violent without reason. Good, young men of honest, struggling families lashing out; and young girls who no longer had enough self-esteem to protect their bodies. He could not stand by and watch anymore without speaking. “Could the justice of a loving God be far away? Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”
Our friend could have been any number of those who speak out against the stream of ambivalence, complacency, and ignorance within our own privileged society; however our friend today is Amos.
He prophesied the coming Babylonian exile of the Israelites to a people who did not want to listen. Amos wasn’t a politician or a priest. He was a layperson just like you, whose life was interrupted by a divine commission – the irresistible power of God calling one to action.
Here is his message: “God is not a national puppet to be mobilized exclusively by the powerful and wealthy. Israel is to serve God – not the other way around. Although on the outside, the nation seemed prosperous and healthy, inwardly it was diseased with a spreading cancer of self-idolatry.
God’s patience, God’s willingness to bear with sinners, waiting for them to change, was an attribute of God that the Israelite people gratefully celebrated. “Slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” had become a kind of credo. But that great truth about a great God had become cheap grace.
Amos was attempting to wake the righteous up. To shatter their complacency and false security. The election of Israel as a chosen people was not a guarantee against punishment. It was a special calling to greater responsibility.
Amos was called to preach harsh words in a smooth season. And he was right on target. In the first few months of 721 before the Common Era, after a 3 year siege, all Samaria fell to the Assyrians. Not 40 years between his words and their reality. The Israelites were obliterated.
Hear the words of the Gospel of Matthew, the 25th chapter: Then the Son of Man will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? When was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we was you sick or in prison and visited you?”
And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
You know, sometimes the Good News – stinks. Every day in every way you and I are confronted by choices. It is so much easier to ignore the uncomfortable, to hide behind our protected walls. But we cannot hide from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “Love the Lord, you God, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus tells us our neighbor is the unclean Samaritan, it is the woman who has to come to the well at midday, it is the homeless and abandoned lying outside of the rich man’s house; these are the ones to whom the keys of the kingdom of God belong.
Our neighbors include migrant farm workers, refugees of war, the urban poor, the young teens kicked out of their families and onto the streets when the parents find out the child is gay. They are young people who see no hope for their future and try to find self-esteem and value and finding is in all the wrong places, because all the right places have told them not to bother.
Our calling as “a special people set aside” by God is to love. To love all, even the unlovable. Jesus says to the lawyer, “which of these 3 do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
The word of God, for the people of God, thanks be to God.