It is so exciting to begin reading the prophet Amos together. Amos wasn’t a prophet by profession, or a pastor; he was a herder and a dresser of sycamore trees speaking with such power to the powers that be. “Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions and for four, I will not revoke punishment!” You tell them, Amos, you tell them!
You tell them, Amos. Tell ISIS that they are an abomination and not of Islam!
You tell fundamentalists, Amos, in every religion that they can’t treat women, gays, minorities in ways that are abusive and demeaning; you tell Uganda and the Central African Republic, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.
You tell Volkswagen, Amos, that they can’t cheat for profit.
You tell them, Amos, where children go to bed hungry and whole populations are caught in the swales of urban poverty.
You tell them, Amos, where house flippers and toxic loans destroy whole communities.
You tell them, Amos, priests and pastors who prey on children and then go to the altar.
You tell them, Amos, the rich folks, those “cows of Bashan!” You tell them, Amos, those countries that fill jails as a means of social control. You tell them, Amos, those countries that hide behind a veil of exceptionalism. You tell them, Amos, let them have it; those who dwell in iniquity!
Wow! I feel better. It is fun to be a prophet. To climb upon the soap box and declare the “word of the Lord!” It makes me light-headed!
But as the anger of God is kindled and the words of Amos first directed to Damascus and then to Gaza and then Tyre, to Edom and the Ammonites and Moab) slowly and deliberately Amos’ judgments turn towards Judah and Israel.
Yes, in time, we will get to the words of restoration, to the promise of forgiveness and reconciliation. In time, we will get to the grace of Jesus Christ. But you can’t get there too quickly. Sometimes we must be forced to stay in discomfort, dis-ease, and take a look around.
The opening chapter of Amos is remarkable and powerful – from commenting upon the sins of “those” people, slowly and deliberately Amos turns towards the chosen.
I will never forget one of the most prophetic moments in this church. At a brown bag lunch after church to talk about a racial situation in Orange and in Pepper Pike – and how messed up it all was—a man with the prophetic spirit called everyone’s attention away from “those” communities to “this” community.
And not too long ago when someone called my attention: “You say you are a welcoming and affirming church, but how would someone really know if they walked through these doors that you want to become a racially inclusive church, a welcoming congregation for GLBTQ? “
The visitor who can’t find the right door to enter or who can’t see the door up the ramp hidden by a tree. Not “fire and brimstone retribution” type oversights… but still. It is easy to cast stones, or to criticize. It’s harder to turn and look in the mirror. And even then we see only what we wish to see.
And I am challenged this morning by other things. We can rest, some of us who call ourselves progressive liberals or compassionate conservatives, on the systemic issues – the view from 50,000 feet – as long as we keep it political we don’t have to move to the personal. But Amos calls you and me to religious purity as well as political equity; to be personally honest as well as socially conscious. God is also concerned with what we do to and with our bodies and how we worship.
Perhaps, as the great Rabbi Abraham Heschel once wrote: “We are not all guilty, but we are all responsible.” God’s anger is kindled against the institutions and structures of which we are all a part.
These are not comforting words.
The words of Amos come to me like an “intervention!” or a “care-frontation” and it is from God to me – no hiding. Tell the truth about yourself.
Thus says the Lord, “I will not revoke punishment.” I am deeply agitated because I wonder if the Lord isn’t going to send punishment, but instead, allow us to reap what we sow.
If you smoke too much, you know the dangers; God doesn’t send the medical issues.
If we treat our poor with neglect, it isn’t God who causes the riots.
It wasn’t God who caused the holocaust; we brought that horror on the Jews.
It wasn’t God who brought down the Twin Towers or burst the bubble of Wall St.
These happen because we have forgotten the covenant and turned our backs on our creator.
You see, even in our prophetic temper, we seek to remove responsibility from ourselves and place it on God and then even blame God for being vindictive and judgmental and angry.
The prophet is not fortune telling. Amos observes what is going down. He sees the obvious, reading the signs, commenting upon what should be plain to all.
It isn’t God who is bringing disaster like a punishing parent. As I read Amos, God is actually the victim, not us. God has created, redeemed, and forgiven. God has come among us, shown us how to live. It is God who has given the covenant of redemption, of love. And from Adam and Eve right through to today – we forget.
Deanne and I watched a very lovely movie the other night. Someone in this congregation lent us “As It Is In Heaven” (about three years ago! I would like to finally give it back!) The movie is about community and love and redemption and truth telling. It is about a church choir! And there are two scenes that moved me deeply and made me think that God—far from being the divine punishing bully who doesn’t intervene until all hell breaks loose—is really the one who is being bullied.
In the film Gabrielle is an abused wife. Her husband beats her. The church choir loves her but turns the other way; everyone knows, nobody acts. Finally Gabrielle stands up and the community stands with her – and her bully husband leaves.
God is Gabrielle – God has given us everything and each day I forget. Each day I think I am the creator and master of my own life. Each day we believe we can make money on the backs of the poor. Each day we abuse the environment and deny the cause. And God can no longer protect us… God must arise and say NO MORE!
There is a man in the movie choir who is overweight; another man in the choir calls him “Fatso.” Until one night at practice he is called “Fatso” one time too many and he fights back.
God is “Fatso” – finally arising and through Amos shouting ENOUGH! Don’t treat me like this. Don’t treat my children like this… you know better; you have the covenant.
God is the under-served, the felon who can’t get a job, the boy who is serving time because of a nickel bag, the gay boy who stands on a bridge ready to jump, the mother working three jobs, the child dodging bullets, the Polish Jew in Auschwitz.
It is when we see the divine in others, the indelible mark of a beloved child in ourselves that we move from finger pointing to serving, from guilt to repentance, from ignoring God to seeing God all around – the covenant restored.
“For three transgressions and for four” The anger of God points to the very place where the grace of God is yearning to break through.
And it is up to you and me.