Scripture: Amos 5: 4 – 15
Mighty God, you reign supreme. Your authority is over all. We humans squirm as we come to terms with your utter integrity and our wavering standards.
Now, today, we want to listen again for and respond to your high calling on our lives.
Reach into our depths and examine our wayward responses, as we cry out to you.
We so need your shaping of our lives, so that we live each day with kindness and truth, and pass on justice and peace by our words and actions.
Now may my words be your words and our thoughts your thoughts, as we seek to dwell in your word, and obey your commandments, we pray in the strong name of Jesus our Saviour and Lord,
Warning – personal questions follow.
- Are there, do you think, passages in the Bible that you find easier to ignore than others?
- Are some, Biblical themes, in your mind, less spiritual than others?
- Do some topics crop up in sermons from time to time that you think only apply to other people but not to you?
We’ve probably all been guilty of such attitudes from time to time. God can’t possibly be talking to me about this issue, surely! “I’m all sorted in this area of life, and don’t struggle at all with such temptations. I’m way beyond needing or heeding these warnings!”
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So it may be when we hear the prophecy of the psalmist from Psalm 85, in verse 10
“Kindness and truth shall meet,
Justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
And justice shall look down from heaven.”
Maybe that applies, we think, to world leaders – politicians surely need to know of this prophecy, and change their behaviour accordingly!
It’s so easy and tempting isn’t it to regard some passages of Scripture as somehow more ‘holy’ and ‘spiritual’ than others? We can become as slippery as eels, devising reasons why certain teachings don’t apply any longer in our contexts, and don’t therefore need to have any impact on our lives.
So it can easily be with Old Testament passages, especially those from the prophets who on the surface might come across as grumpy old men wanting to spoil our fun.
That’s why we need to consciously put on ‘new ears’ as we hear from within our context the warnings of the Old Testament prophets. Yes, they were writing several centuries before Jesus, in the case of Amos, whose words from God we hear today, seven and a half centuries in fact. We know that when Amos was recording what he heard God saying to him it was nearly halfway through the eighth century BC, as Uzziah was King of Judah, and Jeroboam was King of Israel, so this would have been around 767 – 753 BC. In many ways, we will find, his setting was not as different from our own as we might imagine, a community in which Gospel values need to flourish so that everyone can lead an abundant life.
Amos came from Tekoa, a town about ten miles south of Jerusalem, in the hill country of Judah, the southern Kingdom of Israel, but he preached to the people of the northern Kingdom. He spoke honestly of what he saw, at the time, and peering into the future, of what both God was doing and what the people of the time and the place were doing, and how they were living. He observed with his eyes and in his spirit that the two often didn’t match up at all. That after all, was the job description of a prophet, a person through whom God speaks to the people. Our English word ‘prophet’ comes from the Greek ‘prophetes’ meaning ‘one who speaks for another’ especially for the gods, and in Hebrew the term ‘navi elohim’ meaning ‘one who communicates the divine will’.
Amos didn’t pretend to be anything other than who he was, a shepherd, although that doesn’t mean he was necessarily simple or rough, as the Hebrew word used to describe Amos the first time he is introduced, in the very first verse of the Book of Amos, means ‘sheep-breeder’ indicating he could have been an owner of sheep, in charge in fact of other shepherds, and a respected man in his community.
The warning that God gave to Amos to pass on to the people challenged their concept of justice. They were very pleased with themselves as they were, for their economy was in a buoyant state and they were determined to keep that way by keeping on behaving as they were. They didn’t see anything wrong with their life style, because materially they seemed to be prospering. Amos’ words, straight from the mouth of God, convict the people of their unfairness to others. They, in turn, simply couldn’t understand this. They were doing well, so what was the problem?
But Amos didn’t mince his words. He accused them of abusing those who were helpless and of oppressing the poor. He judged the immorality of men in their abusive relationships with women, and warned that God would judge the nation. The gospel value we’re exploring today of course is justice which presents a level playing field, which aims for a society in which everyone has a fair chance of participating and contributing.
Jesus said ‘I have come so that they (we) may have life in all its fullness.’ (John 10: 10). That’s a statement of and an invitation to generosity, abundance – and equality.
So who in our community, in our nation is receiving, or showing generosity, abundance and equality? I was particularly struck by a couple of headlines and articles in the ODT yesterday.
Firstly in the weekend ‘regions’ section of the paper a large headline caught my eye below a stunning photo of Lake Wanaka, showing one of the estates bought by an American billionaire, with the article going on to outline a number of other large and stunning properties purchased by wealthy overseas buyers. Now we’re certainly not here to debate the rights and wrongs of such land sales but simply to highlight some examples of possible anomalies and injustice. No doubt we could name many more situations that we know of in private and public spheres, where much is received by or given to a very few, while the majority miss out. We wonder what Amos would have said about such abuses of justice.
Inside the paper yesterday, in the Weekend Mix a headline shouted out ‘What to do about men’! The article outlines the extent of family abuse in our country, speculating on its causes. We read that police register a new family violence investigation every five and a half minutes. In NZ, the article told us, an average of 14 women, 6 men and 10 children, are killed by a member of their family every year. Even though it doesn’t sound like it the writer of the article, went on to take a positive approach, interviewing those in the social services who are actively working with men, and women, to change their behaviour, so that the same violent behaviour isn’t perpetuated in a new relationship and that violent patterns learned as children aren’t automatically carried on through the generations.
Into all this echo Jesus’ culture-challenging words from the Sermon on the Mount. Truth that takes our breath away with its fullness and grace.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see god.
Blessed are the children of God, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted, because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5: 3 – 10)
To those who think that everything of value can be bought and sold, to those who treat people like commodities and for those who have no comprehension of the power of prayer, of the lordship of Jesus Christ or the authority and freedom that is found in the Word of God, these scriptural promises seem topsy-turvy, inside out and upside down and even plain foolish.
But listen to the apostle Pau’s words to the Corinthians who were quarrelling with one another, and embracing divisions instead of unity in the body of Christ. Paul speaks into their confusion and conflict like this – “For the message of the cross is foolish to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…. God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1: 18, 27)
God isn’t interested in worship, or life styles that cost us nothing. He gave everything for us in the gift of His Son, and delights in our total belonging to Him.
Luke 6: 38 “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
This is why God’s justice is complete, not half-hearted, or in any way conforming to the standards of this world.
The way God deals with us and all people is transformative and life changing – on both sides of the grave.
It is alarmingly easy to put blinkers on when we read Scripture and assume that many verses apply to other people, but not to us. We readily decide that it is the behaviour of others that is being described and challenged. We even find ourselves making value judgements that some biblical themes are not relevant today or oddly that some are even less ‘Christian’ than others. Perhaps we more readily come to such conclusions in the writings of the Old Testament.
But our God is a writer of wrongs and a searcher of souls. God will not let injustice triumph, James Mays in his book simply called ‘Amos’ describes what Amos was observing like this: “The courts are being used to exploit the weak, but the justice of God will frustrate the lives of the exploiter.” (Amos, by James Mays, SCM Press, 1969, page 90)
The results speak for themselves. Justice and truth will triumph. The people, in Amos’ time, and in ours, will be blessed, as they, we humble ourselves and turn to God, in all areas of life, not just in those we judge to be more spiritual. God’s justice is total and inclusive – it is for all people.
“Let justice run down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Amos 5: 24.
Then, when our worship of Almighty God is authentic and our prayers are desperate for we understand our own weakness, when in humility we worship God not because of our own superiority but from our own need, then justice and righteousness will flow in our land.
So is it still ‘less spiritual’ to put time and energy in to issues of justice and peace? Does God hear and answer our prayers for all to prosper in every way, as much as He answers our prayers for healing or for lost people to find salvation in Jesus?
God speaks strongly into our lives about both our relationship with Him, and our daily, sometimes gritty relationships with others.
Charles, or Chuck Swindoll, Chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary, and mentor to many pastors, brings together the themes of service to others, challenging human structures and depending on God in prayer in this description of what we can learn from the prophet Amos…..
“The prophecy of Amos should simplify the choices in our lives. Instead of choosing between prayer and service, the book of Amos teaches us that both are essential. God has called Christians not only to be in relationship with Him but also to be in relationships with others. For those Christians whose tendency has been to focus more on the invisible God than on His visible creation, Amos pulls us back toward the centre, where both the physical and the spiritual needs of people matter in God’s scheme of justice.”
Charles Swindoll, on Insights for Living Ministries website
Prayer as we respond to God