Better Run Amos Has Come
Amos 8: 1 – 12
When Amos comes its time to run. And least that’s what the message he delivered implied. It was a like an old western shoot out, with everyone running for cover. His target was the beautiful and powerful people and drawing a bead on them he shot from the hip without so much as a miss.
As Frederick Buechner describes them in his book Peculiar Treasures: They were sleek and tanned and vacationed at Palm Beach, Acapulco, and St. Tropez. They glisten with Bain de Soleil. The stereo plays over the outdoor speakers and the drums beat and re-beat across the marble terrace upon which they sip their Gray Goose Martini’s in the summer heat.
And a tray of bloody Marys makes its way around the grounds. Sir / Ma’am may I refresh your drink? A vacationing bishop plunges into the infinity pool overlooking the squalor that lies not far enough away.
With one eye cocked on the waiter, not wanting to be too far out of reach, he keeps his other eye locked on the people who make up for his stay. The old woman who makes his room whose legs are made unsightly by varicose veins. Why must she work here he thinks? A downer for sure.
She reminds him of the all those he passed. The pasty faced starch fed child, the winos passed out on the railroad siding, the crazy old woman fumbling and rumbling through the shopping cart that contains her life.
When justice is finally done, Amos says, there will be hell to pay for everyone. Happy Hour called off indefinitely because the Puccini blouses, the tangerine colored slackers, the flowered Lilly’s will all fade like grass. They think their wealth and prestige has made them powerful. Instead it has made them vulnerable to judgment day.
If there had been a Wall Street Journal in the time of Amos, the headlines would have read like this: “Dow Jones Average Hits New Record High” Unemployment at Lowest Rates in Decades” “Housing Starts at Ten Year High” “Interest Rates to Go Lower” “Consumer Confidence Rises Again”
Under King Jeroboam II there had been several decades of prosperity, which had led Israel to develop an exaggerated sense of exceptionalism. As the “haves” grew in wealth they also grew deaf to God’s concern for the poor, and once God is taken out of the equation it’s just a matter time until corruption enters every aspect of your culture.
They traded the God of their scriptures in for an ideology of nation, which said the rich, should be blessed at all cost. The “have not’s” on the other hand grew increasingly impoverished, driven further into debt and forced into slavery by their richer brothers and sisters. And for them it must have seemed as though God had made it so.
That is until Amos arrived firing out words of God that said otherwise. Like the minority report or an alternative news source, Amos spoke to Israel’s national delusions. He was the classic outsider who preached from the unpatriotic fringe. He was blue-collar rather than blue-blooded.
He was neither a prophet nor even the son of a prophet, just a farmer from a little town south of Jerusalem by the name of Tekoa. But his message was anything but little. With complete confidence he thundered at Israel: “The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: ‘Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.” That old saying is true: You will reap just what you sew.”
Amos delivered a withering critique of Israel’s entire culture. He described how the rich trampled the poor. He said the affluent flaunted their expensive lotions, elaborate music, and vacation homes with beds of inlaid ivory. Fathers and sons do shameful things with the temple prostitutes. Corrupt judges sold justice to the highest bidder, predatory lenders exploited vulnerable families and worst of all the religious leaders like our bishop mentioned above pronounced God’s blessings on it all.
But Amos said it’s like a basket of summer fruit. It looks and smells good for a few days, but rottenness is just around the corner. The good times won’t last forever. The good times can’t last. God will spoil them. The plans, the fortunes, the achievements, whatever has been dishonestly gained and deceptively maintained, God will spoil. Why? Because God notices even when we don’t.
But I wonder how many of us live like God notices? How many of us believe that God really cares how we vote, how we use our time and our money, whom do we use it for, on whose behalf do we advocate? But then why should we be any different than Israel? I mean they didn’t listen to Amos. In fact they drove him out of town. So if it depends on us than I say we are lost.
But children understand that God is close. They understand that God is interested in their lives. They express it in their prayers. They thank God for their families and friends, for gifts. They ask God to cancel school, to heal a sick friend, and help them with their homework. Children believe that God notices them and they matter to God.
And because they believe that God notices, children are not afraid to challenge God. They ask God why people are hungry. They ask God why people kill each other. They ask why? And because they do this they bring God back to life. When Amos pronounced judgment upon Israel the judgment was that God would remove himself and remain silent.
Children remind me that God is not silent. Children remind me that God notices us, cares for us and is hurt by us. What we do matters to God, which means that ultimately people matter to God. That can be fearful news to a society consumed with consuming, or it can be good news the way children think on God. A God close enough to help with homework, compassionate enough to talk to, gracious enough to bring good gifts, loving enough to hear our cries and complaints, and powerful enough to help us out.
A God who notices is only as good as your perspective. Or maybe we should leave this idea of a God who notices to children and to a crazed preacher like Amos. We know better, don’t we? We know the Bible doesn’t always mean what it says. We know that Jesus was just teasing when he said we had to enter kingdom of God like a child. (Luke 18:17). We know that ripe summer fruit will never spoil. We know that – right? Amen