At the Water's Edge: Amos 5:6-8; 21-24
July 30, 2017
Amos 5:6-8; 21-24
Continue in our series “At the Water’s Edge.” Today is our last text in the Old Testament. Rev. Ken Eriks will be preaching next Sunday on the baptism of Jesus…and we’ll be in the NT all the way to Labor Day weekend.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our journey through these passages that happen where water meets land…I know I have…and I’ve so enjoyed seeing the many pictures that have been submitted for this series. What a gift.
Now I’m just warning you…today’s passage is not as warm and fuzzy as some of the others. You probably won’t find this passage calligraphed at Hobby Lobby or even underlined in your Bible. It is an angry text. The prophet Amos is fed up… because God is fed up. So let’s read, and discover what God is saying to us through his Word:
Seek the Lord and live,
or he will sweep through the tribes of Joseph like a fire; it will devour them,
and Bethel will have no one to quench it.
7 There are those who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground.
8 He who made the Pleiades and Orion, who turns midnight into dawn and darkens day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land— the Lord is his name.
21 I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
In June of 2009, Kyle and I moved our family to Michigan. Micah was about to turn two, and Madeline was 7 months old. We left behind a beloved congregation and community…a place we had called home for over 6 years. It being 2009, we also left behind a townhouse that was simply not selling.
And so in the interim we needed to find a place to rent. After looking at 5 houses that were either way too expensive or way too unlivable…we found an old farmhouse just down the street from the church. It was perfect.
Well, it was almost perfect. There were a few ‘imperfections.’ It was an old farmhouse. The basement smelled musty, there were a few cracks that occasionally let in a few critters…of the mouse and bat variety.
But the biggest problem with the house, especially for this weary, homesick, sleep-deprived new mom…was its location 20 feet from an active train track… both Amtrak and freight. The same line that runs through downtown Holland…ran right through our bedroom (at least it seemed like it).
Those early days in the house…I would lay awake at night…wondering when the horn would blow…scaring me half to death.
The first time you would hear the train, you only thought you MIGHT have heard it. It’s was just a faint low hum…it even sounded a little romantic that far off. And then…you would hear it again…a low, long horn…still a little ways away…but by now I knew a train was coming.
And then the rumble started up…like a long semi was making its way towards the house…and the rumble got louder and louder…and louder…and then…the horn was blown again. But this time it was right outside our bedroom window.
And I have to say…the way those conductors blew those horns you would think it was the last horn they would ever blow… They would lay on the horn and let up at about the State Line.
For two years, my sleep deprived self listened for the train, all the while watching Kyle (and our kids!) sleep blissfully through them. To this day, our kids have never woken up from a thunderstorm…and I attribute this solely to those trains.
I would lay there and think…someday…someday…this will make the best sermon illustration ever.
And so this morning…its all worth it!
Because its not too big of leap in the Sermon Gymnastics to say that the book of Amos is a bit like that low rumbling coal train in Sawyer, Michigan.
He begins with a low horn…in chapter one he points out the sins of Israel’s neighbors… Damascus and Gaza…Tyre, Edom and Moab….but then he starts heading towards Israel and the rumbling starts…and the hum grows louder…and finally he blows his horn here in chapter five with as much force as he can muster.
In verse 22, "God will not accept sacrifices. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps." (5:22-23).
Israel is asleep. Snoring away…as the train rumbles closer and closer.
They needed a wake-up call. A ‘freight train horn blasting 20 feet outside your bedroom window’ wake-up call.
And I think we may need one as well.
Just a bit of background, Amos prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II, at a time when Israel was enjoying great political and economic power. It was a time when the economy was booming and worship attendance was up. The people thought that if they performed the right sacrifices, it didn't matter how they lived.
There were many people who regularly came to the Temple and offered their sacrifices, but they were living lives that were not consistent with their actions on the Sabbath.
So Amos gently…and then not so gently…points out some examples.
In chapter two: “They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way.”
In 3:15, he writes, "I will tear down the winter house as well as the summer house; and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall come to an end, says the LORD.
In 4:1, he says, "Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who are on Mount Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy.”
These were the kinds of evil about which Amos lamented. The nation of Israel had forgotten to take care of its own, and they were oppressing the poor for the sake of their own comfort.
They were squandering their wealth, their power, and everything God had given them. They were reaching new heights on the backs of the oppressed…all the while showing up for worship in their Sunday best.
They tried to worship wealth and God all at the same time…and Amos said God didn’t want anything to do with it.
Worship without compassion…without true sacrifice…without humility…meant nothing.
God didn’t want to hear it. These words were meant to shake them out of their prosperous sleep…their lazy slumber. God didn’t want their meaningless rituals.
But instead…let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. That’s what God wants…then and now.
Justice is a tricky word. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word is mishphat—and it referred mainly to the neediest in society being cared for.
Injustice mainly refers to the powerful taking advantage of the powerless.
And story after story in scripture reminds us that God is always on the side of the least, the lowly, the lost…
This message of justice is not just an Old Testament message. Jesus was equally concerned about issues of social justice. He talked more about how we treat others, how we spend our money, and our attitudes toward life than anything else.
In Matthew 25:35-36 reads "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."
Jesus is uninterested in whether we muttered the right formulas, believed the right doctrines, did what on what day…but he was keenly focused on how we treat others, how we spend our money, and our attitudes toward life.
Jesus life was one HUGE wake-up call…he words are difficult and convicting…often seeming right at home with Amos. And the picture gets colored in a little bit more…God despises our rituals if our heart is not for the oppressed. Our God is a God of justice.
This is a hard topic. For one thing, its ambiguous. The concept of justice is hard to define as one thing.Its like trying to herd cats…just as soon as you’ve managed to wrangle one, another gets away.
And the other thing is that this is hard work: I would rather talk about sunshine and cupcakes. I would rather sit in the sunshine and eat cupcakes. I would rather do just about anything than stare head on at the pain and suffering in the world.
I spend most of my day trying to eliminate pain from my life…why look at it? Why deal with it? And really, I’m just one person. What can I do?
And so we look away. And we craft a Christianity that is comfortable.
But the problem with comfortable Christianity, besides the fact that its not gospel at all…is that it so easily leads to complacent Christianity.
Comfortable leads to complacency which leads to indifference. Its a frightening equation.
A few days ago, Kyle put a book in my hand called, “Just Courage.” It is written by Gary Haugen, founder and president of the International Justice Mission. The book grabbed me from page one.
Haugen starts the book with these words: “Even though I read the words almost 25 years ago, I can still picture them on the page. I was reading John Stuart Mill’s essay, “On Liberty.” Writing in 1859, Mill was trying to explain the process by which words lose their meaning, and he casually offered that the best example of this phenomenon was Christians. Christians, he observed, seem to have the amazing ability to say the most wonderful things without actually believing them.”
What became more disturbing was his list of things that Christians, like me, actually say—like, blessed are the poor and humble, it’s better to give than receive; judge not, lest you be judged; love your neighbor as yourself, etc.—and examining, one by one, how differently I would live my life if I actually believed such things. As Mill concluded, “The sayings of Christ co-exist passively in their minds, producing hardly any effect…”
I know why…these words sound good…they even look good once they’ve been calligraphied and sold at Hobby Lobby…but if we would start taking them as truth and living into them…our lives would look different.
We hear these words…and we turn towards the vast inequality in the world…the millions of people who are in slavery, malnourished, underemployed, running from war…the list goes on and on…
And the overwhelming emotion that comes over us is guilt.
But the problem is…guilt points us in all the wrong directions…towards resentfulness, self-punishment, and ultimately, avoidance.
So we look away…its just too much…its just too painful. I feel too guilty. Where’s the sunshine and cupcakes?
And suddenly, without our even realizing it…we find ourselves in a comfortable, complacent Christian cul-de-sac.
And round and round we go…
And we’re so bored and restless we can’t stand it… And then we’re lulled into a deep sleep…
The thing is…trains don’t do cul-de-sacs…but they can jolt us out of them. The horn is sounding this morning…right outside this sanctuary window…
But here is the challenge…what if instead of waking up in a fog of guilt…we woke up to a renewed sense of God’s call to justice in our lives? What if we stared at the injustice in the world with an excitement about what we could do to overturn it?
This time, we are not going to allow guilt to lull us back to sleep. Instead we are going to allow the mighty waters to crash over us and renew us, wake us up… and send us out.
Send us out beyond what we can control…beyond our own strengths and comfort zones…beyond the cul-de-sac.
It is easy to look away. It is easy to say ‘I’m just one person…what can I do?’ Amos isn’t buying it.
We know that response is an excuse. A cop-out…one more circle around the cul- de-sac.
We know that from right here, in this place…we can make a difference.
I first met Tim and Susan deForest three years ago when Micah was providentially placed in Susan’s kindergarten class at Waukazoo Elementary. From the beginning, we knew that she was more….
Tim and Susan run a bike camp every other summer so that they can take their kids on a family mission trip on the opposite summer.
They are on their way home at this very moment from a week at Tent of Nations in Israel/Palestine. The mission of Tent of Nations is to build bridges between people, and between people and the land. They bring different cultures together to develop understanding and promote respect for each other.
Tim said I could share their story as long as I paid him the going rate for mentioning my kid’s name in a sermon: one dollar.
Tim and Susan are making a difference…here in Holland and around the world. Their story is inspiring to me.
Their story wipes out all excuses…all guilt…all cop outs…
Fellowship Church, it would be easy during this season to sit back and wait for justice to happen. To go through the motions…to press pause until we have a new lead pastor.
But I truly believe that is not what God is calling us to do.
He wants us to wake up to the injustice all around us…and do something about it!
So here is my challenge…to all of us…choose ONE THING.
One way to work towards God’s justice.
You could invest in Kiva, an organization that give micro-loans (starting as low as
$25!), to someone with a dream in a developing country.
Support the International Justice Mission, an organization committed to eradicating modern day slavery.
Or a little closer to home, mentor a child through Kids Hope. Volunteer at Meet Up and Eat Up. Join the “Uniting Against Abuse” Team.
Saint Teresa of Avila once said, "Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out on a hurting world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless now."
Let justice roll down like a mighty water -- righteousness flow like an overflowing stream…
This is our wake-up call…out of the cul-de-sac…out into the world…one person at a time.