Amos 8:4-7, 8-12
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, my Lord and my Redeemer.
We are taught in Deacons School that we are to always preach on the Gospel reading for a given Sunday, since one of those things exclusively reserved for Deacons is the proclaiming of the Gospel. And I DID indeed have a sermon prepared on today’s Gospel of Luke. However, the more I read the Old Testament reading of Amos, in fact the more I read all of Amos, the more I felt compelled to preach on that instead.
So, I won’t tell. . . if you don’t tell.
Amos has always been a prophetic man and generally he was a real pain to the Israelites. I have a mental picture of him standing on the rooftops railing away to the Israelites about the things they were doing – and forecasting their gloom and doom. It reminds me of a street preacher who used to stand on the corner of Broad and High in Columbus every day, standing on a soap box and proclaiming the world was going to end in the next couple of hours. He hasn’t been there for a while, and I sometimes wonder what happened to him. He was, most of all, very amusing.
It was interesting to watch people’s reactions to his sermonizing:
- · some would literally cross the street to avoid him
· some would lower their heads as they walked by,
· and there were a few brave souls who would take him on.
I can tell you, that he could out shout anyone
- . . . except maybe Amos
In these passages Amos is, once again, admonishing the Israelites. Actually, Amos might be considered the first voice of a social conscience in the world; he preached social justice before we even knew what social justice was.
This time he is shaming the Israelites for the way they were treating the poor. I find these passages are especially relevant today since last Friday was Yom Kippur, the holiest of holy days in the Jewish tradition.
Yom Kippur is a ‘day of atonement’ on which you confess, before the Book of Life is closed, all those things you have done in the last year that are sinful or you consider to be failings. And, in the Jewish tradition, you then can start with a clean slate for the new year.
Sounds like a good idea to me.
On Yom Kippur, even the least observant Jew acknowledged the occasion and all markets and industry were closed. That means, of course, for the money changers and the merchants, this is a day when they are not making any money. . .
- not a shekel!
Since most of the merchants were of the noble class, Amos is particularly hard on them
- . . .and they are not too happy to have the straggly-bearded, bombastic old man once again slandering them
They would just as soon he would fall in a hole somewhere and disappear forever. I imagine this is probably like the feeling many folks in Columbus had about that street preacher.
In the time of Amos’ prophesying, money and wealth were considered rewards from God for living a righteous life. This is not unlike the ‘Prosperity ministry’ a number of modern-day preachers are extolling today (and getting very rich themselves doing so!) “The more you have, the more God loves you” is their common mantra. “If you are doing well, it shows God’s approval. . . God wants you to have a big house and fancy car and pleasure yacht!”
But Amos seems determined to tear down that cultural norm.
Just as in the Parable of the Unjust Steward in the Gospel this morning, there are acceptable ways to accumulate wealth
- . . . and there are other ways . .
What Amos is ranting about is the accumulation of wealth at the expense of:
- the poor,
the elderly ….
all of those who are without a voice, a protector, a way to provide for themselves.
I can imagine the merchants and nobles sitting around grousing because they could not open their shops, beating their breasts about the money they were losing, and plotting how to make up for it.
Aha, someone said,
- “Let’s make the ephah small and the shekel great“.
In other words, they were going to buy things with a light weight (the ephah was used as the weight when buying things and the shekel was used when selling things)and sell it with a heavy weight. In no time they would recover their losses from the holiday.
What a great idea!
Just like selling products more cheaply today…
products that are shoddy and easily fall apart,
- and are made by someone on a poverty wage in a foreign country . . .
a practice that is also taking away the jobs of some of our neighbors
- . . . causing them to need cheaper and cheaper products;
. . .an endless cycle demeaning honest work.
In addition, they were going to “buy the poor for silver” — because the poor were so needy, they were going to be “righteous” and hire them for just enough money to keep them indebted. This brings to mind the old company houses that used to exist in coal mine towns or on large plantations during Reconstruction and even in Detroit in the early years of the auto industry.
It is what the World Bank is doing to many third world nations today, enabling them to only payback their interest and never any of the principle.
Were . . . and are . . . these people looking out for their neighbors . . .
or just lining their own pockets?
- “And they bought the needy for the price of a pair of sandals”. . .
Think how distraught and desperate someone would have to be in order to be bought for such little money in order to have a pair of shoes to wear.
Even today the roads of the Holy Land are dusty and rocky and the weather is hot;
one must have sandals. In Biblical times, it was even more difficult to navigate those roads and paths, so sandals were an essential part of life.
How arrogant and cruel to indenture another human being for such a small thing as sandals.
- for food stamps . . .
or a used winter coat . . .
or a ramshackled tenement to live in.
But, isn’t that what we, as a society, are doing today when we hook people on welfare – giving them just enough to subsist but not enough to make a better life.
Even our soldiers risking their lives in the Middle East are only getting an average of $1500 a month in wages, forcing their wife and children to depend on their families for help just to exist.
Should Amos be railing at us about this situation?
I think he would be standing on the top of the Capitol Dome in Washington yelling his lungs out!!
Amos warns that if the Israelites don’t change their ways, there is going to be rumblings of the earth and upheavals like the flooding of the Nile. Maybe he meant
- that the oppressed would rise up,
there would be much dissention and moving about in the streets,
and people would be protesting against unjust conditions.
Does any of that sound familiar?
Been watching TV lately?
God remembers the sins of the mighty against his lowly. And there will be retribution. Amos warns that all this ill-gotten gain is going to naught; it will be no more.
And they will be left monetarily poor and their souls will be bankrupt.
The righteous can always look to God for assurance, but those with no souls have no source of succor.
Individual sins and national sins will be atoned by God. And there will be retribution.
And there shall be great mourning among those who forsake righteousness for their own greed. The famine will be a famine of the soul; many times they had the opportunity to listen to the prophets calling them short, but now they are past the time of grace. Theirs will be a life of sorrow and the Kingdom of God will be taken from them.
In verse 12, Amos foretold:
- “They shall wander from sea to sea, from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the world of the Lord, but they shall not find it”.
I want you to take a minute and consider what is going on in the Middle East right now. . . who are the greedy?
Who is trampling down the poor and needy?
Who is profiting while the majority of the people are going without water and electricity and health care?
Who is sitting in Saudi palaces or coastal mansions and sprawling ranches while their brothers and sisters are living amidst violence, disease, misery, and chaos of their making?
Have we become those to Amos’ prophecy? are we they?
Do we sit here, fat, dumb and happy, because our economy is growing due to the wealth generated by big business as it wages war? Because our earthly stock is going up?
Mark 16:9 says
“lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal”.
Do we do nothing because we think we are only one person and can do nothing to affect world problems?
Do we shrug and say “it is out of our hands”?
A renown 19th century clergy, Reverend Everett Hale, said it so well:
- I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
Delivered at The Church of the Good Shepherd, Athens, Ohio on 23 September 2007