Nov 12th, 2023 “A well spoken shepherd from a place called Tekoa. ”
“May the words from my lips and the meditations of our hearts always be pleasing to you O God.”
This morning I would like to focus on our 1st reading from the prophet Amos. Amos delivered his oracles in the 1st ½ of the 8th C BCE. Amos is widely thought to have been a migrant farm worker. A well spoken shepherd from a place called Tekoa.
Amos lived in the self declared righteous nation of Judah, the southern kingdom. This was the group that collected and edited the texts that have become scripture for us. His rage was directed at the northern Kingdom of Israel. Amos was so upset with what was going on in Israel that he crossed over the border and began his preaching. And his time of prophecy - a charge he later denied!
The northern Kingdom had fallen to the Assyrians and worship practices had changed. In fact Amos accuses the people of Israel of worshiping Cannanite deities - forsaking their God. Amos gives voice to the rage of God - and probably his own intermingled. Amos also accused them of neglecting the poor.
Could we consider Amos an agent of Reformation?
What would people think of Amos’ words today? What or who are we worshiping? What or who is our society worshiping? I imagine that if Amos’ words were truly heard today they would make many people very angry. The way his preaching was initially heard and understood.
Amos had a lot to say and most of it was not very pleasant. Amos was very concerned that the people of the northern Kingdom had given priority to the place of worship over the God who was to be worshiped there. Amos urges anyone who will listen to focus not on their sacred spaces and their rituals. Instead he urges new liturgical practices that are characterized by extravagant justice and righteousness that would rush through their community like a torrent of floodwater.
Justice and righteousness are not luxuries to be enjoyed in good times. They are essential elements of a faithful life, even in the worst times.
Amos is the first scriptural reference to “The Day of The Lord”. If we listen to Amos this was something eagerly awaited - the Day of the Lord would bring good things - including the destruction of all enemies. This would be a day of intervention. Amos is criticizing those who longed for this day because he tells them quite strongly that they have no idea what they are asking for.
They have angered God with their society that is rife with injustice. Their worship is hollow because they do not act their faith. Their enthusiastic worship and religious fervor mean nothing because the are ignoring the needs of the poor.
The Book of Amos has a hard message.
If you go to Church and hate your neighbour your religion is a sham.
If you can go to Church and not care about hungry children your religion is a sham.
If you can worship and not care about the stranger your religion is a sham.
If you can worship and not visit the sick and those in prison your religion is a sham.
The people Amos was preaching to had changed their worship practices. They put emphasis on the way that they worshiped. On the liturgy, on the vestments, on the trappings, and they had neglected the need to care for the poor - to fight injustice - to love their neighbour and the stranger. Amos accuses his hearers of focusing on performance rather than praise.
I wonder what Amos would have to say to us - to our society, to those who worship God?
Prophets speak the truth that no one wants to hear. Prophets point to the ugliness that everyone else is tip toeing around.
Amos focuses his rage on the festivals, the assemblies, and the offerings to God. This must have raised the hackles of those who heard him preach. There are few things more personal than how we practice our faith.
It hurts to be told we are not doing it right - or perhaps that we are not doing enough. Amos is calling his hearers and us to remember and recognize God’s good gifts. In the end it will not matter how or where we worship. Our attitude of righteousness and justice are more important than what we wear, whether we stand or sit or kneel or how good our music is. Amos might ask us to consider who is the Church? Amos might ask us to consider what the Church is? And our answer must be a loud WE ARE!!!!
Our text from Amos is a stark reminder that as much as God loves us God also expects a great deal from us. Amos reminds us in his rage that God will speak strong truths when they need to be said.
Amos and all the prophets of the Bible proclaim the need for justice and righteousness. Amos is demanding these in place of traditional worship. Justice and righteousness in place of elaborate and faithfully performed liturgies. Amos says these things no longer please God. Amos even goes so far as to suggest that worship may be a smokescreen for evil.
What will please God?
At the end of this passage Amos calls for justice that rolls down like water and righteousness which flows like an ever flowing stream. May it be so.