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Sermon for the seventh Sunday after Pentecost
By Petrus Simons
Readings: Amos 7:7-15; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29; Psalm 85.
Jesus had sent out the disciples to preach repentance, because the kingdom of God had come near. So they went and continued the work of John the Baptist who also had preached repentance, including to king Herod, who had married his brother’s wife. Just as John, a truth-telling prophet, was executed by arrogant king Herod, so Jesus would be executed by the collaboration of Jewish and Roman powers.
Today’s reading from Amos is another instance of a truth-telling prophet who faced both an arrogant high priest and an arrogant king.
The question that comes to us is: are we bringing the Gospel of God’s grace for poor sinners to our fellow citizens, as fearlessly as Amos and John the Baptist, regardless of the costs?
Around 769-743 BC, the ten tribes of Israel experienced an economic boom. King Jeroboam II had brought the whole of the area East of the Jordan down to the Dead Sea under control. None of the neighbouring powers posed any threat.
Worship was not neglected. There were two sanctuaries, a large one in the South, in Bethel, close to Judah and a smaller one up North, in Dan. King Jeroboam I had organised them to ensure that his subjects would not cross the border to bring sacrifices in the temple in Jerusalem and so undermine his kingdom and maybe even to join plots against him. By installing golden calves in these places, he mixed up the worship as prescribed in the books of Exodus and Leviticus with the fertility religion of Baal and Astarte, which was practised widely in the Near East. Perhaps, this helped the Israelites to make deals with their pagan neighbours. Certainly in Amos’s time foreign trade was flourishing. The rich were able to have furniture made from ivory. We might say, full marks for clever politics.
However, the Lord God looks much deeper. By mixing up the worship of Jahweh and the fertility religion of Baal, Jeroboam I caused Israel to sin. None of the kings that followed him renounced the sin he had caused Israel to commit. They moved away from the Word of God. Their whole life became infected by idolatry.
We might surmise that Jeroboam II considered his political and economic successes as proof that he was doing alright also from a religious perspective. Material prosperity is often equated with a divine spiritual blessing. It is called the prosperity gospel.
The prophet Amos
Yet, God wants to save His wayward people. He takes Amos, a herdsman and grower of sycamore trees, who lives far away in Judah, in Tekoa, to call them to repentance and return to Him and His word, lest they have to face His judgment.
The name, Amos, is truly wonderful. It means: he who bears. In Isaiah 46 the Lord God Himself says that He bears his people from the time they are born, even to their old age.
Amos is called to bear the words and the visions he has received from the Lord God, words of judgment as well as words of promise and salvation that foreshadow the work of our Lord Jesus Christ, the highest Prophet and Priest, who will bear the judgment we all deserve as well as the salvation for all who are His.
Let us imagine that we accompany Amos as he prophesies in Samaria. The rich he sees lead an opulent and refined life style, at the expense of the poor, in a blatant disregard of the Mosaic law: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Lev. 19:18). The people had forgotten God’s covenant, despite celebrating the great feasts and the weekly Sabbath. The Lord, therefore, does not want their worship. Bethel will be destroyed (5:5).
Already back in the desert of Judah Amos had heard the thunderclaps of divine judgment coming over Israel. Its society was about the opposite of a society as intended by God’s righteous law.
What more is going on in Samaria?
Some rough characters are pushing and pulling a poor fellow into slavery. Surely, he must have a large debt, which he cannot repay? Oh no, he is sold for no more than a pair of shoes. Another fellow complains about having lost his vineyard due to an unjust fine he must pay. Nazirites, who were not allowed to drink wine, are forced to drink it. Prophets who protest are silenced (2:6-12). The mansions of the rich are full of treasures obtained by corruption and theft. High society women organise grand parties, with plenty to drink. They force their husbands to exploit the poor to sustain their lifestyle.
These very same merry-makers gather regularly at the worship centre in Bethel to bring their sacrifices. When Amos is there on a Sabbath he observes that these business men, actually extortioners and robbers, are not keen on the eternal peace and righteousness that only God can give, but instead are plotting to resume their works of darkness as soon as the Sabbath ends. How could these people look forward to the Day of the Lord (5:18)? They believe that it will bring great prosperity, and that they will be able to subdue and exploit the surrounding nations. Amos must tell them that instead it will be a day of darkness for them.
Yet, right through these announcements of judgment Amos urges his hearers to repent: ‘Seek me, the Lord, so that you may live’ (5:4, 6). He even intercedes for Israel when he sees the forthcoming judgment as a swarm of locusts and a consuming fire: ‘Forgive, O Lord God! How can Jacob stand? He is so small’ (7:2,5). And, the Lord repented!
Never underestimate the power of interceding prayer.
But, if the people refuse to listen, then, eventually, the Lord will forgive them no longer (7:7-9).
The signs are that Israel refuses to listen. The High priest Amaziah tells Amos in no uncertain terms that he is not welcome and should make himself scarce. He argues that he is offending against the worship centre as the king’s royal domain. Jeroboam II had united his royal and military powers with the fertility cult in Bethel. And, thereby, he had asked God Himself to leave.
The Word of God is silenced in Israel. Amos must pronounce the judgment of exile not only to Israel but also to Judah. The Lord will forgive no longer (8:2). There will be a famine of God’s Word.
Amos must bear a great burden of sadness for making such an announcement. In this he resembles our Lord Jesus when he wept for Jerusalem, bearing the burden of the cross, the load of our sin, to the cross of Golgotha.
Even this judgment is not the end, however. The house of Jacob will not be destroyed completely. The book ends with a Messianic perspective:
On that day I will raise up the fallen hut of David; I will wall up its breaches, raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old, that they may conquer what is left of Edom and all the nations that shall bear my name, say I, the Lord, who will do this (9:11,12).
At the great synod held in Jerusalem, James, the brother of Jesus, quotes these words of Amos and interpret the words: ‘the nations that shall bear my name’ as meaning: ‘the Gentiles who shall be converted to the Lord, conquered by him, so that they shall bear his name’ (Acts 15:16).
What does it mean for us?
Where do we stand? Are we carrying a burden to bring the Word of God, the love of Christ, to the people of New Zealand, regardless of the costs?
Our secular society is actually very religious, in spite of not worshipping idols such as the golden calf in Bethel. Instead, we worship money and finance, and we depend on science and the power it brings through technology to solve all our problems. We believe that ‘what can be made should be made’, and that any problems that result will be solved by new technology.
If we can relieve suffering by technical procedures such as abortion and euthanasia, and if the majority of people agree, then, many in our society believe, that should be possible. Yet, eventually, when the weak, the unborn, the frail and dying elderly are not safe, the whole of society will become a place as hard as a rock, with no compassion for those ‘who are sorely placed’.
Pope Francis points out that ‘today everything falls under the laws of competition and survival of the fittest, with the powerful feeding upon the powerless. As a result, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalised, with no means of escape. The worship of the golden calf as described in Exodus 20 and practised in Israel is thriving today in the dictatorship of the share-market. And behind this rule of money lurks a rejection of God, for not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them. Money must serve not rule’.
In Amos’s words: let righteousness roll on like a river, justice like a never-failing stream.
Our society believes that ‘religion’ should be kept private. Effectively, this means that we attempt to lock up God in our private rooms. He should not interfere with what we are doing to His creation and the people He has made and wants to save.
Yet, the promise of Amos is that, even in a society such as ours, the Lord will conquer nations that will give Him the glory and will walk in His ways. Let us act on this promise and call people to repentance and faith in Christ, our crucified and risen Lord, the Lamb of God, He the Way, the Truth and the Life.
This is a mockup. Publish to view how it will appear live.