Amos is one of my favourite prophets, if not at the head of the list. At the same time I would agree with a point made in the Working Preacher podcast that Amos, taken seriously, is a voice that provides a real challenge to those of us living in positions of privilege. The exact quote, if I recall correctly, was that “if you like Amos you probably don’t understand him”.
At any rate, this week we have some snippets from this prophet calling the people back to justice. You can read the pieces chosen for the Lectionary here, but it is my intent (or at least my hope) to take time as part of my sermon preparation to read the whole book, just to refresh myself of the message as a whole — the condemnation and the hope.
I would suggest that the last verse of this week’s reading is one of the better known prophetic words. Certainly in the US it became known (even if folk did not know it was scriptural) 50 years ago when Dr. King used the image in his preaching and speaking on the fight for Justice during the Civil Rights movement. And it is such a powerful image. Amos is clear in his speech about the wrongs that exist in the nation. Chapter 2 contains a list of the transgressions. Amos is clear that a reckoning is coming. But that reckoning is not mere destruction. There is hope too.
A torrent of water is destructive. But it is also life-giving. It will wash away things that are beloved. But it also creates the possibility for new growth. TO look at the passage, maybe the first rush cleanses and the ever-flowing stream will nourish?
- What needs to be washed away in our world?
- What seeds are awaiting that constant source of water so that they can grow to full-flower?
Amos challenges the religious world of his time in a way that an outsider best can. I know other prophets will talk about God despising the religious ritual that has come to replace actual justice as the way to be right with God but to hear those words from someone outside the system has a different ring. Amos pushes his hearers (in 2017 as much as in the reigns of Uzziah and Jeroboam) to ask about our priorities. Have our rituals, our “this is how it is best done” blinded us to something more? Anyone want to read this before the next meeting to determine the order of worship or the colour of the parlour walls?
- Are there times we get too caught up in the “right way” to be the church that we forget the call to actually be part of God’s transforming work in the world?
- Do we always make it clear that we love good and hate evil? Can we agree what it means to do those things?
Amos challenges us. I think that is in fact why I like him.
Maybe it is time for the flood of justice?
How do we hear Amos in light of yet another mass shooting in the US, this time in a church no less? By 9:00 Monday morning I already saw somebody linking Amos’ condemnation of religious ritual to the common response of “thoughts and prayer”.
Gord Waldie is an Ordained Minister in the United Church of Canada, currently in Northwestern Alberta. He shares his life with his partner and their four daughters and blogs (periodically) at Following Frodo or shares his “churchy-stuff” at Ministerial Mutterings
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