The Rev. Robert Crouch
Community Presbyterian Church
Pismo Beach, CA
Text: Amos 7: 7-15
If you could sit down and have a conversation with any person in history who would it be?
Millions have pondered that question and often the answer comes back Jesus or Muhammad or Moses or Buddha. Having a cup of coffee with Martin Luther King Jr. sounds pretty good to me! No surprise there!
I asked my kids that same question this week and my 15-year-old daughter April said she’d like to sit down with Michelle Obama; my 18-year-old son, Casey, said he’d like to have lunch with the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird” Harper Lee. I asked my mom, Alice, this week and she responded: Robert F. Kennedy.
Theologian and author, Frederick Buechner, in his book, “Listening To Your Life,” also touches on this playful hypothetical question, saying: “If we could somehow meet one of the great ones of history, which one would we choose? Would it be Shakespeare, maybe, because nobody knew better than he the Hamlet of us and the Ophelia of us, nobody knew better then he this mid-summer night’s dream of a darkly enchanted world.
“Or maybe it would be Abraham Lincoln, with feet no less of clay than our own feet, but whose face, in those last great photographs, seems somehow to have not only all of human suffering in it--but traces of goodness and compassion that seem almost more than human.
“Or maybe it would be St. Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans, whose very weakness was her strength, her innocence her armor, lighting up the dark skies of the fifteenth century like a star…
“In the saints and heroes of the past, we would find someone…who was as often as lost, as full of doubt, [and] as full of hope [as we are]…”
In our Second lesson this morning we meet a famous person from biblical history named Amos who did not inspire most folks in his day to want to sit down with him and have a conversation. In fact, people turned around and went the other way if they saw Amos coming toward them on the street--people left the room when Amos entered it--and most prayed he would leave town and never come back.
Let’s just say Amos wasn’t the bearer of good news. He was a messenger of God after all. And more often than not such men and women are not celebrated and admired, they are feared, resented, imprisoned or worse. Yes, Amos was a bearer of bad news for a people whose lifestyle, whose life choices, had terrible consequences for others, especially the poor.
Yet, his words are relevant for our country today and he would be just as unpopular and reviled and likely would have been fined or imprisoned for his radical views.
Biblical scholar, Daniel Clendenin, gives us an artfully written and thorough description of the socio-historical context in which Amos story was lived out. He writes:
“Amos wrote 2,800 years ago, but his prophecy reads like a Twitter alert.
“Amos is a good example of how in the Bible "prophecy" is more about forth-telling the truth about the present--than fore-telling events in the future.
“Amos lived under the renowned king Jeroboam II, who reigned forty-one years [in the 8th century BC]--who forged a kingdom characterized by territorial expansion, aggressive militarism, and unprecedented economic prosperity.
Friends, 41 years—thank God we have term limits for our Presidents.
“Many people [in Amos’ day] interpreted their [prosperous] times as evidence of God's special favor. [Indeed, King Jeroboam II often bragged about how good the economy was under him.]
[Amos was not impressed.]
“Amos acknowledged that people were intensely and sincerely religious [yet said that] theirs was a privatized religion that ignored the poor, the widow, the alien and the orphan.
“It was a type of religion that degraded authentic faith to cultural ritual.
“Worst of all, Israel's religious leaders sanctioned the political and economic status quo that exploited the weak;”
“These priests pimped religion for king Jeroboam's empire [because it was in their economic interest to do so.]
[Amid this widespread corruption in politics and religion, Amos appears.]
“He preached from the pessimistic and unpatriotic fringe.
“Amos was blue collar rather than blue blooded.
“He admits that he was neither a prophet nor even the son of a prophet in the professional sense of the term.
“Rather, Amos was a shepherd, a farmer, and a tender of fig trees, a small town boy who grew up in Tekoa, about twelve miles southeast of Jerusalem and five miles south of Bethlehem.
“The cultured elites of his day despised Amos as a redneck.
“He was also an unwelcome outsider. Born in the southern kingdom of Judah, God called Amos to thunder a prophetic word to the northern kingdom of Israel.
“That was a difficult divine call, but that's what this rustic prophet did. His fiery rhetoric opposed the powers of his day.
“With graphic details that make you wince, Amos describes how the rich crushed the poor.
“He singled out the affluent with their expensive lotions, elaborate music, and vacation homes with beds of inlaid ivory.
“Amos decried sexual debauchery where a man and his son abused the same woman, and lamented a corrupt legal system that sold justice to the highest bidder.”
Friends, people who say that the church should stay out of politics have obviously never read the Book of Amos in the Old Testament.
“Amos [condemned corruption]—he condemned named predatory lenders who exploited vulnerable families, and religious leaders who aided and abetted all of this.”
Friends, I know what some of you are thinking: ‘The more things change--the more they stay the same.’
“To the priests who defended, legitimized, and justified king Jeroboam's corrupt reign, Amos delivered an uncompromising word of warning.
[Amos said essentially that soon because of their greed and corruption they would lose everything and go into exile.]
“Amaziah, the [court] priest, warned Jeroboam the king that Amos's preaching was unpatriotic and conspiratorial.
[Amaziah told king Jereboam that Amos had insisted that he, the king, would die by the sword.]
[We don’t know how the king responded but we know it was likely not a response that I could repeat from this pulpit—we get a hint of what the king said based on what the priest, Amaziah, did next.]
“The priest Amaziah tried to run Amos out of town, saying:
“Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there.”
“Then [the priest] Amaziah said something that reveals just how completely he had identified religious faith with establishment power.
“It ought to send a chill up the spine of every religious leader who ever considered sucking up to power…
[Said Amaziah to Amos:]
"’Don't prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king's sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom."
[i.e. The holy temple is not God’s domain-- it is the property of the king.]
“With those words the religious justification of political empire is complete, and faith is reduced to patriotic cheer-leading.
“Amos wouldn't be bullied; and he had a word of his own for every priest who prostituted religion for empire
[Said Amos to the priest, Amaziah:]
"Your wife will become a harlot, your kids will be violently murdered, your enemies will carve up the country, you will die far from home, and pagan Assyria will devour the political and economic empire you have tried to sanction in God's name.”
Friends, 30 years later that’s just what happened. Wow, let’s just say Amos didn’t hold back or sugarcoat anything. Why such ugly, violent rhetoric? This is the Bible for God’s sake!
It’s because Amos was enraged by the truth that religious leaders in his day had become cheerleaders of political corruption and had a turned a blind eye to injustice, in order to continue to line their pockets and live the high life.
I wonder what Amos would have said about the separation of refugee children from their parents? What would Amos have said about policies and legislation that contributed to the destruction of the environment—of God’s good earth—just to make more money.
What would Amos have said about Political leaders who visit prostitutes, cheat on their wives and lie with no regard for the truth. I shudder to think at what Amos might have said.
Here’s the hard part. We all are called, clergy as well as laypersons, to walk in the footsteps of Amos. For that is a path that leads directly to Jesus the Christ.
The footsteps of Amos lead us to Jesus who healed the sick; who welcomed children, took them into his arms; to Jesus who was a friend of sinners; to Jesus who confronted people but rarely belittled or embarrassed them. The footsteps of Amos lead us to Jesus who challenged the political and religious establishment of his day to put people first, to respect the rights of women, to feed the hungry, to cloth the naked, to reach out to the least and most vulnerable of society with God’s love.
Putting people first—is it really so hard? I believe that Jesus, himself, was honored to walk in the footsteps of Amos. For Jesus’ ministry reflected the theological vision of Amos for justice. Yes, we too are called to walk in the footsteps of Amos unto Jesus, so that the world will know God lives, that God forgives, that God loves, that God judges with compassion, and that God still does and inspires great things. The church today, walking in the footsteps of Amos and Jesus must not remain silent when it finds itself in the presence of injustice.
We must speak the truth in love. When we feel the President or a Congressperson or a leader in religion--Christian, Muslim, or Jew-- has taken an action which brings harm to human beings or to the environment—we must not be cowards, we must. like Amos, speak up.
Why? Because our ultimate allegiance, as followers of Christ, is not to any man or woman, president or king or priest or organization or political party—our allegiance must be to God alone.
Consider this: It won’t be President Trump or a member of congress or a mega church pastor whom we will stand before on judgement day--it will be God, the Lord of the Universe.
Yet, we are to do what’s right, with the gift of this life we’ve been given, not because we fear God or God’s judgement—but because we love God and we celebrate that God loves and forgives us. We don’t fear God because we know that God knows our heart. God knows what we are about. God sees us put people first and not our own self-interest. We don’t fear judgement but we don’t want God to be angry or disappointed with us. We want God to be proud of us do we not? We each, to be true to God, must continually wrestle with the question: How are the choices I am making, the words I am using, the stories I am repeating, affecting others?
And we each should pray daily: “Lord, Help me, like Amos, to live each day in honesty and integrity with the courage to demand justice from myself and others. Lord, Help me to be like Jesus, living each day with kindness and compassion toward others, and speaking the truth in love.”
Friends, in whose footsteps are you seeking to walk? Who receives your ultimate allegiance—God? Or someone or something else?
I close with selected verses from the poem, A Psalm of Life, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow—one which reminds us that along with Amos and Jesus--we too will leave behind “footprints in the sands of time.”
“In the world’s broad field of battle,
in the bivouac of life,
be not like [mindless] driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!
Act,--act in the living present!
Heart within, and God overhead!
“Lives of great [ones] all remind us
we can make our lives sublime,
and, departing, leave behind us
footprints on the sands of time.
“Footprints that perhaps another,
sailing over life’s solemn main,
a forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
seeing, shall take heart again.
“Let us, then, be up and doing,
with a heart for any fate;
still achieving, still pursuing,
learn to labor and to wait.”