Summary: In commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education: God still sees much to judge in America, and we are laid waste by lingering racism. We must recommit to justice in the nation and in the church.
I am here to announce an invasion. This land has been taken over by an alien army. The invaders are so numerous that all hope of turning them back is gone. It is useless to resist.
And not only are they here in massive numbers, these invaders, but also they know no fear. They are perfectly content to leave behind the blanching skeletons of their dead. By land and by air they have come, without regard to their own safety, abandoning the wrecked hulks of their vehicles and zeroing in on their mission.
Their sole mission is to propagate their own kind. They will do whatever it takes to assure their mastery of the entire land. They have no sense of decorum, as they will push into anyone who gets in their way. They care not at all for property, for convenience, or for comfort. All that matters is that they do what they came to do. We have been invaded. And all resistance is useless.
Now before you run for the doors, before you scream in panic, let me identify the invader. Let me tell you who they are, these numberless hosts. They are the cicadas of Brood X, who mysteriously, every seventeen years, in the months of May and June, rise up from the earth, chirp their mating songs until we think we can’t stand the noise anymore, and leave behind crisp skins for us to clean up. We have been invaded, not by Al Qaeda, but by cicadas, sometimes called locusts.
Now I do know there is a difference between cicadas and locusts. Locusts are insects which destroy crops in a way that cicadas do not. I will acknowledge that even though we have popularly called cicadas locusts, that is not quite accurate. But let me go with the popular language today. Never let it be said that mere facts should get in the way of a good sermon idea! Locusts, cicadas; cicadas, locusts. For the moment, let them be the same.
Because, you see, the invasion of the locusts – or cicadas, if you insist – reminds me of some very timely truths, first lifted up by the prophet Amos some 28 centuries ago.
This man Amos was a shepherd and a forester. Amos was an outdoorsman, and so Amos noticed what was going on in nature. Amos discovered that suddenly the locusts were multiplying, in huge numbers. Everywhere Amos looked he saw these ugly creatures. On his trees, in his fields, among his flocks, everywhere. Amos wondered where they came from and what this was all about. Wouldn’t you if you had never seen anything like this before and if you had not had the news media explaining it to you day after day?
But Amos was more than a shepherd and a forester. Amos was more than an outdoorsman. Amos was also a prophet. He was a man whom God had appointed to speak to Israel. Amos saw plenty to speak about in the nation’s life. Amos saw in Israel that many were ill-housed, ill-clad, and ill-fed, but others were fat and sleek. Amos saw in Israel the exploitation of the poor. If you were poor in Israel and could not pay your debt, you could be trapped forever. If you were not of the elite class, and those in power didn’t want to be around you, they would push you out of the way. Everywhere Amos looked he saw arrogance, the abuse of power, pride. Amos even saw the hypocrisy of those who said that they loved the Lord and supported the Lord’s work, but then turned around and crushed the helpless. Amos saw plenty to preach about.
But remember, Amos not only saw the sins of Israel, he also saw those locusts out in that field, multiplying like crazy. So he brought those two things together. He saw in the locusts an image of God’s judgment. Amos preached to Israel about injustice, and pointed to the locusts as a sign of what God was doing to make them face up to that injustice.
“I laid waste your gardens and your vineyards; the locust devoured your fig trees and olive trees; yet you did not return to me, says the Lord. I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt ... yet you did not return to me.”
Now when Amos preached this message, he did a clever thing. Amos first preached about the sins of other nations, and got his listeners all revved up. Amos told them first about the sins of Damascus, and I’ll bet they said, “Amen”. Then Amos turned to the sins of Gaza, and once again, you can just hear his congregation shout, “Amen.” Nation after nation, Amos worked his way down the seacoast – Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab – sinful nations all of them. And I can imagine the place was rocking and rolling by then. Oh yes, Amos, give it to them. Sinners! Amen, amen, amen.