Summary: One way we can respond to a disaster like the Tsunami in Asia, apart from the obvious response of generosity to those in need is to call again on Jesus Christ, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, thanking him for his sacrifice that makes
We need to be very careful when we think about a great natural disaster like the tsunami in Asia that we don’t jump to conclusions too quickly. Already you may have heard people claiming that this is a judgement on the Islamic extremists of Aceh, or that it’s the result of global warming or that the disaster wouldn’t have been nearly so bad if the mangrove swamps hadn’t been cleared around the resort areas. You see, the trouble is it’s all too easy to find a simplistic explanation that fits your particular hobby horse and claim that this disaster proves what you’ve been saying all along.
In fact if you look at the first reading we had today, from Amos 6, you could easily jump from the accusations there of those who are at ease in their luxurious houses, to a comment on the destruction that we’ve seen on those luxury resorts in Phuket and the Maldives. You might be excused for pointing the finger at those, like most of us, who live lives of comfort while others are struggling to survive on a subsistence income. You may have seen two separate reports in the paper last week about boats that needed repairs. One was about a fisherman’s boat in Sri Lanka that would cost $700 to repair, but there was no way he could raise that sort of capital. The other was of the racing yacht Skandia that needed $3.4 million worth of repairs but the owners didn’t think they could fix it for some time because they were fully committed building a new $5 million yacht.
It puts things in perspective when you see those sorts of comparisons doesn’t it?
But let me repeat, the words of Amos are not addressed to this particular situation in South Asia; not directly at least. Amos was concerned about the way God’s people were ignoring the ethics of the kingdom in the way they treated the poor and powerless. He was concerned for the way the powerful were taking for granted their status as God’s chosen people. He was concerned for the unspoken assumption that their wealth and power came about from God’s being pleased with them. That’s why he begins this chapter by pointing them to the surrounding countries that were equally prosperous, equally successful.
That’s why he warns them that it was no good ignoring the day of judgement while they sought to achieve their own ends through violence.
In fact he points out that while they lie back in the lap of luxury, eating their rich food, drinking wine by the bowl full and amusing themselves with musical ditties, the nation around them is falling apart. In previous chapters he points out the oppression and exploitation of the poor, the bribery and corruption, the sexual immorality and their shallow religiosity. Here is a society that’s forgotten it’s roots and is in danger of collapsing altogether. And those at the top don’t care. In fact they probably rejoice in it because it just makes them more powerful.
It’s actually a picture of society at various times in our history, when those wielding power have been unrestrained in their corruption and unconcerned about morality or ethics.
You may remember the story of Marie Antoinette responding to the complaint that the peasants had no bread with the famous phrase "If they have no bread then let them eat cake." Well that’s what’s been happening here. In their ivory towers all appears rosy. If someone comes with a complaint they’re sidestepped, given the run-around or just not believed. If their complaint is against one of the powerful class they’re ignored or worse still, bullied into withdrawing their complaint. We didn’t read the rest of the chapter but there we see one of the classic ploys of governments. In v13 he points out how the propaganda machine has been playing up a recent victory over 2 fairly minor cities, Lo Debar and Karnaim. The message being put out is that we’re a powerful player in the region. We’re secure because if there’s a problem with another nation we’ll just send our army out to make a pre-emptive strike against them.
Of course Amos can see the irony of it all. The name of the first city, Lo Debar, in Hebrew means, literally, ’Nothing’. And that’s about all this minor victory means.
You see these are God’s own people who are guilty of ignoring the plight of their fellow Israelites, of ignoring God’s law and of taking for granted what he’s done for them. And so he warns them that as his people they’re answerable to him. So a great disaster is coming on them; not a natural disaster, but one that will be brought about by the army of the Assyrians. The Assyrians are about to attack Samaria and take these so called powerful rulers into exile. And as he says, "that’ll wipe the smiles off their faces!"