He was the prophet in overalls, a farmer who wore clodhoppers on his feet, calluses on his hands, and righteous anger in his heart. Amos was his name. He hailed from a dusty little town called Tekoa, about 6 miles southeast of Bethlehem, perched on the edge of the Judean badlands.
Amos was a Southerner with a mission in the North. Though he was a preacher by calling, he didn’t earn his living that way. On the “Occupation” line of his tax form, he listed “Nurseryman/Sheep Breeder.” Amos tended fig trees, pricking the fruit to hasten their ripening, and ran a livestock business in the hills near Tekoa. No, he wasn’t a professional clergyman. Never attended Bible college. Didn’t have a Master’s of Divinity hanging on his wall.
But what Amos did have was a devotion for God. A passion for justice. A keen sense of right and wrong.
Amos’ red-hot fervor flies off the pages of his book like hammer-sparks from an anvil:
"The LORD roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds dry up, and the top of Carmel withers." (Amos 1:2)
One by one, Amos ticks off the sins of neighboring nations, pagans all. Can you hear the chosen people, the Jews, cheering as Amos denounces the murderous, savage, warlike ways of Ammon, Moab, Edom and other nearby Gentile countries?
But then Amos lands a surprise punch. He starts swinging at his own nation, Judah, knocking them senseless with stinging accusations:
“Tramplers of God’s law!”
As the Judeans are catching their breath, Amos draws the Israelites into the ring, blasting them with charges of greed, bribery, oppression and tabloid-style sleaze. Then he lands the K.O. punch with this power-packed word from God:
"Now then, I will crush you as a cart crushes when loaded with grain. The swift will not escape, the strong will not muster their strength, and the warrior will not save his life.” (Amos 2:13-14)
Hard words. Serious charges. An indictment that made the people want to cover their ears and muzzle the country bumpkin prophet. The king’s chaplain, Amaziah, tried to do just that. He charged up to Amos like a bull and flamed him with these words:
“Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom." (Amos 7:12-13)
It’s hard to be a prophet. Not easy to speak God’s word of justice. People get mad at you. Accuse you of being a commie, a trouble-maker, or worse. “Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be prophets.”
But Amos would not shut up—didn’t even soften his words. How could he? He looked around and saw that the Israelites “sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed.” (Amos 2:6b-7)
It was a Golden Age, a prosperous time. The stock market was up, interest rates down. The pursuit of the almighty shekel ranked on top of pursuing justice and righteousness. Housing starts were red-hot; the Israelites who wanted to wow their neighbors built a summer and winter house, opulently furnished with inlaid ivory. The women of Bashan in Samaria took pampering to new heights by sprawling out on their chaise lounges and calling on their husbands for cocktails. With his usual poetic charm, Amos called these women “cows.”
On top of all that, Israel was practicing two-faced religion. On one hand, they bragged about giving offerings on top of their tithe and took pride in their liturgically-correct worship services. On the other hand, they practiced gross idolatry by worshipping golden calves, engaging in temple prostitution and tolerating an unbiblical priesthood.
Amos cringed. His face flushed, his anger mounted. You can almost see a Christ-like figure, ready to overturn the moneychangers’ tables in the temple. Amos knew he had to speak. He opened his mouth and out came God’s words of judgment:
"I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:21-24)
Fast forward 2800 years and skip over a couple of continents and a big ocean. Modern-day America sounds a lot like ancient Israel, hm? We define “Success” with dollar signs in place of the S’s. We define the “American dream” not as giving, but as having—by owning a house or two. Unfortunately, the pursuit of happiness has come at a terrible price. According to most reliable sources, the average American household owes around $8000 in credit card debt, and bankruptcy lawyers will tell you that it’s nothing to see people who are $25,000 (and more) in the hole.
What’s happened to our priorities? The typical high school couple spends more on their prom than the average American household gives to charity. Beer sales in the U.S. outrank tea, water and powdered drink sales. Every year, the average teen spends 900 hours in school and 1,500 hours watching TV. We know what the Budweiser frogs say, but aren’t too sure about the Ten Commandments.
Meanwhile, in this time of relative peace and prosperity, church giving has dropped over the past several years. The average churchgoer gives about 2% of his income to the church, and only 6% tithe.
I’m not trying to make us feel bad—just aware. God’s people have never been called to stick their heads in the sand. “Church” and “apathy” do not belong in the same sentence. Our Methodist ancestors understood this. They fought to end slavery. They championed temperance. They worked to improve prison conditions. They built clinics, schools and orphanages. They helped abolish child labor. John Wesley lived so simply and frugally that at the end of his life, he was giving over 98% of his income to the poor. Even past the age of 80, he spent five consecutive days in the middle of winter walking the streets of London, raising money “to clothe them that needed it the most.” After Wesley’s funeral, at his request, the draperies used in the service were taken down, sewn into dresses, and distributed to needy women in London.
Jesus said, ”One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
Look around. Where do you see greatest need in this church, your school, the community-at-large? Be still. What is God calling you to do; how is he pricking your heart to make a difference in the lives of people? Assess yourself. What skills, talents, interests and abilities has the Lord given you to serve Him and the world He loves so much? You may think you don’t have a lot to give, but give it, anyway –and watch Christ bless, multiply and spread your efforts.
Superman fought a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way. Christians fight a battle for truth, justice and God’s way. The ancient words of Amos will never go out of date: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”