Summary: A sermon about loving and serving God and neighbor.
“Who Is Your Master?”
A basket of ripe fruit…it’s delicious, but it doesn’t last long.
This week, the strawberries we just bought grew layers of fuzz before we could finish them.
Our bananas spotted up, becoming overripe much sooner than we expected.
Peaches deteriorate fast, as do apples.
Fruit just doesn’t last very long.
It’s the same with youth, beauty, prosperity and life in general.
A couple of weeks ago I spent some time with my 93-year-old mother who is now living in a nursing facility in Northern Kentucky.
She is a sweet and thoughtful soul.
She is also at peace in her old age.
We were having a nice time together when she looked at me and said:
“Life is so short.
What were we running after?”
Our Scripture Passage for this morning begins with God showing Amos a basket of ripe fruit, and then going on to compare it to the people of Israel.
They are ripe, like fruit, good for only a very short time, then they will quickly spoil and decay…dead bodies all over…Darkness will come suddenly, and famine…
But what kind of famine?
Not a famine like the starvation in refugee camps, but a famine where folks will hunger to hear the words of the Lord, but no matter how they try, they will not find it, for they will hear nothing.
In other words, God was angry.
The people in Israel were in a time of prosperity.
They were having feasts and they had lots of grain and wheat to sell.
The merchants went to church regularly, but they couldn’t wait for church to be over so they could get back to selling and making money.
But the people were doing more than having their hearts in the wrong place.
Amos tells us that they were trampling on the needy and actually doing away with the poor of the land.
It appears that the urban merchants controlled the markets, making it possible for them to sell to the landless peasants at high prices.
And then, the peasants were forced off their land because the interest rates were too high.
It’s sort of like those predatory lenders that line the streets of our city—the title-pawn folks.
The prophets in the Bible considered predatory behavior toward the weak and vulnerable as one of the worst possible sins.
And that is what Israel was doing in the time of Amos.
In all reality, Jewish Law included ways to provide for the needs of the poor.
For instance, landowners were required to leave the edges of their fields unharvested so that poor people could come and glean those fields and have enough food for themselves and their families.
But instead of doing this, the rich were ruining the poor!
Amos says they were “skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales.”
An aunt of mine used to say to her butcher, “Is your thumb on the scales today?”
She laughed when she said it, but it kept the butcher honest.
But in Amos’ Israel, this is no laughing matter; the needy can’t demand that the measures and scales be checked.
God accused the people of “buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat” which, again, farm owners had been commanded in the Bible to leave as leftovers—free for the poor to eat.
Cheating poor people who are already living on the edge financially is a very chilly thing to do.
Ever notice how gas stations in very poor sections of town tend to have the highest prices?
Or how about grocery stores.
In big cities, it’s common for grocery stores that are set in the middle of very poor neighborhoods where people have little access to transportation to jack up their prices—forcing the poor to pay much more for a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread than the rich suburbanites who can go anywhere to shop.
The merchants in Amos’ day bought low, sold high, gave short measures, charged high prices, and then went to church.
And in verse 7 it says: “The Lord has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: ‘I will never forget anything they have done.’”
A common theme throughout the Bible is that those of us who have enough are called to share with those who don’t.
There’s nothing wrong with making a profit, but making a profit becomes evil when it distorts our relationship with God and with our neighbor.
What did Jesus say:
“No one can serve two masters.
Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.
You cannot serve both God and Money.”
Let’s all ask ourselves this morning: “Who is my Master? God or Money?”