Summary: People says to me, "Dave, as a Christian I am not interested in politics", and I can say to them in all honesty, "neither am I". ...
I sorta promised someone in the parish that I’d choose a more cheery passage next time I preached. “Come unto me all ye who labour and are heavy laden” was suggested - a message of encouragement and hope. This is not that sermon.
Inspired by our set lectionary readings, for better or worse, I have found myself irresistibly drawn again to the figure of Amos - one of the fieriest or the fiery prophets of the Old Testament. So … my apologies, but strap yourselves in!
Amos is actually an old friend of mine. Indeed, we became friends a long time ago. During my crazy early Christian days, when I was busy preaching on street corners, trying to convert all my old friends, doing my best to share all my possessions, set up shared bank accounts with the other members of the youth fellowship, and turn my flat into a de-facto shelter for local alcoholic persons, Amos was my inspiration.
I preached my first ever sermon at my home church - the Chinese Presbyterian Church in Surry Hills - on Amos, at the first service of the day, and I got so carried away that I just couldn’t be stopped. I preached for 25, 30, 35, 40 minutes, and as people arrived for next service and started knocking on the door, I was still going! You have been warned! Strap yourself in (and pour yourself a cup of coffee).
Why was I so drawn to the figure of Amos? Because nobody in the Bible, I think, more clearly reflects the Biblical passion for social justice as does the prophet Amos
Amos was an 8th century prophet, meaning that he preached in the 8th century B.C., before the destruction of Northern Israel.
If you know the history of ancient Israel, you know that after the reigns of King David and his son Solomon, there was a civil war of sorts in Israel, after which the country was split into north and south. The southern state of Judah remained loyal to the line of David and maintained Jerusalem as their capital, while the much larger state of northern Israel set up their capital city in Samaria, and built there an alternate temple, which, according to the books of Chronicles, was the beginning of the end.
The importance of this with regards to Amos is that Amos was a southerner, from the southern state of Judah, but was preaching in the north! This was a point of tension for Amos, and when he comes into conflict with the northern religious authorities he’s told to go back home and mind his own business, and I’m sure that his southern drawl would have made it difficult for him to get a unbiased hearing.
Amos was no professional preacher either, with a clever, polished style. He tells us quite frankly that he was a farmer who felt called one day to go and preach to the people of the north. So he closed the farm door, got on his donkey, rode all the way to Samaria, the capital of the north, set up a soap-box, and started preaching:
Thus says the LORD: "For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment” (Amos 1:3)
I’m in Amos chapter one, where we read of Amos giving a series of prophecies of doom to a variety of middle-eastern nations - Damascus, Moab, Edom, etc. - and he speaks of the terrible judgement that God is going to bring upon these peoples for the crimes of violence that they have committed.
We’re told that the people of Damascus “threshed Gilead with sledges of iron”, and that the Edomites hunted down their Israelite relatives “and showed no pity”. We’re told that the Ammonites even “ripped open pregnant women in Gilead”!
We are not unfamiliar with this sort of violence. Crimes such as these continue to happen. Indeed, for some of our parishioners, who have come to us seeking refuge from their own war-torn homelands, these reports may sound all too close to home!
They were crimes took place, of course, in the context of war, but so far as Amos in concerned, this is no excuse. Don’t bother pleading, “I was only following orders”. God will not overlook such terrible acts of inhumanity.
In terms of Amos’ overall message, it’s worth recognising that in this opening spiel, Amos is railing exclusively against Israel‘s enemies. Indeed, if you take a map of the area and pinpoint the nations that Amos targets in these prophecies, you‘ll see that they encircle Israel, and that crimes of violence were all perpetrated on Israelites.
This was probably Amos‘ attempt to get his audience on-side by whipping them into a patriotic frenzy. “Woe to the you violent Iranians”, he cries. “woe to the Syrians, woe to you Hezbollah Muslim fanatics”, ... and all the people say, “Amen!”