Sermon for 7 Pentecost Yr C, 18/07/2004
Based on Amos 8:1-12
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of the Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
While on the campaign trail in a rural riding, a politician met up with an angry crowd at one stop, and halfway through his speech was suddenly pelted with tomatoes and over-ripe fruit. In response, the politician had the presence of mind as he wiped the missiles off his face and shirt front to turn boos into cheers by saying: “My critics,” he said jauntily, “may not think I know much about farm problems—but they’ll have to admit I’m being a big help with the farm surplus!”
Well, in our first lesson today, which takes us back to the 8th century before Christ, in the northern kingdom of Israel; the prophet Amos is given a vision of ripe, summer fruit in a basket. And the LORD asked him what he saw. Amos told him and then the LORD responds by saying: “The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by.” The ripe fruit basket then becomes a visible symbol of Israel’s imminent downfall. Amos goes on to warn the people of Israel that temple songs of joy will become songs of wailing; there will be many people who lose their lives. His was a word of doom and gloom to Israel. And, I’m sure it was a message that Israel did not want to hear! They also most likely found it a hard message to believe. Why? Because they were enjoying the good life under King Jeroboam. The economy was booming, everyone was prospering—well almost everyone, except for the poor that is!
You see Amos was sent by the Lord GOD to speak out against the shady merchant class of Israelites. He confronted the merchants head on with their unethical business practices. He told them: “you trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land.” These merchants Amos said could not wait for the new moons and the Sabbaths to be over so that they could open up their shady businesses and make more money on the backs of the poor. Even though they went to the worship services—it was all a big hypocrisy, since their hearts and minds were not focussed on God and his ways. Rather, they were trying to figure out how to cheat their next customers with their rigged weights and measures. Amos charges them with even selling “the needy for a pair of sandals.” They also sold for a high price the lowest quality wheat that had mostly chaff in it. Speaking out against such unethical business practices was nothing new however—in Leviticus 19:35-36 and Deuteronomy 25:13-16, God’s law clearly forbid the Israelites from cheating in their business practices. The LORD said he was not pleased with such cheating, nor would he bless such dishonest dealings.
Now, then, God sent Amos with this message that “the piper would be paid,” Israel would fall and end up being taken into exile. The message even gets worse before it gets better—the LORD will cause them to be in mourning as if they lost an only son. This time of mourning will be like a great famine. Only this famine will be a spiritual one; they shall seeking all over for the word of the LORD; they shall hunger and thirst for it without finding it. What a terrible silence that would be! No word from the LORD; no promises; no comfort or hope; no peace or encouragement. What a terrible silence! Along with the silence what a horrible thing to reap the judgement of what had been sown.
This message from the prophet Amos must have been an extremely difficult one for him to speak. Who wants to be a bearer of bad news? No one that’s who! I’m sure poor Amos struggled in the depths of his soul to speak God’s message of doom and gloom to the Israelites. I’m sure too that Amos like never won a single popularity contest for having to proclaim such a message! Most likely he faced tons of threats, rejection and ridicule. His would have been a lonely life. Yet he could not refuse because it was the LORD who called and sent him; who would look after him.
Today too, most of us would likely shake in our boots if we were called to be an Amos. We do not want to be bearers of bad news! We want do not want to stand out from the crowd. We want to be accepted by others—not hated, rejected and ridiculed. However even today, God sends people like Amos. People who confront us with the injustices of our society; who speak out against the exploitation of the poor. For example, who can listen to the following information from the United Nations Human Development Report without feeling some discomfort, perhaps even some responsibility for this tragic state of the world?
Did you know…? 1. The world’s 225 richest individuals of whom 60 are Americans with total assets of $311 billion, have a combined wealth of over $1 trillion—equal to the combined wealth of the poorest 47% of the entire world’s population. 2. The three richest people in the world have assets that exceed the combined gross domestic product of the 48 poorest countries. 3. The average African household is some 20% poorer today than it was 25 years ago. 4. The richest 20% of the world’s people consume 86% of all goods and services. The poorest 20% consume 1.3%. 5. Americans and Europeans spend $17 billion a year on pet food. This is $4 billion more than the estimated annual total needed to provide basic health and nutrition for everyone in the world. 6. Americans spend $8 billion a year on cosmetics--$2 billion more than the estimated annual total needed to provide basic education for everyone in the world. 1
If we follow the message of Amos, then what are the future implications for us in relation to how we treat the poor and needy in our world today? Is our destiny similar to that of Israel’s in the 8th century before Christ? Do the poor and needy in our society not suffer because of the shady, unethical business practices of corporations and governments?
So, what can we do to turn things around; to right the wrongs and address these injustices? The answer is very simple to speak, while, at the same time, very difficult to do—love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbour as yourself. We cannot live without God; everything comes from God. Because God created us and everyone else, we also cannot live without our neighbour. We are inextricably bound to God and neighbour—without them both we cannot have life, health and every other blessing. So in the sacred tie that binds us all we stand or fall together. If that is so, then each of our lives contributes to the well being of everyone. If we can see that, then hopefully the poverty of those next door or twenty thousand kilometres away shall touch our hearts, minds and lives enough to motivate us into action to resolve to pray and work for a better world for us all, with the help of God. For if we see in every human being, not an enemy or a stranger, but a child of God and a brother or a sister, a member of the one and same family as us; then everyone will live as equals in God’s presence. Amen.
1 Cited from: The New York Times, September 5, 1999, p. 16, and printed in Global Missiology for the 21st Century.