Angry preaching that is filled with fire and brimstone isn’t my favorite thing. Turning loose that kind of passion in a pulpit can be dangerous if the preacher’s frustration with life gets stirred into the message. A sermon can become a rant that does little good for anyone but the one who gets to vent his anger at the world! And yet … God’s message is not all sweetness and light. A courageous preacher will be moved by the Spirit to strip away the illusions of his audience, to challenge their assumptions about Who God is. Grace is a wonderful part of the message of the Gospel, but so is repentance.
The ancient prophets, whose words are recorded in that largely neglected chunk of the Old Testament that follows the Psalms, were bold preachers that stood up to the prevailing attitudes of their day. What may surprise us is the subject matter that mostly filled their sermons. For the most part they spoke of injustice and idolatry! Amos, who we only know as a ‘shepherd from Tekoa,’ felt the passion of the Spirit of God move on him and he preached thunderously about the horrific injustices that he saw in his world.
For his own people, God moved him to this Word. “This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. They 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. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name. They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge. In the house of their god they drink wine taken as fines.
“I destroyed the Amorite before them, though he was tall as the cedars and strong as the oaks. I destroyed his fruit above and his roots below. “I brought you up out of Egypt, and I led you forty years in the desert to give you the land of the Amorites. I also raised up prophets from among your sons and Nazirites from among your young men. Is this not true, people of Israel?” declares the LORD.” (Amos 2:6-11, NIV)
That language may put us off a bit, the meaning hard to grasp. Basically, the cry is for justice for all! The poor were treated like dirt. The oppressed had no voice. The law was used by those in power to seize the property of the people in the name of the gods. Poor temple prostitutes were treated like property, used by father and son without a thought.
Can we hear Amos’ sermon today in our land?
- Will our “Bible preachers” go beyond railing on the sexual sins of our nations to see a larger picture of responsibility to assure that every man and woman is treated as bearing the image of God?
- Will we expand our ‘pro-life’ message beyond abortion so that it takes in the love of war that grips our Capitol?
- Will we extend our ‘pro-marriage’ message beyond our fixation with same-sex relationships to encourage husbands and wives to love one another with a covenant love that lasts ‘until death do us part?’
- Will we come to understand that ‘idolatry’ begins with worship of our things and take on the materialism that owns so many of us?
As Amos reveals, we can easily slip into a deception that says, “Since we are the people of God, everything we do must be the will and purpose of God.” Few things have the power to wreak injustice in the world than more acting ‘in the name of God.’ Far too many American Christians have been blinded by this lie.
Somehow we convince ourselves that everything we do and everything we are; our nationalism, our place at the top of the nations, our use of power to hang onto our privilege is sanctioned by God who winks at the injustice used to maintain that favored status. Amos thunders a message of repentance – “Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.” (Amos 5:14-15, NIV)
Yes, America has sunk to lows of immorality. There is no arguing that given the headlines we read daily. But, we make a terrible mistake in thinking that our only sins are in the area of promiscuity, abortion on demand, or same sex marriage. What of our willingness to wage war to maintain our power? What of our willingness to ignore the plight of billions who cannot escape poverty? What of the refusal to hold our leaders accountable for policies that protect the privileged at the expense of the poor? No, friend, this not at all about politics or party, this is about thinking hard about what it means to be the people of the Lord, what it means to love our neighbor – the one across the street, at our southern border, or on the other side of the globe.
In our complex world, we need to be having hard conversations, wrestling with our attitude about who we are as a Church, as a Christian. We need a large dose of humility that learns to listen without a defensive response, that prays to know the heartbeat of God.
Consider this word from the Word, the cry of the Lord that Amos heard in his day. Is it not for our time, too? “I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want.” (Amos 5:21-24, The Message)
Oh God, let us hear Your Word,
humbly repent, and experience Your grace.
Help us to get serious
about the whole Gospel, for Jesus’ sake.
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