I’d like to spend one more week on Amos. A reminder about the history during Amos’ time.
Before I introduce you to the prophet Amos, you must get to know the history a little bit. You know that after the death of King Solomon, Israel was divided into two kingdoms, the northern kingdom called Israel, whose capital was Samaria and Judah, the southern kingdom called Judah, whose capital was Jerusalem.
Amos lived in the southern kingdom in a small village called Tekoa, just ten miles from Jerusalem. During this time king Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam II was king of Israel. He was not a prophet nor the son of a prophet. He was a manager of shepherds and a grower of figs. He made a good living. Amos was asked by God to go to the north and prophesy judgment. He was to critique their reliance on the state and their reliance on politics and their reliance on the comfort and security they were enjoying.
The prophet Amos was skilled at not allowing the people of Israel to ignore the moral issues of idolatry or the issue of misusing the poor and needy. We could make a contrast to our politically charged environment, it is one or the other. Moral issues or caring for the poor.
But we must have a biblical, Christian approach to life because we are the people of God. The church is herself a polis, a laos, a people. We are a Christian before we are a Republican. We are a Christian before we are a Democrat. In this country we have ‘religious freedom.’ That means we are free to exercise our religion. But Christianity is not a democracy. The people of God do not operate in a democratic system. Regardless of what the culture around us do, we are members of a kingdom, and we have a Lord and King, Jesus Christ. We are a people unto ourselves, baptized and grafted into Jesus. We are a Body.
This is where Amos wanted to bring the children of Israel back to. They needed to remember where their allegiance was to lie and they needed to look at their situation from the perspective of the people of God, not as citizens of a political Israel.
Amos’ message this morning is to take to task those who have defined themselves by the secular state–by the secular idea of success. And he continues to bring mind the idolatry of Israel, as well as, again, the treatment of the poor. Listen to the verses just preceding our passage:
“I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
“Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? You shall take up Sikkuth your king, and Kiyyun your star-god—your images that you made for yourselves, and I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,” says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts” (Amos 5:21-27 ESV).
Their feasts and sacrifices are unwanted because their hands are dirty. Idolatry and mistreatment of the poor make religious duty abhorrent to the LORD. What Amos wanted was justice and righteousness.
The result of Israel’s complacency, the result of Israel’s idolatry, the result of their security in their state, their riches and their military instead of their security in God–the result of all of this is that they will first. That is the first to be exiled. Amos says, in 6:1 ‘Woe to you who are at ease…the notable men of the first of the nations..’ and in 6:7, ‘Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile…’
What can we take for our reflection?
How many of us are secure in our possessions or our comfort, or our jobs, or whatever and do not consider that God is really the one we need to be attentive to? How many of us are too secure in this world and in its ideas of success and failure?
How many of us struggle with old fashioned idolatry? We don’t call it that, but we have plenty of temples ourselves. You remember that in Amos’ time, King Jeroboam II fashioned a Temple in Bethel to Yahweh, Baal and the golden calf, ‘who brought the children of Israel out of Egypt.’
What do our Temples look like? Park Meadows? The golden arches? Shotgun Willies? Invesco? Maybe our temple is the temple of public opinion, or a political party, or the approval of the culture?
In Amos’ Israel they were eating choice meat. In the ancient world, meat was a delicacy and was a rare (no pun intended) treat–yet here they are eating the best meat in ease. Wine was also a delicacy in the ancient world, a drink reserved for feast days and weddings–yet here they were drinking wine out of punchbowls.
For us, feasting is the norm and fasting is rare. One of our Muslim friends from Sudan is observing Ramadan. During Ramadan Muslims fast from sun up to sundown. Our friend told me that none of the Christians he has ever met fasts–yet it is an expectation of Jesus that his followers would fast.
Our idols are subtle, but real nonetheless. But let’s meddle a bit. What is our biggest idol among us? I’m sure all of us are lured by the comforts and pleasures of the culture, but our idol is more nuanced.
I would say our most prized idol as Episcopalians on 1st and Colorado is the STATUS QUO.
Now we would never put an idol to the status quo up on the altar. But I would say that Episcopalians are notorious for not wanting to be messed with. Kind of ironic while our denomination crumbles, but lets get back to us.
Let me tell you what status quo is not. It is not having a faith and worship to hang your hat on. Christianity is at its best when we take our Tradition seriously. The Creeds, the Scripture, the liturgy, these are all part of our identity as Christians. Without these things we are no longer Christian. But there is a difference between Tradition and traditionalism. As Jarslov Pelikan has said, “Tradition is the living faith of dead people to which we must add our chapter while we have the gift of life. Traditionalism is the dead faith of living people who fear that if anything changes, the whole enterprise will crumble.”
As Anglican Christians, our biggest struggle is to turn the status quo into our god. Not Tradition but traditionalism. Tradition says, ‘Jesus is Lord.’ Episcopal Traditionalism says, ‘yea but let’s not talk about that outside of these walls.’ Tradition says that the Kingdom is for Jews, and Gentiles alike and for every tribe and nation. Traditionalism says, ‘they have their churches, we have ours.’ Everyone who can trace their heritage to Great Britain, raise your hands. I guess we’re not as British as we thought! Tradition says, ‘the church is a movement in the world.’ Traditionalism says, ‘church is a building, a monument, a museum of a time long gone.’ Tradition says, ‘go into the world and preach the gospel.’ Traditionalism says, ‘we built it, I like it and I hope they won’t come.’ Tradition says, ‘they all heard the praises of God in their own language.’ Traditionalism says, ‘hegemony grows churches.’
The status quo. But God has brought us to this time in this place at this moment in history. The world has changed and we have the biggest opportunity to share the gospel than we ever have. And we must take the challenge. It is not something to be afraid of, but something to be excited about. Listen to what Erwin McManus has written,
‘God chooses not only the places but also the times in which we live. He has privileged us to live not only in the greatest expansion of human population but also with the greatest opportunity for the spread of the gospel. No previous generation, even maximizing its potential, could ever have considered reaching six billion people for Christ. If the church a hundred years ago had reached everyone on the face of the earth, they wouldn’t even have begun to touch the possibilities facing us. I am convinced and inspired that God would not allow us to live in a time of such great opportunity if he did not have on his heart the desire to pour out the greatest movement of his Spirit in human history.’
Do you believe that the faith in which you hold can change the world? Do you believe the gospel you believe has the power to light the world on fire?
Or are we stuck in the status quo? The traditionalism that actually militates against the Christian Tradition.
We need a mental shift. The Scriptures would say we need to repent–to change our direction and our mind set.
Do you think Jesus had in mind that we live a life of status quo? Do you think he believed his people were a movement or a monument?
What are the possibilities for us?