This morning’s passage, the last we look at before I go away on holiday, is not easy.
It is from one of the toughest books of the Bible, the prophet Amos.
Amos is the prophet of doom in the Bible.
I thought we might begin in looking at some tough words from Amos.
The Lion and The Bear
18 How terrible it will be for you who long for the day of the LORD! What good will that day do you? For you it will be a day of darkness and not of light. 19 It will be like someone who runs from a lion and meets a bear! Or like someone who comes home and puts his hand on the wall—only to be bitten by a snake! 20 The day of the LORD will bring darkness and not light; it will be a day of gloom, without any brightness.
Hush Do Not Mention The Day Of The Lord
9 If there are ten men left in a family, they will die. 10 The dead man’s relative, the one in charge of the funeral, will take the body out of the house. The relative will call to whoever is still left in the house, “Is anyone else there with you?”
The person will answer, “No!”
Then the relative will say, “Be quiet! We must be careful not even to mention the LORD’s name.”fAmos 6
There is a picture in the film the Pianist, which is about a pianist called Spielman, who manages to escape from the Nazis in Poland at the beginning of the war, for many months he hides out in various flats and abandoned buildings,
Until one day the Germans fire a grenade through the house that he is in,
And stunned, he escapes out the back, before the Germans come in.
He climbs over a wall, weak, devastated, and all around him, street after street of dusty, destroyed buildings.
It is a bit like that area at the top of Woodlands Crescent used to look
You were aware of the life that used to happen there,
And the children that enjoyed these streets, the families that sang here,
And unlike Woodlands Crescent where the residents you hope are in better homes,
Here are the homes of people who have in the last year have been killed.
These are words of Amos
Why such hard words?
Why? Look At This
Some of the hardest words in the New Testament are in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, where he despairs of the practices in the Church.
For chapters he protests, and he blasts, and he demands more,
Because behind this, is the hope that this Church be more than a social club
But is something that will last to eternity.
1 Corinthians 3
You are also God’s building. 10 Using the gift that God gave me, I did the work of an expert builder and laid the foundation, and someone else is building on it. But each of you must be careful how you build. 11 For God has already placed Jesus Christ as the one and only foundation, and no other foundation can be laid. 12 Some will use gold or silver or precious stones in building on the foundation; others will use wood or grass or straw. 13 And the quality of each person’s work will be seen when the Day of Christ exposes it. For on that Day fire will reveal everyone’s work; the fire will test it and show its real quality. 14 If what was built on the foundation survives the fire, the builder will receive a reward. 15 But if your work is burnt up, then you will lose it; but you yourself will be saved, as if you had escaped through the fire.
The hardest words, are for the Churches strength on the toughest day
The words of Amos, concern a plumbline
In chapter 7, verse he looks and God has a plumbline in his hands
The vision we see starts with a plumbline, one of these things
And at the bottom of it, a plumb-bob.
In it, Amos, sees God upon a wall, the translation here says “beside a wall”, but the word upon, is used in the Hebrew, when God comes upon you, you do not survive.
This is remarkable.
Recently I was underneath an section of the new M74, at Rutherglen,
And you can see the vast metal sections of trunking that support the new road.
And I was thinking, what would happen if one of these fell upon you.
You would be crushed.
But this concrete has been built, straight and true.
And it is the same with the wall that God stands upon
It has been built with a plumbline
The plumbline in Amos is like a test, it is something that is hung next to the society,
Next to the human heart, and says “How are we doing here?”
I am not sure if walls particularly enjoy plumblines
The wall is quite comfortable, sat there,
And then the builder comes along with the plumbline
Which means that some parts are going to be scraped, some are going to be shifted, some are going to be gone,
Basically when God is “upon” an item of human stone work, that is not normally good news for that stone work.
And then God says, I am going to put a plumb-line to the heart of my people.
Right in the middle of the them
The part that decides their values, the bits of them that really count,
The Plumb Line Hangs Over Our Culture
The plumb lines hangs over our culture:
In the World Cup, the amount of money made by the nation of South Africa is £400m,
The amount of money made by FIFA is £700m
And the amount that FIFA pays in tax to South Africa is exactly 0, a precondition of being able to hold the tournament there.
Or in an American Military prison in Kuwait there is an 22 year old Private, Bradley Manning.
His crime is to have leaked a tape of Black Hawk helicopter killing nine people, shooting on a van that came to help, the crew making up a story that they had been fired on first, and then laughing at the people that have been killed.
They are still free
The person who broke the story, allowed the words to be public,
He is prosecuted.
Or in our own country,
There is a way of paying tax which is instead of paying a wage, you get paid a dividend. The disadvantage of being paid a dividend is that you get paid four times a year, the advantage is the tax rate is lower.
The new coalition had made a promise to bring the wage tax band, and the dividend tax band into alignment with each other, but after citing some research from the United States, have decide that the top tax bracket will be 50p in the pound, but if you get paid a dividend it will be 28p, which will benefit the most well off enormously.
How are you doing with generosity to the poor?
How are you doing with your civic responsibility, the thing that we need to do to look out for our neighbours.
How are we doing with our carbon footprint
How are we doing with consumerism, cutting out the things that we don’t need
How are we doing with our diet, not eating more than we need.
How are we doing with faithfulness to the people around us – committed and loyal and loving to the neighbours and families God has given us
The line hangs
How are you doing with giving
How are you doing with shopping for fair trade goods
How are you doing with your allocation of time
The Human Heart
And the line hangs not only in other people, but also in the human heart
One of my teachers from University used to say, if I want to assess someone’s true spiritual condition, I will want to see their wallet, I will want to see their diary, and I will want to feel their pulse.
It is the job of the cleverest, brightest people in our world, to devise clever means of persuading you that your happiness is only one purchase away.
Do you ever have the experience of picking up cheaply an item that was once heavily advertised.
An iPod that can no be purchased for £20
A second hand German car
A Gillette sensor razor
And you remember what the advertisers told you would happen to your life if you owned that thing
And you sense now, the emptiness of those claims.
Why is it that we do not watch our own advertising, with the wisdom that we watch children’s advertising.
We watch children’s advertising with horror,
Horror that the advert overplays the happiness the of the children playing the game – as if children ever play the game, as if children ever sit down together
And horror as the price comes up
And weariness as we have to persuade the child that their eternal happiness does not depend on owning Masters of Gromiti dungeon warriors, or Barbie house.
And then we switch channels and think “That is a lovely sofa that DFS own
I would be a better minister if I owned an iPad.”
Or if only I got that promotion, if only I got that job.
What Can We Do?
This is not meant to be some disempowering guilt
What can we do?
We can shop locally – because research shows that money spent locally hangs around the local economy for longer, supporting tradesmen, and small businesses through the recession.
We can be informed – about world affairs, about life in Britain, so that we do not succumb to the lie that we are worst off, or we are isolated.
These two can be met together.
Drew Munro, a long time supporter of the Church, who has had to move business, sells newspapers on delivery. You just have to go in and ask.
We can shop fair – fair trade goods make a huge difference to the farmers who sell to the Fair Trade market.
We cut out the carbon – because it is that that is most likely to render the planet in future a place where people say “hush”, this place is devastated, do not mention the name of the Lord.
And the parts of our lives which are good, and we say to ourselves “Have I got time for this any more? Is this really worth it?” The plumbline says, keep that part in.
We must seriously listen
And then the warning of Amos
“High places of Isaac will be brought down
And the Holy places will be devastated
And God will arise upon the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”
Two Things You Can Bear
You have a choice at this point.
You can have these difficult words upon you,
Which provoke us, make us restless and profoundly uncomfortable
Which demand from us actually utter dependence upon God to try and put things right in our lives, because we are certainly not going to manage this ourselves.
You can bear these difficult words,
About the plumb-line,
Or you can bear God.
Amaziah the Priest
The one in the story who can’t bear the words is actually Amaziah the Priest
So Amaziah the Priest of Bethel, sends for the King.
“Amos has conspired against you” – actually Amos had said “Jeroboam’s house will be killed by the sword” but Amaziah twisted it “Jeroboam will be killed by the sword”
Conspiracy suggests secrecy, Amos has been open
And against “you”, says the Priest “against everyone” is the truth
And the “land cannot bear all his words”
Note “they are his words”
And the land cannot bear it, we cannot cope, the people of the land
Or in the way that we might put it today
“He is bad for business
He is bad for moral
He is bad for the country”
His words are not in the National Interest
They are unpatriotic”
He is dragging us all down with this lies, his untruth, his propaganda.
And then Amaziah says to Amos, in words which are much more gentle, as if he is trying to protect him,
“Oh seer” – which probably was an honorific term
“Flee to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophecy”
But Amos, redoubtable Amos says, “I am no prophet,
And my Father is not a prophet” – he is not interested in rank
“I am a shepherd and a dresser of sycamore trees”
He is part-time sheep farmer, and the rest of the time he is a gardener,
He is a labourer
But the Lord took me from the flock, and the Lord spoke and he said
‘Go and prophecy in Israel”.
All this talk about safety, all this talk about being a “seer”
I will tell you what God says.
And he says to you Amaziah, “thus says the Lord”
Not “Thus says Amos”
“Thus says the Lord”
Your wife will become a prostitute
And your sons and daughters will die by the sword
And you will die in an unclean land
And Israel will go on exile from its land”
You cannot cope with my words,
Well now, you have to cope with this.
And that is how our story ends.
These are not the last words in the book Amos
These are not the last words in the Bible
There are other words that are going to come after these
But just now, we have to press the pause button,
Let the plumb-line hang
And let us look carefully at our lives.
And let us say to God,
If there are things that need to be got rid of
That I can be straight, the kind of wall that could bear you,
Get rid of them, starting now.
If I do not listen to your words
Then I listen now,
And I will obey.
Given in Memory From
Where these falls given in memory of Ella,
A woman whose life was a big part of this Church
They are a crucial reminder that God speaks,
These are the places where the word comes from
And these words are difficult to bear
But they are the words that bring life
So in the words of Jesus, if we have ears, let us hear.
None: Good New Translation – Second Edition. electronic ed. : : ,, ., S. Am 5:18
None: Good New Translation – Second Edition. electronic ed. : : ,, ., S. Am 6:9
f f6.10 Verse 10 in Hebrew is unclear.
None: Good New Translation – Second Edition. electronic ed. : : ,, ., S. 1 Co 3:9