At our session this past week I opened the meeting by reading the same passage from Amos that was read for us this morning. At the conclusion of my reading, one of your elders said in humor, "I am really looking forward to when you stop reading Amos at us."
I am glad that someone was listening and understood the gravity of what Amos is saying. And I don't think it was any picnic for Amos either. He was away from home, away from his livelihood, and preaching an unpopular message to an unfriendly crowd.
But he said what he needed to say, and it has been preserved for us right down to the twenty first century, and that is an incredible fact on its own.
Amos' words are like a doomsday bell tolling for Israel. Each of his sentences is the sounding of a distant gong, and when the last has tolled, then the hour of God has come and Israel will be no more.
In a context like that, who would want to hear the word or the voice of God?
But remember it is not midnight until the final chime has rung.
God knows there is a finality in Amos' words, but just the fact of them being pronounced is an opportunity for change.
Or as Yogi Berry said, "it ain't over til its over."
The Word of God is an interesting phenomenon. When it is spoken, the landscape changes.
They are like a surveyors stakes being driven into an anonymous landscape.
It is the same thing with you and me.
A young man and a young woman sit on a log down at the lagoon.
One turns to the other and says for the first time, "I love you."
The simple fact of those three words and the relationship has changed. That may be stating what both felt and hoped for, but the moment it is spoken and acknowledged, the landscape changes.
Richard Mouw of Fuller Seminary wrote in a recent edition of the school's theological journal:
When I was in Russia, I heard a story that rabbis tell about ?Zusya.? There are many stories about this fictional person, used to illustrate important points in the Jewish understanding of God's ways with human beings. Zusya is a holy fool, a village idiot who, in his bizarre manner, comes through with little pieces of brilliance. In the story that I heard, the chief rabbi was teaching the Torah to his rabbinic students while Zusya was in the room. The teacher began to read the first chapter of Genesis: ?In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was without form and void, and the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.? But when the rabbi read the next words, ?And God said...,? Zusya got up and yelled and danced in a fit of ecstasy. The rabbinic students laughed nervously, convinced they were witnessing sheer craziness. But the chief rabbi chastened them. ?Zusya has understood the whole thing at once,? he told his students. 'the rest of you will need to study Torah for several years. But he grasped the entire picture in a single moment. He has understood that if you grasp what the words ?God said? mean, you have grasped the whole story.?When God first spoke his creating words, the silence of eternity was broken. God revealed to the created order that he did not intend to remain silent. If you understand that fact, you grasp why divine revelation is such a wonderful thing, such a manifestation of sovereign grace. 1
God's word spoken into time and space gives meaning and purpose to life.
We are not just a product of random chance.
Human life has a purpose and a meaning.
We are not alone in the universe.
But hear what God says to Israel:
And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it.
I can imagine someone hearing Amos saying to him, "Good! If the words of God are going to be more of what you say, then good riddance!"
What did happen is the priest Amaziah tells Amos to get out of town and to go home and do his prophesying in Judah where he belongs. He is rejected and his words are rejected. And Amaziah cannot hear that far away tolling of the bell.
Jesus said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
I can only say "Amen, Lord, give me ears to hear. Give us ears to hear you Lord"
What God was saying to them was a reflection of what God saw in their lives.
They were rich and complacent, always a dangerous state.
They were consumed with their material wealth and had become dishonest out of greed.
saying, "When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great, and deal deceitfully with false balances,
that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and sell the refuse of the wheat?"
No one intervened when the powerful preyed on the poor.
Oh they were religious enough. They had a sanctuary and priests and offered sacrifices alright.
But their hearts weren't in it. They would sit and grumble during times of celebration because they couldn't wait to get back to business.
God doesn't begrudge our daily bread. We pray for that every Sunday.
But it is within the context of knowing who supplies our needs.
When we make ourselves masters of the universe, we get what we ask for.
God says, you don't want to hear from me, then you won't.
And you will be alone in the world and the consequences of that are very bad.
When God's word is taken away, then we are gods to ourselves and there is no one to establish rules of conduct for all. The strong do what they want and the weak have no advocate.
We are alone in the universe when God stops speaking, and human nature as we know it is the highest standard available to us.
God knows we cannot survive without his word, his guidance, his protection and his care.
Hear the final words of Amos' prophesy:
14 I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
15 I will plant them upon their land, and they shall never again be plucked up out of the land which I have given them," says the LORD your God.
And that is why we can hear Amos and hear the good news of God.
Jesus said just before his death, "I will never leave you or forsake you."
God has promised not to abandon us.
And God's word is available to us.
It comforts us in our grief, it corrects us when we are off base, it even wounds us when we feel complacent. But God still speaks to us and that is the best news of all.
Don't be willingly deaf to what the Lord is saying.
Lord give us ears to hear you. Amen
Preached July 18, 2004
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia
1. Richard J. Mouw, "Seeking the Lost", Theology, News and Notes, "What is the Gospel", Journal of Fuller theological Seminary, Spring 2004.
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