“When the Word Goes Beyond The Walls”
Rev. Mark M. Vickers
Sunday, July 10, 2016
Amos 7:7-17New American Standard Bible (NASB)
7 Thus He showed me, and behold, the Lord was standing [a]by a [b]vertical wall with a plumb line in His hand. 8 The Lord said to me, “What do you see, Amos?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,
“Behold I am about to put a plumb line
In the midst of My people Israel.
I will [c]spare them no longer.
9 “The high places of Isaac will be desolated
And the sanctuaries of Israel laid waste.
Then I will rise up against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”
Amos Accused, Answers
10 Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent word to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel; the land is unable to endure all his words. 11 For thus Amos says, ‘Jeroboam will die by the sword and Israel will certainly go from its land into exile.’” 12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Go, you seer, flee away to the land of Judah and there eat bread and there do your prophesying! 13 But no longer prophesy at Bethel, for it is a sanctuary of the king and a royal [d]residence.”
14 Then Amos replied to Amaziah, “I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet; for I am a herdsman and a [e]grower of sycamore figs. 15 But the Lord took me from [f]following the flock and the Lord said to me, ‘Go prophesy to My people Israel.’ 16 Now hear the word of the Lord: you are saying, ‘You shall not prophesy against Israel nor shall you [g]speak against the house of Isaac.’ 17 Therefore, thus says the Lord, ‘Your wife will become a harlot in the city, your sons and your daughters will fall by the sword, your land will be parceled up by a measuring line and you yourself will die [h]upon unclean soil. Moreover, Israel will certainly go from its land into exile.’”
What do you say after a week such as this one, and in the pulpit of a church that claims to proclaim the Gospel of peace and compassion? What do you do when the world seems to be obliterated in front of you? What do you do when you examine your life and your orders of ordained ministry in a world that scares you? What do you do when you face political upheaval and every word that is spoken by those seeking power is corrupted and twisted in front of you? What do you do when God calls you to speak out and speak loud?
How often does God place a scripture in our hands that speaks so poignantly to this world predicament we see ourselves facing? This morning in our text from the Prophet Amos, we have before us a text that reminds us that God cares for us, yet at the same time judges us when things are corrupt.
CAUTION: We have to remember here that Amos is bringing the Word of the Lord to people as it relates to Israel!! We cannot proof text this to make it fit St. Paul, Dallas, Baton Rouge, Charlotte, or even Greensboro. But what we can do is learn from this prophesy! We can learn what God has instructed us to do when things start falling apart. We can learn what God intends for us to do when we are called to the forefront of our society and our Christianity (in our case) and act upon the Word of God.
Amos, in this text, sets before us a tragic occurrence. The plumb line is set before the people of God to measure a faulty wall! A wall (which is Israel in this case) that has been broken and shattered, where social norms of justice have failed, and the place is a wreck! Amos is our “not so gracious” prophet. He is the one who does not hold out the “Welcome Back Mat” as other prophets seem to do. Amos’ patience has run out, and he is clear to make sure that the people of Israel will surely be killed and shattered. For Amos, God has turned away from His people.
Now preacher, you say, what type of Good News is this? Social injustice falling away, God abandoning God’s people, and yet we are to find comfort and solace here?
I never said that you would find “comfort and solace” if you listened carefully, but what I did ask you in the beginning were the same types of questions I think Amos asked himself when God called him to be a prophet in a land of corruption and injustice and disgrace. “What do I do?” This was the question that continues to pop up in our minds and in our hearts, especially in weeks like this! How do we respond to a vigilant hate that seems to divide our world, whether it be around race, sexual orientation, status and power, revenge, or hatred? Amos may have had it pretty easy compared to our situation. He just had a country, God’s first country, and he was falling apart and disillusioned, but he had been the one called to proclaim this prophesy.
Most of us just shutter at the thought of God’s judgement, because we are a people of grace, but even grace requires judgment. This morning we wrestle with the process of being prophetic in God’s judgment but with the movement toward finding the purpose of today’s message in today’s world.
My friends, we live in a world of the “unknown!” We have no idea what will happen in the next hour. I was truly frightened when I went to bed on Friday night. Apprehensive of what I might view on the news Saturday morning when I awoke. But as Christians we have to learn to approach this “void of fear,” the void that makes us feel uncomfortable on this side of the wall and persevere with a faith that can only move us to the other side of the wall! That is why I love the Prophet Amos so much, because he claims not to be a prophet. He claims to be a shepherd tending his flock, but the Lord God “took me from following the flock and the Lord said to me, ‘Go prophesy to my people Israel.’” Amos was a lot like us, normal everyday people who have been moved by this fervent faith to speak out against what is wrong in this world and move people to an understanding that God, even though displeased with our actions, will judge and love us all in the same fell swoop. Amos was one that was moved by prophetic action to faith action to beyond just words into action among the people. Amos didn’t really want to speak God’s word, but he understood he had no choice!
I firmly believe that we have “no choice!” We have to speak the Word of God in a way that produces, reminds, suggests, and commands people to love one another and abolish this hatred that has run rampant. We have to be like Amos and stand in the midst of this world, we cannot run from it and hide. We must stand and proclaim the fact that God is present in our divided world, sought by the presence of Christ, that new life will come to fruition.
John White, Dean of Student Services at Columbia Presbyterian Seminary suggests that this text echoes hard and strong on the soul of a nation that yearns for social justice in the midst of Christian action. He brings into his commentary the fact that this text was dominant in the Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. White states, “Prophetic voices of justice sought to move the nation beyond the less-than-adequate place it had been, even to the point of challenging the rather embarrassing efforts of some clergy who were either comfortable with the status quo or fearful of where radical (but necessary) change might lead.”
It is time, my friends, that we are not comfortable with the ‘status quo’. We as Christians need to be different and speak out about those injustices in our society and in our lives. Dr. White calls it a “temptation to be aware of” when it becomes easier to be comfortable rather than prophetic! When it becomes easier to sit back and watch the destruction of our society rather than proclaim love and compassion in a way that changes the world. What does matter, and this is the crux of our being as Christians, “whether or not our calls originate with God. A prophet’s credibility is confirmed when the essence of that which is prophesied comes to fruition and the people are moved to faith.” (White, John E., Proper 10, Feasting on the Word.)
Let us find strength in the mode of operation from a God who calls us to be different than the world, even when we have to proclaim that God is not happy with the world in its present condition. Allow us, O God, to be proclaimers of the Word in such a way that we may move that plumb line to a place of action and make it a statement of God’s power and love in our lives in order that we can change the lives of those around us.
AMEN & AMEN!