Amos 5.18-24 or Wisdom 6.12-16; 1 Thessalonians 4.13-end;
Almighty Father, whose will is to restore all things in your
beloved Son, the King of all: govern the hearts and minds of those
in authority, and bring the families of the nations, divided and
torn apart by the ravages of sin, to be subject to his just and
gentle rule; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the
Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
AS LAST week, geography is important. This is another message
from the margins, where things look different from the perspective
at the centre of power. Amos was from Tekoa, a fortified wilderness
hill-city, ten miles south of Jerusalem, from which King
Jehoshaphat once defeated neighbouring enemies who had ended up
killing each other (2 Chronicles 20.20-30). A century later, that
triumph of Jerusalem's king was remembered vividly.
Now, in mid-eighth century BC, there was over-confidence in
Jerusalem, where another king, Uzziah, had won battles in this
wilderness region where he built towers, and, loving the soil,
farmed the lowlands west of Tekoa (2 Chronicles 26). Meanwhile,
north of Jerusalem, King Jeroboam of Israel was also consolidating
his nation's security. Both kings were long-lived, and
archaeological finds confirm the biblical accounts of widespread
prosperity, at least for the upper classes.
Yet the Chronicler records tersely "[Uzziah] became strong and
grew proud, to his destruction" (2 Chronicles 26.16). So, enter
Amos, like King Uzziah a herdsman and arboriculturist (Amos 7.14).
The occasion seems to be a harvest festival (Amos 8.1). Amos's
message was as devastating as it was unexpected, given the
pervading sense of well-being in both nations. But Amos, like Micah
soon after him, saw below the surface to the rotten heart of both
nations, to the oppression of the poor by the rich, which he
spelled out in gruesome specificity (Amos 4.1, 5.10-13, 6.1,4-7,
About 30 years before the Assyrians conquered the northern
kingdom, Amos voiced God's lament over its future fall (Amos 5.1-3)
before pleading for the people to seek God and live. God had not
changed; yet justice was perverted amid the people's prosperity. He
warned them not to seek refuge through offering sacrifices in
Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba: places of previous theophanies and
displays of God's power (Amos 5.4-5, 4.4).
Then came the dire, vivid warnings we heard, effectively, of
being thrown out of the frying pan into the fire. Announcing God's
absolute hatred and rejection of sham religious observances
underpinned by injustice and unrighteousness, Amos pleaded for
justice and righteousness to roll down like rushing waters.
This Remembrance weekend, we describe ourselves in the collect
as nations divided and torn apart by the ravages of sin. We are all
too aware of the complexities of world situations that lead nations
into wars, with rarely clear political answers. Yet Amos insists
that there are clear ethical answers: the prosperity of nations
cannot be allowed to conceal the suffering of the poor, worse their
oppression, behind a façade of well-being. No one can seek the day
of the Lord in the future as the alternative to pursuing justice
So Amos calls us to dare to live faithfully in, and responsively
to, the world and national situations in which we find ourselves.
He shouts that our God is coming with justice. As the centenary of
the First World War reminds us all too cogently, this makes
enormous demands on us, whether we live in the UK or Iraq, Syria,
or African nations where there is injustice.
Jesus, teaching his disciples privately (Matthew 24.3), touched
on this in a different way. The scene was a typical village
wedding, but the focus was not so much the centre of the
festivities - the coming of the bridegroom - as how people managed
the consequences of his delay.
That was also the issue for the Thessalonians: did they live
expectantly and appropriately? Weddings took place at night, and,
as now in Middle Eastern cultures, for a woman to be out at night
without a light was unthinkable; yet five of the bridesmaids risked
their reputations and their participation by being unprepared. With
echoes of Matthew 7.21-22, they were locked out.
We can debate the details of the parable, and whether we should
read it allegorically, but the point is clear: how we act now must
express our vocation to be utterly faithful to God, who is coming
among us with justice. There are consequences for the future, and
our pilgrimage begins with the first step.
I am reminded of the evocative title of Eugene Peterson's
autobiographical book A Long Obedience in the Same