Amos—A Man Against Corruption
Sermon preached by
The Reverend Sam Cappleman
There's a legal case in France at the moment where a man is taking on the might of the establishment. In protest against globalisation he, and some of his colleagues, deconstructed and dismantled a McDonalds's outlet.
There was a film on the other night, Fire Down Below, starring Stephen Seagal, where a little man took on the might of a corrupt business magnate who was dumping toxic waste near his town.
Whether the Frenchman will win in not clear, whatever win means, but Stephen Seagal certainly did. And both stories could have been based on the book of Amos, where little Amos takes on the might of the Israelite empire. To understand why we need to look at a little history.
On the death of King Solomon in 922 BC, the Israelites split into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Jeroboam, the first King of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, fearful that his people would be drawn towards Jerusalem, the place of Solomon's Temple in Southern Judah and therefore weaken his own Kingdom, set about providing a religious foundation for his people of the North. First he established a priesthood which claimed lineage from the Mosaic period and then he established two centres of worship in His own Kingdom, one at Dan, in the north, and another at Bethel on the southern boundary. Both Dan and Bethel had been sacred sites and centres for pilgrimage for some time.
Then 150 years later, about 750—770 BC, along comes Amos. Although he was from the Southern Kingdom of Judah, he spoke out against the injustices and the depravity which had become prevalent in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. God sent Amos to denounce the social and religious corruption in Israel, and to warn them of His impending judgement.
That's one of the reasons he chose to do so in one of their great spiritual centres, Bethel, and with Amaziah, the Priest of Bethel in attendance.
Now Amos was an ordinary man by any estimation. He came from among the shepherds of Tekoa, a village 12 miles south of Jerusalem. And to understand the magnitude of what was going on its as if today a farm worker from the south of England travelled to see the Archbishop of York, in York Minster, to calmly announce that all was not well and that he'd better get his act together and make some changes if the Kingdom was not to suffer attack and occupation from a weaker northern country!
For Israel this was difficult to take. They were enjoying a period of prosperity, business was good, merchants were making money, the standard of living was high for the rich, and the army had scored some memorable victories against Lo-debar and Karnaim. But Amos decried the empty religious practices of Israel, which, although rich in ritual, were insincere empty shams, poor in worship, truth and love. He also spoke out against the injustices of the rich who exploited the poor, denied them justice in the courts, and drove them into slavery and economic ruin.
What was even more galling was the fact that Amos used history to prove his point.
The Israelites felt that because they had been chosen by God that they were special and could do as they pleased, literally 'get away with murder'.
But recalling the history of the nation, Amos points out that the Israelites are indeed special but rather than giving them carte blanche to do as they pleased they have a special and sacred responsibility to God. For Amos, God speaks in the present through the remembrance of the events of a sacred past. And if they forget the past events, the plagues, the lost battles, the divisions, they will live by the consequences.
In the passage from today's reading Amos gives the illustration of God standing by a wall that has been built true and straight. He's also holding a plumb-line in his hand to confirm that the wall has been build true to plumb. If the wall's true, the plumb-line will prove it, if its not, then the plumb-line will show that also. The plumb-line can't lie, as anyone who's tried to build a wall will testify!
Amos held up the measuring stick of the 'Word of the Lord' for the Israelites to judge themselves by, as a mirror in which they could look at themselves. He believed they were found sorely wanting. And its clearly an uncomfortable image for Amaziah, the prophet of Bethel, who immediately gets on the Israelite equivalent of the blower to inform his boss, the King, that trouble is brewing and suggests to Amos in the strongest terms that he should return back from whence he came—told him to get stuffed in fact. Interesting to note that when he calls his boss he slightly embellishes what Amos has been saying to make sure it has the desired effect.
How strange, Amos isn't even a professional prophet who made his living by making religious pronouncements. He's just farm labourer saying what he's been asked to say by the Lord. He probably had a strong country accent, maybe even stumbled over the words—but he message was clear and uncomfortable. The Kingdom of Israel had fallen from true plumb.
Now to me the actions of Amaziah look to me like the actions of a guilty man, a man who knows that what Amos is saying is true and its uncomfortable to be caught out—the message is a bit too close to the mark perhaps. And even when Amaziah calls in the heavies Amos doesn't stop. Just like Stephen Seagal.
Amos doesn't overstate his case—he just tells it like it is and like he believes God has told him to, Israel must stop the religious and moral corruption otherwise Jeroboam, the current king, will die and Israel will go into exile. It's quite simple, listen and take action or bear the consequences.
It's the same for us today. We can all think of modern parallels. Our society may not be as corrupt and as Israel might have been, but its certainly not perfect. Similarly, worship to us should be far more than just going through the motions of coming to church each Sunday. Just as Amos spoke out to the Israelites through getting them to remember all that God had done for them, through thick and thin, we too need to speak out in our society. We need to hold the plumb-line of God's words up so our society can see its reflection. See how it compares.
One of the reasons God speaks to us, through the remembrance of the events of Christ's death and resurrection we celebrate at the communion, and in other ways, is so that we can speak His words and love as a warning to our society. If they, and we, fail to live by God's commands we must all live by the consequences of our actions.
And for us, we have not only the word of God but the example of Christ to use as our yardstick, to hold up for our society so it can see how it measures up against the ultimate truth. Just as the Jews, God's chosen people, had a special responsibility so too we as Christians, have a special and sacred responsibility to God for our society.
We need to speak out against injustice and oppression, wherever we find it. As God's ambassadors that's part of our responsibility.
It may be unlikely that we'll be called by God to speak out in some high profile way as Amos was, but in or own ways we need to be just as bold, where we se things which are counter to God's will and commandments.
Perhaps sometimes we feel that were only very small, not gifted at saying things the right way. Some people might think we've got a funny accent. But Amos is an example to us all, as a small man who spoke out against the system, against corruption, and for justice and human rights, and for what he believed to be right, holding up the word and ways of God as the ultimate arbiter.
And, whilst we don't know what happened to Amos, we do know that 30 short years later his prophecies were to be fulfilled and Israel was to fall to Assyria, just as he had warned.
Those who don't live by God's commands will live by their consequences.