Sermon preached by Mrs Claire Peck Ordinary 15 Year B 2012
When Richard and I moved into our current house some six years ago it had been empty for about twenty five years. Although visited occasionally by its previous owners and kept clean and tidy, when we moved in there was no telephone line, no plumbing for a washing machine, archaic wallpaper all over the walls and ceilings and carpets that quite frankly were awful! … But we saw the potential and it immediately felt like home. Work to modernise our home has occurred in waves, with various jobs being carried out at different times. During the past few weeks several new projects have been started and some have now even been finished! Amidst it all the spirit level (show spirit level) has been well and truly used … by the various workmen in our home in order to ensure walls have been level, and new cupboards and staircase handrails have been straight … and by myself to ensure that their work was right, that it measured up and so that I could be prepared to speak out and tell them if it wasn’t!
Decorating and house jobs were far from Amos’ mind in the Old Testament reading we have heard this morning but in the vision he experienced and we have had read to us he described the judgement awaiting Israel which as a nation had gone too far in its corruption to escape judgement. The vision or picture shown to Amos by the Lord was a plumb line held against a wall. As the weight on the string was allowed to hang free, it was clear that the wall was not straight and would eventually collapse. The reality was that the Torah (the Jewish holy book) was the standard that the plumb line measured and it was clear that the nation of Israel was so out of true that it would collapse. The high places and sanctuaries would be deserted by the Lord and Israel would not experience God’s protection in war. Amidst all the corruption, injustice and unrighteousness of the day Amos, although not a professional court prophet, was given the authority in his call from God to speak out and announce the judgement coming.
Amos was called by God from his life among the shepherds of Tekoa, a village 12 miles south of Jerusalem, to prophesy to the northern kingdom of Israel. Although quite obviously an ordinary man by any estimation it is perhaps wrong to think of Amos as a humble young shepherd who followed the flocks over the hills. The words used to describe him as a ‘shepherd’ indicates that he was more than likely a person of social standing who traded in sheep and goats and other agricultural products. In fact you can almost imagine the conversation between him and God if he was to be called today:-
What’s that, another missed call on my mobile. Don’t folk know I’m working today? I don’t usually get a very good signal here in the village of Tekoa where I live. Looks as though I’ve got a voicemail message though – ‘Amos, please ring back. It’s about prophets’. It must be important if it’s about profits. That would be welcome as the price of livestock has nosedived. I’ll give the caller a ring back. Who did you say you were … God?! You’re having me on … so you’re not from the Tekoa Better Business Bureau offering me a juicy contract in order to make a profit. You’re talking about prophets as in Moses. Hang on a minute this has nothing to do with me – I’m not religious, I’m a farmer. You’ve got the wrong number. Ok ok I’m still here, I haven’t hung up on you … yet! Erm, yes, you’re right God, I’ve seen poor people driven off their land, I’ve seen loan sharks taking the very cloak off their debtors’ backs, I’ve heard rich traders boast about their short measures and loaded scales but God whilst I may have a voice, eyes, ears and a heart that desires justice I’m not a prophet and I’m not ready to be sent even by you. What’s that you said … you’ve called me, you will be with me and I can get in touch with you anytime – it’s only the price of a local call!
When one thinks of a prophet what images come to mind? Perhaps a picture of John the Baptist with robes, a beard and almost certainly in need of a good haircut! Maybe a picture of someone who could or indeed can foretell the future or perhaps a picture of someone whose behaviour would strike a modern spectator as bizarre? A careful look at the range of prophets mentioned in the Bible illustrates however, that one must not lose sight of the fact that they were actually very diverse, they didn’t look alike and they didn’t fulfil the same functions. That said they did speak words or images which were of God and they were entrusted by God. They did say things about God and about people, sometimes things which people actually didn’t want to hear. They were characterised by conviction and motivation and they refused to allow the conventions of the cultural norm get in the way of the authentic voice of God and finally they stood close to God and because of their ability to draw close to him they had the ability to comprehend some His truth.
Amos claimed the call of a prophet as a result of the Lord calling him and giving him a message to speak. He did not have a popular message to pass on, but his deep sense of being commissioned by God gave him strength in the face of any questions to his call. He spoke out about the abuse of the poor, the perverting the course of justice, of people thinking that wealth and riches were a sign of God’s blessing, instead of exploitation of others and he stated clearly that the Kingdom of Israel had fallen from true plumb. In so doing Amos showed that he had a duty and a responsibility to speak out about what he believed God was saying to his people.
And just like Amos and many other prophets before or after him and indeed those whom we might perceive to have been and be prophets in our own lifetimes we too all have a duty to listen to God and seek to make his voice heard. Our society may or may not be as corrupt as Israel was but it’s certainly not perfect. We, as individuals, may or may not be as corrupt as the individuals in Amos’ time were but we are certainly not perfect. But we do have both the word of God and the example of Christ to use as our plumb line or our spirit level to hold up and see how they measure our society and us as individuals against the ultimate truths of righteousness, justice, care and love.
It may be unlikely that we’ll be called by God to speak out in some high profile way as Amos was, but in our own small ways we need to be ready to be bold in order to address a word, a thought or indeed a challenge to those we love and care about, to those we meet only fleetingly and indeed to those we might never see, at a crucial moment, which might just change their present or their future paths.
When I decided, the other day, what Bible reading I was going to focus on in my sermon today I got in touch with Sue Allen who goes to Putnoe Heights to let her know as I knew she was on the list to lead intercessions. I got a text message back saying ‘Just read it. Bit weird?’ I replied by saying that it was the best of the bunch! I did however go on to say that the book of Amos is well worth a read – good bedtime reading. There’s a thought and a challenge for you all! Quite simply Amos presented to the people of Israel and still presents to us today a very clear, sharply defined picture of God for Amos had met with God, and as a result knew him intimately. He knew what God was thinking and he knew what God wanted from him. May we too, today and in the years ahead, have opportunities to meet with and know God intimately. May we too, today and in the years ahead, know what God is thinking and may we too, today and in the years ahead, know what God wants from us for:
Here we are Lord,
We have heard you calling in the night.
We will go Lord, if you send us.
We will hold your people in my heart.