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09.20.20 The Lamp of the Body Amos 5:6-15 Sermon Summary

by on September 24, 2020

People find God in various places. Some discover God in joyful ecstatic moments, or valleys of despair and darkness, or in quiet contemplative prayer. Others find God in inspiring words of scripture and tradition, in the natural world, or intimate relationships with people or animals. Still others find God in the mysteries of science or mechanisms of history, in harmony and melody, or in visual art and poetry.

Experiencing God is life-giving. It is our created nature to seek God and live. It’s natural to look to the church or to religion or to accoutrements of worship to help us find God. These are among the first places I look and I often find God.

And all this is OK so long as God is found. But God is always ALSO beyond where God is found. Amos says to me and to us all to seek God for life. Seek God beyond where you find God, beyond where you’ve found God in the past, and beyond where you’ve been told to find God. Seek God, and God alone, for life. And then Amos then makes it practical.

Amos is one of the most popular minor prophets which is surprising because his is not a positive message and he doesn’t guarantee a happy ending. Maybe it is his authentic concern for society; he tells the truth. Maybe it is the images he conjures. Amos wrote for the North and then was adapted for the South, so he has a universal feeling message. Or maybe Amos is popular because he’s one like us—a normal guy who shepherds and farms but has a message nonetheless.

Amos lived in a time of peace and economic expansion but expansion benefited only rich and powerful. Other people were being left behind. The military powerhouse Assyria was distracted by other nations, so the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, Israel and Judah, were allowed to thrive. But their fortunes were about to turn.

They kept religious festivals as part of their tradition and part of their national religion. But the rich exploited the poor and the powerful took advantage of the marginalized. Prophets don’t tell the future so much as they tell the truth, and it is the truth determines the future. And the truth is: God prefers justice to injustice; shared wealth to concentrated wealth; and abundant life for all to the lavish life of a few. 

That is what Amos preached because God judges according to truth, according to God’s preferences. If we don’t align our lives with God’s truth and with God’s preferences we also will experience God’s judgment. 

How do we align our lives with God’s truth? For Amos the answer is by seeking God. We seek God in various places as we’ve already seen. One place we didn’t mention is the Law, the set of dos and don’ts, rules to abide by. If we do them, God is pleased and our lives align and we avoid God’s judgment. Amos says not necessarily.

There are good things in this life: Worship, law, spiritual experiences. But these are not ultimate. They are not the ultimate good. Only God is ultimately good. Jesus knew this. One day someone approached him as asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” (Mark 10:17-18)

So Amos preaches, “seek God and live.” Don’t seek spiritual experience or holy pilgrimage or rule-keeping. Seek God and live.

The people of Amos’ time were seeking God and prosperity, seeking God and dishonest gain, seeking God and legal loopholes. And Amos proclaims this has led them to God and adultery, to God and injustice. They didn’t seek God and social justice or God and social righteousness, so they didn’t find God and they wouldn’t find life.

And so Amos concludes: “Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” The Northern Kingdom did not listen. They continued in their unjust ways, in their double-mindedness, trying to serve God and money—something Jesus said one couldn’t do. About 40 years after Amos the Northern Kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians, never to return again. 

“Seek God,” Amos says, by rejecting evil (which is what “hate” means) and clinging to good (that is, to “love”) and finally “establishing justice in the gate.” With “gate” Amos is referring to the courts where legal disputes are settled.

In college I discovered that we don’t have a justice system, we have a legal system. The legal system has to do with laws, whereas a justice system has to do with community. Now while just laws exist unjust laws do also. This is true in America. We have unjust legality. We do have laws to overcome discrimination, but the system doesn’t always work.

In 2018 our denomination’s 223rd General Assembly met in St. Louis and led a march against the Cash Bail System. When someone gets arrested bail is set. If you pay the bail you get released until your court date. But what if you can’t afford the bail? You remain incarcerated though you are NOT convicted of a crime. In other words, the wealthy are released and go free while the poor are detained.

Two-thirds of people in jail today are there because they cannot pay bail. Two-thirds of people in jail live below the poverty line. And this situation is unconstitutional. The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution states: “Excessive bail shall not be required.” Even more, the presumption of innocence is obscured under these circumstances. 

The results of prolonged incarceration are obvious and well documented. People in jail lose their job, lose their kids, and lose their housing. Their physical health deteriorates and their physical safety is jeopardized. The recidivism rate is high among this population in part because many of them make a plea deal to get out, setting them up for increased hardships with the legal system in the future. 

Of course we have interests in public safety and court appearances being made. And people should pay for their crimes, but AFTER being convicted, not before. Thus our denomination advocates for an end or the reform of the cash bail system. Here in Colorado Senate Bill 20-161 was introduced in February to reform the system. This summer the bill failed. 

This is a modern day example of a legal system discriminating against the poor. You can search and find many other examples of wealth discrimination. And why should we care? We should care because our religious life is not divorced from our social life. Our religious convictions inform our political positions (not the other way around). The survival of a nation depends on justice because the Kingdom of God consists of just nations. 

Jesus said the eye is the lamp of the body. If the eye is healthy the body will be full of light. If not it will be full of darkness. Amos and Jesus agree: Seek God, seek good, seek justice, and live. Look to light and live.

May we pursue justice, not just legal obedience, that we might survive God’s judgment and enter the Kingdom of God. Amen.

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