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09.27.20 Portents and Prophets Amos 3:1-8 Sermon Summary

by on September 28, 2020

 “You only have I known, among all the families of the earth.” This is what God says to ancient Israel. The people of God are a chosen people, a known people. What does it mean to be chosen and known? Apparently to Amos it includes being able to “see.” And what we are chosen to see is our “iniquities.”  This is a churchy word meaning our guilt, our shortcomings, our less-than-God-wants-for-us lifestyles.

Even though we are chosen, sometimes we don’t see. Why is that? One reason is that our eyes are not healthy. Jesus says our eyes are the “windows” into our bodies. Only looking on light makes our bodies light. Sometimes we don’t see because we are looking on darkness.

Jesus also taught that we don’t see because we have a “log” in our eyes, even as we criticize others for having a “splinter” in their eyes. It is a metaphor for finding fault in someone else when we have the same fault in ourselves. This causes us not to see.

Sometimes we don’t see because our eyes are closed. Amos was criticized by a contemporary prophet names Amaziah. Amaziah said only positive, feel-good prophesies should be uttered. He refused to see what Amos saw. Jesus told a parable about a rich man who overlooked a poor beggar at his gate. The eyes of these men were closed.

Paul writes of some people suffering spiritual blindness, and thus they don’t see.  And when Jesus heals the blindness of a man blind from birth, the man’s parents refuse to acknowledge it because they are afraid of the religious rulers. They have chosen not to see out of fear.

But God wants us to see. Seeing is key to our salvation and to the salvation of the world. And to Amos, there are two sources of “seeing.” One is causal relationships that should be obvious. The other is the prophets speaking God’s Word.

The obvious relationships Amos identifies include friendships between two people who have chosen each other. He asks whether a lion roars without prey. Do birds fall out of the sky unless they are hunted? When the battle trumpets sound, does it not cause alarm? For Amos, if cause and effect relationships are obvious, they should be observed and heeded.

And just as obvious is the relationship between God and the prophets. When God speaks to the prophets, God speaks through the prophets to the people. And so we are to look at signs, look at portents, and listen to prophets.

If we do not, God says through Amos, “I will punish you.”  A more direct translation of the Hebrew renders, “I will visit your sins upon you.” God recognizes that choices have consequences, and while those consequences may feel like punishment, and even use the language of punishment (which the Bible often does), in fact it is simply the law of karma.

The law of karma is taught throughout the Bible. Paul says, “One reaps what one sows.” (Galatians 6:7) We are judged according to our deeds. (Psalm 62:12; Revelation 20:12) Jesus teaches the law of karma in the parable of the goats and sheep. (Matthew 25) He also teaches that “good trees bear good fruit; bad trees bear bad fruit.” (Luke 6:43-44) He assures his disciples that false prophets can be known by their fruit. (Matthew 7:15-16)

We are subject to law of karma. But God is not. God is sovereign over karma. God is absolutely free. Contradicting the law of karma, God can choose not to reckon our guilt to us. God can also redeem us despite our guilt. This freedom of God’s is the definition of “grace.”

Both the law of karma and God’s grace are mysteries. And as the chosen we are called to see such mysteries. We are called to recognize the movement of grace, of God’s undeserved favor, and also the law of karma, of cause and effect, of sign and meaning.

And the chosen are called to recognize the truth in the voice of prophets. “The lion has roared; who will not fear?” God says in Amos. “The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy?“ (Amos 3:8) The prophets have spoken. Amos and the other Minor Prophets have spoken.

What signs have they seen? What are the signs to which we are to pay attention? What are the unsustainable trends that result in God’s judgment?

Here are five:

  1. Concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a small minority
  2. Spending beyond our means as individuals and a nation; borrowing from the future
  3. Environmental misuse
  4. Reliance on incarceration over restorative justice to deal with criminals
  5. the obesity epidemic 

Or we might consider the “Seven Deadly Social Sins:”

  1. Wealth without work
  2. Pleasure without conscience
  3. Knowledge without character
  4. Commerce without morality
  5. Science without humanity
  6. Religion without sacrifice
  7. Politics without principle

These are signs pointing to a judgment. And the judgment is not God’s active punishment but rather karma’s “visiting our sins upon us.” These are the results of choices we make. Amos says to us today, “Repent! Make different choices. Change the future. Avoid God’s judgment.”

This is the mission of the church: To heed the signs, to heed the words of prophets, to bear witness with our words and actions that God’s judgment is real, even among the chosen as we believe we are. And unless we heed we may well experience the judgment of the law of karma and not the mystery of God’s grace.

We Protestants often want to say good works are not important. But Jesus said, “My good works testify to the truth of who I am. Don’t believe me? Believe my good works. Only those who believe are among my sheep and are included in the flock of God.” (John 10:25-26, 37-38)

Good works point to God. The signs point to God. The portents point to God. The prophets point to God. Jesus points to God. Amos points to God. The choices we make matter. Unsustainable choices lead to judgment. Just choices lead to righteousness.

Hear this good news: As the chosen people of God we can see the signs. We can hear the Word of God among the prophets. We can change our choices. We can change our lives and invite others to do the same. We can be the force for good in this world, the force for transformation, if we will see in the portents and listen to the prophets for the Word of God. Amos urges us to observe the portents, to listen to the prophets, and to enter the Kingdom of God. May we do so to the glory of God. Amen.

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