Trouble and Transformation: Reflections on Sunday’s Bible Texts

By Bruce Epperly

Lectionary Reflections for July 11, 2010

Texts:  Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

Reading the prophet Amos hits too close to home these days.  No one wants to be a harbinger of bad news, especially when anxiety is gripping the community already; but that’s Amos’ vocation.  To speak words of disorientation, with just a few final sentences of hope, is Amos’ challenge to an already unsettled nation, facing the “perfect storm” of unfixable problems.  Before the good news, there will be a lot more bad news to come, Amos tells his listeners.

People were worried in Israel, and they’re worried in North America today.  While some have people have profited from the past few years of economic insecurity, most of us anticipate working harder – if we’re lucky – with less compensation, benefits, and job security.  The baby boomer’s dream of a redefining retirement as a mystical or hedonistic adventure still plays well on commercials during tennis and golf championships.  But, elsewhere boomers hope that they won’t end up as Walmart greeters or living with their children a decade from now.  And, like Amos’ listeners, we face the perfect storm of economic insecurity, global anxiety, unfixable oil spills, international conflict, and cultural unrest.  Would you dare to preach his message in your church this week?  And, if you did, what would the result be?

Amos doesn’t let his listeners off the hook, nor does his message give us a break.  Actions have results, and while there are forces at work beyond the infidelity of Israel, Amos believes that idolatry, injustice, and infidelity have led to the current national crisis.  Amos’ God seems to be in the midst of the crisis as both its primary provocateur, and ultimate hope for recovery.  Powerless before the threats of its enemies, Amos tells Israel that God is in control of the affairs of persons and nations, and that they are really only getting what they deserve.

The Temple prophets attempt to silence this outsider.  “Don’t prophesy against Israel?”   Today, we might be told, “Don’t prophesy against Wall Street or the oil companies or the Chamber of Commerce?  Don’t bring us bad news?  Or, at least sugar coat what you have to say? We need something uplifting, even if it’s a lie.”  But, Amos presses on, “Unscrupulous business dealings and unrestrained profit-seeking have hurt the nation.”  There’s no denial here, in fact, there seems to be little hope for the wayward nation.  The evangelicals I grew up with often spoke of being “convicted,” that is, seeing the error of their ways and how far they had stepped off the path of righteousness.  And, that’s what Amos is about in this passage.

While we might not like the theology of divine control of historical events, we need to be convicted as a nation: our salvation is not in shopping or retirement funds, but in relationship to the just and living God who asks us to “walk the talk” of faithfulness.

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