For those who want a change from the Gospel
Trinity 15 – Amos 6:1a, 4-7 (Related)
My faithful followers will of course have noticed that I missed out last week’s OT Lectionary blog. This was of course out of respect for her Late Majesty, and not in any way because I completely forgot! But this week’s passage has taken me back to the sad events of last weekend, and the message of Amos is, I believe, as important as ever.
Our new PM, when she wasn’t busy reading from the Bible, was telling us that she ‘knows’ that our great country can pull through all its current crises. And at Her Majesty’s funeral and surrounding events there was a sense, and maybe on this occasion an appropriate one, that Britain really was Great under her reign. Certainly no-one, worldwide, does pomp and grief quite like our armed forces and the Church of England. Personally I found it all very moving, and for once was proud to be an Anglican, and almost proud to be English. But as we move towards the end of the period of mourning (a thoroughly biblical idea, by the way, that mourning should stop and we should move on after an appropriate period of time), our problems as a nation will still be there, with rampant inflation, food and fuel poverty for many, and continued divisions along so many different fault-lines. What was totally absent, both from the pep-talks of Mrs Truss and the celebrations of the life of Queen Elizabeth, was any sense that our problems might have something to do with our abandonment of God and with human sin, so ably demonstrated to us by our previous PM. If we are a proud and arrogant nation, recent events will sadly have reinforced this in us, paradoxically, in the light or our late monarch’s profound and public Christian faith.
If that’s how you see the state of the nation at the moment, then you’ll understand Amos completely. ‘Woe to you who are complacent!’ he thunders out in v.1. This is nothing less than a curse, pronounced with prophetic spiritual power, and believed to bring about what it said. He paints a picture of a nation where at least some of the people are living lives of luxury, not sleeping on the floor as most people did, not living off a veggie diet, not as a fad but because they simply couldn’t afford any meat, let alone the choicest. Some of the language of this passage hints at sacred idol feasts, but it may simply be describing drunken partying rather than false worship – we’re not sure about this. But either way the main point is the same: they did not grieve over the ruin of the nation (v.6). For them, as for today’s fat cats, millionaires and other figures of the élite, life was actually pretty good, even if the hoi polloi were starving and other nations were poised to attack. Eat, drink and be merry, and hope things would continue like that for the foreseeable. So it is left up to Amos to pronounce God’s opinion of the state of the nation, and his verdict is damning: your feasting and decadence will come to and end, and you will be the first to be taken off into captivity (v.7).
It has been said that if you like the book of Amos, you don’t understand it. The tone almost throughout is one of judgement on an arrogant nation which thinks it is doing fine, thank you very much. But there are three mistakes we can make in reading judgemental passages like this one. First of all, we can believe that God’s anger is the opposite of his love. This is an error which goes back at least to the 2nd century, and which led a heretic called Marcion to excise from his Bible all of the OT and all the bits of the NT which mention or quote from it, on the basis that the two testaments tell us about two different gods, the nasty angry one of the OT and the nice one, revealed to us by Jesus in the NT. God’s judgement is not the opposite of his love, it is the outworking of it, because people whom he loves are groaning in poverty because of the greed and arrogance of others. As a God of righteousness he cannot stand by and do nothing while his people suffer, at least not for long. He judges because he loves, and he judges those who fail to love.
Secondly, God’s judgement is not the same as his condemnation. He doesn’t like being angry, but he does love showing mercy. He would rather that sinners turned from their wickedness and lived. Judgement, therefore, is always aimed at repentance and change, not eternal rejection. That will come, but in his patience he wants to give us every possibility of turning back to him.
But thirdly, and most personally, judgement is not always about ‘them’, over there or back then. It is easy to see how sinful others are, but the real point is to use the Bible as a mirror in which to look at ourselves. Where does this passage reflect my sinful lifestyle, not just that of Israel two and a half thousand years ago. And what must we do which they failed to do?
Finally, in a shameless plug for my son, if you like House Music and our dear late Queen, you might like Steve’s tune which he has recently made public here. Do share it if you like it, and rejoice in the fact that, as Archbishop Justin said so clearly, if we are among God’s children, as she is, we will meet again. Goodbye and Thank You Ma’am. For everything.