Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
by Joel Kelling, Anglican Alliance facilitator for the Middle East
NOTES ON THE READINGS
Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
The Book of Amos is the oldest of the Prophetic literature of the Bible, written around 750BC. It focusses on the issue of Justice, highlighting the need for Israel as a people to repent, just as the gentile nations around them must also repent.
In the passage today, the missing verses (8-9) are explicitly about God’s role in creation – perhaps you could include the longer reading in your sermon? It is postulated that the verses are part of a hymn (whose other references are found in verses 4.13 and 9:5-6) which all reference God’s hand in creation (“he who forms the mountains, and creates the wind…he who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning…who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out upon the surface of the earth”). It is amidst this statement of the nature of God as creator that we are told of God’s love of justice, and reminded just how short the Israelites are falling in living this out. Verses 7, 11, 12 and 15 all reference how justice has been ignored for personal gain, taking from or over-taxing the poor for the sake of wealth, and they also note that the results of this injustice will ultimately be the downfall of the unrighteous (“you have planted pleasant vineyards, but shall not drink their wine”, verse 11).
Psalm 90 is unusual in that it is ascribed to Moses (and the only Psalm so titled). It is concerned primarily with humanity’s finite days, compared to the infinite nature of God, and that much of our life is consumed with “toil and trouble” (verse 11). In the section for reading today, the second half of the psalm turns from this preoccupation with our limited vision and experience to ask God for wisdom and satisfaction (verses 12 and 14), and for God’s work to be “manifest in your servants” (verse 16). The theme that is emerging from Amos to this Psalm and into the gospel reading is about God’s justness and our seeking that, rather than pursuing our own, fleeting desires. Verse 14 asks that God “satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love”. Elsewhere in the Bible, the word ‘Sabea’ often refers to a physical satisfaction – being filled up (from hunger) – but here I think it refers more to the notion of being filled up with a contentedness within the love of God, rather than pursuing material happiness.
Before noting the content of the reading, it is always good to see where Jesus is when he speaks and acts. Today we find him in “the region of Judea beyond the Jordan” – that is Perea, the Herodian lands beyond (as this is what ‘perea’ means in Koine Greek). These are the lands traditionally associated with John the Baptist’s imprisonment and execution. Jesus is here on his way south from the Galilee on his way to Jerusalem and the cross, perhaps following the typical pilgrim path to Jerusalem avoiding Samaritan territory. On this pilgrimage journey Jesus encounters people concerned with being on the inside of relationship with God, with Jesus providing surprises in response to questions on divorce, the place of children and the means of inheriting eternal life. Whnever relationships on earth are being damaged or under-valued, this is a cause of separation from God. For the young man who calls Jesus ‘Good Teacher’ this separation is a cause of great sadness, and yet an inability to give up what Jesus asks of him, as when he heard this, “he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions”.
DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE
There is as I see it, a common theme through these readings that is absolutely linked to the heart of creation care, albeit not stated explicitly. Exploitation and injustice, and a desire for more and more, in the material sense, that lead to a separation from God are thematically present in all of these readings.
The prophetic voice calls out against others’ injustice – the powers that be, whether governments or corporations, so the creation care message present in these passages is not only addressing the individual (as in the case of the young man in the Gospel of Mark) but society at large (the Israel of Amos’ time). There remains a balance here too, in that the criticism is initially of Israel’s neighbours, but Amos makes it clear that Israel is not absolved of its failings, nor weighted on an absolute scale against others’ failings. We are called to transform unjust structures of society (it is the Fourth Anglican Mark of Mission) be they our own church structures or the context we live within, and advocacy for justice is a vocal part of that work.
Turning to the Fifth Anglican Mark of Mission – striving to safeguard the integrity of creation – I think a major focus of a sermon on today’s readings is around consumerism and consumption in general, both at that individual level, around clothing and fast fashion, which exploits both the earth in regard to the water (8 gallons for a pair, 3 days human consumption in the USA) and chemicals needed to dye jeans, but the humans that make them in factories which are often physically unsafe, and in places where labour laws are weak or unenforced. We can explore more sustainable ways of consuming – vegan and vegetarian diets for example – but if we overeat these products, the environmental benefits of reducing the demand for animal products is undone.
As we are offered and choose to pursue these lines of consumption – few inherently bad in their own right – we are pursuing more than we need, seeking to be made whole by having the latest, or completing the set, and in so doing, failing to observe the presence of God around us, in creation, and miss the satisfaction, being satiated by God’s love and peace and provision. That we create barriers to our own experience of the presence of God is sad enough without the realisation that in our pursuit of the vapour of the world, we actively and passively harm others and the earth in the process.
To join both the fourth and fifth marks of mission in thought and action, let us make it so we don’t need to engage in beach clean-ups or community litter picks, not because the waste has been carefully disposed of, or even recycled, but because we simply aren’t consuming the things that result in this waste in the first place. But as we do this, we must call for systemic change – rethinking how our economies are run, for the sake of the jeans makers in Turkey or Bangladesh, for those selling plastic throwaway products, for those like the Zabaleen in Cairo, who make their income from dealing with everyone else’s rubbish. As we seek to encourage the consumption of less, and the production of better, more sustainable and longer lasting items closer to home, those on the margins will suffer economically without input into training, and a global approach to making less, and better.
As with other passages of the Gospels and the Psalms (Matthew 6; Psalm 24) the pursuit of God’s Kingdom and the recognition that the earth belonging to God, today’s readings suggest that through recognising the presence of God, and the imminence of God’s Kingdom, we will be transformed in our lives and our relationships. We care for creation not because ‘we should’ but because it belongs to God, and in our love for God, we care for God’s creation. In our relationships we love our neighbour not because we should, or that we benefit from the relationship, but because in that person we see the image of God, and in that moment must respond with love.
Amos Hymn of Creation, taken from chapters 4, 5 and 9:
413 For lo, the one who forms the mountains, creates the wind, reveals his thoughts to mortals, makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth— the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!
58 The one who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning, and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the Lord is his name, 9 who makes destruction flash out against the strong, so that destruction comes upon the fortress.
95 The Lord, God of hosts, he who touches the earth and it melts, and all who live in it mourn, and all of it rises like the Nile, and sinks again, like the Nile of Egypt; 6 who builds his upper chambers in the heavens, and founds his vault upon the earth; who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out upon the surface of the earth— the Lord is his name.
An article on the environmental cost of the production of Jeans:
An article on the Zabaleen people in Cairo, the challenges they face and the good that they do: https://waste4change.com/blog/taking-a-peek-of-the-zabbaleen-the-garbage-people-of-cairo-egypt
by Joel Kelling, Anglican Alliance