The prophet Amos lived in the middle 700’s. He did not belong to the guild of prophets; he was a shepherd and a “trimmer of sycamore trees”. But God called him to be a prophet nonetheless. Although he was from a small town in Judah, God called him to prophecy against the northern kingdom of Israel.
During this time, Israel was experiencing a period of prosperity. Business ventures expanded all the way out to the Mediterranean. The rich got richer, the poorer got poorer. While they were diligent in keeping the letter of the Law and observing the religious festivals with elaborate ritual, they ignored the spirit of the Law, the law of love. In Amos 5:11 God says (through Amos) “Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.”
In our passage, there is a two against one battle—the religious organization of Israel, represented by the priest Amaziah; the government, represented by King Jeroboam; and God, represented by Amos. I wonder who will win?
- In a vision, Amos sees God standing by a wall with a plumb line in His hand. We all know that when you want to build a wall that is straight and true, you use a plumb bob and string. God says that he is setting his plumb line against his people Israel, to see how straight and true they were. He knew that they would not measure up, because in verse 8b He says I will never again pass them by…” In other words, he’s not going to overlook their crooked ways any longer. (vv. 7-8)
- The name “Isaac” is used here to describe the people of the northern kingdom of Israel. Canaanites worshipped on high places. God is going to destroy these as well as the other Jewish sanctuaries. Furthermore, King Jeroboam’s whole house will be wiped out. (v. 9)
- Amaziah sends word to the King that Amos is stirring up trouble. (vv. 10-11)
- Amaziah then tells Amos to go back home, and spread your bad news there, not here. (vv. 12-13)
- Amos’ reply is humble, but to the point. He tells Amaziah that he didn’t want to be a prophet; he’s a herdsman and tree-trimmer. But God gave him this lousy job, and he’s gonna do it! (My paraphrase.) (vv. 14-15)
- Verses 16-17 are not part of today’s reading, but they are very interesting. Amos goes on to say that some nasty things will happen to Amaziah and his family.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Throughout the book of Amos, God is angry with both church and state. He has expectations for both, but neither are interested in doing God’s will. They are only interested in their own success. Things are no different today. We are very skilled at creating lavish worship productions. Yet, many of our churches are surrounded by homeless or hungry people. In my home county, one child in five is hungry. Our governments are more interested in the success of business than the health of the underprivileged. I wonder what Amos would say to us today.
We all know that when you open a can of soup, you’re supposed to dilute it with a can of water or milk. If you don’t, it’s just too rich—too intense. Sometimes, reading Paul’s letters are like eating undiluted condensed soup.
Today’s reading is taken from the first lines of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. It presents us with a concise expression of the Christian faith. In the detail below, I’ll try to separate these points, without diluting the “soup” too much.
- 3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places… After the greeting in verses 1 & 2 (not shown), comes the blessing. This letter follows the typical form of a Pauline letter. We have indeed received every spiritual blessing from God. The Holy Spirit blesses each of us with spiritual gifts. When we combine our gifts, we become the Body of Christ. We are his presence in the world around us.
- 4just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. This sentence hints strongly of predestination. Some like to think of predestination in terms of “He chose me and not you”. I prefer to think that God predestined all of us to live in a loving relationship with him, but some of us chose not to do so. We’ll come back to the second phrase here, the part about being perfect and blameless.
- 5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will… It is God’s will that we all become His adopted children. We become this through believing in Jesus as the Christ, the chosen One of God.
- 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. The main purpose of all of this choosing and adopting is so that we may sing God praises for His free gift of love (grace), bestowed on all of us who believe in Jesus the Beloved.
- 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us. As I write this, I am in Michigan, away from my home in North Carolina. Back home, when you emptied a beverage container, you threw the bottle or can away. It was worthless. But here in Michigan, you return them to the store for money—you redeem them. By Jesus’ blood on the cross, our worthless lives are redeemed—they have value. All of this is because of the generous love (“lavish grace”) that God the Father has for us.
- With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ… In Old Testament times, God made his will known through the Law of Moses. Finally, He sent his only son to make His will clearly known. Jesus did this in his parables, his sermons (like the Sermon on the Mount), and in his teachings to the disciples.
- 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. Our redemption and learning God’s will is part of His master plan.
- 11In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. Paul and his team were one of the first to receive the inheritance of the kingdom.
- 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; Since we have heard “the word of truth”, and believe in Jesus, we too are marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit. Hurray!
- 14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. The Holy Spirit has been promised to all believers. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we are redeemed as People of God, and are able now to sing praises of his glory.
Each one of these points is a pearl of great value. Which is your favorite?
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Verse 9 states that we are ”holy and blameless before him”. I don’t know about you, but I am not often “holy and blameless”. What makes us so in God’s eyes? (Hint: the answer is in verse 7)
Today’s gospel lesson is the story of the execution of John the baptizer. It is important to know that John had a following, including disciples, just like Jesus. This following continued long after his death. One mention of it occurs in Acts 18:24-19:7. Also, devout Jews were looking for Elijah to return from heaven, to usher in the new kingdom. This belief is based upon the fact that Elijah did not die, but was taken up to heaven. Plus, Elijah is mentioned in Malachi 4:5-6 as returning for this purpose.
Today’s reading follows last week’s reading. Jesus sent out the twelve, who performed many miracles in Jesus’ name.
- Word of these miracles finds their way to Herod. Since he di not have CNN or Fox News to give him the complete story, everybody around him ws guessing as to what it all meant. Herod was carrying the guilt of his beheading of John the baptizer. His conclusion was that Jesus was John reincarnated. (vv. 14-17)
- Now, we get a flashback. We get the story of John and Herod, and how John came to be beheaded by him. Apparently, John had been preaching against Herod’s marrying his brother’s wife. This was a clear violation of Jewish Law. Herod got angry, and had him arrested. But he also recognized John as a holy man. He could not bring himself to do anything more than arrest him. (vv. 17-20)
- Then, there is the infamous birthday party for Herod. The room was filled with important people of the court and leaders of the community. Herod’s daughter performed a provocative dance that overwhelmed the crowd and Herod. Herod offered her anything that she asked for. She called for the head of John the Baptist on a platter-- at once! Herod had no choice but to grant her this wish. The public embarrassment would have been too great to do otherwise. (vv. 21-29)
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Verse 20 tells us that Herod was “perplexed” regarding John. John spoke the truth in condemning Herod for his actions. Herod knew this, and was intrigued, but took no action. How often do we hear words in a sermon that should call us to action, yet we do nothing? Then, we go back next week, and hear more of the same. Maybe we’re a little like Herod in this regard. What can we do about this?