Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today’s reading from Amos is pretty harsh, isn’t it? To understand what Amos is so upset about, we need to understand the times he lived in. Who is Amos? Amos is a fairly well-to-do sheep breeder and vine dresser from the southern kingdom of Judah. He has come up to the northern kingdom of Israel to prophesy to the people. What is going on in Israel? Israel has split into two kingdoms. Both kingdoms are prosperous with two strong kings, but Israel in the north has become a great power. Amos was from the southern kingdom of Judah, but his prophecy was aimed at the people of the northern kingdom of Israel.
Israel, at this time, has become a great nation – important in international trade, and wealthy. And their worship practices reflected that prosperity. They held grand festivals with lavish sacrifices, but at the same time, the poor were being neglected. Small farmers were forced to grow cash crops for trade rather than what they needed to sustain their families. And the divide between the haves and the have-nots was growing.
This is the situation Amos is called to prophesy against, and he doesn’t mince words. Amos compares God to a Roaring Lion who withers pastures and dries up fields. Despite their seeming devotion to God, the people have become functional atheists. They say all the right things in worship, but their actions go against God's commandments. Amos reminds the people that God is not interested in empty gestures but calls them to let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
But what exactly does that mean? It means listening for God in our everyday lives. It means taking the Scripture with us in our hearts as we go through our day, rather than thinking of what we want and what we can get. We are called to think of what others need, and how we can help people share in the abundance all around us. That is our call today. We need to guard against becoming functional atheists, worshiping God on Sunday and then ignoring God the rest of the week.
We are also living in a powerful and rich country. Most of us and the people we know live comfortable lives. But we have the same injustices in our time, and we, too, need to be mindful that our relationship with God is not limited to this place, this worship service. There are so many distractions, so much constant information coming at us from every direction. It’s hard to find a moment to breathe and remember that there are still people who do not have enough to eat. People who long for justice, people suffering needlessly.
We gather here each Sunday morning to worship, and to sing praise to God, in Communion, we receive the gift of forgiveness through the life-giving action of Jesus’s death and resurrection. And we pray for each other, and people beyond our congregation. We know we are loved and cherished by our Creator. But we must never forget that because we are loved, God calls us to love one another to provide for the hungry in our midst and help our neighbors in need. We do this work through the ministries we support, including our missionaries as they provide healthcare to people in need in Tanzania, and through our other first fruits ministries like the food pantry and supporting our preschool. There is so much still to do. May we always be reminded of our call to do all we can to make the world a better, more just and caring place for all God’s children. Amen.