July 17th, 2022 homily on Amos 8:1-12; Colossians 1:15-28 by Pastor Galen
There’s nothing quite so delicious and refreshing as a wonderful fresh bowl of fruit on a warm summer day. Luscious strawberries or blueberries, fresh watermelon, crisp apples. Fresh from the farm, right from the tree or vine, if you can get it.
Several years ago, our family was driving back from Pennsylvania, and we saw a sign that said “pick your own blueberries.” My wife and daughters and I had never picked our own blueberries before, so I convinced my family that we should take a quick detour.
Here’s a picture of our family from that day. And here’s what I posted on Facebook about the experience: “Having grown up in the city, picking food off of plants and eating it is an amazing, magical experience to me – kind of like being in a fairy tale.”
Now the thing about fresh fruit is that it only stays fresh for so long – especially in the summer. Anyone who has ever bought or picked fresh fruit and then forgotten about it knows that fresh fruit can turn from something wonderful, and sweet, and delicious, to something rotting and repulsive seemingly overnight.
Amos and the Bowl of Summer Fruit
Last week we were introduced to the Biblical prophet Amos. And we learned that prior to receiving the prophetic visions from the Lord recorded here in the book of Amos, the prophet Amos had been a farmer, and a “dresser of sycamore trees” (Amos 7:14). In other words, he grew and sold sycamore figs.
Sycamore figs were sort of the common person’s delicacy. They were inferior in taste and quality to regular figs (the fruit in Fig Newtons), and therefore more affordable. So they would have been the type of figs eaten by regular every-day working-class people, who couldn’t afford higher priced fruits.
It was probably this close association that Amos had with people on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum that led him to have a special concern about the unjust treatment of the poor in his day, as we see in much of his prophetic writing.
And perhaps it was the fact that Amos had spent a good portion of his life growing and harvesting and selling fruit that when God wanted to get Amos’s attention, he showed him a basket of “summer fruit.” Most people may not have known what that meant. But Amos got the message. He knew that there was an urgency to what God was about to tell him. That this was a timely message for God’s people, because if they didn’t act fast, things could get ugly very quickly, just like fruit in the summer can go bad seemingly overnight.
The Time Is Coming
Indeed, the message that God wanted Amos to deliver to the people was quite dire. “The end has come upon my people Israel,” God said. “I will never again pass them by. The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” says the Lord GOD; “the dead bodies shall be many, cast out in every place.”(Amos 8:2-3). Not a very positive or hopeful picture, to say the least!
And what was it exactly that provoked such a dreadful prediction of doom and gloom?
Well, as we learned last week, the wealthy and powerful people of Amos’s day were good at putting on a facade of righteousness. They went to church, engaged in all sorts of seemingly religious activities. But then they turned around and engaged in all sorts of acts of violence and injustice – particularly against the poor.
Here in chapter 8, Amos describes them as trampling on the needy, and bringing to ruin the poor of the land (Amos 8:4). He quotes the people as saying “when will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat” Amos 8:5-6).
The Israelite people were forbidden to buy or sell on the Sabbath, the day of the week that was supposed to be a day set aside for prayer and worship. But rather than focusing their attention on God while they were in “worship,” they were instead counting down the hours until the Sabbath was over so they could resume their buying and selling! And not only that, but after the Sabbath was over they made up for their “lost” time by engaging in deceitful business practices, like adding the husks of the grain as filler to the wheat, or rigging the scales.
Of course, as in every unjust system, the poorest of the poor – the people Amos interacted with on a daily basis – always got the raw end of the deal, since they were at the mercy of those wealthier people who owned the land they lived on and the farms on which they labored.
It should not surprise us that God reacts so strongly to their acts of injustice, since all throughout Scripture God expresses a particular care and concern for the poor, and the marginalized, the widows, and the foreigners, and the orphans – those who had very few legal rights in that society, and thus were often taken advantage of by those with more wealth and power.
But there’s another reason why God reacts so strongly to the injustice of the Israelite people, and that is that the Israelites were supposed to be a “light to the nations,” to point the other nations around them to God. In other words, they were supposed to be like lucious, delicious fruit that the nations around would be attracted to. The people and nations were supposed to see the way the Israelites lived and the blessings God had given them, and they were supposed to be in awe and to crave and want what Israel had. And the Israelites were supposed to teach God’s laws to the nations – to show others how they could have a relationship and connection with God as well.
But instead, the peoples around them were not at all interested in God, because they saw the hypocrisy of God’s people. They saw through their facade, they knew that they were just going through the motions, that they were engaging in grave acts of injustice, all the while pretending to be righteous. And the nations around them wanted nothing to do with them or their God. The nation of Israel had become like a bowl of summer fruit that had turned bad. Rotten to the core, they were repugnant to the people around them.
Why are Christians So…
Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem so different from our situation today. Jesus said that we as Christians are supposed to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). We have been commissioned to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). But so often we as Christians do not always have the best reputations. Do a quick google search for “Why are Christians so…” and the first word that comes up is “judgemental.” Other words often used to describe Christians are “hypocritical” and “unloving.” Hypocritical means that we say one thing, but do another. The things we do do not match up with the things we say we believe. And often the people around us want nothing to do with God, because of the way they perceive us as Chrsitians.
I used to do college campus ministry, and often I would lead Bible studies with people who were seeking, and so often they were drawn to Jesus, but they were hesitant to become Christians because they held so many negative stereotypes of Christians.
Now, many of the negative stereotypes about Christians are not true across the board – I know plenty of Christians who are not judgemental, and who are kind and loving, and genuinely love God and others.
But unfortunately, the stereotypes that people have of Christians are more true than we would like to admit. If we’re completely honest, often we are judgemental – if not outwardly, at least inwardly. And often our actions do not match up with our stated values. And we are not the most loving.
Add to this the numerous churches and denominations and high-level pastors and leaders who have been caught up in scandals, or convicted of abusing their positions of power and influence. And think of the many churches and institutions that have tried to hide or cover up these various scandals and affairs and instances of abuse, rather than openly acknowledging them and dealing with them directly. Is it any wonder that so many people want nothing to do with the Church, or with God?
Jesus, the Hope of the World
So what hope was there for the people of God in Amos’s day? And what hope is there for those of us who are followers of Christ today?
Well, although Amos chapter 8 ends with this rather dire prediction, in Amos 9, God does promise to preserve a remnant of God’s people – and not only of the nation of Israel, but all the nations who are called by God’s name. God says, “On that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old, in order that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name, says the Lord who does this” (Amos 9:11-12).
Ultimately we see the fulfillment of these promises in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, who the Apostle Paul says in Colossians chapter 1 is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15). We read in verses 19 and 20,
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. (Col. 1:19-20)..
In other words, through his life and death and resurrection, Christ fulfilled the role and responsibility that had been given to the nation of Israel. The task that Israel had failed to accomplish. Jesus was and is that luscious and delicious fruit that is delicious and refreshing, but never goes bad. He is the true light of the world that draws people from every nation to experience the love and grace and goodness of God. In Jesus there was not a hint of hypocrisy. Jesus was and is the real thing, through and through. The genuine artifact. And it’s through Jesus that we can be saved, healed, cleansed, forgiven, restored, and set free from whatever it is that has us in captivity. It is only through Jesus that we can be set on the right path, that we can be the people we were called to be, and to fulfill the mission to which we have been called.
Now, I honestly don’t know if we as Christians will be able to salvage our reputations. I don’t know if the Church will ever hold the place it used to hold in society. But the good news is that it’s not about us – it never was. It’s all about Jesus. And so we don’t need to try to cover up our mistakes or to try to look good on the outside for the sake of trying to get people to like us. Rather, we can acknowledge our mistakes, acknowledge how far we fall short, and receive the grace and mercy that Jesus offers so freely, and in doing so point people towards Jesus who can heal and cleanse and forgive them too.
That doesn’t mean that we should be mean to people. In fact, we do our best job of pointing others to Jesus when we follow the example that Jesus set for us. We of all people should be the most kind and loving and merciful people, since we’ve received mercy, and since we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us. But We don’t need to be obsessed with trying to preserve our good reputations or look good on the outside – rather we point others through the witness of our words and deeds to Jesus, who was and is the delicious fruit that will never go bad.
So let us come humbly before God, acknowledging our mistakes. Recognizing that we have so often failed to be the people God has called us to be. Let us remember that our task is to introduce people to Jesus – the wonderful fruit that never goes bad. And let us ask God to transform us more and more into Christ’s likeness, that we too may bear good fruit in this world.