In Adult class today we read from Amos chapter 4. To make sense of this post you really should read it first.
How about that Amos! Talk about a guy who calls ’em like he sees ’em. First he calls the women of Israel ‘Cows of Bashan’ a breed of cow notorious for being fat. “Listen you fat cows…”
Then he sarcastically tells Israel, “Go ahead and sin. Go to Bethel and make your offerings. Go to Gilgal and make it worse.” Amos lists sacrifices, tithes, and thank offerings; all good things but he calls them sins!
Then Amos reminds Israel that of all the struggles they have suffered, and still they don’t return to God: Famine, Drought, Poverty, Pestilence. After all this they still wouldn’t submit to the rule of God. Here God is frustratedly pulling his hair out (so to speak):
“I bless you and you get cocky and arrogant. I bless you and you get this attitude of entitlement, like you deserve to be treated like a spoiled Hollywood superstar. You were born on third base and you act like you hit a triple!
Then I humble you and I dry up your farms, I send the locust to eat your figs, I send the economy into the crapper, I make housing prices drop, and then you get bitter and angry with me. What am I supposed to do with you? “
So what does this say? Here’s what it said to me today:
First it says the appropriate response to struggle is to close up the gap between you and God. When I am getting crushed at work, or my relationships are in a tailspin. I need to draw near to God. Sometimes it’s all my fault and I need to repent. Other times bad stuff just happens. Either way, when the road gets tough, I need to lean into God in prayer, get closer with my church family, confess my sin to someone in confidence, cry on somebody’s shoulder. All true.
The second thing is that worship, with the wrong attitude can be sin. Here Israel’s freewill offerings, their tithe, their festivals are all called sin, why? Because the heart attitude was wrong. They weren’t worshiping God and making much of his name. They were worshiping themselves.
Thirdly, I need to confess a sinful attitude around how I decide who is part of ‘us’ and who isn’t. In chapter 4 Amos is calling out the ‘well to do’, the rich, those who can afford to make these very pious offerings. Amos is saying, ‘God has withheld rain, God has struck you with famine.’ The rich are thinking, “God didn’t do that to us. He did that to those poor people over there. We’re O.K. It all depends on who ‘us’ is.
God defines community so differently than we do. It is so dangerous to define community the way we do. We define ‘us’ as being the people we like. The people who are ‘like us’ God has a so much wider view of who ‘us’ is. ‘Us’ is the group of people around you. It is the people at work, your neighbours, the people you see at Starbucks all the time. It is the poor in your midst.
God is preaching this sermon against me! I am tempted to read it and think, ‘Yeah, those self-righteous Israelites faithfully doing their ‘religious duties’ while they ignore the poor in their own town. All the while it is me God is talking to!
When I define the group that I am a part of as the people that attend my church on a Sunday morning. I don’t see very many people who are hungry, who have financial issues, who have mental health issues. What gives me the right to make that the community I am bound to?
Instead, what if I define my spiritual family as the people around me? There’s two men who are living under the Martindale bridge in St. Catharines. What if I saw them as part of my church group? If I saw two people who were from my church sleeping on cardboard under a bridge would I just drive by? No way! I would stop and find out what I could do!
If there was a kid at my church who didn’t have mitts or boots, would I just let it slide? Never! I would go buy the kid some mitts right now!
Part of what Amos is preaching against is a self-centered, self righteous definition of who belongs to my church. Who belongs to my church? In a way, everyone does.