Monday, September 17, 2012

He Said What!?

Has anybody ever called you a cow? You would be insulted, right? Cows are fat, lazy, and stupid! All they do is stand in the mud, poo on the ground, and chew!  What if your minister got up on Sunday morning and started his lesson like this:  

"You bunch of cows!  You women crush the needy, stomp on the poor and then exhausted from the morning's efforts, call your husbands to bring the iced tea!  You are going to be punished!  You'll be strung like fish on a line.  You are going to be marched right out of town!"

How long would that guy have a job?  What if he posted this in the bulletin instead?

"For an iPhone they exploit the salt of the earth.
For a pair of Jimmy Choos they abuse the needy.
They grind the poor under their heels.
They shove past the homeless, and
The debt of the poor becomes their picnic blanket,
In church they drink the top shelf liquor they picked-up with late fees."

Or what if he showed up at a church barbeque, pointed at the richest couple at the soiree and said,

"Woe to those who sleep on 1000 thread count Egyptian cotton.
Woe to the couch potato,
To those who love lamb and veal
And sing idly to Karaoke,
Woe to those whose Margaritas come in the iced 13 ounce glasses
Whose lotions, creams and oils are from the finest shops
But who do not grieve the ruin of us all."

If that preacher lived through the experience, (I can imagine an angry mob storming the pulpit, taking him to the church gymnasium and hanging him from a basketball goal) he would be in the company of the prophet Amos.  Amos's language was a little more old fashioned, for example his cows were using sandals to tread the poor underfoot.  However the point remains, he was boldly condemning the materialism, laziness and self-absorbed exploitation of the poor he found among the women of Israel.  They must have been livid.

I want to ask Amos: do we really have to worry about this stuff? Can't we just go on with our lives without thinking too much about our "downtime" and our "stuff"?  Didn't we earn it?  Don't we deserve it? Why is Amos so critical of something that is so normal? Unfortunately Amos is unrelentingly harsh.  He wrote that the people he's describing hate those who reprove them and despise those who tell them the truth.  (Amos 5:10)

So dare we ask Amos one more question? "What's the remedy?"  If we continue the paraphrase, Amos might say,

Look for God.  Look for the good.  Don't be blind.  See the evil?  Hate it! See the injustice and go to battle with it!  That is the repentance God is looking for.  He may extend His grace to you after all.

Put in practical terms, Amos calls us to take off our blinders and carefully examine our lives.  Probing past the surface, the personal parallels are painfully obvious.  I am lazy.  I know that I was "created in Christ Jesus for good works" but I have lived like I was created for internet surfing and late night TV. (Ephesians 2:10) I can look back on entire months where as much as 50% of my awake time was wasted.  That's not an exaggeration, that is a confession.  What good work did God have in mind for me to do in that time?

I am self-absorbed sometimes too.  I have skimmed past articles like this one,, where some luxury like the iPhone is produced by exploiting workers with far less recourse than Americans have.   I have walked past beggars, dropping a little bit of local cash into their bucket and kept walking.  Does their plight hurt me as much as it should?  Do I see each and every one of them as human being?  How long would it take me to stop long enough to look them in the eyes and just touch their shoulder?  Jesus was a toucher.

What about materialistic? I have lived abroad long enough to know Americans don't need a quarter of what they have, my family certainly included.  That iPhone I mentioned earlier?  We have one.  We fight clutter not hunger.  And we still whine and complain about the American luxuries that we miss, like air-conditioned shopping.

Do you think that the "Cows of Bashan" lounging on their sofas thought that they were lazy, materialistic and given to exploiting the poor?  I imagine that when they heard what Amos had to say, they looked everywhere but inside.  They probably rolled their eyes and muttered about bleeding heart liberals.

Maybe that's why Amos tells them to "Seek good and not evil."  (Amos 5:14) They needed some self-examination; I do too. The changes that need to be made require "seeking;" they are not immediately obvious or Amos wouldn't have needed to preach that sermon.  Some of the changes I need to make, I have already begun.  Giving is worked into our budget now as regular item - calculated not yanked out of a wallet.  Whatsoever Wednesday is an account of how Melissa and I are trying not to waste time but fill our minds with the good ideas God intended.  However, Amos leads me to examine myself again.  How can I be a servant of God's justice, a lover of the poor, sick and downtrodden like my Savior was?  How can I do it a little better today than yesterday?

It is easy to read Amos' words so radically that we dismiss them.  "What do you want me to do Amos?  Give everything away?  Go live under a bridge?"  It's easy because Amos' words are radical, culture defying, and painful.  I can't tell you what these changes would look like in your life.  I am only just discovering what they look like in mine.  But the changes all start with "Seek the good and hate the evil," and that's not radical at all.  That's what every Christian is called to do. 

The above paraphrases are my own and come respectively from:

Amos 2: 6-8

6 Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals-   7 they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way; father and son go in to the same girl, so that my holy name is profaned;   8 they lay themselves down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge; and in the house of their God they drink wine bought with fines they imposed.  
 Amos 4:1-3
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who are on Mount Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, "Bring something to drink!"   2 The Lord God has sworn by his holiness: The time is surely coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks.   3 Through breaches in the wall you shall leave, each one straight ahead; and you shall be flung out into Harmon, says the Lord.  
Amos 6:4-6
4 Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall;   5 who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music;   6 who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! 
Amos 5:14-15
Seek good and not evil, that you may live; And thus may the LORD God of hosts be with you, Just as you have said!   15 Hate evil, love good, And establish justice in the gate! Perhaps the LORD God of hosts May be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. 

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