a message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church, UCC
July 17, 2022
Amos 8:1-12 NRSV
1 This is what the Lord GOD showed me—a basket of summer fruit. 2 He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the LORD said to me, The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by. 3 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. Be silent!”
4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, 5 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, 6 buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”
7 The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their
deeds. 8 Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt? 9 On that day, says the Lord GOD, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. 10 I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.
11 The time is surely coming, says the Lord GOD, when I will send a famine on the land; not a
famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. 12 They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it.
Who doesn’t love some summer fruit? I mean if you don’t like watermelon, maybe
you love peaches, or cherries? What about honeydew and cantaloupe? And don’t
forget that forgotten fruit – tomatoes! Fruit, not a vegetable according to whomever
decides these things.
In our Scripture reading we hear the prophet Amos God gives him a vision of a
lovely basket of summer fruit. I am not sure why or the connection with the rest of
the passage, to be honest. Because from that moment on God tells Amos “I am done
with the people of Israel!”
I don’t mind that God shows Amos a lovely basket of summer fruit. What I
mind is after showing him this tasty vision, God proceeds to present a disaster basket
to the prophet. So this morning, as we consider this passage we need to understand
the role of the prophet in Biblical times, the visions that God gives Amos the prophet,
and what the message is for us today. In short, let me do some “prophet-‘splainin’.”
Amos we are told, “was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw
concerning Israel in the days of King Uzziah of Judah and in the days of King
Jeroboam son of Joash of Israel, two years before the earthquake.” Archaeological
evidence confirms the biblical account of the reign of Jeroboam as the most
prosperous that the northern kingdom of Israel to that point in history. This prosperity
was built on trade with Egypt and especially Assyria. According to the prophet Amos,
the king’s success and the prosperity had resulted in oppression and exploitation of the
poor by the mighty. Luxurious palaces of amazing splendor, and a craving for
amusements that used and abused people were the order of the day. Gee, where does
that ring a bell?
As I have said before, and maybe you already knew, Biblical prophets weren’t
“fortunetellers” with crystal balls. They didn’t predict events thousands of years in
the future. They were social critics. They spoke on behalf of YAHWEH challenging
the powerful kings on behalf of the poor, the powerless, and those treated unjustly.
They preached what they heard as God’s judgment on the behavior of these powerful
leaders. I would maintain that what they described was the natural result of moral and
ethical failures – the weakening of a society’s strength and courage to do what was
Amos put it this way: “you … trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor
of the land.” The emphasis on the “market” meant that they couldn’t wait or observe
the religious customs to sell wheat and cheat the buyers with scales and weights that
were dishonest. And for a profit the rich would sell the “poor for silver and the needy
for a pair of sandals.” Whew! That is tough to imagine, huh? Unless you look
around today, maybe?
The prophet warns the people that a famine is coming, not a famine of bread or
water of hearing God’s truth. People will be so desperate for it that they will “run to
and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it!” That is a stunning
judgment on the people of that day who were still worshiping and proclaiming that
YAHWEH is their God, along, with the false gods of profit and pleasure and personal
privilege. The people are telling everyone how faithful they are while they practice
self-worship. Sound familiar?
This is what makes the Scriptures so relevant. God hasn’t changed and neither
have people. Just like in Amos day we don’t have to look far to see that the needy are
trampled for the privilege of the few, the poor are ruined by the policies of elected
officials who get rich on the bribery of the wealthy and powerful – both corporations
and individuals – who control the decisions of our government. The most religious
people are often the most nefarious and despicable, using God and Scripture to push
their personal prejudices, politics, and power to control others and enrich themselves.
What outrages me the most is the way they hijack the values of Jesus of Nazareth and
try to make him the bumpersticker icon of their “God, guns, and guts” worship of their
own violent and destructive ways.
But here’s the part that may be most difficult to hear. Because if things don’t
change those of us who see these injustices, who are outraged by them, but who often
sit by and sigh as if we are helpless will not be spared the suffering of those who God
speaks about. Amos warns us that God “will never forget any of their deeds… [and ]
the land shall tremble on this account, and everyone who lives in it.” So we who hear
this warning, who know that power and privilege are causing the majority to suffer,
aren’t going to be able to sit back and escape the suffering of a nation that continues to
ignore God’s warnings.
We can’t afford to throw up our hands, shrug our shoulders and cry that we are
powerless to change things. We can’t ignore that the majority of people are good
people, people who care about their neighbors, who accept that others are different,
that diversity is the way God designed Creation. We can’t just let those who push
their prejudices, their ignorance of truth, their hatred for boundaries, and their ill-
gotten riches run free thinking we won’t suffer with them. God doesn’t give us a free
pass. So we need to think about how we can rise up, speak up, and act up so that the
minority who is pushing their twisted will and their wicked opinions on us as “settled
law” to use a phrase so recently abused by current Supreme Court justices in their
perjured testimony to get appointed.
My place is not to tell you how to rise up, to speak up, and to act up. Each of us
has to decide what we can do. But I am here to tell you that the God who speaks
through Amos still speaks today. That God is still with us, and through those willing
to hear, and those with the courage to speak up, God is assuring us we have not been
abandoned by God, nor will God fail to act when God’s people suffer and die because
We can become so weary in hearing and experiencing the injustice and evils of
our day that we forget that God will not forsake us if we will not forsake God. I was
encouraged by the words of Adam Russell Taylor, president of Sojourners, who
recently wrote these words:
“So what can help us cure our exhaustion? Where can we find the energy to stay
engaged in our political system, despite its brokenness?” He said, “Personally, I turn
to Paul’s letters to … Corinth, a community that was also grappling with bitter
divisions. In his letters, Paul offers a pathway out of despair: ‘But we have this
treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not
from us,’ he writes. ‘We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed,
but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed’ (2
Corinthians 4:7-9). Paul reminds the Corinthians [and us] that their struggles and
divisions never have the last word; even in their exhausted state, they are never
Another writer, a Bible scholar, Wil Gafney writes that this is one of many
passages in the Bible reminding us of God’s abiding presence, even when we’re
feeling pressed and perplexed. He said, “Despite these things, ‘God chooses to dwell
among her people, accompanying them through the perils of a very broken world.”
He adds, “We are every bit as broken and God is every bit as present.” 1
We may be feeling broken or at least broken-hearted right now, but we must not
give in, or give up. We must not lose faith. We must rest more in faith, draw strength
from beyond ourselves in faith, and trust in the faithfulness of God, who is “every bit
as present” now as ever. We do not worship a God who fades like summer fruit. We
do not give in and let our communities, our nation, or our world rot like old melons.
We may step back, but we do not step away. We step back to renew ourselves to step
up. We have a voice, and we have a truth, because we have a God who has always
called for us to do what is just and right and loving – to work and speak with those no
one is hearing, who are denied power, who have no freedom because it has been taken
from them. We must stand and work with them because they are us!
Summer fruit is refreshing. It hydrates and refreshes like God’s love. May it
never be said that we went hungry and thirsty for God’s love, or for God’s word. May
it never be said we ran out of reasons to praise God or work for God’s real purposes.
May it be said of us that we had a thousand reasons to serve God, and we did! May it
be said we had ten thousand reasons to sing God’s praises! We had a thousand
reasons to work for God’s vision, and celebrate God’s goodness. And may it always
be said we never stopped! Let them say we never stopped! Let us never stop!