Monday, September 26, 2016

Pentecost 19C

Amos 6:1a, 4-7

1Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria,
1bthe notables of the first of the nations, to whom the house of Israel resorts! 2Cross over to Calneh, and see; from there go to Hamath the great; then go down to Gath of the Philistines. Are you better than these kingdoms? Or is your territory greater than their territory, 3O you that put far away the evil day, and bring near a reign of violence?
4Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; 5who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music; 6who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! 7Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.

In the Christian bible we find Amos the prophet's words in one of the twelve separate books of what we call the Minor Prophets. The Hebrew bible collects them into a single "Book of the Twelve." Amos lived in Judah, the southern kingdom, but God called him mostly with words of judgment and hope for Israel, the northern kingdom. That's "mostly," because he has harsh and redemptive words for all God's people, collectively referred to as "Joseph."

Amos brings us the earliest articulation of monotheism. Throughout all nine chapters he acknowledges only one true and possible sovereign Being, who is God of all the people of Israel and Judah, but also the divinity of neighboring nations, whether or not they acknowledge him. Amos also brings us a type of universalism that's not so much our conviction that in the end God's irresistible grace and inclusive reach saves and redeems all creation, but closer to God has effected liberation and redemption for nations and peoples other than the Israelites.

More than once Amos tells us he is not a professional prophet, does not belong to the prophets' guild. That would be similar (for example) to our contemporary American Guild of Organists organization that we often refer to as the "Guild." What does Amos do for work? He is an arborist who tends sycamore trees; as a vinedresser he takes care of grapes; he works as a sheep herder or shepherd.

Interesting note: the Sycamore Fig was the national tree of Israel. In the gospel of John Jesus tells Nathanael, "I saw you under the Sycamore Tree." The upshot of this becomes, "therefore, I knew you were worthy to become my disciple." Sons of Israel, sons of the covenant, sons of Torah traditionally would sit under a sycamore tree to study the scriptures. John mentioned The Getty museum campus has a lot of sycamore trees. (Another interesting note: that means I have a lot of pictures of sycamore trees from the Getty and need to post them and label them.)

Lectionary peeps have paired this Amos pericope/selection with Luke's famous account (Pastor Peg called it a "folk tale") of the outcast Lazarus. The broad point of both passages is an indictment of people who live opulent, luxurious, self-indulgent lives but don't even notice needy, hurting people near them or in their midst. They don't even glance beyond the houses of their eyes.

Our passage from Amos 6 follows God telling us via Amos in chapter 5:
21"I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offering of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. 23Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 24But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

Despite Amos' outlining how the bad behaviors and neglect of the needy will be a factor in sending people into exile, Amos concludes by God promising to restore Israel's fortunes, rebuild and re-inhabit cities, plant more vineyards that will yield more wine, establish more gardens, more fruit trees. God promises to plant the people on their land!

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