A Mixed Up Minister?
What insights does the book of Jonah have for ministers today?
Led by The Revd Tom Stuckey, a former President of the Methodist Church.
Bible Study on Amos - 3/4
In contemporary church life the idea of a lament wouldn’t be likely to receive a great welcome! However, here in chapter 5 verse1 the Lord shares in a lament: he is in agony over his people. I am reminded of the stories of prayer giants in the past who agonised in prayer meetings, longing for the Lord to break in. Have you noticed any lately – or are we being called to ‘agonise’?
Verses 1-3 announce the lament. The Lord is in agony because his people seem to have refused the calls to repent (see chapter 4 and our last study). His people seemed so alive - or like the church of Sardis ‘have the name of being alive but are dead’ (Revelation 3:1). There seems little life or source of help. In fact Assyrian attacks brought about 90% losses in the armed forces.
1. Opportunities to repent are still there.L~
Chapter 5 verses 4-7 challenge our religion. Amos lists various religious places, but religion has replaced seeking the Lord and living for him. It might be right to compare Bethel and Gilgal with holy places and events of today - Easter People, Spring Harvest, Keswick, Soul Survivor, Taizé, Cliff Festival. Should we be asking ourselves why we go to these events? Amos highlights the fact that there is a lot of religion going on: as one commentator puts it ‘…the zeal of their religious practices, the super-abundance of their rites and of their offerings.’ Again, they are ‘delighted with a religious life from which Yahweh was totally absent’. But there is little righteousness of living (vv. 7 and 10 –13). The public behaviour of God’s people does not match the God of justice and righteousness they are supposedly engaging with at these Holy Places. How are our business practices - personally and as a nation? Many have been quick to condemn corruption in African countries, but it has taken Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa to highlight the fact that there is corruption in the West that has willingly accepted looted money from corrupt dictators. However much we may hate investigative journalists they are in a sense doing Amos type work when they uncover unrighteousness, even among Christian people. ‘One purpose of worship is to come to know God so well that who he is and what he does become concrete realities in our persons and behaviour.’
Amos says holy places, religious centres will become rubble (5:5) - God ‘vandalising’ holy places! Jesus, of course, foretold the destruction (in AD70) of that great holy place, the Temple. It is interesting to note that in the early years of the Christian Church there were no Christian sacred places. Do we invest too much in sacred places? Let us meditate on the Lord whom they should have been encountering at the Holy Places.
In a Hymn of Praise (5:8-9) we meet the sovereign Lord who is over all, who controls the seasons, day and night, the life giving waters. He is the Lord who also overturns human self confidence and power! Part of the purpose of our hymns is to declare who God is. Amos does it in the midst of the lament against false religions and unrighteous living.
2. Lament because of misguided security (5:18 to 6:14)L~
a. Lots of worship, little concern for justice
The people were looking forward to the Day of the Lord (v.18) but there was no future security there; in fact it would mean trouble - darkness not light, gloom with no brightness in it! The Day of the Lord that they should bother about is the day when God would take them into exile (v. 27)!
I sometimes wonder what it would be like if the Lord did show himself in our society - even in our church. As the writer to the Hebrews said, ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ (Heb 10:31), and it is the same writer who tells us ‘Our God is a consuming fire’ (12:29)! Malachi too has some sobering words we sometimes hear at Christmas: ‘But who may abide the day of his coming?’ (Mal 3:2).
Amos is very blunt about God’s view of religion: ‘I hate your feasts…’ (5:21ff). Again the challenge is to righteousness and justice in society (v.24).
b. A misguided sense of material security (6:1-14)
Amos 6:1 uses the word ‘complacent’ (NIV). High standards of living beguile people into a false security. Amos tells his hearers to look around at places that had been secure in their prosperity (v.2). Similarly in the New Testament we meet complacent Sardis: an impregnable fortress, but it fell. Amos 6:4-6 describes a consumerist, materialistic and comfortable society! Luxury is all over this section - rather like the adverts that tell us to buy things to be self-fulfilled.
One commentator describes the leaders as ‘wallowing in luxury and sensuality without being in the least grieved at the world of misery known to their brethren’. v.2 shows they had not learnt the lesson from the fall of other complacent groups. The Bible warns us ‘if anyone thinks they stand, take heed lest they fall’ (1 Cor 10:12) and ‘whoever trusts in his riches will fall’ (Proverbs 11:28).
In their complacency they were looking forward to the great Day of the Lord, but it would be a Day of Gloom (5:18ff).
So what does the Lord look for?L~
~**Commitment to himself, not mere religion
We should seek God, not holy places (5:4 and 6). Where is our security as the people of God? In ritual, in holy places, in holy people or in the Lord?*~~*Commitment to moral values
We should seek what is good (5:14-15) But what is that? Is our thinking about what is good and bad, right and wrong determined by the world around or by the God of love, justice and goodness? Where do we get our values? What worldview do we have? The UK today is in danger of losing its moral discrimination by arguing ‘If you think it’s right, then OK’. What am I doing about it?*~~*Commitment to personal and social ethics
We should seek good that touches the real world (5:24). God’s people are called to live in the world and be its salt and light. God said to Abraham ‘through you all the nations of the world will be blessed’! As another commentator wrote: ‘One could not worship Yahweh truly without an active commitment to the welfare of others (5:7, 11 and 12) … the Lord turns to be their enemy when the people live below the level of grace in the matter of their social relationships’. **~
As we seek the Lord to visit us afresh, let us ponder the character of the Lord we are calling on to revive his work. Let us prepare ourselves through seeking personal, church and social righteousness and justice so that it is not too uncomfortable for us when he comes in answer to our prayers!
Questions to ponder
~nnAre there ‘holy places’ that we invest with the wrong significance? The Lord can and does meet us in all sorts of places - should we not talk of ‘holy encounters’ rather than places? Do our religious practices enable real encounters with God?n~~nMeditate on key passages about the Lord in Amos 5:8-9. Worship him for who he is now.n~~nIs there a place for ‘lamenting’ in church and personal life today? As has been said, ‘When all else fails try tears’. Is that what the Lord is looking for?n~~nConsider meditating on Graham Kendrick’s songs Beauty for brokenness and O Lord the clouds are gathering. The latter has brought me to tears this morning as I write my final draft!n~~nDiscuss what the coming of revival to our churches and society might mean in our daily lives as individuals, church communities and wider society.nn~