Amos 7: 7-17
“This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by; the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”
Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said, “Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from this land.” And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”
Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am [was] no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am [was] a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following my flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”
“Now therefore hear the Word of the Lord. You say, “Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.” Therefore thus says the Lord: “Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parceled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.””
I have been invited to preach about a dozen and half times and I try to make each sermon end with a nice happy warm feeling. Given the scripture today that usual comfort becomes nearly impossible
“I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a shepherd, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following my flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”
The Prophet Amos presents us with a distinct call and description of his role in communicating the Word of the Lord. He was no prophet, nor did he come from a family of prophets. He was a simple shepherd, a man plucked from his profession and way of life, to proclaim the judgment of God. I read chapter seven and I am left feeling uncomfortable and uncertain. Amos first presents us with an image of a plumb line, to my knowledge this is the only reference to a plumb line in the entirety of the bible, this plumb line is a device used to determine straight and even lines in a field. Think of it as a proverbial level used in construction. Now see, God sets a plumb line against Israel, using a divine standard to measure the fidelity of God’s people.
To fully appreciate Amos’ vision we need to understand Israel during this time…
Amos was called during the reigns of two kings: King Uzziah of Judah [south], and King Jeroboam II of Israel [north]. Amos was from Judah and was called to the northern kingdom to proclaim the Word of God. The reigns of Uzziah and Jeroboam were relatively peaceful. There were no major military conflicts and according to Amos it was a time of prosperity, at least for a few at the expense of the many. There seems to have been a breakdown in the old tribal and family systems of land ownership and the emergence of a wealthy class at the top of society. A generation after Amos’ proclamation, the Assyrian empire invaded the Northern Kingdom and carried the people into exile. Amos repeatedly announces that because of Israel’s social injustice and religious arrogance, the Lord will punish them by means of a total military disaster. Amos was not introducing new moral laws, but rather holding people accountable for their transgressions.
The people of Israel during Amos’ time had forgotten what the Lord had done for them. They ignored the Mosaic exodus and turned away from their own deliverance, only to begin subjugating people repeating the events of bondage in Egypt. The elite increased their wealth and became stratified from all others in society. According to Amos, the elite along with the rest of society had rejected the laws of the lord, forgotten their past and ignored God’s greatest commandments. You shall love the lord your God with all your heart with all your soul with all you mind and all your strength, AND you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
God sets a plumb line against Israel, judging people by His standards.
Can you imagine what Amos was called to do? Leave his home and way of life, to go into a different kingdom to announce that they will be destroyed because of their actions? I am not surprised to find that Amaziah, priest of Bethel, responds to Amos’ words by telling King Jeroboam “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel.”
God’s judgment is not limited to the King; this is a judgment against all of God’s people.
Next Saturday I will be traveling with other college age students to Guatemala for our annual international mission trip. When I first read the scripture for this Sunday I realized how well it matched with the Guatemalan Missional experience… The social injustices of Amos’ time are eerily similar to the injustices still seen in Guatemala today.
Just a little history to establish context:
The Spanish invaded Guatemala in 1519, bringing with them disease and dominion. An epidemic swept across the land; many lost their lives and Guatemala was eventually colonized for its jade, lumber and dye. Many of the indigenous Mayans were pacified and removed from their land. The Spanish also brought the Guatemalans their own religion: Christianity. The Church in Guatemala officially labeled the Mayans as “Naturales” which literally meant that they were primitive. They were considered a lower species, somewhere above animals but below Adam and Eve. This prejudice continued through the 19th century when non-Spanish corporations moved into the country to exploit its fertile lands for fruit and coffee. Again Mayans were displaced and the distinction of “naturales” continued to be used. Imagine being told for over 500 years that you were a lesser creature created by God.
After World War II through 1996 Guatemala was consistently in a state of civil war. Throughout the 1980’s the Military dictator commissioned death squads to seek out indigenous Mayans for their unwillingness to takes sides in the conflict.
So, the people that we are going to serve have experienced 5 centuries of persecution and oppression, they do not have the education or resources to thrive today.
The very few elite in Guatemala have thrived off of the suppression of the Mayan culture. To me this sounds a lot like Amos’ Israel.
The Mission organization that we will be partnering with is called HSP for Highland Support Project; established by Ben and Lupe Blevins. After graduating from the University of Richmond in the 80’s Ben traveled to Guatemala to participate in community organizing and acted as a human shield during the Civil War. It was during this time that me met his wife Lupe and they have been organizing this effort ever since.
The first summer I went to Guatemala, Lupe offered me a story of two villages to explain why HSP does what they do:
Lupe’s village saw the arrival of missionaries when she was a child and they refused to give handouts to the people. Instead of establishing a health clinic they taught the people how to heal one another. Instead of handing out boxes of food they taught the people how to be more efficient with their cooking to sustain their existence. This relationship eventually allowed the missionaries to leave the village because it had become empowered and was able to truly thrive on its own.
The next village over also saw the arrival of missionaries at about the same time. Yet these missionaries brought handouts, brought boxes of food, brought medicine, and then left. Although initially endowed, the materials did not last and the village was unable to sustain itself.
Ben and Lupe believe in attacking injustice by teaching and allowing the indigenous Mayans to thrive on their own, offering empowerment instead of charity.
So what do we do when we go to Guatemala?
We spend the majority of the week building stoves for local Mayan families and finish by helping plant new trees in an attempt at reforestation. The stoves are necessary because most families cook over an open fire within their home, and this creates massive respiratory problems for the children. The stove is incredibly efficient and uses a chimney to draw the smoke outside. The families now use less wood, and have more time to spend with their families. It also helps to empower the local women by giving them more time to work things such as weavings, which they later sell in the market.
But more important than the stoves are the relationships that we are creating with the families we serve. Through our relationships we hope to show these people that we are all equal, that they deserve to be treated fairly, that they are loved. This will mean more than any stove ever could.
Now I did not come all the way to Harmony UMC this morning to tell you that you need to go to Guatemala or any mission trip for that matter. What I offer to you is a new way to live your life. A way handed to us through the bible over the last 2000 years, one where we live for others rather than for ourselves. Knowing that even the Son of God came not to be served but to serve. You do not need to go to a foreign country to do this. Look at your neighbors, look at your community, and look at your church.
When Amos preached his message to the people of Israel it was already too late. They had all settled for the status quo and accepted an unrighteous life. Amos never even calls the people to change their actions; God’s judgment had already been decided.
We still have hope. For us it is not too late. We know from the gift of Jesus Christ what it is that God is calling us to do. So are you willing to settle for mediocrity? Are you content to live an unrighteous life? Truly I tell you we are Israel. Where do you measure up on God’s plumb line?