TOUGH TALKING TEKOEN

AMOS 1:1-2; 7:10-17

 

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            In 1984 a public relations professional began a company called “Rent-a-Kvetch” “kvetch” being a Yiddish term for constant complaining.  She nicknamed the company “The Hyper-Griper Service.”  The company lasted a good twenty years until it’s founder and owner, B. L. Ochman moved on to consulting with Fortune 500 companies.  The company received a lot of press, and Ms. Ochman appeared on the Today Show, CBS Evening News, and three times on Oprah.   

            What Hyper-Griper did was write letters for you if you had a complaint about a particular product or service.  For $35, I’m sure it would be much more today given the rate of inflation, but back in 1984 for $35 you could hire the company to write a letter of complaint.  For example, one woman bought a Maytag refrigerator.  It broke.  She called Maytag and a very snippy customer service person gave her a hard time.  She contacted the Hyper-Griper Service.  They wrote a letter to Maytag on her behalf and she got a new refrigerator.  Eventually, the founder Ms. Ochman got tired of hearing everyone’s complaints and she got out of the business.

            Well, in the Old Testament God had a Hyper-Griper Service of God’s own, otherwise called “the prophets,” and in our current sermon series we are looking at a few of God’s hyper-griper’s, those called the Minor Prophets.  Today we turn to Amos, the poster boy of God’s hyper-griper service.

            Now, we actually know a little about Amos prior to his prophetic days.  Unlike Hosea and Joel who appeared out of nowhere, we know what Amos was doing prior to God’s call upon his life.  Open your pew bible to page 743 and follow along as I begin reading, Amos 1, chapter 1.  Let’s meet the man.

 

            The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa ...

 

            Tekoa was located twelve miles south of Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah, and his being a southerner will be an important fact later.  Keep that in mind.

            We also learn from this introductory verse that Amos was a shepherd, and let me say that the word for shepherd here is not the usual one used.  Rather the word here means more of a sheep breeder than a humble shepherd and given Tekoa’s proximity to Jerusalem, Amos may have raised sheep for the Temple sacrifices.  But that’s not all we learn about Amos.  From the seventh chapter of his prophecy, we learn that he took care of sycamore trees.  Furthermore, given his way with words and his grasp of history, most likely he was an educated landowner, a sheep rancher and an orchard grower when God called him to prophesy.

            So, that’s a little bit about the man.  Now, let’s take a look at his times.  Continuing in verse one ...

 

            The words of Amos, who 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.

 

            We’ve heard those names before in connection with Hosea.  So Hosea and Amos were contemporaries, and given the reference to the earthquake, we know something about the times. 

            The year was 760 B.C., a time of great prosperity in both the northern and the southern kingdoms.   Commerce thrived, an upper class emerged, expensive homes were built.  In fact, archeologists have uncovered ivory inlaid walls in many a Samaritan home. The rich enjoyed an indolent, indulgent lifestyle, while the poor became targets for legal and economic exploitation.  And as often happens during times of prosperity people took God for granted, and that happened in both the north and the south.  In fact, one of the things we know about King Uzziah in the south was that he was struck with leprosy for being false to God.

            So we know something about the man and his times, but more important than all that was where God directed him to preach.  You see, even though Amos lived in Judah, in the south, God called him to preach to the north, to Israel.   It was sort of like asking President Obama to speak at a Tea Party rally or Rush Limbaugh to go on MSNBC.  It was a daunting assignment.

            Nevertheless, God engaged Amos as a hyper-griper so north Amos went, straight to Bethel, not the political capital of the north, but the religious capital of the north.   At first, the people of Israel tolerated Amos.  Well, more than that.  At first they loved Amos.  Amos packed the Temple every day as he condemned the ethical and religious practices of Israel’s neighbors.  Amos used a brilliant strategy.  He began by condemning Israel’s neighbors.  He spoke out against Syria, and Gaza and Tyre and Edom, and Amon and Moab and Judah.  I mean, he really gave to Israel’s neighbors and the people ate it up.  Read the first chapter of his prophecy and you can almost here the Bethel crowd saying, “Right on, Amos.  Preach it!  Tell it like it is.  Tell those people to clean up their act!”

            But after capturing their attention, after becoming the number one preacher in Bethel, Amos turned the tables.  Beginning in the sixth verse of the second chapter he turned his attention to Israel, and this rough, raw-boned rancher from Tekoa was about as subtle as a punch to the gut, and he did not pull any of his punches.  Tact was a foreign language.  Believing firmly in his message, Amos pounced on the sin of Israel like an eagle on a salmon.  Listen to typical Amosonian fare.  To get a flavor of his preaching turn to the first verse in the fourth chapter.  To the Women’s Association he said,

 

            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 me something to drink!”

            The Lord God has sworn by his holiness:  The time is surely coming upon you, when they will take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks.

 

            I doubt if the Ladies Aid Society invited him to stay for lunch.  Then there was the head religious honcho in Bethel, a guy named Amaziah.  Amaziah was the head priest of Bethel.  Listen to what he thought of Amos and what Amos thought of him.   

 

            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 his land.’”

            And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there; but never again prophesy at Bethel for is is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”

 

            In other words, “Yankee go home!”  But in this case it was “Southerner go home.”

 

            Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to me people Israel.’

 

            In other words, “I rather not be here either.  I am just a sheep rancher and orchard grower, but God called me out of the fields to do this, so here I am.”  Let’s continue,

 

            “Now therefore hear the word of the Lord.  You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and to 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 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.’”

           

            Once again, Amos is about as gentle as a rhino with an eggshell. 

            Reflecting on this guy Amos, let me ask a question.  Have you ever wanted to give God suggestions about how God ought to do things?  Not earth-shattering suggestions, perhaps.  Just simple things like the foods we eat.  Why not put all the vitamins and minerals in the tasty foods, like chocolate, hamburgers and pizza?  Save all the fat and cholesterol for spinach and Brussel sprouts.

            And perhaps God could do a little better job of distributing the weather.  Given the Mississippi River flooding, the upper midwest could have used a little less precipitation while there are places in the world that are experiencing drought.  And why not let the good guys be the winners in sports most of the time?  Particularly our team.  

            God could also use some advice about the kind of people God calls to do God’s work.  God seems to have this thing about calling very imperfect people.

            Certainly Abraham was imperfect.  Why he once tried to pass off his wife as his sister.  What a wimp.  And Moses was imperfect.  He once killed a man in a fit of anger. Then there was Samson.  Look how easily he let a woman lead him astray.  And then David.  Adulterer.  Murderer.  Surely God could have done better.  And Jonah fleeing from God because he hated the people of Nineveh.

            For that matter, I probably would not have chosen Simon Peter.  Sure he ended up as a rock, but before that he was as fickle as a willow reed.  And James and John. Always jockeying for a place of prominence.  I would even have had difficulty with the Apostle Paul.  Have you ever read Paul's writings?  He's caused all kinds of havoc in the church with some of the things he said.  And he could be a bit tedious in making his point.  What was his thorn in the flesh, anyway?  God should have consulted us before God made those selections.

            And I'm sure that the most common response from all the men and women through the ages whom God has called has been, "Who, me?  You've gotta be kidding. Who am I that God could use me?" 

            That brings us back to Amos.  Can you imagine a church board interviewing the prophet Amos?

            "Now, Mr. Amos, let's have a look at your credentials."

            “Credentials?"

            "Yes, your credentials.  Where did you graduate from seminary?  What major theologian has influenced your thinking?  Where were you first ordained?"

            "Theologian?  Ordained?  Well you see, I'm a shepherd by background. I really haven't had much formal training. I did work for a while dressing sycamore trees, if that counts for anything.  As for theology, I don't know that any one person has influenced my thinking.  But I've seen people cheated in the market place.  I've seen widows thrown out of their homes. I've seen children sold for a pair of shoes.  And God has told me it's not right.  God has called me to confront the doers of injustice and to proclaim God’s righteousness."

            "Sycamore trees?  Righteousness?  Well, Mr. Amos, we really were looking for someone with a little more formal training and experience.  And we would prefer a ministry that was not so confrontational." 

            Poor Amos.  He wouldn't have made it past the first interview. 

            Have you thought about it?  Have you thought about people God called in the Bible?  God doesn’t seem to value credentials, and God is always calling flawed, imperfect people.  Like sheep breeder, orchard grower, tactless Amos.  Like you and me.

            You don’t think God can use someone like you?  No credentials.  No formal training.  Somewhat flawed.  Think again.