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Let Justice Roll
January 26, 1975

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

AMOS 5: 21-24; 7:12-15;EPHESIANS 6:1-4

A rookie policeman was asked, "How would you go about dispersing a crowd?" He answered, "Take up an offering. That will do it every time." Amos also knew how to disperse a crowd, He told the truth.

Imagine the scene he must have made—a weird character, dressed in simple, rugged shepherd clothing, appearing at the sanctuary or in the market place, addressing strong, unpopular words to the rich. Who would listen? Who would believe that he was a true prophet? There had been prophets in Israel for centuries. At this time, they were organized into guilds and one became a prophet because his father was a prophet. Some of them worked themselves into emotional frenzies, went into trances. At the time of Amos, none of them were speaking to society or really confronting the people with the truth of their situation, the truth of their living which was the function of a prophet. So Amos took it upon himself to preach. When Amos began preaching, causing trouble as the other prophets called it, he was challenged as to his authority. And Amos replied, as read in our Old Testament lesson, "I am no prophet, nor the son of a prophet, 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 my people Israel."

And he did prophesy. Prophesy means to speak for God, to speak God's words to a particular situation. We have very few records in the Bible of any prophet’s words prior to Amos. Amos is the first prophet to have his words written and preserved. For being a simple shepherd and farmer, Amos had tremendous insight into what was happening in those nations, he had a profound grasp of the nature and understanding of God, and he had a gift for language. The poetry, the imagery in Amos is beautiful. You who read the passages this week must have been impressed with the language. I am going to use several passages this morning for they are fun to read, inspiring to hear.

Amos therefore was one of many prophets in that time; but only his words are preserved. Amos presented quite a picture, really testing the people's sense of credibility. Who is this hippy? But, how do you test the prophets? Today, how do we know which of our modern prophets are the true? The only sure test of a prophet is: the real prophet is the one whose words come true. Which prophet to believe is really a matter of faith and choice, until the test of time is applied. Who was correct?Amos’ words came true. His predictions of judgment, catastrophe, doom upon that nation were true. Amos was a true prophet, one who tried to call people back to their basic principles, back to God. By the time of King Solomon's death, Israel's faith had been so compromised, so undermined, that it was threatened with extinction. In fact, if Solomon had had the last word, the faith of Israel would have been lost in oblivion. The fact that you and I are gathered here today in Christian worship is because Solomon did not have the last word, but prophets—great prophets—appeared on the scene, the first of which is Amos, who spoke the truth and preserved the truths for us today. Therefore, what the prophets had to say is of utmost importance for us. I remember in college Amos was called the prophet of doom. People felt he was too pessimistic, too harsh, too severe. But those were in America’s optimistic days. Now, we are finding Amos to be extremely relevant. Amos is speaking right to us today. The test of time—his words came true—is grounds for us to listen to Amos, to read him, to study, to learn.

The basic concept in Amos’ preaching, that which he based all his warnings upon, is the sovereignty of the Lord. Amos believed that God has authority, has power over all the world, over all the nations. When he discussed the authority of God over the neighboring nations, his people received him well. When he preached the authority of God over Israel, he was not so well received. Most of the time we also do not believe, do not act as if there is a higher authority over us. Does the world really believe there is sovereignty beyond their own nations? Does America really behave as if there is an authority higher than us? Does Manteca? Do you? Do you really believe and act as if God has any power, any authority over your life? What we are talking about is that unpopular word judgment. There is much confusion, much unhappiness around because we refuse to take judgment seriously.

Judgment basically means that the very act has a consequence, every action a reaction: when you jump off a building, you will hit the ground. When you cheat, lie, you cannot expect to be respected and trusted. Somehow we have acquired a very unrealistic view of life. We expect miracles. We’ve relegated the idea of judgment to some future time at the end of the world and fully expect Christ to take care of any discrepancies in our lives. We’ve forgotten judgment is a daily process. We’ve so watered down the idea of God that we expect miracles, we expect him to make it all matter. We expect his love, his forgiveness to change circumstances. Remember the nonsense they used to teach us about the Bible? That the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath, and the God of the New Testament is a God of love? Nonsense. They are together, inseparable. What is meant by wrath is judgment. Love includes judgment. Love includes discipline as read in the New Testament lesson this morning. If a parent’s love for children does not include discipline, there is real trouble for the child’s development. What kind of love would let a parent watch child commit errors, watch him hurt himself, watch him make choices that he knows will bring unhappiness because of the process of judgment?I inched my way down a street last week because several children were standing in the gutter and another child, probably three or four years old, was peddling a small car or wagon in the middle of the street. He was criss-crossing, turning around, having a big time trying to get himself killed. If the parents knew what he was doing (and why didn’t they know what he was doing), what kind of love allows that? I told my boys, “Your parents were too mean to allow you to do anything like that.” They wouldn’t give us any credit. Their answer was, "We were never that dumb to do anything like that.” Some parents are afraid to include no in their love because they don’t want to pressure, or antagonize, or jeopardize the relationship (after all we don’t want our child to be angry with us and not love us any more). Or damage his feelings or ego. If the parents had reacted in anger and forced that boy out of the street, would they then have been guilty, relented, forgiven him so he could go into the street again and get killed?

The love of God includes judgment and discipline. Amos looked at the world of his day, saw things that really disturbed him, and because he believed in the sovereignty of the Lord over the world, preached.

Amos saw trouble coming, not just because Assyria was showing signs of imperial ambitions, but because of how the nation of Israel and of Judah were acting. He saw the discrepancy, the gap, between the very rich and the very poor, He saw overfed, callous rich at ease in their expensive houses, thinking only of how to amuse themselves. He saw the peasant forced into debit, and then sold into slavery for a pair of shoes. He saw the religion compromised, exploited, and the professional priests and prophets doing nothing about it. He said this to the ladies of the day, “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, ‘Bring that we may drink.’ ”

Amos’ main concern was with the hurting caused other people. How one treats his fellowman is the crucial test of a person’s life. Judgment is especially severe when the powerless, the children, the poor are mistreated and oppressed. Someone has said, “A society is not judged by how it treats its best man, but how it treats its worst.” A teacher is not judged by how well she teaches to responsive student, but how she treats the worst. A parent is judged not by how the favorite children turn out, but how he/she treats the unwanted one. A nation is judged not by its suburbs but by its ghettos. A church is not judged by its fine buildings, balanced budgets, fat clergy, but by how it ministers to the poor, oppressed, disadvantaged.

Therefore, because Israel was failing in its duties to God and their fellow people, judgment was coming. Amos said, “Woe to those who lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the midst of the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, thus says the Lord: ‘An adversary shall surround the land, and bring down your defenses from you, and your strongholds shall be plundered. Behold, I will press you down in your place, as a cart full of sheaves presses down, Flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong shall not retain his strength, nor shall the mighty save his life; he who handles the bow shall not stand, and he who is swift of foot shall not save himself, nor shall he who rides the horse save his life; he who is stout of heart among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day,’ says the Lord.”

Amos did not end his message with the pronouncement of doom. There is always hope. He reminded them of all that God had done through their history. The popular opinion was, therefore, because God has so favored us, he will give us prosperity, prestige, victory. But Amos reversed the popular opinion; Amos said, because God favored you, more is expected. Not special privilege, but great responsibility. Israel’s judgment will be severe because she knew better. He preached, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” A holy and just God can only be served by a people who are holy and just.

Therefore, repent. “Seek good and not evil, that you may live” (there is the hope) and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you. Hate evil and love good.

Repent, turn back to God, reach out to your fellows and make life better for them. “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.

Amos was not a popular prophet. His words were not heeded. And they came true. His words have been preserved. Let us not make the same mistake. The sovereignty of God over our lives through judgment is real. Seek good, not evil. Let justice roll.

© 1975 Douglas I. Norris