Every time I travel I swear I will only take what I absolutely need. This time I will travel light. I will not need that shirt and tie. But what if there’s a fancy occasion? Better take some good shoes then. What about a jacket? And what happens if … Better safe than sorry.
What are you unwilling to do without? And what would happen if you lost it?
Between Amaziah and Amos is an easy choice. Amaziah is the trustworthy one here. He’s a priest and no ordinary priest but the pastor of the National Shrine. And this is a nation where religion matters. Where God is worshipped with heart and soul and voice. And this is a nation prosperous at last. All the heartbreak of the past has been put right by God. There is peace. Military strength and national courage have paid off. All the enemies have faded away. Gross national product is on the rise. Trade is flourishing. People are happy. Church attendance may not be what it once was—but at least it’s sincere.
So no wonder Amaziah is angry at Amos. He’s a foreigner, a southerner for God’s sake. How’s he to know the real complexity of our country. And a peasant at that. A stinking shepherd with no education. How does he have the nerve to stand here in this holy place and preach at us? Not even preach. He’s not talking religion but politics. We didn’t get where we are today by letting two-bit hacks mouth off in holy places about things they don’t understand. So Amos show some respect. Go home and prophesy there. See if your own folk like it any better. But stay out of our affairs. Got it?
Amos on the other hand has nothing… and nothing to lose. He is free. He never had much to start with and God’s word has stripped him of even that. Now, a poor stranger in a rich country, he has only his voice. Amaziah doesn’t own him. The King doesn’t own him. He has no employer to please for his daily bread. He has no family at hand to make the risk unacceptable. So he does not keep quiet. He cannot keep quiet.
Because he sees things. He has visions. He stands there at their liturgy, in awe, watching. He loves it. Feels the motion sway his heart. But, even though he tries, his eyes won’t be blind to the ones who worship. He can’t blame them for enjoying their comfort. He can’t fault them for fretting over unpaid bills. He doesn’t doubt their sincere faith. He’s just appalled by their blindness. He hopes it’s blindness. The rich are getting richer and the poor getting poorer. And they don’t notice. They don’t see. Or if they see they don’t care. Or if they care they don’t know how to do anything about it. You cannot bite the hand that feeds you. You have to look after your own. And, by God, your hand digs deep when the collection comes around.
Maybe they do see. But not the image Amos sees superimposed on the singing assembly. He has a vision of twenty five years down the road. Only twenty five years. The sanctuary in ruins, overgrown, desolate. The nation’s heart empty, deserted. The people—the well-to-do ones anyway—dragged off in chains to be foreigners in a foreign land. Eating the bread of hardship from an alien hand. Sing now Israelites! Sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land.
Only the poorest are left. People like Amos. The one’s too poor to be worth deporting. The prosperity passed over them—so will the pain.
So Amos weeps through his double vision as he sees this happy assembly stripped of everything they had gathered to protect themselves. And God weeps in Amos’ tears. Because it didn’t have to be this way.
God has been there all along in the Sanctuary. But the sanctuary hasn’t been where they thought. Though they sang their hearts out no one but Amos knew where real safety lay or would risk the journey.
In Jesus time when you made your journey to Jerusalem to enter the temple sanctuary you had to leave things behind. Leave behind the cloak, the staff, the shoes, the money belt—all the stuff of journeys, all the sensible, safe provisions—and enter empty handed and unprotected and insecure to face the living God. The God who has been waiting for you. Why? Isn’t God in food and safety and comfort just as much as desert wind and aching sky?
And why does Jesus send out his followers in the same way—unprotected, unsafe, insecure? Maybe because all the world is sanctuary if you journey aright. And God is waiting there. And the price of admission? Nothing. Nothing. Not to be insecure but secure in God alone. Not to be unprotected but protected by God alone. Not to be hungry but fed by God alone.
God waiting for us, two by two, with power to drive out a world’s demons and mend every broken dream. That’s the authority Jesus gives his friends: the authority to have nothing and do everything.
July 30th, 2000