Amos 8:4-7, The Character of God

I am definitely not a trained therapist, counselor or psychologist, but in seminary I had to take classes to familiarize myself with current thought from these social sciences. One thing that made sense to me was that for nearly all of us, our parents have the greatest influence on who we become. The claim of the defiant sixteen year old to her mom, I am never going to become like you, is usually false. She will become like her mom. At 28, my wife Paige told me you are just like your dad, and I said no way. Yes…way. We can run, but we can’t hide. In a lot of ways, we are our parents.

The other day, I was emptying the dishwasher and I realized that someone had put the drinking glasses on the wrong shelf. I have a cupboard with most of my drinking glasses. I keep the small plastic cups for my grandchildren on the first shelf, the large oversized cups for water on the second shelf and the actual glass drinking glasses that I prefer on the top shelf. Whoever had emptied the dishwasher last must have lost their mind, because plastic was mixed with glass, small glasses were on the top shelf, the large cups were mixed in with the small cups wasting space. What were they thinking? I mean you want the kids cups on the bottom shelf, duh…I ended up taking out every cup from the cupboard and rearranging them correctly. When I was done, I smiled. I had become my parents.  

Jesus encouraged us to call God, papa, father. For Israel, God had chosen them to be God’s people, God’s family here on earth. God expects us to mature into people that reflect His character, just as we mature into people that reflect the character of our mothers and fathers. God is complicated. God’s character can’t be summarized easily, but there is one outstanding characteristic of God. God is a God that demands justice.

Justice is almost a loaded word anymore. When I was a kid in the late sixties and early seventies, we used to play cops and robbers and bring bad guys to justice. We were influenced by comic books and old westerns when we used this word. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me in my privileged suburban neighborhood, people of color were fighting for justice but not against bandits like Jesse James or John Dillinger. Their fight was with their government that was keeping them from voting, living where they wanted or attending schools that would help their children thrive. 

Luther Seminary professor, Rolf Jacobsen defines justice as the way we order society so that the most life can thrive. God longs for all of us to live well. To do this, we need systems that give people the opportunity to thrive. Those systems include laws that protect us from people breaking into our house, or dumping chemicals in our rivers. Those systems include FBI agents, police and even Old West sheriffs like those me and my friends pretended to be, to protect people preyed upon by bandits and bad actors. Justice in our communities is not guaranteed by the enforcers of law, because often it is the laws themselves that keep people from experiencing justice. Therefore, we need prophets with the character of God to help us see where justice is denied and hear the cries of those abused.

The prophet Amos was not a wealthy or powerful religious leader. He was not in the official, temple sanctioned prophet’s guild, which was a thing when he lived in the 8th century BCE. He was just a farmer and herdsman who powerfully reflected the character of God. Just as my heart skipped a beat when I saw that helter skelter cupboard, the heart of Amos burst with compassion at the plight of the poor in Israel. He prophesied to Israel in their wealthiest and most successful time. People were getting rich but they were doing so at the expense of the poor. The richest and most powerful people in Israel were not reflecting the character of God. They were fine with their life thriving at the expense of others who were floundering. 

Amos was bold. The rich are selling what they say is an ephah wheat, about a bushel, but in actuality it is just a little less and they know it. People with the character of God would never do this. They are weighing out the silver that the poor pay for their wheat, with a scale that always works in their favor. People with the character of God would never do this. They enslave a poor person because he owes them money for a leather sandal. People with the character of God would never do this. The rich and powerful honor the Sabbath day, claiming they are God’s people. Yet, their hearts grieve that their workers deserve is keeping them from making even more money. Their heart is not God’s heart. 

Amos is preaching a word that the rich and powerful of his day did not want to hear. The people in charge of the world he lived in did not reflect the character of the God they claimed to worship. Amos knew this because their hearts did not ache with his heart at the plight of the poor. They were only concerned with making their lives better. They had been richly blessed, but they were using those rich blessings to harm and not bless God’s world.

God loves us and wants each of us, everyone of us, the poor, the powerless as well as the rich and the powerful, to live well. For our world to become how God hopes for it to be, it will take people with the character of God to make it so. Amos is hard on the wealthy, because they can affect change in Israel. The powerless can’t change the laws. The poor can’t simply move to a better neighborhood to raise their kids or buy more food to fill their empty kitchen cupboards. We ask the most of people with the most because they can do the most to change our world to reflect the character of God the most.

People of God, allow the character of God offered to you in baptism to transform you. Let your heart ache with God’s heart for those who cannot live as God hoped. God wants what is best for everyone, regardless of their skin color, bank accounts, language skills, party affiliation, size of their home, or status in their community. As God’s people, we must have the courage of Amos and speak God’s truth, standing up to the powerful and saying no to injustice. Don’t just shrug and say what can I do. Demand that laws be enforced for the sake of justice and that laws be changed so that justice can be found. We have a voice, let that voice be God’s voice.

Simply by living with our parents over a lifetime, we share their heart, now. Baptized into the family of God, living life with God, among God’s people, reading God’s story, tasting God’s love in worship, we share God’s heart now. Listen to that heart. With God, long for a world where people’s lives are made better. Like Amos be mad when injustice is accepted. Amen  

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