Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Out of the Ordinary: Good News..., for Whom?

Clarke Fitzgerald's The Plumb-line and the City

"Out of the Ordinary: Good News..., for Whom?"

Rev. Paul Mitchell

Vashon United Methodist Church

July 21, 2019 

1 Timothy 6:6-19; Amos 6:1-14

Call me Amos.
I could have stayed home, minding my own sheepherding business. I’m sure I’ll be misunderstood. Because what I have to say isn’t nice. But then I was reminded lately that “Nice people made the best Nazi’s. They got along, refused to make waves, looked the other way when things got ugly, and focused on happier things than “politics.” They were lovely people who turned their heads as their neighbors were dragged away. You know who weren’t nice people? Resisters.”[i]
So, call me Amos, a resister. It’s actually against my nature. I’m what the enneagram theorists call a nine – a harmonizer, a peacemaker. I like it when people get along. I’m uncomfortable when there is awkward tension in the room. I want people to like me and to like each other. So, it’s hard for me to be not nice. Amos wasn’t nice. Amos was passionate and fully committed to the message that Y H W H – God who is Being itself – I AM Who I AM – had set upon his shoulders and his heart. Amos knew his message would not be easily received – much less heeded. So, he carefully crafted an argument that could not be refuted. He composed it of self-evident observable events and memories. He began with a condemnation of the atrocities of the neighboring nations – the ones upon whom God might have had mercy had they been guilty of three atrocities. But no, there were four! He crafted these fourth atrocities into an ethic describing the expectations of God’s favor. Treat people as bearers of the divine. Put human welfare before commercial gain. Promise only what is for the good of all. Bear no hatred in your heart toward those who seem different. Restrain your enjoyment in order to promote the enjoyment of all. Never seek revenge. These are the baggage that stand between us and the future – which is God’s favor.
Amos did this not because he claimed any special status. He did not inherit his calling from a long line of prophets. He did not claim a mystical vision in the transcendent presence of the divine like Ezekiel or Isaiah. He simply stepped out and said to the people and the leaders of the northern kingdom, “Wake up! Can’t you see what you are doing? Do you not understand the slippery path on which you tread? Can you not see where this is leading?” Amos indicts the leaders, the idle rich, but he pointedly includes the common and the poor among those who will suffer from the irreverence and the pride and the self-indulgence of the leaders. Commentator J. A. Motyer reminds us that “a leader is different only in position, responsibility, and risk, and not different in kind from others….”[ii]
What did Amos see on the horizon that could compel him so? An invading foe. Assyria was not the true foe – though it would soon rise to take advantage of the true foe that had already invaded the people whom God had sought to set as a lamp to the nations – a city on the hill – a shining example of excellence in devotion and righteousness. Motyer traces Amos’ argument through the middle third of Amos’ appeal. Amos “… is not concerned to act as a prognosticator but much more as an acute commentator on his own times. Therefore, he shows this [invading foe] in light of and caused by the existing social, personal, and religious conditions. [Amos] laid bare the inner motivation of self-pleasing as that which made them, socially, personally, and religiously, what they were and exposed them to the whole-hearted opposition of the Lord. … [And] what is more incredible to a religious people than that their religion exposes them to the wrath of God? [Amos] teaches that religion as they had organized it on the basis of self-pleasing is defective godward, lacking the vital component of … true repentance, and defective [hu]manward, lacking the fruits of righteousness in the worshipper and of justice towards others.”[iii]
The sixth chapter of Amos – which we have heard in its entirety today – is the climax of Amos’ indictment and warning – before he turns to the consequences and the slim, slight chance that God’s favor might return and the mercy of the Lion of Judah – YHWH – might prevail. “Their particular error was to isolate two components within the true religion which had been revealed to them and to act as if there was nothing else …: sincerity and ceremony. … But they treated the ceremonies as an end in themselves, done in and for the inherent, automatic benefits achieved by the ceremonial act, and they divorced them from their God-intended context in a life of moral obedience, righteous principle, and just conduct.”[iv]
The chapter is organized as a frame within a frame within a frame. Verse one wails woe to the self-important, luxuriating leaders who presume the safety and supremacy of their nation among lesser neighbors and in the shadow of a sleeping giant. It is paired at the end of the chapter with the declaration that God will raise a nation against them. The next inward frame describes supposed victories over neighbors, the justification for the leaders resting on their laurels and claiming the admiration of the nation. The next frame pairs practical absurdities with the leaders’ deliberate hastening of the day of violence. The next frame juxtaposes scenes of “… laziness, … gluttony, … frivolity, artificial … stimulation, and excessive personal vanity [with] that of ten men huddled together in the terror of siege conditions, ravaged by plague, mere skeletons of their former, well-padded selves.” [v] Nested at the center of this framework is the indictment that the leaders had so isolated themselves from human need – had abandoned their own humanity – that God, who chooses life, could no longer associate through them for the divine project of human flourishing. The foe of which Amos warns – complacency, pride, and self-pleasing – has already slipped in unnoticed and occupied the hearts of the people. Assyria will eventually merely be an opportunist.
We are tempted to take the uphill climb of this chapter as a checklist to see how we are doing. We ask, nervously, does this apply to us? Are we lying on ivory beds and reclining of couches? Do we dine on younglings, delicacies taken before their prime value? Do we pursue extravagant pleasures and fancy ourselves musicians like David? Do we drink fine wines by the bottle, and show no care for the ruin of the people? While most of us dabble in some of these, none of us do all these things. And yet, as a body, evidence is mounting that we do not show enough care for the ruin of creation. It would be such a relief if we could evade our complicity by laying this all at the feet of a leader, who we are fairly certain is described to a ‘T’ by Amos – or on the shoulders of a contingent of leaders whose own status is perversely enhanced by the degradation of those whom God has reserved an extra helping of grace – the widow, the orphan, and the stranger – or in the hearts of millions who are entertained by the worship of greatness and wealth and pride.
Motyer summarizes the lessons of history that Amos offers to “Joseph” – which is us – the body that has inherited Jacob’s favor. First, “We should never be satisfied with things as they are, for the simple reason that in every human relationship there are seeds and forces of disaster, and their most fertile breeding ground is complacent, self-satisfied leadership. … Secondly, the welfare of the fellowship must always take primacy over the pampering of the self…. There is a godly self-care without which we shall never be equipped, physically, mentally, or spiritually to care for anyone else, but there is an ungodly self-concern which progressively blinds us to the ruin of Joseph. … We are all ‘Josephs’ to each other, the objects of mutual care which should mark our fellowship….”[vi] The third lesson is that which is most famously formulated by the prophet Micah, but is present throughout the prophetic witness, and about which Jesus was partially referring when he claimed continuity with the prophets: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. “Of all sides to the question of walking with God, Amos focuses on one alone: God opposes the proud. … Finally, Amos brings before us the necessity to discern the things which are more excellent: the principle of placing moral considerations above everything else. It is not technology that makes fools of natural impossibilities, nor weaponry which extends or secures national frontiers, but the exactness of moral values, that decides welfare, continuity, and progress.”[vii]
In his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” Dr. King echoed Amos’ prioritizing of the exactness of moral values. “… over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the … Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action” ….”[viii]
Beloved, it is time for us to take direct action in whatever form we can. The foe has already slipped in unnoticed and occupied the hearts of the people. There is hatred and xenophobia and scapegoat-ism rising, and we as followers of Jesus – “the brown-skinned Jewish rabbi preaching about the poor being blessed and the broken-hearted comforted” – we the Jesus people, must speak calmly and clearly and boldly. “Wake up! Can’t you see what you are doing? Do you not understand the slippery path on which you tread? Can you not see where this is leading?” When we hear “Send them home,” we must say, “We are more just, more kind, more humble with you here.” When we see the children sleeping on the concrete floor, we must raise our voice and say, “Let the children come, for to such belongs the realm of heaven.” When we see the welfare of the stranger sacrificed for our national security, greatness, and pride, we must write to our legislators, and register people to vote, and show up in the street and in front of the detention centers and concentration camps declaring, “We are here as an act of the unconditional love and expectation of justice that is written by God on our hearts.”
We can’t help it. We are compelled.
Call us Amos.
Call us Jesus.
Call us Love.

[ii] J. A. Motyer, The Message of Amos: The Day of the Lion (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1974), 145.
[iii] Ibid., 139-140.
[iv] Ibid., 140-141.
[v] Ibid., 143.
[vi] Ibid., 145-146.
[vii] Ibid., 146-147.
[viii] Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” [https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html].

Friday, July 19, 2019

Out of the Ordinary: A Flood is Coming

Clarke Fitzgerald's The Plumb-line and the City

"Out of the Ordinary: A Flood is Coming"

Rev. Paul Mitchell

Vashon United Methodist Church

July 14, 2019 

Amos 5:14-27; Luke 12:35-48

Friday evening from 8:30-9:30, several of us from this congregation joined about one hundred forty others at the corner of Bank and Vashon Highway to bear quiet, glowing witness to the atrocities being committed in our name by our Customs and Border Enforcement. The gathering began with some good old-fashioned protest singing, but then quieted as we held up lights for liberty – to say with Amos, “People should not be treated as things.” The most chilling thing I witnessed was a metal dog cage containing a cloth doll of a child in traditional Central American clothing. Thousands of God’s children are caged for profit.
How can we gather as followers of Jesus and not consider the plight of children held in concentration camps by our government? For that matter, how can we dismiss that it is happening in our name? In an interview with The Atlantic late last month, Dr. Elora Mukherjee, a professor at Columbia Law School and the director of the school’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, said, “I have been representing and interviewing immigrant children and their families in detention…. Last week I was in Clint, and the conditions we found were appalling. In 12 years representing immigrant children in detention, I have never seen such degradation and inhumanity. Children were dirty, they were scared, and they were hungry.
“An overwhelming number of children who I interviewed had not had an opportunity for a … shower or bath since crossing the border [days or weeks earlier]. They were wearing the same clothing that they had crossed the border in. Their clothing was covered in bodily fluids, including urine and breast milk for the teenage moms who are breastfeeding.
“Nearly every child I spoke with said that they were hungry because they’re being given insufficient food. The food at Clint is rationed on trays. Everyone gets an identical tray regardless of if you’re a 1-year-old, or you’re a 17-year-old, or a breastfeeding teenage mother who has higher caloric needs. The same food is served every single day, and none of the children receive any fruit and vegetables or any milk.”[i]
On Friday, after visiting the detention facility at McAllen, Vice President Pence said, “To be honest with you, I was not surprised by what we saw….”[ii] In other words, he had foreknowledge and was expecting to see, “a swelteringly hot room called a sally port with hundreds of men, a strong smell of sweat and overcrowding so extreme there was no room for cots, the migrants left to sleep [without pillows] on concrete beneath mylar blankets.”[iii] He knew that’s what he would see. We knew that’s what he would see, and smell, and hear. How well has he slept since Friday? How well have we slept? What do you suppose his pastor had to say this morning in worship? Most Evangelical pastors don’t follow the lectionary schedule of readings, but if the worship Pence attended this morning did follow it, he would have heard from the prophet Amos as well.
Last week I shared that, like Amos, though the message is not breezy, light, and summery, I feel compelled to speak it. Amos’ words for those who see themselves as righteous followers of the way, the truth, and the life, as they knew it, are pertinent to us as well. It’s relevant to us, and good and healthy for us, within the context of our faith, to be held accountable and reminded that it is not a forgone conclusion that we are favored by God simply because we were born into or continue to identify with this particular legacy of Jesus, who we claim incarnates God’s unconditional love and expectation of justice.
Commentator J. A. Motyer articulates the relevance to us today of Amos’ message this way:
“Affluence, exploitation, and the profit motive were the most notable features of the society in which Amos observed and in which he worked. The rich were affluent enough to have [more than one home] apiece, to go in for rather ostentatiously expensive furniture, and not to deny themselves any bodily satisfaction. On the other hand, the poor were really poor and were shamelessly exploited: they suffered from property rackets, legal rackets, and business rackets, and the defenceless … with no influence came off worse every time. When the poor could not contribute to the rich, they were simply ignored and left to be broken. Money-making and personal covetousness ruled all: [they] lived for their offices, [they] lived for excitement, [their] rulers lived for frivolity.”[iv]
Remember that in the ancient Mediterranean, the nation, it’s cult, and the state were more connected, somewhat like the separate branches of our federal government. Motyer continues: “When Amos turned his gaze upon the [cult] he found a religion which was very religious, which adored what was traditional, but which had shaken free from divine revelation. The religious centres were apparently thronged, sacrifices were punctiliously offered, the musical side of worship was keenly studied. But it had no basis outside the “mind” of [the people]. …under the analytical gaze of Amos, [the shrines of the northern kingdom] were but exercises in self-pleasing, abhorrent to God. Amaziah, [their chief priest, about whom we will hear more in a few weeks,] offers a case history of the best sort of worshipper, … establishment -minded, careful for the ecclesiastical proprieties, but supremely disinterested in any word from God.”[v] I often ask myself, am I like Amaziah, only interested in the performative aspect of worship? Or am I truly motivated by the binding of my heart to God’s desire for the thriving, beloved community of creation?
Amos preached to the northern kingdom some thirty years before it was overthrown and scattered by the Assyrians in 732 BCE. Was he prescient? Or was he one of many prophetic voices that survived the test of time and circumstance. Motyer’s commentary on Amos was first published forty-five years ago, and yet his defense of the relevance of Amos also seems to have only grown more relevant. He continues:
“Authority and the rule of law were despised, and national leadership, while reveling in the publicity and dignity of position and quick to score debating points, was not facing the real issues, but seemed even to be contributing to the complete breakdown of law and order by allowing personal likes and dislikes to take primacy over caring for the nation. Public standards of morality were at a low ebb: Amos could speak of sexual indulgence, transgressions and sins, and [callous commercial] practice as matters on which he could not be proved wrong.
“These things provided him with grounds for speaking …, and they also provide us for grounds that he will have something to say to us today. These are the things which mark our society also…. None of them is true about everybody; each of them is true about somebody. Amos might well have been walking through any of our great cities.”[vi]
Considering the accuracy, potency, and relevance to us of Amos’ preaching, it’s important to take a breath and consider his tone. It’s easy to hear only an angry voice. But I’d like us to consider a tender voice – a voice of sorrow and concern – a voice that conveys confidence that some incisive judgement might lead to our recovery, our healing, our salvation. “Seek good and not evil, so that you may live.” Again, and again, Amos cries out in compassion. “Seek good and not evil, so that you may live.” Amos is concerned both with the natural consequences of evil actions and systems, and the fear that God cannot continue to champion justice through a people who do not embrace it. God is not interested in demonstrations of formal piety and has instructed the people of this – through flood and rainbow, through captivity and liberation, through privation and providence. Again and again, God has said to us, “I love you, but you know to be better than what you choose. You know what I choose – I have chosen it from the beginning. I choose life! So, … choose life! You are made in my image. Live like it. Seek good and not evil so that you may live, and so that Y H W H may truly be with you as you have been claiming.”
But our proclivity to fall back into formalities instead of substance also seems to be deeply rooted in the human condition. And so we find Jesus, who said “I have come not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them…,” yet again warning the disciples, who have left everything to follow him, to be ready. And Jesus, like Amos, has been clear about what it means to be ready. It’s not about what we do when we are presenting ourselves properly before God at our designated times of worship, but about how we comport ourselves around the clock, when we think we are outside God’s scrutiny. By the time Peter askes Jesus, “Teacher, do you intend this parable just for us, or do you mean it for everyone?” Jesus has already declared his mission to bring good news to those who do not enjoy mansions and servants and good health and plenty of clean water and state-of-the-art healthcare – but to those who have been cast aside. Jesus has already taught that the greatest commandment is to love God and neighbor – the neighbor being defined as the one who seems to be different and outside the sanctioned practices of faith. Jesus has already taught the disciples to pray for enough simply for the day and to extend dignity and welcome to all, just as God has extended dignity and welcome to them.
Beloved, we do not know when the owner will return. I, for one, believe that the owner has never left, but is at hand, trusting us to call on our better natures to bring these things: forgiveness, generosity, hospitality, inclusion, and justice into the world daily. To live according to the ethic: “That which I enjoy, I must seek for the other to enjoy.” This is the true worship God desires – to let justice flow like a river, and righteousness like an unfailing stream. If we do not impede that flow, we will not be swept away in the flood that is coming. So may our feasts and solemn assemblies and offerings and oblations and sacrifices become pleasing to God, because they prompt and prepare us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Out of the Ordinary: Seek the Lord and LIVE!

Clarke Fitzgerald's The Plumb-line and the City

"Out of the Ordinary: Seek the Lord and LIVE!"

Rev. Paul Mitchell

Vashon United Methodist Church

July 7, 2019 

Amos 5:6-15; Luke 18:18-30

The opening image of the book of the prophet Amos is the lion. Amos says, “YHWH roars from Zion.” Zion is the comprehensive image of the seat of the God of the Hebrew covenant. Physically it is associated with Jerusalem and its temple that housed the Ark of the Covenant in the rocky high country of the southern kingdom of Judah. The image of Zion encompassed the ideals and aspirations of the Hebrew people a little like the image of Columbia the Gem of the Ocean encompassed the ideals and aspirations of the founders of our nation. The people of the covenant did not always heed the roar of the Lion of Judah, just as we do not always live up to the ideals we espouse in our nation. In our case, we like to sum up those ideals and aspirations with the bold phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Would that we lived up to them. We might then live up to the claim that we are a Christian nation – or at least a nation favored by God.
One of the curious and unique aspects about the Hebraic headwaters of our faith is the prophetic tradition. Some scholars claim that the Hebrew prophets alone represent critique of a religious tradition in its holy scriptures from within. This aligns with the assertion today that true patriotism not only allows but demands a critical voice – the voice that brings us back again and again to evaluate our fidelity to the ideals we claim. Are living up to them meaningfully and comprehensively? How much is enough? The Hebrew prophets, in most cases, operated in much the same way as other walks of life – handed down from parent to child, inherited generation after generation. The prophets were generally considered scholars – not quite priestly, but with special access to the halls of power, and special protections from prosecution for speaking truth to power.
The case of Amos is a little different. Amos is introduced to us as a sheep breeder – a simple nomadic herdsman – though this may be either an exaggeration of his modesty or even a claim to an association with the House of David. Later, in the seventh chapter of nine, we learn that Amos does not come from a prophetic line or school. From this we gather that the message from God must have been especially compelling. Amos was driven to convey it despite the lack of the usual protections. Further, the message drove him from his own people in the Southern Kingdom to deliver dire warnings to the leadership of the Northern Kingdom, Israel. Amos carries with him the roar of YHWH – asserting God’s sovereign rule over and above the authority of mere nations.
“The lion metaphor, of course, speaks of judgment, and [Amos’] series of oracles serves to show at point after point the things that come under the divine displeasure.”[i] We don’t much like judgement, especially when we suspect it is justified. Prophets like Amos are part of the reason most people would just as soon forget about the bulk of the Hebrew Bible. From our vantage point, all this judgement seems to contradict the claim that God is self-giving and abiding in steadfast love. However, Amos’ opening invocation of the name of God serves as a reminder of just who this God is. This is the God who stoops to enter covenant with a landless, wandering tribe – a tribe that wanders into captivity and, when liberated, wanders into idolatry.
This Y H W H God remembers, even when we forget, that in the opening report of creation, God declares every day good. It is good, it is good, it is good, it is good, it is good. And the day on which we are created in the divine image God declares, “It is very good!” This is God in whom we can and do trust. And though Amos and his people do not know it yet, this is the God who – even after the people’s idolatry and infidelity – will pull up stakes and follow them into captivity and exile once again.
Amos’ point seems to be that “the face which God turns to the world is predominantly one of mercy, that [judgement] comes, when it comes at all, late and overdue…, it is accompanied by the tears of God…. The God of Amos is a God of patient, moral providence.”[ii] God, after all, has sent this warning through Amos, and even God will not controvert the natural consequences of informed, calculated, deliberate evil.
Amos carefully lays out the nature of those evils over the course of two chapters, detailing the atrocities of six nations. In each case he announces three atrocities, but then, as if to say God might consider merciful intervention to deliver that nation from its predicament of just three atrocities, he says, “No! even four!” A careful eye will discern the defining last straw in each case. The nations Amos names are not so relevant to us as are the fourth atrocities – the unredeemable broken relationships. J. A. Motyer, in his commentary on Amos, and on which I am leaning heavily, summarizes:
“The spotlight falls not on what [the nations] may or may not have done in relation to God, but what they have done [person to person]: barbarity…, pitiless slave trading involving total populations…, promise breaking…, unnatural and persistent hatred…, and finally, sickening atrocities against the helpless…, and the dead. … In the case of the first two, nothing is stated except the fact of gross cruelty; the next pair, however, strike a rather different note in linking themselves together by the word ‘[sibling]’; and the final pair, associated as they are by contrasting ideas of destroying the future (as represented by the unborn children) and desecrating the past, are firmly linked by bringing before us two categories of [altered agency], the pregnant woman and the dead body. Thus we may say that Amos first examines violations of the general relationships of life, human being to human being, then the particular responsibilities of life, [sibling to sibling], and finally the special claims of life, the attitude of the strong to the weak. In this way he speaks out on six basic principles of human conduct.”[iii]
When the ruler comes to Jesus seeking the secret of eternal life, Jesus cites not the commandments regarding the relations between God and humanity, but the commandments regarding the relations between fellow human beings. The core of the ethic which both Amos and Jesus convey is that God’s favor, Amos warns, will never come to the Northern Kingdom if they maintain their evil ways, and eternal life, Jesus warns, cannot come to the regime which cannot put down the weight of its holdings in order to follow Jesus, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. Eternal life – that is God’s favor – is to live the ethic I summarize in this phrase: Whatever I enjoy, I must seek for the other to enjoy.
Amos says, to retain God’s favor:
·      people are not to be treated as things;
·      human welfare supersedes commercial profit;
·      no pledged word is negotiable for the sake of self-interest or self-advantage;
·      hatred of “the other” is inadmissible in the human heart;
·      personal ambition must be limited by the rights of the helpless; and
·      vengeance must be renounced.
Jesus says, to live the life eternal, remove the impediments to the fulfilment of life for all – the thriving enjoyment of everything that life has to offer. He doesn’t mean all should be rich, or that all should become destitute, but that whatever holds you back, weighs you down, impedes your following of the way of Jesus – the forgiveness-generosity-hospitality-inclusion-and-justice way of Jesus – give it up.
Set it down.
Take a load off.
It’s likely that the ruler’s possessions – his inherited wealth – contributed to the very atrocities that Amos specifies as impediments to life. I suspect also that by placing an unspecified “ruler” in this conversation with Jesus, the writer of Luke is passing judgement on the unholy alliance of the occupying regime and the complicit local leaders. It’s not just “a ruler” who thinks he has earned eternal life – it is a system of domination and control that expects to rule forever simply by inheriting wealth and adhering to the rule of law. Jesus says, in effect, “You can keep all the rules and still miss the point.”

But how much is enough? How much do we need to give up, set down, unload? That’s the question we ask ourselves when confronted with Amos’ condemnation and Jesus’ seemingly impossible “one last thing that is required.” How much is enough to live according to the ethic of Amos and Jesus? Last Sunday, I served the community meal. The night before I received a call from a wealthy acquaintance on the island who had hosted a catered party. They had far too much very tasty food. Did I know someone who could use it? So, after worship last Sunday, some friends of his brought it over so I could heat it up and serve it. It was good. It was very good. The guests at last Sunday’s meal enjoyed what I enjoy and what my wealthy, generous friend enjoys. At the conclusion of the meal, one of the guests offered this comment. “You really should offer Dijon mustard. Some people don’t like yellow mustard.”
My first thought was something like this: “Who do you think you are?! I just served you a free, ample, tasty, high quality meal. And you don’t like the mustard? You should be happy – not critical.”
Then I thought again. My wealthy friend who donated the meal was much closer to eternal life than I was. He gave it away. The least I could do would be to offer some Dijon mustard – which I also enjoy more than yellow mustard.
Amos’ evaluation of the atrocities of Israel, and his ethic of respect and regard for the enjoyment of all members of God’s beloved community is established in the first quarter of the book. The point is that to seek justice and compassion IS to seek I AM WHO I AM – I AM BECOMING WHO I AM BECOMING. So, when we get to the second half of Amos – here in chapter five – we are ready to receive his advice for how to please a rightfully disappointed God. “Seek the Lord and live!” He has already spelled out what this means. Treat people as bearers of the divine. Put human welfare before commercial gain. Promise only what is for the good of all. Bear no hatred in your heart toward those who seem different. Restrain your enjoyment in order to promote the enjoyment of all. Never seek revenge. These are the baggage that stand between us and the future – which is God’s favor.
Selling all you have and giving it to the poor may in fact be the entry fee for your eternal life – I doubt it. However, everyone’s “entry fee” is specific to the one seeking God’s favor – to their capacity. In the case of the ruler, it’s what stands between him and the one thing Jesus says is missing – to follow Jesus’ way – to seek the Lord, and live. What stands in your way? How much is enough – for you?

[i] J. A. Motyer, The Message of Amos: The Day of the Lion (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1974), 25.
[ii] Ibid., 30.
[iii] Ibid., 37-39.