July 18, 2010

Amos 8:1-12
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

This morning the prophet Amos, whom we heard from last Sunday as well, continues his rant against the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the 8th century BCE.

Amos puts God’s judgment and anger into words for the people so that there can be no doubt about what they have done wrong and why God is getting fed up with them.

Amos is addressing the people who trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land. He talks about how they sell grain to the poor, but they cheat them by using false scales. They are liars and cheats – trying to get rich at someone else’s expense.

Be assured, Amos warns them, God is paying attention and God has a good memory. God is going to turn things upside down. Their feasts will be over, and they will be mourning instead.

One of the things that I find most interesting about reading the prophets is the visions that they talk about. They get these strange images in their minds, and each one represents some kind of message from God.

You probably remember the popular one from the prophet Ezekiel, when he saw a valley full of dry, dry bones. Then he saw the bones moving, putting themselves together into bodies, and flesh appearing on them. With the breath of God, the bodies came back to life.

And through that vision – through that metaphor – Ezekiel’s readers came to understand that God had a plan to restore Israel again – to bring them back from exile in Babylon, and to be their God once again.

Last Sunday, we read about Amos’ vision of a plumb line. God was measuring things up – judging the people of Israel like a builder checks the straightness of the foundation wall. But they did not pass the test, and the wall is about to be destroyed so that the builder can begin again.

Today, Amos shares another vision with a similar message for the Northern Kingdom. “This is what the Lord God shoed me – a basket of summer fruit,” wrote Amos. God said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.”

Then the Lord said to me, “The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by. The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” says the Lord God; “the dead bodies shall be many, cast out in every place.”

The judgment and punishment of Israel sounds very much like we heard last week. But what’s with the basket of fruit? What was Amos trying to get across by talking about a vision of some fruit?

Well, I don’t know about you, but I really love this time of year when we start to see fruit stands set up all over the place. One of my favourite memories of visiting BC is stopping at one of those stands, picking up a big bag of locally grown cherries, and eating them as we drove through the mountains.

My only problem, when I’m shopping at the Farmer’s Market fruit stand, is that I usually buy too much fruit. It all looks so good and fresh and delicious, and so I come home with too many peaches and strawberries and plums. And without a doubt, Nick and I can’t eat them fast enough.

Summer fruit isn’t like autumn apples. You can buy lots of apples, put them in a cool place, and they’ll be good for months. But summer fruit just doesn’t last, and all too often, I find myself throwing some of it away.

Amos’ vision of the basket of fruit was his dramatic way of saying, “You’re running out of time!” The fruit is going bad, and it’s going to get chucked out! You’re time for repentance – for changing your ways to God’s ways – is coming to an end, and God is going to dispense with you too!

In fact, some translators suggest that a better translation from the Hebrew would be “rotten fruit.” Israel just might be out of time completely!

At the end of the passage, the prophet shares God’s announcement that there is a famine coming. God says, “I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.”

Just think of that… God has become so angry and frustrated with the people that he’s about to give up trying to get through to them. God’s going to cut them off completely. Maybe then they will start paying attention.

Well, the good news for Israel, and for us, and for all of God’s people is that God didn’t stay silent forever. Maybe it was mostly Amos who was ready to give up on the people of the 8th century BCE. Maybe God never really believed that abandoning the people would somehow get their attention.

But the point is that God did not remain silent. We have seen that God still had one very significant plan in store to get our attention and to draw us back into loving relationship with God and one another.

While Amos had predicted a famine of hearing the words of the Lord, God decided to prepare a banquet and to invite anyone and everyone to come to the table and share in the feast!

As the author of John’s Gospel so eloquently puts it, the word of God “became flesh and lived among us.”

In Jesus of Nazareth, God spoke to all humanity the ultimate word of acceptance, love, challenge, and grace, and God continues to speak to us even today.

As the apostle Paul explains it, God speaks to us despite our mistakes, our failures, and the ways we often turn deliberately away from God. Paul writes, “And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, Christ has now reconciled.”

The word of God, which seemed so elusive, is right in front of us in Jesus. And those like Paul, who have heard it and had their lives transformed, are charged to share it – to make the word of God fully known.

In our Gospel story today, we hear about Jesus staying at the home of his friends Mary and Martha in Bethany. Martha is doing her best to be a good hostess. She’s looking after all her guests, and serving their needs as best she can.

Mary, though, is not being much help at all. Instead of giving a hand to her sister, she’s sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to his teaching, and soaking up all she can about God and God’s kingdom.

I don’t think there was anything wrong with what Martha happened to be doing. Jesus would have no complaint about the water ready for washing or the food ready for eating.

But Mary seemed to understand something that her sister had missed. Mary understood that time was of the essence. Like a basket of summer fruit, Jesus would be with them only a short time. And she wanted to know him, and to understand him, and to figure out why everything about him seemed to be turning her life upside down.

Later, when Mary took a jar of costly perfume and used it all at once to anoint Jesus for his burial, some said that her action was wasteful. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. I’ll only be with you a little longer.”

Today, let us hear in the scriptures the invitation to feast on the goodness of God’s Word. Let’s read the bible. Let’s reflect on the life of Jesus and the things that he taught us. Let’s not put off our plans to spend time with God in prayer, worship, study, and reflection.

Time is of the essence. The summer fruit is ripe and ready to eat. Let the banquet begin. Amen.