I'll have to admit that my journey through the prophets this year has been quite troubling. Now in Amos, I have to wonder where religion was taking these folk. This "herdsman of Tekoa" affords grace for no one and provides quite the contrast for the God who will centuries later become flesh.
Two quite different role models in this Book of books given Amos and Jesus!
I know, Old Covenant/New Covenant, Law versus grace. I still wrestle with the strategy.
I am amazed at people like Richard Rohr, two years younger than me, but one who has remained so positive and hopeful. Still many in my circle scoff at his more liberal voice. Yet at times, he seems much more practical in his "preaching" than some of the fire and brimstone purveyors of my past. Fortunately, that approach is less and less one that folk will contend with.
I'll share a quote from Rohr's morning devotional: "To be contemplative, we have to have a slight distance from the world to allow time for withdrawal from business as usual, for contemplation, for going into what Jesus calls our “private room” (Matthew 6:6). However, we have to remain quite close to the world at the same time, loving it, feeling its pain and its joy as our pain and our joy. Otherwise, our distance can become a form of escapism."*
That's balanced Christianity, requiring both inner contemplation and outward impact. "A slight distance from world... yet loving it, feeling its pain."
The prophet Amos, at least in first few chapters almost guts the people of Isreal. Sadly, our full buy-in to the concept of the Canon, provides ample opportunity to cherry pick scripture when "woe" is necessary to cajole people "into the kingdom." You've likely heard Amos 4:12b before: "prepare to meet thy God, O Isreal."
I'll say it again, this annual read through the prophets is troubling! Perhaps because I am aging or finally maturing sufficiently to trust my own experience with the Christ.
Yet, I am still intrigued by the mystery of these multiple books that tell one story, a story of grace.
Though the majority of the books included in the Canon clearly communicate man's failure to comprehend this "God breathed" grace, they also frame a trajectory for the very introduction of such grace.
Religion attempts to lay down the law, the expectations of man, while the Spirit keeps crying grace and leaking love.
The Spirit of Christ, reinforced by the life of Jesus should have long separated us from the angst of Amos! Yet, we preacher types still occasionally revert to wrath for sustainability, and it "profits us nothing."
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV.
Sure there are principles to the faith, but underlying all such guidance is the grace that flows from the One who is Love. Not sure Amos got that? Perhaps the old shepherd was so hardened by religion that God chose him only for contrast with the True Shepherd.
I am grateful for grace and the occasional contemporary who stays with the message of grace despite the fodder found in such books as Amos.
Fortunately, by the end of the book, God seems to have broken through the hard facade of Amos, as it does end with hope and foretells what seems today as truth, though in a very challenging moment for Isreal:
“'The days are coming,' declares the Lord, 'when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills, and I will bring my people Israel back from exile. “They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,” says the Lord your God.'"
Amos 9:13-15 NIV.
I certainly question their means of maintaining that promise, though their enemies are formidable, both seemingly driven by religion. Old habits are hard to break apart from grace. I know that for sure!