The Eighth Sunday of Pentecost – Sunday, July 15, 2018

July 15, 2018  

Amos 7:7-15

Amos was a prophet.
He was a herdsman and a keeper of sycamore trees, but most important to us: Amos was a prophet.

Prophets were called “seers” because they were believed to be able to see
things other people could not. (The New Interpreter’s Bible vol. 7 p. 405).

According to our reading today, what God showed Amos was a plumb line.
That’s how most scholars define the Hebrew word ‘anak. They all admit the translation is murky, but keep using “plumb line” anyway, maybe because everybody else has.

I came across a scholar who believes ‘anak is being mistranslated. He believes this word, (which only appears four times in the Old Testament, all four being in today’s reading), is an Akkadian word for “tin.” He believes that word was used, not because God was going to build a wall of tin in Israel, but because the word sounds like the words ‘anah and ‘anaq. According to this scholar, both of those words mean “sigh.” Amos saw “lament” in the vision. God would build a wall of lament. (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 7 p. 406-407).

With this in mind, our revised reading of Amos 7:8 would be

Then the Lord said “See, I am setting a sigh in the midst of my people Israel;
 I will never again pass them by”

Why is God sighing? As another scholar wrote “God’s primary role in this book is to be the judge and the executioner of those persons who have refused to obey divine standards of justice” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 7 p. 346).

The people of Israel were sinful. The people of Israel were disobedient. The people of Israel were rebellious. In other words, the people of Israel were like every other people of every other time and every other place. Their behavior was nothing new. What was new was what Amos “saw.” Amos saw God’s frustration, God’s impatience, God’s anger… God’s lament. According to Amos, God had had enough. God was going to punish the Israelites. They were going to lose their promised land. They were going to be exiled.

Most everywhere else in the Old Testament God was shown to be “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Exodus 34:6). Not in the book of Amos. The prophet Amos believed “God’s patience had finally run out” (The New Interpreter’s Bible vol. 7 p. 408).

Thank God, God is merciful.

We are fortunate. We know the rest of the story. We know God gave God’s only Son to the world to save us all from ourselves. We know the truth of God, that God is love.

When Jeanne and I were on vacation we spent the last few days of the vacation in Memphis with my oldest sister and her husband. My sister and her husband and I went to a Museum located in a house that was once a part of the Underground Railroad. I won’t ever forget what I experienced that morning.

The house was large for its time, but quite modest by modern day standards. It had been owned by a white businessman who converted his “basement” (nothing more than a root cellar) into a hiding place for escaped slaves as they journeyed north.

There were two large buses, each full of folks who were part of a tour group visiting the Memphis area. Our guided tour was with one of those groups. There were 30-some of us all crowded into the house’s small rooms, hearing stories of slavery and the slave market and physical abuse and hiding and fear and hope and trust and distrust. At the end of the tour we all sat in the living room, where there were rows of modest church benches. We heard our tour guide talk about the “secret code” built into the quilts people hung on their lines and into the lyrics of gospel songs.
“Swing Low.” Get down and run, run quickly.
“Sweet Chariot.” The railroad. The circuit of houses and farms.
“Coming for to carry me home.” Taking people who were thought of as property north, to freedom. To a land where people would be people, not possessions bought and sold and families divided.

The secret code was a language of love. A language of hope.

Then we sang.

My sister and her husband and I were three of only four or five white people in the room. There we all sat, singing. “Swing low, sweet chariot…” I will never forget.

There is no mistaking the fact that we live as sinful people, disobedience, rebellious. Like the Israelites, generation after generation our thoughts and our actions betray us.

Thank God, God is merciful. Thank God, we know the truth of God, that God is love. Created in the image of God, it is our calling to live lives of love. Created in the image of God, it is our moral obligation to love one another as God loves us.