“I Am No Prophet”

Preached by Will Brown, July 12, 2015
Taken from Amos 7:7-15

AmosTheProphet

Amos will not be stopped. God has given him a mission, and nothing will stand in the way: not physical threats, not rejection, and certainly not Amaziah, whom we meet in the 7th chapter of Amos.

Amaziah was the priest at Bethel. He is powerful, well respected, with connections to all the right people. He manages the religious life of the northern kingdom of Israel, and everything is flowing smoothly.  But then, in walks Amos, a farmer-turned-prophet from the south, an intruder who disrupts the business of orderly worship and threatens the monarchy it props up.

Perhaps we should back up a bit. In the decades after Kings David and Solomon, the kingdom divided into north and south, Israel and Judah. In the Southern Kingdom, Judah, worship took place at the temple in Jerusalem. The kings of the northern kingdom of Israel, however, didn’t want people traveling back to the Southern Kingdom to worship, so they constructed worship sites within their borders, at Bethel and Dan, whose true purpose was less about worship and more about consolidating power.

In today’s story, Amos has traveled from his home in the southern kingdom to Bethel, one of these politically inspired sanctuaries. There he meets Amaziah, the keeper of the state religion.  Amaziah vs. Amos. The contrast is stark: insider vs. outsider, respected vs. unknown, establishment priest vs. destabilizing prophet. These contrasts set them on a collision course for one another, and Amos chapter 7 records the crash.

A few weeks ago, at the CBF General Assembly in Dallas, one of the speakers referenced Amos, saying of him that Amos never seems to speak without shouting. That is certainly the case here, where Amos preaches that the high places will be made desolate and the sanctuaries laid waste, and God will rise against the house of King Jeroboam with the sword. The message of judgment is clear, and Amos does not mince words.

Amaziah is right to feel threatened, and he scrambles to stop Amos. He sends word to the king about this treasonous newcomer, and then he confronts Amos directly, demanding that he go make his living elsewhere, for this is “the king’s sanctuary.”

But Amos will not be stopped. He’s not in this for the money, and perhaps he takes some satisfaction in explaining to Amaziah: “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’”  God has called Amos to preach this message, and nothing—not Amaziah, not the king, nothing—is going to stop him.

What has God called you to do? What is your calling?

During Vacation Bible School this week, we had a lot of fun, and we heard kids say a lot of interesting things, like, “I wonder why God made poison ivy.” (That’s a good question.) On Friday, one of the little girls asked Erin if she had also been the leader of Bible school last year. Erin explained that she had done some parts, like the songs, but this year she had more responsibilities. “Like what?”, the girl wanted to know. “Well, the boring parts, like registration forms.” And the girl responded, very serious, “There’s nothing boring about God.”

Today we’re thinking about calling, about how we, like Amos, are called by God. But here’s the thing. So often, when we talk about calling, it’s “Calling” with a capital-C, something distant and ominous and significant. Yes, that kind of calling is important, but today I’m more interested in the boring parts—even though “there is nothing boring about God.”

Calling doesn’t have to mean something spectacular. There is also the ordinary, day-to-day kind of calling. How are you called to act? What kind of life are you called to live? What kind of person are you called to be?

This morning in the Ministry Moment, we heard from Marcia Parker about our Health Ministry Team. She shared about the work of members of our congregation who are engaged in the health of our members and community: physical health, mental health, spiritual health, and the intersections of all of those. I think it’s safe to say that health has been a calling for many people, and the Health Ministry Team is one way that members of our congregation have put that call into practice, in addition to the ways that they have served through their careers. As a congregation, we celebrate the ways they have honored God’s calling on their lives, and we especially give thanks for Millie Fitzgerald and Virginia Shepherd who started this ministry among us and the many who have served alongside them.

What is your calling? What is that you were born to do? Or, to bring it in even closer, what small actions do you feel would be the right thing to do today: sending someone a card, mowing the grass of a sick neighbor, making a difficult phone call to apologize to someone you’ve hurt, offering a word of encouragement? What might God be calling you to do today?

I invite you to keep thinking about that, about the ways—small and large—that God may be calling you. But now, as we consider what today’s passage from Amos has to say to us, I want to think about a second question as well: when God does call, what keeps us from following? What stops us from listening to God’s call? Let’s take a look now at three things that might hold us back—but did not stop Amos.

First: the comfort of the status quo. Following God’s call means… doing something, maybe something that we’ve never done before, but even when it’s a simple, everyday action, it requires that we get up and go. Staying where we are, where we’re comfortable, is easier, even though deep down we know that we are capable of more. Sometimes what we need to pray for is for God to disrupt our inertia, to make us uncomfortable when we’ve gotten too complacent.

Amos, certainly, was pulled out of his comfortable life. Hear again how he describes it: “the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” And he went. Amos was not swayed by shallow comfort. With God’s help, he saw through the façade of a stable political system that was actually built on corruption and injustice. Elsewhere in the book of Amos, this vocal prophet rails against the nation’s leaders who “trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way” (2:7). Again and again in this book, he details the wrongdoing and injustices of the society. It is no wonder, then, that modern-day prophets, like Martin Luther King, Jr., have found inspiration in the book of Amos, adopting the refrain, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24).

The truth was that the status quo may have been comfortable for Amaziah and the king, but it wasn’t comfortable or just for those on the bottom. Amos himself had the choice of remaining in relative comfort on his farm or taking the risk to obey when God called. Amos allowed himself to be made uncomfortable, letting God stretch him and use him.

That’s our choice as well. The status quo is more comfortable than the unknown, and it’s so easy for us—as individuals and as a congregation—to get caught in a rut, doing the same things we’ve always done. So, dare we pray for God to make us uncomfortable?

The second thing that can hold us back from following God is fear of consequences. What will happen if I do this?  For Amos, the potential consequences were physical and drastic. He wandered around shouting that the king would die, the holy sites would be destroyed, and the entire nation would be killed or taken captive. This is not a good strategy for making friends, or staying alive. Treasonous ranting is an invitation for nasty repercussions.

But even if we aren’t shouting condemnations of those who might kill us, we still worry about the consequences of our actions. Will she be mad if I speak up and disagree with what she said? What if I go visit him and I say something wrong that just makes things worse? What will people think if I suggest this crazy new idea about what our church could do? What will my family say if I’m honest about what I believe or what I want to do?

There are a thousand ways that we worry about consequences—especially when it comes to what other people might think. This kind of fear can be paralyzing, causing us to push back those impulses that beckon us to speak up boldly, to venture forth into the unknown, or to risk honesty about our beliefs, doubts, and opinions.  Because, you know what? If we all speak our minds the way Amos does, sharing what we believe to be the truth, to be God’s truth, we are going to disagree.

To take one obvious example: two weeks ago, the Supreme Court extended same-sex marriage to the remaining states in the U.S., making it legal nationwide. The country remains divided on this issue, with latest polls showing support for legalizing same-sex marriage at 60%, a number that has been steadily rising, but a large minority dissents, quite strongly. It’s safe to say that members of our congregation disagree on this issue, too, with some people in this room deeply disappointed and angered by the Court’s decision, and others celebrating it, and others not really sure what to make of this. We don’t all have the clarity that Amos enjoyed, and those who are more confident in their positions still disagree. And I love that about this church. The leaders of our congregation can have very different political and theological viewpoints, but we still worship and serve together. At our best, we realize that we don’t all agree, and it’s okay for us each to voice our opinions, even when we differ. That diversity of thought, about this issue and every issue, is a strength of this church. Only when we speak honestly to each other can we grow and learn.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Being an outlier is intimidating. Following where you think God is calling can be isolating and scary, and other people may not like it. You risk criticism, conflict, judgment. The fear of consequences can be paralyzing. Yet the call remains.

With Amos, will we pray for the courage to follow, regardless of how anyone else might react?

Finally, the third thing that can hold us back from following where God calls is insecurity, thinking that we are not the right person for the job. We don’t have the right qualifications, or know the best words to say, or we aren’t confident enough. Surely someone else could do it better. We’re not qualified enough for God to use.

But then there’s Amos, who delights in the fact that he has none of the right credentials. “I am no prophet,” he says. He’s a farmer.  But Amos is wise enough not to let his occupation get in the way of his vocation. His vocation—which comes from the Latin word for call—his vocation, his calling, is to be a prophet—even though it’s still not his job.

So let’s keep Amos in mind when we doubt ourselves. His authority does not stem from his résumé, and his goal is not to earn a living. Everything he does arises from God’s calling. He follows where God leads, not because he thinks there is something special about him, but because, well, God wants him to go.

Where is God calling you? Who is God calling you to be? Perhaps God is calling you to be and do something new, or perhaps God’s calling is simply the encouragement to keep going, and to take those small actions that you know, deep down, are right. This day-to-day calling is just as important as a dramatic career move. So when it comes to calling, try not to think of God as career counselor, pointing us to special job. Maybe God’s calling sounds more like a physical therapist: “come on, keep going, a little further, one more time.”

Whatever form God’s call takes, it is up to us to respond. There are always forces—like Amaziah—that try to keep us from following where God leads: the comfort of the status quo, fear of consequences, self-doubt and hesitancy. Yet God continues to call us, each one of us, day after day, to follow more faithfully and serve more fully. What will we do when God calls?

Let us pray:
Spirit of God, calling out to us: disrupt our comfort, take away our fear of the reactions of others, and convince us that we are exactly the right people for you to call.

Amen.