2nd Sunday after Trinity
St Barbara’s 18.06.2023
Rev Jeremy Bevan
A call to speak God’s word to heal and mend[The preacher imagines the prophet speaking directly to the congregation]
Hello. My name’s Amos. You’ve just heard about an episode in my life. And right now, you
might be thinking: what was going on there? What was all that about? And what’s it got to
do with us? Let me try and make some sense of it all for you.
The cast list. Me, Amos, called by God to go “up north” from Judah, where I was born and
bred, to Israel, our neighbouring kingdom. A bit like you going from England to Scotland to
work. My job? To plead with the people of Israel to turn back and live in genuine obedience
to God, not fake it, as they were doing. Hard truths. Truths not to the taste of those in the
corridors of power. Oh no.
Enter stage left Amaziah, God’s priest at the royal shrine of Bethel, the centre of religious
life in Israel. A religious bigwig. And the lapdog/poodle of king Jeroboam. That might sound
a bit strong, but Amaziah did want a quiet life. Did not want me rocking the boat, predicting
that the royal dynasty would come to a violent end. Or saying that all that the fake religion
and rampant injustice were putting the country’s very existence in peril. What was going
on? Think of it as a contest: what’s the truth? Who gets to speak it when and where it
matters? Who is it that holds up a plumb-line to events, to see whether they ‘hang straight’,
gives a ‘straight-up’ account of things as they are?
Now I can hear some of youthinking, like Amaziah did: what makes Amos so special? What
gives him the right to waltz in here and tell us how to live our lives? Me? I couldn’t not speak
the words God had given me, couldn’t unhear them. In Judah, I’d had a quietish life, herding
sheep, caring for fruit trees. But then I heard God’s call. Like a lion’s roar, it was. A sound no
shepherd can ignore. It means danger for the sheep, so it’s a shepherd’s call to action: get
up and protect them. Coming up north wasn’t some frolic of my own, a nutter ranting on
about his own weird, private obsessions. It was a response to a summons I simply couldn’t
And yes, maybe God had given me some ability to put my finger on the ills of the day, things
that would tear Israel apart if the people didn’t deal with them. I suppose I was using those
tree-pruning skills of mine to cut out the dead wood, if you like.
Amaziah thought I was a professional, paid prophet, up here for the better pay in
prosperous Israel compared to impoverished Judah. That’s how prophesy often works in this
part of the world, and how it worked at the royal shrine in Bethel. He who pays the piper
calls the tune, and all that? But I’m no hired mouthpiece, or self-proclaimed demagogue.
What I did, I did for the love of God. Literally. I did it out of reverence for our awesome
creator God; because I understand our history with God who rescued us from Egypt all
those centuries ago. I did it, too, out of a deep-down sense that God still loves Israel, longing
for the people to turn from evil, and flourish in companionship with God. And a sense that
God doesn’t want a show or a sham off religion, but rather wants us to live it like we mean
it, like it makes a difference to everyday – bringing justice and fairness for the poor, for
example. That’s what all that was about.
I wonder what you make of me, and what you think my life as a prophet has to do with you?
Am I just some weird relic from history, the stereotypical ‘prophet of doom’ from the Old
Testament? Maybe your time doesn’t really ‘do’ prophecy, horoscopes and Nostradamus
apart. They’re not really prophecy, by the way. The future I predict isn’t set in stone. I tell
people where things are heading if they don’t turn back to God. That little word if: it’s so
important, because if people turn back to God, God promises to restore and renew them.
When I told Amaziah about my call, I told him that God had said “Go, prophesy to my people
Israel.” My people Israel. God may have been angry, but they were still God’s beloved. If
God speaks in a severe voice, it’s because God loves us like a concerned parent, not because
God’s already decided on judgment and is simply setting us up to fail. Even Amaziah could
still have avoided what I predicted for him and his family, if only he’d been prepared to
listen – and change.
So maybe I can inspire you? I know you’re serious about wanting to hear God, about how to
live life under God’s word. I understand your world is a Babel of competing voices
proclaiming what they believe to be right. Mine was too, with the likes of Amaziah. Social
media influencers, newspapers, commentators, TV ads: the paid so-called prophets of your
day. Will you listen, really listen, for the distinctive voice of God in and for your times? Will
you act in response to the lion’s roar, even if it might see you’re the only one who can hear
it? Will you encourage others among you who hear that divine roar to speak out?
Like I said, it’s unpaid. It can be unpopular. As your Greta Thunberg, your Black Lives Matter
campaigners know. But I’m guessing your world needs prophets just as much as mine? The
call may not be some heavenly voice saying “Go” to this place or that one; it might just be a
growing, nagging, sense things are way out of kilter with the ways of our God, the God who
created the world and everything in it. What tools might you need? Far sight, as though you
have a panoramic view of events and the times you live in; and a sort of ‘holy dissatisfaction’
with the way things are, like me being a buzzing fly in Amaziah’s ointment. It’s an awesome
responsibility, and a far cry from herding sheep. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way.