I have to ask: will you be watching the football this afternoon? Even if you are not an avid follower of the beautiful game, I am sure that some of you, like me, will be watching because it has become a big national event. When I was watching the match against Denmark on Wednesday evening, I was reminded of that 10,000-meter race run by Mo Farah at the Olympics in 2012, when the roar from the crowd as he was running the last few hundred meters reached epic proportions. You see, sport draws us together in a common goal (if you will excuse the pun!) and lifts us out of our routine, often humdrum lives. The hope and the expectation and anticipation do that, even before the game begins.
Oh what, then, does this have to do with today’s reading from Amos? Amos is one of those minor prophets who has somehow passed me by. So I dug into his story. Like all prophets, he had a rough time, with people plotting against him. Small wonder really, most prophets are not welcomed when they bring dire warnings or bad news.
At this time, about 750BC, when Amos arrived in Israel, both Judah and Israel, the two tribes of the people of God, were enjoying relative prosperity. The Assyrians were tied up elsewhere to the north of Damascus, and Egypt was on the decline. Increase in prosperity led to the rich getting richer and the increase of power to those in positions of authority. Those who had no power were more oppressed and the plight of the poor was desperate. The book of Leviticus is full of instructions to the nation, to care for the poor, to leave gleanings in the fields so they would not go hungry, and to restore people to their property in Jubilee years. Clearly, the nation had not been doing this. Moreover, the worship of Yahweh had been reduced to a pagan religion like that of their neighbours. Amos was called by God to Israel to say the nation would be held to account for its apostacy and inhumanity.
His message was to the rich, powerful and self-indulgent, and it was at no small risk too. Originally thought to be a shepherd, Amos has recently undergone a make-over. Modern examination of the Hebrew texts of the book of Amos reveals that he was probably an owner of cattle and a manager of sycamore trees, used for animal feed. So, a man of substance, someone who had much to lose by speaking out.
Amos first wins over his hearers with visions of two judgements that would be averted: locusts would not devour the crops of the land, nor would the whole land be devoured by fire. But then Amos drives home his messages with the judgements that would not be set aside. Pagan shrines would be ruined, temples of Israel would be destroyed, the dynasty of Jeroboam would end suddenly, and the people of Israel would become captives in exile.
There is a warning in this for us today, because the cry for the humane treatment of the downtrodden applies to all people in every generation. Amos, it is said, inspired many to speak out, including Matin Luther King Jnr, in his quest for great social reform.
Nations carry reputations within their make-up. Germans are known for their precise engineering, the French are renowned for their fine cheeses and wines, and Great Britain is known for its generosity, being among the top five countries in the world that give away a chunk of their wealth. The 0.7% of foreign aid commitment in this country is enshrined in law. This year the government has reduced this to 0.5%, which has been challenged and hopefully this challenge will carry the day. Governments and nations are, and should, be held to account.
Finally, I would like you to consider this: we know, especially during this pandemic, that God can be domestic – that we can have a real relationship with him in our homes. But he is not domesticated, he is not constrained in any way by the smallness of our understanding or worship of him. God loves us like children, but we are to be seen as such in the wider world, to call out against injustice and to fling wide the message of his vast capacity to love all people everywhere, by living and loving and giving as he does.
And sometimes, we are afforded the opportunity to celebrate as a nation, to roar our enthusiasm and shout for joy. Probably, like any wise parent God won’t take sides in the match later today, but he delights in us, and wants us to live life in all its abundance. So, this afternoon, set aside your worries and concerns of the day to day, raise the roof. Who knows, it may be coming home.