Life + Culture

Justice in the Hands of All People (Part 1)

Tina TurnerToday's post comes to us from Pastor Greg Henneman, Director of the Healthy Eating and Living (HEAL) initiative at Church and Community Development for All People. He serves there as a Church and Community Worker with the United Methodist Church and recently preached the following sermon on Amos 5:10-15, 21-24:

In 1969, a new job was created. This person best equipped for this job was presumably a middle age, wealthy, powerful, Caucasian male who controlled everything in the world. That person became known as The Man.

The Man is the government; The Man is the institution. The Man is any person in a position of authority who keeps us from doing what we want to do and from being who God created us to be.

Tina Turner sang about working for The Man every night and day.

The Man is keeping me down.

But while this description of The Man was first used in 1969, The Man has been around much longer. The Man can describe anyone in a position of authority who tries to control the people under him for his own gain.

The Man prevented women from having a right to vote until less than a hundred years ago.

The Man identified people bound in slavery as 3/5 of a human being.

The Man spoke of the divine rights of kings who controlled people without any accountability. No one was allowed to question the king, because the king claimed to be working on God’s behalf, even when the king exploited his people.

Artwork of Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinnersBut this isn’t only a matter of recent history. The Man can be found in the pages of the Bible.

The Man was found in the voice of religious leaders who asked Jesus “why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners… what are you doing healing on the Sabbath?’

In the Old Testament, The Man was often found in unfaithful kings who placed their own egos and desires over being faithful to God; kings who put their own power, their own prestige, and their own position above that of serving God or caring for the people.

And it was to The Man, that God sent prophets to speak truth to power.

Over the last two months of our sermon series we have heard the voices of many prophets.

The first prophet we heard from was Nathan, who came to King David sharing a story of oppression. When David asked who was responsible for these actions, Nathan responded by saying: “you are The Man.”

Road sign: "Danger, wrong way, turn back"
The job of prophets
We heard from Elijah and Elisha; Habakkuk and Jeremiah, people who stood against the powers and principalities of their worlds and called for change.

Today’s scripture comes from the story of Amos. Amos is not one of the better known people in the Bible. The book of Amos is small and can get lost among the other books that are referred to as the “minor prophets”. But there is nothing minor about Amos. Amos is significant in a number of ways.

The first thing significant about Amos was that he was the first of the recorded prophets. Almost 800 years before Jesus, Amos was called by God to go and speak truth to The Man. Amos was the first person God used in this way to confront the powers of his world, including the kings and nations of Israel and Judah.

This is a whole new thing God is doing. In the early part of the Hebrew Scriptures, God raised up kings, people like David and Solomon to lead the people. The kings had gone so far astray that God is rising up people to call the kings and the nations back to righteousness and justice.

LandscapersSecond, it is interesting who God chooses to be the first prophet. In the first verse of this book, we hear that Amos was “among the shepherds”, in chapter 7 Amos himself says, ‘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.”

So God is doing a whole new thing, calling prophets to return people to faithfulness. Instead of using a person of power, God calls a shepherd and a tree trimmer, a person who today we would describe as someone who cares for animals and does landscaping. God uses a landscaper to deliver a message of justice and righteousness.

The third thing interesting about Amos is the sin that he was called to address.

Many times, when we read the Bible, the sins talked about seem distant from our world. In the book of Leviticus, the people are instructed not to eat bats. If eating bats is a sin, that is one sin I have completely victory over. I have never been tempted to eat a bat. There are many sins I am guilty of, eating bats is not one of them.

Warning sign: don't eat bats
Don't eat bats. Just don't. 
Last week we heard the story of Elijah taking on Jezebel and the priests of Baal. There was a contest where the priests of Baal called fire down from the sky and nothing happened while Elijah called on God who turned a water-soaked altar in to a bonfire.

But as powerful as that story is, it is somewhat distant from our world. I have never met anyone who worships Baal. I’ve never seen a bumper sticker, or t-shirt, or piece of jewelry for a Baal follower.

But listen to the sin that Amos addresses. Amos says to the people of Israel: you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate.

These are the sins that Amos calls people to repent from, with the hope that if they will “hate evil and love good and establish justice in the gate” that God will be gracious to them.

The sin of their time is not some distant sin. It is not worshiping a foreign god we know nothing about. It is a sin that is very close to our world:  the sin that the poor are trampled, that the rich are taking from the poor, the righteous are afflicted, and the needy pushed aside.

This is a sin that didn’t end in ancient Israel. And, because that sin hasn’t come to an end, neither has God’s work ended in calling prophets. Continue to Part 2 as Pastor Greg shows us how Amos's words apply in our lives today....
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