God's Patience Has Its Limits
Preparing for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: Two Days before Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 52
Old Testament: Amos 5:18-27
Epistle: Ephesians 3:14-21
Psalter: Psalm 15
Old Testament: Genesis 13:1-18
Epistle: Ephesians 3:14-21
God of justice, your word is light and truth. Let your face shine on us to restore us, that we may walk in your way, seeking justice and doing good. Amen.
I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them,
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like water
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:21-24).
God was fed up with his people. In Amos’ day the northern kingdom of Israel was prosperous; and in the midst of such an economic boom those who benefited the most from such material wealth assumed that God had blessed them. The problem was that God’s blessings were always meant to be shared and that was the last thing the so-called “blessed” were doing. Not only were they not responding to God’s generosity with unselfishness toward others, they were using their wealth and the power of influence such wealth brought to turn the powers that be to their favor. God’s judgment was soon to come upon them, but they thought their religious devotion would save them. But God was not fooled by Israel’s songs of praise. The disconnect between their worship and way of life was obvious. Their desire to go through the motions of required worship in order to get on with their lives resembled today's Sunday morning worshipers in the summer who want to do their “be kind to God hour” as early as possible in order to get out and get on with the rest of their day.
The well of God’s patience with his people and calling of his people to repent is now bone dry. They have reached the point of no return. Just as God delivered the oppressed Israelites from the hand of Pharaoh centuries before in Egypt, so now God will deliver the oppressed Israelites in Amos’ day from the hands of their fellow Israelites.
God shows Amos a basket of summer fruit. It is fruit from the end of the summer harvest, not its beginning. Howard Wallace writes,
The Hebrew word qayits (related to summer or end of summer fruits) resonates with the word for “end,” qets, implying that for Israel, the end is near. After Amos is shown the basket of ripe summer fruit, the Lord interprets its meaning, through a play on similar sounding words, in an oracle or pronouncement. “The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by.” There are echoes of God’s protection and presence in the Passover, now withdrawn because of the people’s injustice.
We like to think of God's patience and grace to be without limit. Actually, that is true of the latter, but not the former. It is precisely because of grace that God must judge. If God refused at some point to judge those perpetrating injustice upon the poor and marginalized in the Northern Kingdom, that would ultimately be to visit a continued injustice upon the poor and marginalized. How can a God whose grace is without limit visit his grace upon the most vulnerable while leaving the powers in place that oppress them?
It is an uncomfortable truth, but one necessary to know—God’s judgment is an act of grace and is also redemptive. God must judge, not because God is a mean ogre in the sky just waiting to throw thunderbolts at us the minute we step out of line, but because God loves all of his children and takes a special interest in those who are powerless and vulnerable. There are plenty of passages in the Bible where it is made clear that God will hold accountable those who have power and wealth and how they wield that power and employ their wealth on behalf of others. To deny God’s wrath is to deny God’s love.
Eugene Peterson conceptually translates Amos 5:21-24 in language we can understand.
“I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.
If God could speak to the church today through one of his prophets, would God look at the influence we have in various venues and consider what we are doing with the “blessings” of our wealth and would God compare us to a basket of late summer fruit?
In God’s infinite love and unlimited grace would God’s limited patience be nearing its end?
PRAYER: Redeeming Sustainer, visit your people and pour out your strength and courage upon us, that we may hurry to make you welcome not only in our concern for others, but by serving them generously and faithfully in your name. Amen.
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