This sermon is part of a sermon series on Amos and was in part a response to the phone hacking scandal. As is clear from the first paragraph, this was preached on 10th July 2011! (I also preached the first sermon in the series). I’ve edited it slightly, but it’s a bit of a mixture of script and notes – it starts off more as a script and ends up more as notes, but I think that it’s clear what I was saying!
Seeing it as it is (Amos 7 and 8)
This weekend the last edition of the News of the World was published. As I’m sure you’re bored of hearing by now the News of the World was closed down due to the ongoing scandal over the phone hacking revelations. These were getting worse and worse and the pressure was mounting on News International to do something, with major companies and charities refusing to be associated with what was becoming a ‘toxic brand’.
However, simply closing a 168 year-old newspaper, putting 200 jobs at risk, has not really been seen as an adequate response by most people. As you may have heard, The Church of England has threatened to disinvest the £3.7m it holds in shares in News International. The Church of England’s investment arm condemned the behaviour of the News of the World as “utterly reprehensible and unethical.” They also criticised the closure of the paper as “not a sufficient response” , which didn’t address the failure of executives to undertake a proper investigation. The statement also called for the Board of News Corporation to take “all necessary measures to instil investor confidence in the ethical and governance standards of News Corporation.” It concluded:
“We cannot imagine circumstances in which we would be satisfied with any outcome that does not hold senior executives to account at News Corporation for the gross failures of management at the News of the World.”
I think that this is a pretty extreme example of failing to see things as they really are. Whether Rebekah Brooks didn’t know, chose not to know, or did know, she clearly failed to see things are they really were – both within News of the World, and the scale of the damage it would cause.
As the statement from the Church of England makes clear, the executives, or at least the Murdochs, are still failing to see things as they really are; there’s no sense yet in which they have actually recognised the enormity of what they have done.
All of which is pretty relevant to our readings, the next instalment in our sermon series on Amos, and indeed the whole book of Amos. The readings we heard are another pretty extreme example of failing to see things as they really are.
The story so far – Amos was prophesying in the 8th century, two hundred years after the division of the kingdom of King David into two; Judah in the south, with its capital at Jerusalem, and Israel in the north, with its capital at Samaria. Amos, although from Judah himself, was prophesying in Israel. That, of course, was one of the many things that Amaziah has a problem with in the reading that we heard.
Amos has spent most of his time so far warning the people of the northern kingdom, Israel, that the things that they were relying on and their indifference towards God, was going to lead to destruction.
And this continues in the current chapters. The vision recounted by Amos is that of a plumb line. A plumb line is obviously an instrument for seeing things as they really are – to see whether a wall is straight and sound or not.
God looked at the two national institutions of Israel, the two institutions that were at the heart of Israel’s national pride and complacency. God looked and saw them as they truly were, as things that drew people away from him. They were things that distorted how people looked at the world and looked at God.
So, what are we proud of? What do we think that we don’t have to worry about? What things do we have or do that distort how we look at the world and look at God?
Are we seeing things clearly? Will our thoughts match up to God’s measure?
They certainly don’t for the high priest Amaziah – he wants to maintain his position, maintain what he thinks he knows about God
Amos – called although not a prophet, not even a disciple of a prophet. Tending his flock, caring for his orchard, when called by God. Perhaps not a long-term job – it’s entirely possible that he only prophesised for less than 12 months. It’s also possible that he ended up imprisoned and ultimately executed as a result of this confrontation. We don’t know for sure, but it’s certainly a possibility.
Seeing things clearly means knowing that things are always going to be easy. That’s the challenge of God, but the promise of God is that he will always be with us, in the midst of any troubles.
Dietrich Bonheoffer was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian. He was a participant in the German resistance movement against Nazism and a founding member of the Confessing Church. The Confessing Church was founded by a small number of courageous German Christians, who were resisting the Nazi takeover of the mainstream Protestant German denominations. This Nazi takeover obviously led to anti-Semitism being enshrined in the policies of the churches.
This is another example of failure to see things as they really are. Lest we forget, only one of a number of failure by parts of the worldwide Christian church to see things as they really are; churches in South Africa endorsing apartheid being another
Bonheoffer did however see things clearly enough to understand the need to resist this. He was killed by the Nazis days before the end of the war having been arrested as part of an attempt to assassinate Hitler.
One of Bonheoffer’s most well-know books is ‘The Cost of Discipleship’ where he talks about ‘cheap grace’ and ‘costly grace’.
He defined ‘cheap grace’ as “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance”
About costly grace he said this: “costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” ”
The grace of God does not mean that we keep on sinning and then repent and go on to do the same things all over again.
It doesn’t mean that we do most of what we know we’re called to do by God, but compromise on those parts which are closest to our natural inclinations or those of our society
Titus 2:12 grace “Teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present lives”
We’re praising my daughter when she does something well or right – and we’re also praising her when she tries, whether or not she succeeds.
Amos’ prophecy about Ripe fruit – condemned for not worshipping God truly
Not seeing clearly who God is leads us to not seeing who people are clearly – all equally loved by God
One definition of sin is ‘treating people as things, and things as though we own them’.
It is about the attitude that God wants us to have – an attitude seeking to see God clearly, and so see everything else clearly. An attitude that seeks God’s help in doing just that. Let us ask God to help us have such an attitude, so we too can see clearly. Amen.