A Crash Course in Spiritual Formation, Amos 8:1-13

A sermon delivered by Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley on July 17, 2022

The lectionary readings this week provided two very different types of reading for us this morning. On one hand, there is the well-known text of Martha and Mary entertaining Jesus as their house guest. On the other hand, we also have a difficult somewhat hard to hear diatribe from a southern upstart preacher from Judah who was told to travel north to the country of Israel and have a good, old-fashioned “come- to-Jesus meeting” with the folks there. It would have been easy to look at the Martha and Mary text and have a message on what the picture of true discipleship is like as Mary sat as a student at the feet of the great rabbi. Spirit pushed me towards the more meddlesome Amos text.

Amos was a shepherd and groundskeeper turned prophet. A prophet’s prophetic message does one of three things. The message tells of what is happening in the future. The message serves as a reminder to the people what truth really is. Finally, sometimes it’s both.  Today’s text is both. Amos is describing events of Israel’s coming exile as well as exposing the hard truth the people of God are totally missing the point of what it means to be the people of God. Amos’ prophetic message is both truth-telling and future-telling.

As we listen to the scripture, it’s important to remember Amos is using the literary device of hyperbole. Hyperbole is speech that grossly exaggerates the details of a story to make a simple point people will remember. Listen to the Word of the Lord and see if you can determine the point he’s trying to make.

Amos 8:1-12

            8.1This is what the Lord God showed me—a basket of summer fruit. 2He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me, The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by. 3The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” says the Lord God; “the dead bodies shall be many, cast out in every place. Be silent!”

            4Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, 5saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, 6buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” 7The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. 8Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt? 9On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. 10I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.

            11The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. 12They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.[1]

So, the truth Amos is preaching is that the people of Israel have lost their spiritual/ethical way; they practice Sabbath, which is good, but they sit in church and scheme of ways to exploit and take advantage of their neighbor once church lets out. Yet, Amos is also forecasting what is going to happen in the future because the people have tossed the word of God behind their back like trash and are living a faithful life as an Israelite without any moral or ethical substance. The result is the nation is going to be destroyed and taken into exile.

In essence, our Story this morning is a story of the integrity of one’s character. Integrity is when our inner world of spirituality, morals, and social ethics are consistent with our outward expressions of that spirituality, those morals, and our social ethics to those around us. When our inner, deeply held values match our outward expression of those values, then a person acts with integrity. The lack of integrity is when one’s professed values and beliefs don’t match their outward expression or behavior. Amos is railing at the people that they have lost their integrity. They may gather together for Sabbath and go through the routines of worship but when they leave to go home, they leave all sense of moral ethics back in the pew at church. As I am fond of saying, they are all driveshaft but no engine. They are all tall hat but no saddle. They are Israelites in name only. They have lost their integrity of what it means to be a people of God and what it means to live in relationship with their neighbor. They are Israelites in name only. You see, to be an Israelite means you follow the one true God and that you live your personal and communal life according to a set standard of moral values and ethics. It was called the Law. Because you were part of a special community and people, you made it a priority to both personally and culturally look out for one another. To survive as a nation of Israel, they must look out for all the people in their midst. They were to make sure the laws were upheld with and for all the people. They were to take care of the poor among them. They were responsible for the widows, the homeless, and they were to treat with dignity and respect the foreigners who wanted to live with them. They were to use balanced scales and proper measures in the marketplace. They were expected to give people real food and not some cheap substitute for it. Amos is telling them if you are going to be called the people of God, you sure as heck better act like it.

But they don’t. They have lost their spiritual and social integrity. The consequences of which will result in a total collapse of their culture and the city in which they live; Jerusalem will be destroyed. Their praise songs will turn into woeful dirges. And it will be so bleak, they will have lost so much of their integrity, they will eventually forget about God and will fail to hear God’s voice, God’s word.

But let’s face it, Amos declared these words almost 3,000 years ago. What do they have to do with us?

Beloved, in Jesus, God has sent his own Son to be divine prophetic voice that is truth and speaks truth. It’s a prophetic voice that foretells of a time when we will each face the throne of God and will have to give an accounting for our own integrity – both personally and corporately as the Church, the people of Jesus.

The text this morning is speaking truth to us. It calls us to plumb the depth of our own spiritual, ethical, and moral integrity. Does what we profess about Jesus, does the way we worship Jesus, does how we treat the alien, the poor, the homeless, the person of color, the gay person, those we do business with — match and balance the simple measure Jesus provides us which is to love one another? You know, I have heard people say, “Well Preacher, I love those type of people, but…” Friends, whenever you add ‘but’ as a qualifier for love as it is expressed in justice and ethics, you know you have some remedial spiritual homework to do! Love does not have any ‘buts’ to it!

This morning’s text is a crash course in spiritual formation. It reminds us that our inner world and outward expression need to be in synch. It reminds us that it’s not only enough to know Jesus is the world’s savior, as a community called the holy catholic, apostolic church, we are supposed to live like it. It reminds us that all our good orthodoxy, all the doctrines and what we know about God, is totally worthless if we fail to express and live what we know out in our neighborhood. Orthodoxy demands good orthopraxy.  Good doctrine and beliefs demand corresponding spiritual expression and practice.

It’s time the Church consider the quality of its spiritual formation. It’s time for individual Christians to consider the quality of their own spiritual formation. It’s time we as a nation whose identity is bound up in our Constitution and Bill of Rights take stock of our civic formation as well. Is what we espouse in our Constitution being fully lived out and shared equally in our communities? Frankly, this whole text this morning forces me to ask if the Church in America, if our nation as whole, has lost its integrity? Are we heading to the point where we getting so off course, we will fail to hear the Word of God? Will we fail to follow our nation’s Constitution that demands equal rights and opportunities for all or are we in danger of forgetting that, too?

Will Willimon, the former Dean of the Chapel at Duke University, says, “One way you can tell the difference between a true and living God and a dead and fake god is that the false god will never tell you anything that will make you angry and uncomfortable!”[2] The Holy Spirit make each one of us uncomfortable today as we leave and mull our integrity and our spiritual formation. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So be it.

© 2022 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church of Fort Lauderdale, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33301 and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.

[1] New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

[2] Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season after Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

About patrick h wrisley

A Mainline Presbyterian Orthodox Evangelical Socially Minded Prophetic Contemplative Preacher sharing the Winsome Story of Christ as I try to muddle through as a father, friend, head of staff, colleague, and disciple.
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