Thursday, 5 July 2012

A Homily for Holy Communion on Thursday, 5th July, 2012, 7.30 p.m. for the Parish Church of SS. Mary & Nicholas Littlemore, Oxford Reading: Amos 7:10-17 Amos and the Bad News + May I speak in the name of the Divine Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen. In seventeen years of ministry, I don't think I have preached on Amos. So, here goes: It’s hard to think that Amos would have been a pleasant person to know. No one much liked him at the time. “Go away, seer”, says Amaziah the priest of Bethel. Amos had followed God’s call to come north to a strange land, and like a lot of Southerners in the North, or indeed some Northerners in the South, he wasn’t welcome (the late Eric Sykes was a happy and cherished exception). But Amos particularly wasn’t welcome because they didn’t like what he had to say. It’s hard being a prophet, because almost by definition you will be saying things that people don’t want to hear; not much point saying them otherwise. Prophecy has often been confused with prediction, but it isn’t that at all. Amos wasn’t going to tell you which lottery numbers would come up, or how many grandchildren you’d have, if you crossed his palm with the right amount of silver. In fact, being Amos, he’d have been very stroppy with you, chucked your money back across the table, and sulked off back to his sycamores. Prophecy is about judgement. The Seer that Amaziah wants to shove off is not someone who can see the future, but someone who can see what God sees, and what is most wrong in God’s eyes with the way Israel was being run. He saw the poor oppressed, and the proper respect for God, and the ancient values of the Hebrew people, denigrated and forgotten, in a lot of material greed, covered over with temple-codswallop. God had made himself known for everyone, not just the priests and the kings, and their sycophantic followers, on the make. So, Amos had bad news. I know a little bit about bearing bad news of late. I have had to tell many friends and relatives about my father’s illness and death. You don’t want to make the call, but you can’t put it off. That sort of bad news has to be told, and told soon. And it’s no use the person at the other end of the line saying “look, just shove off back to Oxford with all your misery”, because there’s no gainsaying it. Even so, amidst the bad news, there is good. The kindness that flows, the flowers, and the cards, the spontaneous visits, sometimes within hours. The bearer of bad news is comforted. But Amos’s bad news is different. Now, it’s clear that he didn’t preface it with, “I’m sorry to have to tell you this”, or “are you sitting down?”, but the fact is it wouldn’t have made one bit of difference. He was looking at earthly power – and that includes the earthly power of the religious authorities in the temple – and telling them it was all going to end badly. “Your wife will be forced to go on the streets, your sons and daughters will fall by the sword”. Who is going to respond well to that sort of bad news? Of course we stick our fingers in our ears and go la-la-la because we don’t have to look it in the face, it’s in the future, it’s not happened yet, so it might not happen. If we look around us, we can see this now. There were prophets who said that an economy built on over-inflated house prices and chronic personal debt could not last. There were prophets who said that the greedy were turning-over the poor, and no one was coming to their defence. There were prophets who said there is an alternative to unlimited growth, which is the old idea of “enough”. But did we want to listen? Did the world of “Me Me Me” want to forgo its house price boom, its dividends, its atmosphere-destroying cars? No. Because we had forgotten, as a society, that the earth and all that is in it belongs to God, and we only have a lease, and we must return what we’ve leased in a better state than we took it on, because God means it to be shared again by generations yet unborn. There are prophets like Amos in every time and every place. We must pray for ears to hear them, and hearts strong enough to turn their words to deeds. Amen Richard Haggis Littlemore, Oxford July 2012

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