Don’t Shoot the Messenger – Pastor Donna Doutt – 7/14/19 Amos 7:7-17
So what do you know about Amos? I’d venture not a lot. But you have to feel for this guy. Historically, we call him one of the “lesser” prophets. Not because he wasn’t as important as some of the others, but his written text is in fewer chapters, only 9, and it covers a shorter span of time.
But he’s also called “The Poor Man’s Prophet.” Why? Because God has skipped over the more popular and notable prophets of that time and called out this lowly farmer to deliver what becomes a message so forceful and powerful that even in this day and age, civil rights advocates still quote him.
Amos made his living in a village a little ways north of Jerusalem. When his produce was ready for market, he went to the towns and villages of Israel. When I was a kid, we use to call that kind of person a “huckster.” How many of you remember them coming to your door with produce to sell? Well, that’s what he did.
As he traveled the countryside, he became aware of the hardships and conditions the working class of people were suffering at the hands of the wealthy landowners who lived in comparative luxury.
Amos had a problem with that; not in just the disparity of how the classes of people lived, by how the rich political and religious leaders tried to justify the disparity. These leaders insisted that God materially rewarded them for their faithful performance of the religious rituals required, and they deserved it. And on the other side, they reasoned that poor people deserved their hard lot in life because they didn’t regularly participate in the religious requirements worship sites. Amos wasn’t buying it. He lived with the understanding that loyalty to God involved fair dealings with people, not just showing up for church and making ritual sacrifices, as they did in those days.
As Amos pondered these things, he started to have dreams. Three dreams, as a matter of fact. Our scripture today only covers the first dream. So here’s where our scripture today comes in when he dreams the dream about the plumb line.
God is saying, I have dropped my plumb line, and the nation of Israel has proved crooked. So just as any other unstable, crooked building might be destroyed, God is going to destroy Israel.
After his conversation with God is this dream, Amos can’t hold his tongue any longer. But anyone who has been given a message directly from God, and then has the task of delivering these scalding words of justice and truth to people in authority, as Amos must do, well, heck….you might just be setting yourself up for certain death!
Not let me just stop right there. Who, sometime in your life, has had to be the bearer of bad news? I mean really, really bad news! It can be really frightening, intimidating, and I know it’s something we all avoid, so I think we can empathize with him.
So Amos goes to the priest, Amaziah. He’s the one serves King Jeroboam, and tells him this bad news that God is going to destroy the kingdom. Amaziah knows Jeroboam isn’t going to like that. But now that he knows it, the onus is on him to deliver the bad news to the King.
There’s two reasons Amaziah doesn’t want to tell him:
First, he may be a priest, but he leads a cushy life. He’s one of those offenders of God, who’s getting wealthy off the backs of the poor. (Having said that, I encourage you to read a little further ahead; oh, heck, just read the entire book of Amos. It’s only 9 chapters, and you can realize the full force of the social injustice that Amos’ witnesses.) But anyway, I digress… Amaziah leads a cushy life, and the last thing he needs is someone coming in with this prophesying and rocking his little world.
Secondly, it would be his job to warn the King, but he knew Amos’ words would threaten the authority of the king. But Amaziah himself is threatened, because Amos’ prophecy spoke with much greater power than his own words and actions did. Amos is saying things that should have come from Amaziah’s own mouth. It looks like Amos is serving God and Amaziah is serving himself, even before his royal employer the King!
So Amaziah goes to the King and says, “Amos is plotting to get rid of you; and he’s doing it as an insider, working from within Israel. His talk will destroy the country. He’s got to be silenced. Do you know what Amos is saying? 11 ‘Jeroboam will be killed. Israel is headed for exile.’”
Amaziah does the only thing he knows to do…he tries to scare him away. He tells Amos, “Get out of here, and don’t come back around prophesying here.” But Amos is stubborn and shuts him down. “I am not a 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. Now therefore, hear the word of the Lord.” Then Amos hit him with the really bad news. (It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.) Amos is simply the messenger. God has loaded the gun and asked Amos to fire the bullets. Just don’t shoot the messenger.
I started thinking about this scripture in relation to our church here too. I want to share with you how excited I am for this new season of ministry for our church. God has blessed me richly by enabling me to serve amongst people I know and love. Other pastors friends I have are struggling this week to get to know their new congregations. I don’t have to worry about that. Many of you I’ve known for several decades already. However, even though our relationship may be old, I almost feel like we’re having a fresh start in our ministry. I hope you feel that too and come along side me as we turn the page on the pastoral history of this church.
However, I’m not so naive to think that this appointment here will be without problems and tensions. There will be some changes so slight that some may never be aware. But there might also need to be changes that might rock your church world (I truly hope not)! But I can’t predict, and neither can you. God has a plan for each of us individually and as a body.
Our church, you as members, with me and Pastor Bay shepherding you, need to be conscious of the temptation of becoming complacent; of accepting the status quo.
There may be times over the next few years when, like the prophet Amos, I may have to bring you words you don’t want to hear. Like Amaziah, we don’t want anyone or anything shaking our world here at Faith Community.
We have our problems to be sure. I’ve openly mentioned them from this pulpit before: Dwindling attendance, diminished offerings, the continuing loss of some of elderly saints that we all love, building repairs and maintenance.
At my house, we have a running line we use about speaking honestly. We say, “You be “frank”, and I’ll be “earnest.” Get it? Bad pun, I know. But there are many discouraging obstacles that we will encounter over the next few years; and I’m going to need to be able to talk with you openly and honestly about them. I only ask this: Don’t shoot the messenger!
Remember, I’m on your side! I’ve got almost 30 years of vested interest in this church. My task here is to #1 – serve God, and #2 to serve you!
Now I know it’s sometimes difficult to move into an unknown future, especially when you have as many balls in the air as we are juggling. But we can’t be in denial because we are fearful and believe that we can’t do something about it. Sometimes you just need to rip the scab off and see what’s festering under there so that it can be healed.
We need to have faith that this church, we people of this congregation, can be renewed, refreshed, and reinvigorated if we can speak the truth to one another. Even the hard truths. And I, as one of your pastoral shepherds, am tasked to tell you the truth in faith. But then I also have to have the faith that YOU have the willingness to hear, the good or the bad. Don’t shoot the messenger. I speak out of love.
Who remembers that pivotal moment in the 1992 film, “A Few Good Men?” The Jack Nicholson character, Colonel Jessup is being badgered and hammered away at by the court martial lawyer played by Tom Cruise. Colonel Jessup is intent on continuing the cover-up of the death of one of the Marine’s under his command. Ultimately, he breaks, and he shouts, “You can't handle the truth!"
Maybe Jack Nicholson can’t handle the truth, but I think we can.
I’ve done some editing to our Psalter reading today to personalize it just for us. I start at verse 7:
“7. Our people of Faith Community will have no fear of bad news;
our hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
8 Our hearts are secure, we will have no fear;
in the end we will look in triumph on our problems and our setbacks.
9 We do freely scatter our gifts to the poor,
our righteousness endures forever;
our horn will be lifted high in honor.”
God and our prophets delivered news and the truth…the good and the bad. But like Amos, I won’t be scared off.
I pray that you will walk with me this next year through the good and the bad. I am here for you. Just, please….don’t shoot the messenger!