Thought for the week - 11 July
14Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, 15and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”
I sometimes struggle to make anything of the Sunday readings in terms of preaching a sermon. What on earth do we do with the story of the beheading of St. the Baptist? In fact the Roman lectionary just passes over it. I would quite like to do just that myself. But if I pass over it there is not much left of the gospel reading. In any case I am not sure that one ought to pass over the account of the death of the Baptist. The evangelist obviously thought it was important to include in his gospel. The compilers of the Church of England lectionary obviously think it should be included – but why, I am not sure since it seems to go against quite a lot of contemporary thinking in the Church which seems to be saying don’t rock the boat. So, for example, an Archbishop of Canterbury has said that to be prophetic can be dangerous and not always right. Well, I think that both Amos and John discovered that being prophetic could be very dangerous – but that did not stop them.
To be prophetic? Is that a role the Church ought to play? That Archbishop argues that the prophetic in the Church can be a dangerous thing, and, therefore, discourages it – don’t rock the boat. That is sad.
But what about the more significant issue of the Church’s prophetic role in society and in the world? It has come to be an almost accepted truism that religion and politics don’t mix. Religion is about the personal relationship of the soul with God and about individual salvation. Politics, on the other hand is about, the ordering of society. It is a very strange dichotomy, this idea that religion and politics don’t mix; and a very modern one at that. How and why do we have 26 bishops in the House of Lords as of right? Has the Church nothing to say on the right ordering of society? And I don’t just mean so-called “moral issues” – sex and the family.
Last week “poor Ezekiel” was called to prophesy in the almost certain expectation that he would be not only ignored, but opposed.
This week it is the turn of Amos and John the Baptist. Poor Amos he is called to prophesy against the king and the idolatry of Israel: “9the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”
He gets no support at all from the priest, Amaziah, who reports him to the king. “10Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very centre of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. 11For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.’” 12And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; 13but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” 14Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, 15and the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”
Poor Amos, he isn’t even a professional prophet, just a herdsman and dresser of sycamore trees; but the Lord has called him to prophesy.
John the Baptist, on the other hand was called to be a prophet: “for you child shall be called the prophet of the most high.” John has no complaints and fulfils his ministry with boldness and courage. He is not a reluctant prophet like Ezekiel and Amos. He is called by God and knows his calling and his destiny. He is not afraid to confront the mighty Herod Antipas who has shamefully, immorally and illegally married his brother Philip’s wife. “18For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” For John there is no such thing here as a division between private and public morality – an excuse that is so often made these days. “What he does in private is his own affair.” Not so says the Baptist. And he pays dearly for it.
Sometimes the truth is costly: but surely there can be nothing more important than the truth. And it is not only the prophets and the priests who must bear witness to the truth, but each and every one of us.14Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, 15and the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”