Amos was a prophet around 760 years before Jesus was born. His home was south of Jerusalem and he describes himself as a shepherd, a worker on the land, but whether he was an employee or the landowner, we just don’t know. He travelled north to work as a prophet in the neighbouring country of Israel. It was like someone from Scotland making a loud noise in London.
And Amos didn’t half make a fuss. He was fearless. He didn’t care who he offended, high or low, priests or politicians. He was passionate about God and passionate about the people God loved, especially the poor. And what he saw in Samaria, the capital of Israel, he didn’t like: people had drifted away from the true faith and turned to worship money; there was rampant greed, shady commercial practices, people making a fast buck. When it came to the choice, mammon had won hands down over God. The Sabbath was an inconvenience, because you had to close the shops. They couldn’t wait till they could get back to ducking and diving, making an extra bob or two.
We had a portion from Amos last week as well. And this is the last passage for the time being, before we move on to another prophet, Hosea. You only get readings from Amos 7 times in 3 years, so blink and you miss it.
I wonder what Amos would have to say about our world today?
Imagine that Amos travels forward 2,770 years and nearly 2,500 miles north and west. The time capsule docks outside the Sage. He tramps his way through Gateshead, walking past the job centre offering empty hopes and the benefits office taking weeks and weeks to process a simple application and losing documents along the way, leaving people with no support and huge amounts of stress.
He goes past the shops offering pay day loans and shakes his head. He watches as a woman goes in. She needs money to pay the down-payment on her father’s funeral. She has borrowed a few hundred from the shop down the road, and she is going to borrow more from this one. She knows it’s a bad deal, but she has no other option. She needs the money now. Amos knows that the interest rate is so high she is going to end up paying thousands, and end up being evicted as she won’t have enough money to pay her own rent. “This is wicked!” he says.
And he passes the distribution centre for the Gateshead Foodbank at the Citizens Advice Bureau. He nods his head as he sees the work that people from churches all over Gateshead have done to collect the food and pass it on to people in need, and the generosity of all those who have donated food and time and energy. “That’s great”, he says, “but what kind of society is it that you need to do this!”
As he gets near the Interchange, he sees a guy struggling on two sticks to get to the Metro. He is off to the Regent Centre for his disability assessment with Atos. His application has been turned down and he is appealing. They say he is not disabled enough to be getting benefit, that he should be out there working. But the man is struggling with pain every day and it takes him all his time to function. If they turn down the appeal he does not know how he is going to survive.
Amos walks down through Bensham Bank and towards the Teams. He passes the homes of people whose stress is multiplying because they are worried about their benefits and how they are going to get by, past the homes of families where the children are so hungry they are eating dog biscuits.
He is pleased to see St Chad’s Community Project along Liddell Terrace and when he gets to the Teams he sees the various projects operating from the Holy Rosary and the Foundations furniture project and the lunch club in the lounge of Eslington Court. He can see that there are people who love God and love God’s people and they are doing their best to care for their neighbours. And half a mile away on the Team Valley is Traidcraft, trying to get a fair deal for poor producers in far off places, to address the problem of poverty world wide.
There is good stuff going on, Amos can see that, but he is in despair. The way this country is run, it is the poor people who are pressed the hardest. “Are you telling me that this is progress!” he exclaims. “Nearly 3 thousand years and you still can’t get it that you have to care for those who are poor and marginalized. You are being measured by how well you care for the needy in your world, and this is how you choose to treat them?”
He ends up outside your house, and you hear the fuss in the street and look out and there he is, looking like a prehistoric tramp shouting about an evil system that oppresses the poor, and the corporate giants that work on increasing their own profits at the expense of the ordinary person in the street. All the neighbours are watching as well, staring out of their windows and standing on their doorsteps. But he’s pointing at you. “What are you going to do about it?”
You understand what he’s saying, and you feel guilty that our world is the way it is, but you’re trying to tell him that there’s nothing you can do. And he’s saying, “Yes, there is! You can write letters, sign petitions. You can vote. You can make a fuss. You can try to understand. You can reach out and care!”
And he goes on standing there, pointing at you. He is wanting you to respond. He’s waiting …..