“Show Me the Money” – Amos Asks if our Worship Leads to Justice
Sermon Series: The Minor Prophets – Imagining a Better God
By: Dave Paladino, July 7, 2019
Main point / sermon thesis: The prophets tell us that idolatry leads to injustice. Modernity is making us into “practical atheists” that believe in the illusion of control without vulnerability. Discipleship involves the (re)conversion of our hearts to right worship and true justice.
• The prophets are very important because God spoke through them to urge Israel back to covenantal faithfulness. Covenantal faithfulness to Israel meant she upheld the call to Abraham and Moses’ teachings which showed them how to be God’s people and be a blessing to themselves and the nations around them.
• One BIG thing to remember when reading the prophets is that there is usually a section in the books with narrative history, like Kings, that they are responding to. These passages tell us what the king and people were doing and often they were oppressing the poor, worshipping idols and trying to seek favor with the nearby super powers.
• The prophets were useful to Israel and now to us because they are measuring words and deeds. They asking Israel and the church, “show me the money!” They look at what we’re singing and preaching and check to see if we actually are practicing what we preach.
• Don’t let the title “Minor” in Minor Prophets fool you, that’s only what we call the the twelve books from Hosea to Malachi which were short enough that they could fit on one scroll. Hence “Minor” is just a reference to length, not importance!
• Amos’ audience was the courts of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) but he was born in the southern kingdom. He says of himself in 7:14, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees.”
• So, God sends him as an outsider in terms of socio-economic class and in terms of political allegiance to deliver his message to the Northern Kingdom! Needless to say he was not welcomed in the courts of the Northern Kingdom. He had a tough row to hoe.
• So, as I mentioned, Amos was calling out the Northern Kingdom for their idolatry, but what does that have to do with us as modern people? No one makes idols anymore, right? Why read Amos today?
• Furthermore, Amos calls out acts of injustice, but we’re pretty engaged in fighting injustice, aren’t we? Our church alone does some great stuff: we feed the homeless, we’ve worked to relieve medical debt in Washtenaw County, we’re opening a free preschool for low-income families in Ypsilanti…
• We’re more anxious, afraid and isolated than we’ve ever been. We’re the most divided in politics than we’ve ever been since the civil war and 1 of out 6 people has stopped talking to a close family member because of the last election. We need a change.
• Put another way, as modern people, we have bought the story of the modern world: we can control our reality so that we can live happy and safe lives without any sense of God having a role in them other than what we may feel and think from time to time in our internal world.
• We’ve all bought into this modern narrative to some degree, I know I have. It is precisely in this place that we need a prophet. You see, prophets take our words and intentions and they measure them by our actions. They say, “show me the money.” They do this through powerful imagery, often encapsulated in poetry.
• Amos uses the literary form of admonition to do this. If you look closely, you will see that vv. 4 to 6 are a call to worship God alone, “seek me and live” and vv. 14 to 15 are a call to do good and practice justice, “hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts.” This forms the outer edges of the passage as we work deeper in.
• Amos use an accusation of the state of their godlessness towards neighbor in v. 7 and vv. 10 to 12. In the hands of the prophet, the accusation is a concrete example of where words and worship don’t match deeds. This is Amos’ “show me the money” moment. The Northern Kingdom is being called to account. The plumb line is out.
• The truth is most of us have built our way of life on cheap good that come at the expense of the vulnerable being exploited. How does this happen?
• The more we achieve in our modern culture, the more we are offered insulation from vulnerability. Our houses are far away from threats. Our money is secure. We have access to the best investments with promised returns. Our valuables are insured. The police watch out for our interests. We are in control: power and authority with seemingly no vulnerability.
• Remember, Amos is not talking to those outside of faith, he’s talking to Israel and he’s talking to the church—us. It’s possible to have your worship be so far from your practice of justice that God says (as he does later in Amos 5:21-23) that he hates Israel’s worship: their feasts, their music and their offerings. He will not accept them and he despises them because they are completely disconnected from justice.
• But here is where the prophetic truth breaks in. All idols fail. Wealth, power, sex, money ultimately don’t satisfy. So what happens if we persist in demanding these goods from our idols? We exploit the vulnerable more and more.
• Idolatry always leads to injustice. This is my main point. It was true in Amos’ time and it’s true in our time.
• This can give us insight into the last part of the passage, which is a literary form of the worship song. Notice that vv. 8 and 9 are at the center and completely focused on God. He is the one who made the stars, night and day. He alone causes the rain to come and can bring a fortified city to ruin. At the center of the center of these two verses (end of verse 8) is simply the phrase, “the LORD is his name.” This is literally, YHWH is his name. The God of the universe is the one who is “I AM” and who has chose Israel of all the people of the earth to bless so that all might know who he is.
• The conversion from modernity is a conversion that breaks through the insulation. It breaks through the resistance to being vulnerable and it embraces the way of the cross, the way of self-giving. We only truly flourish when we embrace vulnerability and our God-given authority as God’s adopted children.
• When our hearts again belong to Jesus alone, we can again see our neighbor and our social and political systems more clearly.
• I believe God is calling us to wake up and to practice what we sing—each of us. Renewal begins by drawing a circle around ourselves—our own life. God longs to set us free of our idols so that we are free to fall him in his work of the only just kingdom.
Resources used in this sermon:
“Political polarization at its worst since the Civil War” USC News article: https://news.usc.edu/110124/political-polarization-at-its-worst-since-the-civil-war-2/
Tyndale OT Commentaries: Amos & Joel by David Alan Hubbard, InterVarsity Press, 1989.
New Bible Dictionary, 3rd Ed., InterVarsity Press, 1996.
The Dangerous Act of Worship by Mark Labberton, InterVarsity Press, 2007.
An Introduction to the Old Testament, 2nd Ed. by Longman and Dillard, Zondervan, 2006.
Strong and Weak by Andy Crouch, InterVarsity Press, 2016.
\Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry, directed by Laura Dunn and Jef Sewell, 2016 (available on Netflix). https://lookandseefilm.com/
The Way of the (Modern) World by Craig Gay, Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.