1. Today we have a drama in three episodes. The first takes place in the kingdom of Israel and the main character is the prophet Amos. The second takes place eight hundred years later in Rome where the apostle Paul is writing a letter to the people of Colossae. The third episode is a flashback to Bethany, a town near Jerusalem, and the main characters are Mary, Martha and Jesus.
We first met Amos last week, when he was criticising King Jeroboam and the High Priest Amaziah and warning them that their unjust treatment of the poor and their favouritism to the rich would lead to the destruction of the kingdom of Israel and its capital, Samaria. God was measuring the kingdom with a plumb line as if it was a mud-brick wall; warning that it would fall over because it was crooked.
Today, Amos’ vision is a wide woven basket of beautiful summer fruit, ripe and luscious, ready to be eaten, fit for the feast of a king. But the Hebrew word for summer fruit is nearly the same as the word for the end. Amos vision of summer fruit means the end for the kingdom of Israel. Again the reason for this is the lying and cheating among the merchants and shop keepers. ‘When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the quantity small and the prices great, and practise deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.’ It is rather like selling bread baked in Ireland as fresh bread in Australia, or making the chocolate bars smaller and selling them for a higher price.
Amos rages against these corrupt practices and promises death and destruction to a society which allows such cheating. He is furious because the people are being cheated, but what really fills him with bitter anger is the fact that the rulers and the leaders, the bakers, merchants, the kings and the priests have forgotten their duty to God. Selling a basket of fruit past its use-by date is an insult to God. The Department of Consumer Affairs may fine each dishonest dealer, but because they have dealt wickedly in the sight of God, their whole society will collapse.
2. Our second episode takes place in St Paul’s study. Paul is pacing the room, dictating a letter to Tertius, his secretary. Every so often he pauses to collect his thoughts, looking out of the window at the farms on the seven hills of Rome, the land which God has so generously and beautifully made. Paul is angry with the Colossians because they have misunderstood Jesus Christ. To them, Jesus was just another example of God’s presence in the world, just like the elemental spirits or the so-called gods of the nations, someone you didn’t have to take too seriously.
Paul is like Amos, telling the Colossians exactly who Jesus is. Paul writes, “Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
If you Colossians claim to worship Christ and to believe in him,” says St Paul, “then you must respect him as the Lord in whom all things have their being. It is fatal to your hopes if you say I believe in God on Sundays and behave as if you had never heard of him the rest of the week. If you want eternal life in Christ Jesus then you must respect him and behave respectfully towards him in absolutely everything that you do, in every thought and word and deed.”
Just as Amos warned King Jeroboam and Amaziah the Priest, so St Paul warns the Colossians. If you want to be the beloved children of God, then you must live like God’s children.
3. And finally, there is a flashback to the life of Jesus narrated by Luke in his gospel. Martha and Lazarus (you can see him on the front of the pew bulletin, carrying a bunch of bananas) represent those who are consumed by the busyness of the world. Mary is the one who understands that in order to survive in a busy world, you need faith, hope and love. These are the words of everlasting life, and you get the word of life from Jesus life, teaching, death and resurrection.
Of course the meals have to be cooked and the animals fed and the house kept clean, but the true importance of these things is only seen as the way to respect and honour God. Amos wanted King Jeroboam and Amaziah the priest and the bakers and traders of the Kingdom of Israel to respect and honour God in their business dealings and in the way they respected and honoured the poor.
Paul wanted the Colossians to understand that Jesus Christ was the true revelation of the one true God and all things exist in and through him. To respect and honour God means to respect and honour all things.
And the story of Martha and Mary shows that if we honour and respect Jesus and try to make our lives his own, then every task, from being Prime Minister to doing the washing up will also honour and respect God.
This is where my sermon originally ended, but I wonder how our own country or the USA would measure up to this standard. Both countries say that they value their Christian heritage. But have our leaders, for mere political reasons, ignored the promises made when Australia signed the International Convention on Refugees, have they ignored the rights of refugees and transfer their problems to Papua New Guinea, which is a country unable to manage its own problems, let alone Australia’s.
In the USA, the recent murder of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his murderer shows that fear, racism and injustice flourish in a country which once declared, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
It is 2700 years since Amos wrote, 2013 since Jesus was born and 1950 years since Paul wrote to the Colossians. I sincerely wonder, has the human race been paying any attention to what God has been saying?