July 18, 2016

Summertime

Despite the fact that I come from a long line of farmers, I struggle to pick up even a decent piece of fruit at the supermarket. However, growing up where and how I did taught me enough about the work of farmers to know that in all seasons timing is of the essence.

The timing of spring rain, summer droughts, and the fall’s first frost can make the difference between bounteous and lean crops.

The preferred window of time to plant at one time of year and to reap at another might require round the clock work in the fields.

Depending on when it comes during the season, farmers might receive a heavy storm as a blessing, an inconvenience, or a disaster.

Timing is of the essence.

Of course, we who merely enjoy the fruit of the farmers’ fields know this to be true, too. The apple in your kitchen that is crisp and tasty today will be mealy and gross in a couple of days. Given a little more time, the avocados that would make perfect guacamole this afternoon will be brown, disgusting, and inedible.

From the planting of the seed and the blooming of the first blossom to picking the fruit and eating it, timing is everything.

Grasping the importance of timing is fundamental to understanding the prophet Amos’ vision of a basket of summer fruit.

Amos declared,

This is what the Lord GOD showed me—a basket of summer fruit. He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.”
God showed Amos a basket of fruit, but what did the vision mean?

Would there be a feast, a celebration?

Was the kingdom about to enter a great season of prosperity and wealth?

God began to explain Amos’ vision.

Then the LORD said to me, The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by.
The summer fruit isn’t a vision on prosperity because the time to enjoy the fruit has past. It’s no good anymore.

Amos’ vision, therefore, proves to be the introduction to a scathing indictment against God’s people for the wickedness they’d allowed to take root in their lives.

Let’s look again at our first lesson.

“Be silent!” God said.

The image here reminds me of a judge calling a defendant to attention so that the charges can be recounted and a sentence delivered. The defendant in this case is the Kingdom of Israel.

“Be silent” and listen to the three charges against you.

The first count of the indictment,

Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the Sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale?
The “new moon” and “Sabbath” were holy days of rest and worship. The first charge, therefore, is religious hypocrisy.

This refers to those who keep up the appearance of religion—they mark the holy days—but they know nothing of religion’s spirit. This is a charge against those who never turn their hearts toward God nor turn off their drive and hunger for the next day’s profit.

“You’re greedy hypocrites,” says the Lord.

That’s the first count of the indictment against the people.

The second count reads like this.

Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances.”
The “ephah” and “shekel” were units of measurement in Israel’s marketplaces, so the second charge is conspiring to cheat one’s customers, of literally rigging the scales against them—like a market that overcharges you for your lunchtime salad.
“Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring ruin to the poor of the land,” you greedy hypocrites, you cheaters and frauds. Hear God’s third charge against you. You say, “We will…[buy] the poor for silver and needy for a pair of sandals.”
A greedy heart is bad enough and cheating in business is criminal, but the third charge against the people hints at something atrocious in their community—debt slavery—a whole system corrupted and twisted so as to ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable were seen only as a source of cheap labor that could be exploited for the profit of others.

Do you sense the depravity of the situation in which Amos found himself?

Do you recognize the hypocrisy of a community whose members could pay lip service to God (the God of their own deliverance from bondage), yet still conspire to profit from human trafficking?

The Judge reviewed the charges (Greed, Cheating, Buying and Selling the Poor) and delivered the Kingdom’s sentence with a roar.

Surely I will never forget any of their deeds...The time is surely coming, says the Lord GOD, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.
And, indeed, that day came in the form of an invading army. Within the lifetime of Amos’ audience, the Assyria army conquered Israel, or the northern portion of King David’s once united empire, and removed it from the map forever.

Such was the substance and aftermath of the ancient prophet’s sermon about summer fruit.

But what are we to do with Amos’ words today?

Surely, we must confess that dishonest practices that exploit the poor—like the injustices Amos enumerates—remain offensive to God.

God still cares about greed, and cheating, and the sick dehumanizing conditions in which these practices force people to live.

And from young women traded for sex to workers forced into the shadows so that we can pay less for our food and our stuff, since every crime Amos mentions clearly has its twenty-first century manifestations, the prophetic word still tells us that the time is right to confess our broken and sinful ways.

The time is right, People of God, for us to come to the God who meets us in the Good News of Jesus Christ and his victory over sin.

In Jesus, God drew near to a hurting and hurtful world to offer healing and to make healers of all who would place their trust and find their place in him.

When the time was right, Jesus announced, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives…recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the Lord’s Jubilee.”

And that same Spirit is with us—blessing, reconciling, and equipping us to live and to love as those who know that love of the Living God.

Amos’ vision of summer fruit should elicit a response from us. It should stir up within the Church a renewed sense of mission and purpose.

To that end, I think we can revisit Amos’ vision.

Acknowledging that timing is of the essence, we know that the fruit that is sweet today could be rotten tomorrow.

As disciples of Jesus Christ who are guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit the time is right for us to take action, and to confront injustice with courage and compassion.

We have a calling to meet dehumanizing conspiracies with the Light of God’s Truth and—in our time and in our hearts—to live into the promise that all life is precious and sacred in God’s sight.

The Spirit of the Lord that spoke through Amos and took on flesh in Jesus is with us in this time, in this moment.

May the Spirit lead us to seek justice and love kindness and may it make the life we share together Good News for all people.

Thanks be to God for this Good News. Amen.

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