Today’s Old Testament lesson (Amos 4:6-13) is the kind of passage that manages to frighten, inspire and frustrate me all at once. It brings a word of judgment, spoken to a people who have forsaken God’s way and who refuse to repent, despite repeated warnings. In fact, the verses of today’s reading create a monotonous litany: the LORD describes all the steps He has taken to warn His people of their sin; but their response (found in verses 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11) is always the same: “Yet, you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.
These words frighten me, because I see so many ways in which we, too, have wandered from the Lord’s way and have refused to return. They inspire me, because they remind me that God is gracious and compassionate — and that He continues to call us, too, to repentance and healing. But as much as anything else, they frustrate me, because we seem so bitterly divided about the nature of our sin that we can’t even find common ground about what we need to return from — let alone take steps toward justice and righteousness. Those on the right lament the way that those on the left have ignored the value of unborn life and have forsaken personal holiness. Those on the left decry the way that those on the right have ignored the value of creation and have downplayed the needs of the poor and oppressed. But rather than acknowledging that we are messed up in all these ways and more, the most public voices among us too often seem focused on critiquing “the other guys” — and scoring political points at the expense of confronting the truth about ourselves.
In spite of all that, I generally remain hopeful — not because I have all that much faith in us — but because I have deep faith in the God who says, “Come, let us reason together; though your sins be like scarlet, they will be as white as snow!” (Isaiah 1:18) And yet, I acknowledge, too, that repentance and reconciliation is not the only way our current wandering might end. There remains the prospect of the chilling word that comes near the end of today’s lesson: “Prepare to meet your God” (verse 12).
May we not be among those who refuse to return to the Lord. Instead, may we immerse ourselves in the way and character of Jesus. And may His Spirit so transform our spirits that when we meet our God, we’ll hear Him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servants,” rather than “Depart from me, I never knew you.”