Listening for a Vision

Passage: Amos 8:1-8
Date: July 22, 2007
Preacher: Rev David Hutchinson
Guest Preacher:

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This morning's scripture reading is the fourth in a series of five visions found in the book of the prophet Amos. These visions move from a sense of forgiveness, to an ever more dissonant sense of judgment. And in this morning's reading there is quite a bit of judgment. And it doesn't really resolve. And that bothers me. Like a dissonant chord in a song, that instead of pulling us to a new place through it's eventual resolution, just hangs there, unresolved.

I think that most of us would rather start with the judgment, if we even want to listen to it at all, and then move as quickly as possible to resolution, and forgiveness. Anyway that's my inclination. But that's not what the Biblical text does. Amos moves more and more to a sense of dissonance, and judgment. Away from forgiveness.

It all starts in chapter 7 with a vision of some locusts. The prophet begs God for forgiveness. And God's judgment relents. But not so by the time we get to chapter 8. Here in today's reading, the text ends ominously. And the prophet seems to encourage us to open our ears, and listen to the dissonance. So, may we hear what God might be saying to us, through this troubling vision....

As we do, I encourage you to open your Bibles and read along. I do this because this morning, both word and music will be the vehicle for the scripture reading. So open your ears to words, and chords...and your eyes to the words on the page...
Amos is found after the major prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, but before Micah and Zephaniah. Just near the end of the Old Testament.

Or if you have the courage and inclination, just close your eyes and listen.
[ read text, Amos 8:1-8 ]

Do you ever wish you could predict the future? Imagine if you could look ahead and know just what would happen.
I've wished this more than once:
I've wished I knew the score of a game before I placed my bet - - I mean - - before the game finished.
I've wished I knew ahead, what people would think of my performance.
I've wished I knew - what the outcome of someone's hospital stay would be.
I've wished I knew - my kids were going to be born happy and healthy.....
Sometimes - looking back - I think it's better I didn't know.
In fact, when I really think about it, there are probably just as many times when I've been glad I didn't know the future: unexpected bad news that would have ruined days leading up to it; an unexpected blessing I could have never prepared for.

I'm glad I didn't know, the moment I met Nancy that we would be engaged two years later. Think of the FUN we would have missed!

The Bible says ,"we shall not know the time or the season" of Christ's return. The Kingdom of God is at hand. But we can't know, exactly, when it will be fulfilled. Maybe there's a good reason for that.

I'm a bit of a planner. And I don't think I'm the only one. And so I like to know how things are going to go. But guess what, it's impossible. And I re-learn that over and over. All you have to do is consider how some people who are sick, older, and nearing the end of their lives, defy the predictions of doctors, as to when they are going to die. Louise Scott, whose memorial service is next Sunday, is a perfect example. We don't get to know everything. We depend on God's grace, in a profound and deep way.

On Thursday, the Oregonian had a story about the weather. The title was, "It's the end of the world! No, wait, it's just rain in July". It turns out it's not that uncommon after all - to have rain in July. But we're tantalized by trying to predict the future!

But you know what: the predictions of hot weather don't make it any easier to breathe. And the predictions of rain don't warm you up. And turning off the TV weather forecast doesn't make the rain go away!

So predictions may make it easier to plan, but they don't change the unpredictable nature of life. Nor are they really intended to change the future.

Biblical prophecy IS intended to change the future. And Biblical prophecy, is NOT prediction. Maybe that's why it is often ignored, rejected, or even suppressed. Because as much as we'd like to know the future so we could plan better - - we'd rather not change.

Think about it:
Just like not looking at the scale doesn't make you weigh any less.

Not thinking about pollution doesn't clean up the environment.

Not listening to our neighborhood, doesn't make ministry any easier.

Taking a handicap, doesn't make you a better golfer.

Wishing the war was over, doesn't end it.

And not looking at yourself honestly, doesn't help you live tomorrow.

There are plenty of calls for change in our world and our lives.

The question is: will we listen.
Will we open our ears?
Will we be honest about the dissonance?
Will we hear it, before we attempt to resolve it too quickly?

Amaziah didn't want to listen. In our Old Testament reading for this morning, Amaziah was listening to Amos, but couldn't take it. He didn't listen to what he didn't like. As Amos described the sins of Israel, Amaziah was deaf. Israel was stable, and rich, and affluent. Poor people were cheated for economic gain. They sought security through military conquest. There was a place called Bashan in which, there were people Amos described, by comparing them to cows.
So he wasn't tactful.
And you can see why some people didn't want to listen.
He was dissonant and judgmental.
But he also spoke words of truth.
Amaziah had disrespected his wife, and now he wanted her to listen to his advice, instead of listening to her. He'd run out of money, and now he wanted to change the banks around for his own gain. And he didn't want to listen to Amos and his whining about justice for poor people.
But ignoring Amos didn't make him go away.
And maybe we'd all like him to go away too.
I find him pushy and rude.
And there's NOT a lot of hope - in Amos' gloomy ranting.
I find myself wanting more hope.
Which gets me to thinking, that maybe - - hope isn't something for good times.
Since the beginning of the church, Christians from time to time have faced overwhelming odds. But they have faced them. And they have done so with hope.
Hope - that comes when, the times get tough.
All Amos does, is tell it like he sees it.
It's our choice what to do about it.
That's the difference between prediction - and prophecy. Prophecy is about changing the future. Hope for the future.
Saying, "The end is coming", doesn't mean that the end IS coming. But the irony is, that it might, if we say it's not. Think about it.

People had been saying that the runway in San Paulo, Brazil was bad. I listened to an interview on the news of a retired pilot who said he knew it was bad. It was too short and not grooved, and on and on. But not listening to how bad it was - didn't make it get any better.
There must be other examples: in health care, politics, and our own lives.
The issue is to listen.
Open our ears, and listen honestly, to our lives and our world.

There is a Hebrew word play in this Old Testament Biblical text. The word for "ripe fruit", or "summer fruit" (qayis), SOUNDS like the word for "end" (qus). The similarity of the sound - would have evoked an interpretation for those who spoke Hebrew. But if you don't know Hebrew, you can't listen. You can't open your ears, and you miss the point of the vision.

Maybe that's part of what I mean by, "Listening for a Vision". It's a little counter-intuitive. Listen. For a vision. But this vision in the Old Testament text can only be interpreted by listening.
So, look around your life. Ask yourself:
What do you see? What do you hear?
What are you focused on in your life?
What are WE focused on as a people?
Think about what it's like to really focus on something. Sometimes people actually close their eyes to focus. Think about artists. The jazz musician playing, intently listening, with eyes closed. Eyes closed in prayer. Trying to see, with concentration, where God, and the music, and the other players, are leading.
What are our lives focused on?
What do we see?
And what do we hear?

A few months ago, a member of Westminster told me a story about something that happened in worship, here, on Sunday morning. It was a communion Sunday. A child was sipping his cup of juice. Sipping it. The cup of salvation. A reminder of Christ's blood and the cross. An ugly dissonant symbol when you really think about it. Sipping, ever so slowly, as if to savor every drop. As if to savor the idea of Christ's love for us. As if to make it last as long as possible.

May it be so for us as well. May we open ourselves to what God may be saying to us through the words of the prophet. May we not move too quickly through the dissonance. Instead may we be open to it.

May we just sit right there with it.

And do that in hope. Hope because of God's amazing power.

Think about what moving too quickly to resolution does to God: it minimizes God's amazing powerful love. If we move too quickly to forgiveness, and minimize the judgment, then not that much is being forgiven. If the dissonance isn't all that bad, then the resolution is not nearly as satisfying. And if we run from the depth of life's pain, and sin, and violence, and evil, we end up robbing God of the opportunity to really enter into our full humanity.
I believe God longs to do that.
And that God's love is that powerful.
And that God's Kingdom is that radical.
And when I slip into wanting to predict and plan, I try to remember.
May we all have ears to hear.