A Word from the Prophet Amos
My Old Testament professor in seminary was drafted into the German army in the closing days of World War II. At age 15 following an abbreviated training he found himself on the front line of the forces defending his homeland. As he hunkered down, terrified in his trench, the ground shook with Allied bombs falling all around him.
By the time he told us this story, in the second semester of the year long course, his fierce passion for the ancient text had already been displayed. Woe to the students seated in the front row of the class. He leaned into their faces, eyes blazed and the words thundered down in a thick German accent. Until the day he relived for us his survival as a teen ager of the Allied bombings, we had little idea of the origin of that fire within the man.
His life-shattering story was his way of introducing us to the prophecies of Amos. The prophets of the Hebrew Bible revealed to him the only way he could make sense of his experience of war and how it could fit into crafting a fruitful life. And the prophet Amos stood out for him among their ranks. There, in the 8th century BC prophecies of a herder and tree trimmer, he had found the words essential to making sense of the terrors of the Nazi humiliation and defeat.
“Is not the day of the Lord
darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?” Am 5:20 (NRSV)
Rolf Knierim’s message to us could not have been clearer. Would-be ministers should never treat the prophets casually; handle with caution or use at your own risk remained for me his teaching of the prophets, and his lesson for us on Amos especially. Not just you yourself but your congregation had to be prepared to really hear the prophets’ word for our day.
So when I heard Rev. Dr. William Barber choose Amos 5 as the text to preach from Washington’s National Cathedral Sunday June 14, my first thought was of Rolf Knierim. God’s fury that Rolf had lived and taught about for thirty years helped me take the measure of the anguish that grips this nation at this time.
Barber’s sermon surprised me by its tone. He seemed restrained in his denunciations and soft in his anger. Now as I write this it occurs to me that the fierce prophecy had already been accomplished with the suffering of George Floyd, the cruel pursuit of Ahmaud Arberry, the death of so many other men and women of color at the hands of a system built on white supremacy while professing that all human beings are created equal. The comfortable had already been afflicted and the afflicted already comforted by the truth telling of the brutal videos followed by massive protests in solidarity worldwide.
What remained to be done, Rev. Barber had decided, was to proclaim that God is at work in making us uncomfortable, disturbed, distraught by the recent events. And that the words of the prophet Amos spoken long ago would help guide us in finding our way as persons and as a nation in helping create a world more like our Creator intended. The prophet’s words would help us grow into the image we were created to be as they had helped grow Rolf Knierim and so many others devoted to the truth and beauty of life as a human being.
“Take away from me the noise of your songs:
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
(Amos 5:23-24, NRSV trans.)
To listen to Rev. Barber’s sermon go to: https://cathedral.org/sermons/sermon-the-rev-dr-william-j-barber-ii-2/
Posted on June 22, 2020, in U.S. Protest Movements and tagged The Prophet Amos and the U.S. Poor People's Campaign; The Prophet Amos Speaks to Us Today; Dr. Rolf Knierim on the Hebrew Prophets;. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.
My father was one of the rare men from whom you could expect total honesty. I have never seen someone whose sole function was to think, to push the brain constantly beyond what it knew. He was so forward thinking connecting as much of what we knew both proven and unproven that I always felt on the edge of a new discovery. I was always catapulted into new thought. He could care less about things but appreciated sophisticated craftsmanship. He had deep real emotions. He came from extreme poverty in a violent town. He understood poverty and connected best with those who took nothing for granted. He despised the underused brain. I don’t think I will ever meet someone so advanced in the ability to think with a brain on fire in concentration with the objective of discovery. He is beyond Einstein, beyond Newton, beyond Hawkins. They are small to me. One does not have to agree with everything one says but as my father read all views on a researched matter he told me to know all sides. He would objectify and analyze opposing positions as well as unapposing positions. He would not discard what he did not like. He was a scientist though and a method with facts was there to create meaning. Practical and useful meaning which ultimately landed right on your feet. Relevance for an individual or the masses. He also championed human rights. When we spoke I was always exhausted and always transformed. His brilliance and the novelty of his thoughts left me often in tears because I was privileged to bear witness to the unraveling of the human mind. I was witness to an unwasted mind.
Another man and a true scholar such as he I will never see. He was The Scholar crossing international boundaries, facing other scholars with the confidence of a man who could only further exhaust his brain if anything new was presented. He was always prepared. He was my dad and he burns in me like a light, an internal working energy.
Your father burned with an ethical passion I had never encountered in a college or seminary professor. For those few of us in seminary who were old enough to have been subject to the Vietnam-era draft, his experience in the German army in the closing year of WW II communicated the shock and horror of what we had felt about our government’s unjust, ill-conceived War. While different in many respects, our experiences bore the same emotional impact and demands.
I respected greatly his honesty as you put it and the intensity with which he continued to live and communicate about his potentially shattering year as a 15 year old in the trenches. There is no forgetting listening to his account, every moment gripping us with terrible truth. I can’t imagine a more fitting introduction to reading and discussion of the words of the Hebrew prophets. He was a great professor and I am very grateful for your taking the time to write about him on erasing-borders.