A Word from the Prophet Amos


Rev. William Barber is the Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival and Pastor of a Disciples of Christ Church in Greensboro, NC. Rev. Jesse Jackson, a close associate of Rev. Martin Luther King, on his left was a leading candidate for U.S. President in 1988 leading a multi-ethnic Rainbow Coalition on behalf of poor and working class people.

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/

About erasingborders

The blog title harks back to an ancient Church history document, The Address to the Emperor Diognetus reporting on the lives of third century Christians in Asia Minor: “They live in their native lands but like foreigners…They take part in everything like citizens and endure everything like aliens. Every foreign country is their native land and every native land a foreign country…. They remain on earth but they are citizens of heaven.” Kate Moyer's wedding present to Doug Smith of a dancing jester figure bore the quote, “I like geography best, he said, because your mountains and rivers know the secret. Pay no attention to boundaries.” They dedicate this blog then to helping bring about the day when human beings share the resources of the planet equitably and without borders. Our geography experience features childhoods in the Midwest. Kate lived for over twenty years as an adult in the small town of Neodesha, Kansas while Doug has been an urban dweller all his adult life. She is able to readily identify most crops and keeps a close watch on her partner’s snob tendencies. The Nile Valley of Egypt, for Kate, and the Congo rainforest for Doug have left deep marks on their interior landscapes.

Posted on June 22, 2020, in U.S. Protest Movements and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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