Church of England Diocese of Birmingham Frankley

Ready, Steady Go

8 Nov 2020, 1 a.m.

We need to be ready and remain steady because change comes suddenly and we will need the resources and strength of the Holy Spirit to complete our race. If we are ready we will go to be with our Lord. If we are not, we will be left behind.

Israel was looking forward to the Day of the Lord because they believed their God would come and fight for them against the Assyrian threat from the North and nations rising against Judah in the South.

They believed God was on their side and they were indestructible. They were extremely religious. They offered expensive sacrifices to the Lord to cover their sin and sung noisy worship songs. God cannot be bought or bribed.

Amos, along with Isaiah and Joel speaks of the Day of the Lord as a time of sudden darkness, destruction and judgement, not light. He speaks primarily to the Northern Kingdom.

If God judged the surrounding nations who did not have a special relationship with God, he will certainly judge Israel and Judah.

He lists their sins in other chapters. They have been unfair to the poor and needy, adopting unfair trading practices. Money has been their goal. They have trampled the righteous poor into the dust and pushed the afflicted out of the way.

They have adopted idle, extravagant lifestyles. They have lacked compassion and have bought and sold the poor.

They have slept with prostitutes. Amos draws attention to a father and son who have slept with the same woman.

They have abused alcohol and encouraged others to do so, even in the house of God.

On the outside they have looked righteous, religious, wealthy and blessed by God but on the inside they are rotten.

Their priests have affirmed them in their abuse of others. Amaziah, a priest tried to get rid of Amos because he prophesied destruction.

A huge gulf existed in Israeli society between the rich and the poor. The government’s abuse of the poor was systemic. This is true of so many Western nations. Once trapped by poverty and corruption it is very difficult to dig yourself out. Rents and energy costs are massive. The huge numbers now unemployed as a result of the pandemic are going to find it very difficult to obtain a job with a fair wage in the future. As Christians we must not trample the poor into the dust but give them dignity and hope.

Systemic abuse of poorer nations in Africa and Asia previously imposed by colonialism and the institution of slavery and today imposed by globalised companies, divides nations. Poverty, hunger and the effects of climate change are worse in countries being exploited unfairly.

It is very difficult for the powerful to stop exploiting the poor. When there is a vacuum of control someone else fills it. There would be huge consequences if the present superpowers of the USA and China laid aside their wealth and I don’t think they would all be good ones.

It is up to us, however to be alert, awake and compassionate.

Like Amos we are called to speak truth to power and listen and care for those suffering economic hardship.

Empires come and go. Israel, defeated by the Assyrians, went into exile. They had trusted in power and wealth instead of God and ceased to exist soon after Amos prophesied. They intermarried with the residents of nations where they were taken.

Jews within modern Israel are descendents of the tribes of Judah in the South.

Amos calls for justice to roll down in his land like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.

These words have often been quoted by the oppressed. Martin Luther King used them in his “I have a dream” speech as he fought for equal citizen rights for blacks in the 1960s, and Barack Obama used the words in his acceptance speech as President of the USA as he sought to bring peace between a divided electorate.

Michael Curry, the head of the Episcopal church in the USA told the residents to voted for the person who loved his neighbour.

We have seen the dreadful effects of trampling on the needy, unfair trade practices and sexual abuse of women in our own society as well as in the states.

We have much to repent of. Whoever eventually becomes sworn as President is called to address these abuses and repent of past failures.

Holding up a Bible and having a veneer of religion doesn’t impress God. Power and wealth brings responsibility.

That responsibility is even greater during times of change. COVID 19, climate change and economic downturn will change society. We do not know what lays ahead.

We need to be ready by putting God first in our lives. Sadly, the righteous poor and Amos went into exile or were killed along with the idle rich.

We have need to hold steady, upholding truth and loving our neighbour whatever happens, wherever we go and whatever situation we find ourselves in.

Paul in Thessalonians gives us hope. In the midst of persecution and death, we may not grieve. Because Jesus died and rose again so will we.

When Jesus comes again, he will bring those who have died with him. If we are still alive when he comes, we will be caught up into the clouds to meet Jesus in the air and be with them.

I Corinthians 15 adds further details, telling that we will be changed in the twinkling of an eye.

We need to be ready both for possible sudden death or the Lord’s return which I believe is getting closer every day. Our response should be to be steadfast, always abounding in the work of the Lord.

We are preparing for a life forever with the Lord.

Jesus in the story of the ten bridesmaids continues with imagery in which he compares the place where God rules to a wedding.

The bridegroom is an image of Jesus and the bride an image of the people of Israel and the church. It is an image of loving invitation and consummation. Jesus loves us passionately.

The bridegroom doesn’t come to collect the bridesmaids when expected and they become sleepy.

At midnight when they least expect to be rescued, the bridegroom comes and they are invited to meet him.

Five are prepared. Their lamps are full of oil, a symbol of the Holy Spirit. They have trimmed their lamps. They have consistently remained ready.

Five of the bridesmaids are foolish. They haven’t any oil to put in their lamps. They ask the wise bridesmaids for some of their oil but there isn’t sufficient. They have to go to the dealer to buy some for themselves.

While they were away, the Lord came and took those who were ready to his banquet,

When the foolish bridesmaids returned the door was closed to them and the Lord would not let them in because he did not know them.

We cannot rely on other people’s relationship with the Lord to get us into the Kingdom We need to have a relationship with the Lord now and be filled with his Holy Spirit.

Jesus says “Keep awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour”

We are to be ready for the Day of the Lord, ready for the judgement of this world, ready for the Lord’s return, ready to die and ready to be with the Lord.

We are to be steady, full of integrity, nurturing our relationship with the Lord, full of his Holy Spirit, light and love

May the lamps of our lives shine brightly with our Lord’s presence in the darkness of the present time?

May we be ready to go where he wants us to go and do what he wants us to do so that we are ready when we are called to go to be with him throughout eternity?