God imposed starvation ("cleanness of teeth ... lack of bread," Amos 4:6); and drought ("I also withheld the rain," v.7). Dramatic crop failures came from God (Amos 4:9); so too did suffering from disease, war, and domination at the hands of invading armies. God takes credit for all the pain (Amos 4:10-11). Even though it was awful, the wrath of God did not have its desired affect. Five times an exasperated God says, "Yet you did not return to me" (v.6, 8, 9, 10, 11). God brought about all this drama and to no avail.
I love the way Eugene Peterson renders these verses in The Message. A longing God says to Israel, "You never got hungry for me." "You never got thirsty for me; you ignored me." Three more times, he words it "you continued to ignore me." I am not always thrilled with that paraphrased version of scripture, but I think it really preaches in this case. When the people of God "hunger and thirst for God" and pay attention to God, life is good, very good.
When we hunger and thirst for other things, those things become idols, occupying the space God is supposed to have. We summarily ignore God, and life falls apart at that point.
It makes me think about the city of New Orleans. America built a large city below sea level with a lake on one side and the Mississippi Rive on the other. This city was built right next to the Gulf of Mexico - hurricane central. The poorest people of the city live in the low-lying, most vulnerable areas. And the city is known for partying (excessive drinking and women revealing their breasts so that they can build a collection of cheap beads).
So, the mother of all hurricanes hammers New Orleans, and some people shake a fist toward Heaven and blame God. Never mind that this hurricane wouldn't crack the top 10 of natural disasters for loss of life in the last decade. We'll blame God and make New Orleans the cause celeb in the United States.
Salvation comes because of great humanitarian efforts? Of course not! Salvation comes when the football time wins the Super Bowl. It was destiny (forget the superior game planning and the gutsy play-calling). And what does that Super Bowl win bring about - more partying (Mardis Gras style with beads and boobs and booze).
I am encouraging my congregation to seek Jesus during Lent, 2010. Of course, seek Jesus all the time, duh! But, the preaching emphasis for this season will be the relationship we have (as a church and as individuals) with God. Hunger for God. Thirst for God. At the end of Amos 4, God says,
12"Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel;
because I will do this to you,
prepare to meet your God, O Israel!"
13For behold,AC)">(AC) he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,
andAD)">(AD) declares to man what is his thought,
AE)">(AE) who makes the morning darkness,
andAF)">(AF) treads on the heights of the earth—
AG)">(AG) the LORD, the God of hosts, is his name!
Does it sound ominous? It does to me. I'd rather have the experience of Mary in the garden. In her hazy confusion, she met the resurrected Lord and he called her by name. I want to see the risen Jesus and hear him say, "Rob." And I will say, "Master." And, I'll fall at his feet. Yeah, I want to want that. That's the way to meet God. So, I will seek that in Lent, 2010. I encourage you to join me in the quest.