“Woe to those who are at ease in Zion and who feel secure on the mountain…”
This warning from Amos cuts at my heart. Because I find so much ease and security from my surroundings. The woe is pronounced not on ease and security itself, but on the place where it is found. This is how Amos begins his announcement that the people are about to be sent into exile. They are about to be taken from their homes, from the mountain where they are at ease and secure. It could seem like a curse. But, perhaps, it is an invitation to find ease and security in their God instead of on the mountain. Perhaps in the long run this will give the people a much greater ease and security that can’t be taken from them. After all, if they can build their own security, someone else can destroy it. But if God is their security, it is untouchable. Because he is untouchable.
I find a lot of my own ease and security from the place where I am. The people I’m with. The things I do. Unfamiliar places and new people are difficult for me. Sometimes their exciting, but sometimes they’re scary. So much of my self-worth is based on my productivity. If I don’t produce, if I don’t deliver, then I’m a failure and I grow uneasy and insecure.
I love Jesus. None of that stuff mattered to him. He left heaven, his place of ease and security, to live here with us, a broken people who would only misunderstand and reject him, and die on a cross, what would seem like the least productive and the biggest failure. In doing so he has and is redeeming the world to God. How did he do it? “I only do what I see the Father doing,” he said. His ease and his security was from his Father.
“There was a rich man, clothed in purple and fine linen, and at his gate was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores…”
This story is so often misused. It is a story about riches and poverty. It is a story about need and neglect. Not a story about heaven and hell. I think that the question of heaven and hell is a fair question to ask and to seek an answer to, but I don’t think that this story is meant to hold the answer. This story is about the need that lives outside our door. It is a story about how ignorance is not bliss. It is a story about having open eyes and compassionate hearts.
My heart responds to this story not with a fear of hell, but with a love for my neighbor. It makes me all the more aware and all the more sensitive to the people around me. What needs are there? Is it a helping hand for a neighbor? Is it a listening ear for someone at work? Is it fresh vegetables from the garden for the stranger at our door? Is is some cash for that guy with a sign at the intersection? What needs are there and how can I help?
“Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”
All too often we swing the pendulum too far after reading texts like these or hearing sermons about stuff like this. We walk away with guilt about having stuff. Here are a few thoughts:
It says “those who desire to be rich fall,” not “those who are rich fall.” Amos’s warning was about those who find ease and security in Zion or on the mountain, not ease and security itself. The psalm says “put not your trust in princes.” It does not say to dismiss princes altogether and resort to anarchy. Too often we make money the evil and we miss the evil that is in our own hearts. Money is not the problem, my selfish heart is!
These warnings and these stories are not about how the rich should all become poor. It is about how those who are rich should give generously and those who are poor should receive joyfully. So it is with God, who is rich with love, always giving and us, who are poor in spirit, always receiving.
I would take this even a step farther. Perhaps we need not only give generously and receive joyfully but also give joyfully and receive generously. Perhaps giving and receiving is something for all of us. The rich are to give and receive. The poor are to receive and give. And such is the economy of the kingdom.
My hope is that we wouldn’t be so stuck in ourselves that we insist on keeping everything, but also that we wouldn’t be so pressed outside ourselves that we refuse to receive anything. May we be a people of joyful and generous giving and receiving.