July 21, 2019

Proper 11  

Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1:15-28, Luke 10: 38-42

The Rev. James M.L. Grace


In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN

            Close your eyes and I want you to clear your mind, and once your mind is relatively clear – your not thinking about what you need at the grocery store, or that unpaid credit card bill, the argument you had night before, let all of that go – just for a moment.  With your slate hopefully cleared, I want you to think about what the city of Houston will look like 50 years from now.  Now think about the world. 

            What will the world be like in fifty years?  Think about climate, think about cities, our homes.  Now open your eyes.  I am not going to ask for a show of hands, but I want you to think about your imagination of the world as it might be fifty years from now.  Were the images of the future in your mind pessimistic or were they optimistic?  Did you see a bright future ahead for humanity, or an uncertain one?

            My guess is that in this exercise the images in your mind were likely more pessimistic.  I think that’s how many of us are.  When hard pressed to consider the future, we tend to lean more toward dystopia than some grand future where everything is just fine and there are no environmental threats, no threat of war, no threat of anything.

            Dystopia sells, period.  When you think of books or films that present an image of the future, not many of them present images of the future that are heartwarming and comforting.  Films like BladerunnerMad Max, or the Terminator series present a future in which humanity is on the verge of extinction at worst, or vastly consumed with technology, at best.  In novels, books like 1984The Handmaid’s Tale, and Brave New World share a dystopic vision of future.

            Come to think of it, I don’t think I have heard of a book or film based on the future that presents a story where people solve all their problems, humanity figures out a way to sustain life on the planet and everything’s good.  I have yet to see that movie or read that book. 

            I am not sure why as a species our views of the future tend to lean toward the more pessimistic, but I do know that this is not a new phenomenon for people.  For centuries, humans have looked toward the future with skepticism and fear, and this is certainly true of the Bible, where we get a real taste of it in the form of a book attributed to a Hebrew prophet named Amos.

            The book of Amos is a shorter book in the Bible, it’s only nine chapters.  It was written, scholars believe, around the year 760 BCE, or 760 years before the birth of Christ.  This was during the reign of an Israelite king named Jeroboam II, whose rule over Israel was one that was relatively peaceful.  There were no major threats from neighbors Egypt or Assyria.  This time of peace brought with is a season of prosperity.  While that all sounds good on the surface, trouble was brewing underneath.

            The prosperity of Israel came with a price.  According to Amos, the economic prosperity of Israel came at the expense of many, and only benefitted a few.  There seems to have been a breakdown in older systems of tribal and family land ownership, and an emergence of a wealthy class at the top of society. 

            While this was going on in Israel a new and aggressive king came to the throne in Assyria.  His name was Tiglath-pileser II.  His goal was to incorporate Israel into his empire.  He failed to do this, but one of his successors, Sargon II, conquered the northern part of Israel, and it fell into Assyrian hands in the year 722, about forty years after the prophet Amos warned that it might. 

            That’s a lot of context for today’s reading from Amos, full of dystopic imagery about Israel’s future.  Is there good news here?  I believe that there is, and it is this: no matter what the future brings, God is there.  And if God is in the future, and that I am assured of, I am not worried. 

            “Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.”  I am not sure who said that, but it is true for me.  I can choose to borrow trouble and anxiety and worry about the future, even though I have absolutely no control over it.  Or, I can choose not to worry, and instead place my trust in a God who is already there in the future.  If I place my trust in God, then I am not guaranteed anything, but I am promised everything.

            The future is unknown, uncertain, and unrelenting.  Each day I try to remember to place the future the only place where it rightfully belongs – in God’s hands.  Because I have placed my future in God’s hands, I am not pessimistic.  I’m optimistic.  I thank God for it.

            I close with the very last verses of the prophet Amos, not read today.  These come from the ninth and final chapter of the book, which point toward a future filled with hope.  “I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.  I will plant them upon their land, and they shall never be plucked up out of the land I have given them, says the Lord your God.”  AMEN.