When was the last time you read an Old Testament prophet? Specifically, when was the last time you read through the book of Amos? Probably, if you’re at all like me, not in recent memory.
Well, I’m reading a book on consumerism and Christianity called Enough, by our friend Will Samson. (If you’re wondering about my proclivity for quoting from books I am “currently” reading and if it seems like I must whip through them, here’s an important confession: at any given moment I am “reading” a dozen or so books, all sitting on my night stand. There were, in fact, enough of them to fill up a small box of their own during the move.)
Back to the book Enough. Samson’s book is a challenging one to read, in part because it hits so close to home if you consider yourself part of the Church, particularly in America, today. In fact, if you don’t like being made uncomfortable, you probably shouldn’t pick it up.
To talk about consumerism and consumption and how the church is or is not responding to the world is, of course, to talk about community and our role in bringing justice to the center of our communities. (So obviously I like this book, and it make sense to talk about it here.)
In a chapter called “My God Is So Big,” Samson “retells” a portion of the book of Amos as if Amos were writing to the American church. It’s not a stretch to do so, actually, when you realize that Amos “was writing at a time when material pleasures had crowded out and overtaken the spiritual devotion of the people of Israel. He decried the emptiness of their devotion and called God’s people to move beyond nominal devotion to Yahweh. Amos condemned the people for getting rich while not taking care of their workers. He spoke out against problems farmers were facing.” Samson asks, “Sound familiar?” (61).
But enough background. If you want to read the Old Testament version firsthand, it can be found in Amos 5:18-27.
Here’s Samson’s worthwhile “retold” version,* sure to make you squirm a little bit:
GOD, SPEAKING TO THE AMERICAN CHURCH:
You spend too much time thinking about and wishing for the end of the world. Why are you so anxious to bring about God’s judgement? And what kinds of people have you become, thinking the world will end tomorrow?
In your arrogance and laziness you have forgotten why I placed you here. You have endless conferences and seminars on “how to do church,” but you have forgotten to be the church, a people who faithfully live as an alternative community, pointing all people toward me through loving service.
You have grown rich exploiting the poor. You bring a tiny pittance of that money back to me and say, “God, You have been so good to us.” But your money smells like crap in my nostrils. It sickens me and I don’t want it. Give it back to the poor from which it came.
You grow more food than you need by destroying the very soil I gave you to tend. You sit down to a sumptuous buffet and say, “Look how God has blessed us.” I have not blessed you. I have left you to your own destruction.
There will come a day when the womb of the earth will no longer produce and the poor will rise up and pledge never to sew a cheap garment again. You will grow hungry and your shopping malls will close. Then you will turn to me and cry, “God, why have you rejected us?” And I will say, “I have not rejected you. I have been here all along, waiting for you to return.”
So turn your face toward me now. Seek after me. Live out my commands. Do you want to be people after my own heart? Then care for the poor, the needy, the marginalized, those for whom my heart has always beat loudly. Cease your endless Bible studies, searching for the answer to righteous living. Commit yourselves to following what I already told you to do. Don’t believe you are pursuing me if you are not seeking to do justice.
Care for the planet. You have become so worried about who might also advocate this course of action that you forgot it was one of my first commandments to you. Tend well what I have given you.
Seek the welfare of your community. As people in exile, your future and the future of the place you live are one and the same. So make your world more whole, that you might be more holy.
And live in love. I had hoped you would get that message when my Son joined humanity and demonstrated sacrificial love in action. But you are so worried about his return that you forget why he came. Be a people shaped by the model of Jesus, not just the prospect of escaping the world I have asked you to help heal.
* Thanks, Will, for permitting me to reprint this at length. All copyrights are yours.