Come to Bethel—and transgress; to Gilgal—and multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days; bring a thank offering of leavened bread, and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them; for so you love to do, O people of Israel! says the Lord God. Israel Rejects Correction I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me, says the Lord. And I also withheld the rain from you when there were still three months to the harvest; I would send rain on one city, and send no rain on another city; one field would be rained upon, and the field on which it did not rain withered; so two or three towns wandered to one town to drink water, and were not satisfied; yet you did not return to me, says the Lord. I struck you with blight and mildew; I laid waste[a] your gardens and your vineyards; the locust devoured your fig trees and your olive trees; yet you did not return to me, says the Lord. I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword; I carried away your horses;[b] and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me, says the Lord. I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were like a brand snatched from the fire; yet you did not return to me, says the Lord. Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel! For lo, the one who forms the mountains, creates the wind, reveals his thoughts to mortals, makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth— the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!
You do not understand, says the prophet. You have lived in the worst of times, and yet you have not turned to God. Your money is worth less now than it was, but you do not think money has to do with God. There was violence across the world and in the cities that you make your homes, but you did not turn to God in prayer. Disasters have broken your hearts and exposed the cracks in society but you do not do as I would do and fill the Temple to overflowing.
The prophet is heartbroken by the fall of the world around him, the end of days he knows is just around the corner. Curiously, he draws strange comfort from the belief that this is the work of God, for if God is behind the violence then faithful petition can stop the violence. If God enacts calamity because people deserve calamity, then we can work our way out of calamity again.
The prophet hopes his perverse images of love and jealous rage will turn the hearts of others in the way his own heart is turned. He believes his own heart is turned to goodness. He is constantly surprised, in the thousands of years which follow, that his words do not bring peace or repentance or reconciliation among those who read them. He is stunned when they begin to work in another way, as evidence against the goodness of God in which he trusts above all. What do our prayers inspire in others? Hopefulness? Solidarity? Fear? Disdain?
Holy one, we pray for our world. May your kingdom come, your will be done, in us, around us, and through us. And may we turn to you for strength, courage, and renewed love even on dark days. Amen.
The Revd Dr ’frin Lewis-Smith is minister to the URCs in Darwen and Tockholes.