Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria, the notables of the first of the nations, to whom the house of Israel resorts! Cross over to Calneh, and see; from there go to Hamath the great; then go down to Gath of the Philistines. Are you better than these kingdoms? Or is your territory greater than their territory, O you that put far away the evil day, and bring near a reign of violence? Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music; who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away. The Lord God has sworn by himself (says the Lord, the God of hosts): I abhor the pride of Jacob and hate his strongholds; and I will deliver up the city and all that is in it. If ten people remain in one house, they shall die. And if a relative, one who burns the dead, shall take up the body to bring it out of the house, and shall say to someone in the innermost parts of the house, “Is anyone else with you?” the answer will come, “No.” Then the relative shall say, “Hush! We must not mention the name of the Lord.” See, the Lord commands, and the great house shall be shattered to bits, and the little house to pieces. Do horses run on rocks? Does one plow the sea with oxen? But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood— you who rejoice in Lo-debar, who say, “Have we not by our own strength taken Karnaim for ourselves?” Indeed, I am raising up against you a nation, O house of Israel, says the Lord, the God of hosts, and they shall oppress you from Lebo-hamath to the Wadi Arabah.
We often hear politicians and leaders telling us they want to make their country great again, but what makes a nation great? Amos is warning God’s people that they have become complacent. They seem to think they are somehow better than the nations around them and have become caught up in excesses of power, comfort and pride. Does this all sound very familiar? The very nations which should stand and fight for the rights of the poor and the downtrodden, are now seen by God as absurd as someone trying trying to run a horse on rocky ground or getting oxen to plough the sea. They have got it horribly wrong by neglecting those they should have cared for.
What makes a great nation? It seems, from God’s point of view, not to be about what our position is in the world but how we treat the world. A great nation lifts up the poor, welcomes the alien and fights for a world of justice and righteousness. A great nation is one that is prepared to use its influence and power not for self-promotion but for the sake of those who have nothing. In the words of Nelson Mandela, ““It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” How do we make a great nation? By being the people who by prayer and action prophetically lead the way in pointing our leaders, politicians, decision makers and ourselves towards these Godly aims.
God of justice, We pray for our nation, Forgive our desire for power, greed and position. May our nation be a place of hope, love and welcome May our nation be renown for showing compassion to all May our nation be built not on gain but on giving Help us, your Church, be the prophets who hold to account those in our nation with power and influence. For a nation and world which reflects your Kingdom we pray. Amen.
The Rev’d Stuart Nixon, SCM Pioneer Minister, MediaCityUK Church, Salford