Sunday 12th July. Amos 7.7-15 Ephesians 1.3-14 and Mark 6.14-29
It is high summer. The sun sits high and long in the sky, the days stretch on well into the night. The perennial midsummer prophecy of Terry Wogan – “The nights are drawing in, soon be Christmas” has not yet come to pass. Midsummer is the peak of the year, the top of the egg if you like. A time to remember characters such as John the Baptist. It is not a coincidence that 24th of June is exactly 6 months from 24th December. In the Gospel of Mark today we are told that Herod came to hear of Jesus and remembers his name from the prophecies of John. Herod’s own tragic dealings with John read like a script from some soap opera or other. Though even the worst of those, I don’t recall, have ever actually involved someone’s head on a plate during a party. John is significant at this time of year as his prophecy points to Jesus as inevitably as the seasons will change.
I often use a film I’ve seen recently to help to tell the story or to give a little insight into the readings for they are so often caricatures of our lives. However, today take any disaster movie you like. There should normally be a scene of a content life, and perhaps the hint of something that is ‘not quite right’, just around the corner. Enter then the central characters who tell them it is all going to end in tears unless they change completely what they are doing or move out of their town. Whatever it is, it is drastic. The change that is required is monumental compared to their settled life, but the consequences of doing nothing are normally extreme. Of course these films would be quite boring if either nothing happened or everyone listened immediately to those being prophetic. Such films are of course a reflection of real life and a reminder to listen carefully and look out for the point at which action must be taken. These situations go on everyday and many of them have been playing out within our lifetimes and over the course of the last century. The list is longer than you might expect.
Amos is one of my favourite prophets – not least because he reflects in his prophecy the natural world he sees around him in his life as a shepherd. We know little about him for certain, save that he was a herdsman, a dresser of sycamore trees and came from Tekoa which is just south of Bethlehem. Amos was called out of this existence by God to prophecy what was in reality a disaster movie plot-line for Israel and the northern kingdoms. No-one was to be spared the approaching doom. In the passage we hear today the Priest Amaziah tries to send Amos away to ‘earn his bread’ elsewhere. Amos replies that he is in fact not a professional prophet, neither was he trained in the art of prophecy. He is a simple herdsman. The court of a king would often employ a prophet to foretell their future and such a prophet, employed by the state would have to be careful what he said. Amos is not one of those. The court enjoys his prophecies of doom for their neighbours. When he casts his attention upon the future of the nation of Israel they become angry and try to send him away. We don’t want to hear your stories of destruction for us, we are the people of God and we are just fine as we are. Amos’ prophecy was an early warning to the nation of Israel that all would not be well if they did not change their ways. It was to be worse for them for they claimed a privileged position, God as their own who had given all they had. Ruthless wealth seeking, gross injustice, oppression of the poor, institutional slavery and unjust debt systems were woven into the very fabric of their national life. Yet they felt that God should overlook these inconsistencies as they were ‘in transition’. Building the kingdom of God is something that needs to begin at the heart, the very core of everything we do.
What I find amusing today is that we also have a reading from the beginning of Paul’s letter to the people of Ephesus which is in total contrast to that of Amos or the Gospel of Mark. There is no repeat of the warnings of Amos or the strange and complicated life of king Herod. We find here Paul’s presentation of those who follow in the way of Christ to be blessed and set apart, special. I hope you will recognise the irony. In 1993 the Celtic band Iona sang: “Beyond these shores, into the darkness.” I rather feel like this song is where I am at the moment. Perhaps it is how a parish feels being prepared for transition and change. I don’t know what I’m doing here yet and for now I think that stands. Is it enough to say that together we can seek to follow in The Way, to seek new ways to touch the hearts of all with the Love of the Christ and remember that wherever we go Christ has gone out before us.
Preached at the first Sunday services following my licensing to the Parises of Betws-y-Coed, Dolwyddelan and Penmachno.