the penultimate WORD
Series 1998 - Proper 16 Canon Jim Irvine
A famine of hearing the words of the LORD...


The opportunity Amos had to see the ordinary and to reflect on what he saw, provides us with an insight that can help us perhaps more than we can imagine.

The Lord God showed Amos a basket of summer fruit. There was nothing exceptional about it. Very ordinary, in fact. When he was asked what he saw, Amos said, "A basket of summer fruit."

We can imagine what we might have seen in a basket of summer fruit. Certainly there would have been fresh strawberries; they would definitely have been in that basket. And perhaps we’d see melons there, and apples, and oranges and berries – blue berries and black berries and raspberries as well. It would be like walking through Kredl’s Market or Pete’s Fruitique. But the revelation of God that Amos had went beyond simply what he saw. Amos saw the present reality of the abundance. And in the very presence of that abundance he saw, too, the potential of its absolute absence.

Taking things for granted helps us to understand what is meant here. Never missing the water until the well goes dry is the way we sagely put it. In Amos’ vision, his insight was that while he was tasting the very sweetness of the glass of water, he could imagine the glass being empty.

And the possibility of that, indeed the very likelihood was frightening in its consequences.

The word that Amos heard, and that he passed on, was an alarm:

The time is surely coming, says the Lord GOD,
when I will send a famine on the land;
not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the LORD.
They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD,
but they shall not find it

In every generation this has found an application. It was true in Amos’ day when the word of God was not clearly heard.

It was true in Jesus’ ministry as well. The gospel selection today reminds us of this. The accusation comes not from Jesus, but from Martha, that there are things to be done! She was tired and she could use the help! Well, of course she could. And what was Mary doing? Just sitting and listening to Jesus! Jesus’ words challenge Mary… and us.

But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by
many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part,
which will not be taken away from her

There are things to be done. No question about it. And we are often busy pursuing activity that fills our lives. Sometimes we are so busy that we do not listen. Sometimes we do not want to listen because we fear that what we might hear will challenge us, confront us and change us.

We have to recognize that our incessant activity, even much of the church work we willingly do, as exhausting as that may be, is often an avoidance.

A famine of hearing the words of the Lord. Amos knew that to be true. Jesus knew it to be true. And we know it to be true. Not simply in the lives of others, but in our own lives as well.

Copyright © James T. Irvine

Series 1998