October 14, 2018: Where to Go?

Pastor Steve Mechem

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Amos 5:4-7

For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel:
Seek me and live;
but do not seek Bethel,
and do not enter into Gilgal
or cross over to Beer-sheba;
for Gilgal shall surely go into exile,
and Bethel shall come to nothing.

Seek the LORD and live,
or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire,
and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it.
Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood,
and bring righteousness to the ground!

Come and listen to my story
about a man named Jed

A poor mountaineer,
barely kept his family fed,

And then one day he was shootin at some food,
And up through the ground come a bubblin crude.

Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea.

Well the first thing you know
ol Jed's a millionaire,
The kinfolk said “Jed move away from there”
Said “Californy is the place you ought to be”
So they loaded up the truck
and they moved to Beverly

Hills, that is. Swimmin pools, movie stars.

Jed and all his kin live in the Ozarks.

Jed, and His mother-in-law and His daughter live in a small cabin (couple hundred square feet) with a wooden porch complete with rocking chair and sleeping bloodhound, Duke.

Oil is discovered on Jed’s land and overnight, he becomes a millionaire.

Jed has no idea what this means but some of his family convince him that with that much money he should move his family out of the shack, out of the hills to wear the rich lice, Beverly Hills, California.

He sees no need to move but his cousin Pearl presses upon him the struggles he has in the mountains of southern Missouri.

She reminds him that :
he lives 8 miles from his nearest neighbor,
his house is over run with skunks, possums, coyotes, and bobcats,
he has no electricity,
he cooks on a wood stove,
he drinks homemade moonshine,
and washes himself with homemade lye soap.
And his bathroom is 50 feet from the house.

He thinks about her argument a minute and responds,
“A man would be a danged fool to leave all this.”

But Jed is eventually worn down and agrees to move, reluctantly. After all, somewhere else will probably be better than here. With this change in life’s circumstance, comes a perceived need for a change in locale.

They load all their stuff, all of it, on Jed’s cousin’s truck, a 1921 Oldsmobile. Jed, Granny, Elly May, his nephew Jethro, and Duke head out for Beverly Hills. Jethro drives, and Granny sits on her rocking chair on top of all their belongings.

A 25,000 square foot mansion sitting on 10 1/2 acres, complete with 32 rooms, indoor plumbing, 14 bathrooms, modern conveniences, and a concrete pond awaits them.

I believe, as a unbiased observer, that there is sufficient evidence to declare that their move is an unmitigated disaster.

In California,

they are preyed upon by Con men looking to take steal their money,

Jed becomes the target of unscrupulous women looking to take advantage of his naïveté,

the family is manipulated by bankers lining their own pockets,

city ordinances prohibit their cows and pigs and chickens, (oh come on)

neighbors complain about the multitude of dogs, and cats and wild critters (including Jaguars and Bob Cats and chimpanzees) Elly May brings home,

neighbors call the police complaining about yodeling and gun shots coming from the Clampett property,

city ordinances forbid the family from plowing up their meticulously cared for front lawn so that they might plant corn, and onions, and pumpkins.

the community doesn’t even celebrate Opossum Day. What is wrong with these people?

The Clampetts are scorned, laughed at, mocked by almost everybody they meet,

even kind people they encounter misunderstand them and judge them,

it gets so bad, and they are so homesick, that they build a duplicate cabin, exactly like the one they lived in back in the Ozarks, in their back yard (not far from the concrete pond).

The moral here, at least to me, is that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. Sometimes, moving away or running away or relocating doesn’t solve the issues you need resolved.

Which brings us to the passage read today.

From The Message translation

“Seek me and live.
Don’t fool around at those shrines of Bethel,
Don’t waste time taking trips to Gilgal,
and don’t bother going down to Beer-sheba.
Gilgal is here today and gone tomorrow
and Bethel is all show, no substance.”

So seek God and live!”

Amos was a prophet in the eighth century.

The political and social leaders of Israel were feeling pretty good about themselves in the eighth century. King Jereboam had been successful in his military endeavors and Israel was experiencing a sense of relative peace and prosperity.

There was lots of talk about how good the economy was doing, the rich were building bigger homes and buying up land.

They were thanking God for their multitude of blessings.

But Amos saw through the veneer of prosperity and proclaimed Yahweh’s judgement against Israel for the injustices levied against the poor. It seems that the rich were getting quite a bit richer while the poor were getting quite a bit poorer.

From Amos’ perspective, prosperity wasn’t to be judged on how the rich were doing, but rather, on how the poor and the disregarded were doing. And they weren't doing well.

His condemned the people of Israel for substituting prosperity religion for justice, for talking God language while ignoring God’s commands. His most famous line comes from v 24 of this chapter, “Let Justice roll down like a mighty river.”

The King and the priests and the leading citizens, the ones prospering, denounced Amos for his preaching and ordered him to leave Israel.

Amos kept preaching. Amos declared the fall of the present king and the destruction of Israel was nigh.

In this passage, Amos encourages his listeners as to how they might respond when life changes. When there is a new phase of life, confusion or calamity, or even when the crude starts a bubbling, the question must be asked, “What to do now?” “Where to go, now?”

What not to do:

Don’t think that it will be better somewhere else. The grass may be greener, but its still grass.

Amos mentions three cities where people might mistakenly go to start again:

Bethel is the place that Jacob had the vision of angels moving up and down the stairway to heaven. Bethel was considered a holy place, complete with shrines and sanctuaries.

it was in Bethel that the Ark of the covenant was kept under the care of Phineas.

Unfortunately, over the generations, the shrines to Yahweh had been filled to the brim with idols.

Bethel, Amos claims, in not a place of salvation, but a showplace of shallowness.

Beersheba is a city in the South, located in the heart of the Negev.

According to the Hebrew Bible, Beersheba was founded when Abraham and Abimelech settled their differences over a well of water.

By the 8th century b.c.e., Hebrews from north and south traveled to Beersheba considering it a special place of worship and renewal.

Amos tells his listeners not to bother, because Beersheba, as the rest of country, will pass away.

Gilgal had significant religious and civil history and tradition.

Gilgal was a the place Abram erected his first altar.

Gillgal was the first permanent camp erected by the Hebrews as they entered the Promised Land.

Gilgal is where Joshua placed the twelve stones.

Gilgal was the first place in the land of Canaan that the Hebrews observed the Passover.

Gilgal was the place where all of Israel gathered to swear allegiance to King Saul.

Gilgal was place of salvation and hope.

Amos said of Gilgal, here today and gone tomorrow.

No need to move, you wont find what you need simply by moving!

Amos does give his listeners a simple and positive plan for Where to go and What to do:

Here it is: Seek God and live.

The word seek means more than search, or hunt. It implies connection. To seek God, in the Hebrew Bible, almost always means trusting God, making a connection with God, choosing to dwell in the presence of God.

Amos is speaking about an impending national tragedy. His hope is that the people of faith will not just visit the holy places or talk the God talk, but will take seriously their responsibilities as the people of God in this moment.

To ensure justice for those aggrieved,
To care for the poor, the lost, the struggling,
To welcome the stranger, the foreigner, the immigrant,
To practice kindness, and fairness,
To let justice roll like a mighty river.

That is where you go, what you do in the changing seasons of life. And living thusly is the the way to survival, to life, declares Amos.

These words as not only directed to the people of Israel,

but they are a gracious invitation to each of us and all of us.

We are invited to seek God with our lives,
to hear God’s voice as it comes to us through Jesus,
to live lives according to Jesus’ teaching and Jesus’ example.

We don’t need to go to Gilgal, or Beersheba, or Beverly Hills. We are invited to seek God right here, in the midst of our struggles and triumphs, failures and successes. In our messes we can seek, trust and connect with God through Jesus Christ.

And in that we discover life.