Ripe or Rotten?

Refusing to teach a passage of Scripture is just as wrong as abusing it. It’s time for some of us to stop apologizing for God and start apologizing to Him for being embarrassed by the ways He has chosen to reveal Himself. —Francis Chan, from Erasing Hell.

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, AMEN.”

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Amos 8:1-12
Psalm 52
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

Then the Sovereign Lord showed me another vision. In it I saw a basket filled with ripe fruit. “What do you see, Amos?” he asked.
I replied, “A basket full of ripe fruit.”
Then the Lord said, “Like this fruit, Israel is ripe for punishment! I will not delay their punishment again. In that day the singing in the Temple will turn to wailing. Dead bodies will be scattered everywhere. They will be carried out of the city in silence. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!” (Amos 8:1-3 NLT)

PRAYER FOCUS: The Fruit We Bear

When is the best time to eat a banana? If you’ve peeled more than a few, you’ll know that bananas are only at their best for about a day. Such a banana should have a rich golden color with just a few brown freckles. The end should neither snap off nor squish down; it should open cleanly and reveal the sweet and succulent fruit underneath the peel. A banana is at its best at the moment when it is ripe.

Alas, it is such a short distance from ripe to rotten.

In today’s Lectionary Scripture we visit once again the Prophet Amos. In his time, the nation of Israel had become ripe—ripe with sin. Powerful people were taking advantage of the powerless. The religious establishment was well supported, but it was without either moral force or moral content. Their faith was dead. God was marginalized. Even the priests at Bethel had become corrupted and compromised.

The Lord had sent prophets to them, calling out their sin, calling them to them to turn away from it and back to Him, warning of consequences if they didn’t. For most of these prophetic messengers it had ended poorly.

Imagine for a moment that Amos lived not in ancient Israel, but in the Wild West. When Amos walks down the main street, he was like a new sheriff sent to drive the evil gunslingers out of town. Everybody knew there was going to be a shoot-out and ran for cover. Amos had earned a reputation as a straight shooter who always hit the mark.

Sheriff Amos had a special fondness for confronting The Powerful People. You know—the ones who hired outlaws to rob the town bank and then boldly drink it away in the town saloon; the ones whose cattle rustling was driving the honest ranchers into bankruptcy; the ones who used power and force to co-opt men and corrupt institutions. The town pastor might have spoken out against the Powerfuls, but had instead made friends with them because they were so generous in their offerings. The pastor didn’t want to offend the sensibilities of those who were financing his church construction.

You get the picture.

In the fourth of four visions, God shows Amos a basket of fruit (sometimes translated as summer-fruit) and asks him what he sees. In ancient Israel, fruit was normally symbolic of a good harvest and plenty of food. But God explains to Amos that Israel was a dichotomy—of fruitfulness and yet famine, of luxury and yet poverty, of religion and what John Wesley once called “the form of religion without its power.”

Keep in mind that Amos prophesied at a time of prosperity and confidence. It’s hard to be a prophet when all seems well. Nobody welcomes such a person. Who wants to hear about famine when the winds of prosperity prevail? We want to be told “smooth things”—that all is well and will continue to be well, even when the message of correction is life-saving.

Amos wasn’t sent to criticize Israel for being successful. He did not declare that it is wrong to enjoy life, to be involved in good business and making a profit, or to create wealth. He scolded them for abusing their power for personal gain, for being dishonest in their transactions, and for ignoring the plight of those they cheated. Most of all, Amos was telling them that they have loved these things more than God Himself, and that they will now have to account for the ripe fruit of their deeds.

All fruit begins with a flower. It buds, it grows, and eventually ripens into what it was always going to be. A plum will not grow from the seed of an orange. By the same token, a melon will not grow from the seeds of noxious sticker weeds. The seeds we sow will one day bear fruit; there will be a harvest. The nature of that harvest will depend entirely on what we have sown, and cultivated to fruition. Our early choices define whether our harvest will be sweet or bitter, ripe or rotten.

Amos warned Israel of the coming of the worst kind of famine—the kind that comes when God withdraws from us and leaves us to our own devices, to suffer the predictable consequences of what we’ve done. “People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it” (vv. 11-12).

It’s Monday Morning. If God showed you a basket of the things in your life, which fruits would be ripe? Would any be rotten?

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