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Eighth Sunday after Pentecost — July 14, 2024

As Amos demonstrates, power is not just held by world leaders and the wealthiest 1%. Power resides within us, especially those who draw strength from our faith. — Teri McDowell Ott

Amos 7: 7-15
Year B

It’s easy to feel powerless in the wake of the world’s overwhelming, and complicated problems. Really, what can we do about climate change? Wars and genocide? Systemic oppression? Global poverty and disease?

Recently at a high school youth conference, I spoke about power — what it is, who has it, and how can it be used to create positive change. Power is not just held by world leaders and the wealthiest 1%. We all have access to a kind of power that resides within us, especially those of us who draw strength from our faith. God empowers us from within. God empowers us to say “yes” to doing what is just and right, even when doing so is difficult or dangerous.

This Sunday’s lectionary text from the book of Amos introduces us to a minor prophet, called by God to confront the powers of Israel. Verses 14 and 15 of chapter 7 give us the only biographical information we have about Amos. He was not a professional prophet. He did not inherit the role from his family. He did not go to prophet school. As the text tells us, Amos is a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees. He spends his days with cattle and making sure the sycamore’s small figs ripen by piercing the husks with a sharp stick, a painstaking, tedious job.

Yet, this is who God calls to confront Israel with their sins. Amos is a book full of judgment against Israel, Israel’s king, and those willing to be misled to maintain their comfortable lives. God sends Amos straight to the seat of Israel’s power – to the king’s sanctuary at Bethel – to speak condemning words of truth.

Why would the powerful listen to a herdsman who pokes fruit with sticks? Why would anyone take seriously what Amos has to say?

Well, as Michael Jinkins writes in his Feasting on the Word commentary, “A true word in the mouth of an honest person, whether credentialed or not, can bring down any power on earth.”

And bring them down Amos does.

The priest Amaziah reports, “The land is not able to bear all [Amos’] words.” The religious and political elites of Israel feel threatened, and Amaziah asks Amos to preach elsewhere.

If a herdsman can effectively harness the power God gives him, so can we, and so can our youth.

As I was speaking at the high school conference, I noted one young woman sitting in the front row, taking copious notes. My goal for this presentation was not just to teach these high schoolers about power, but to leave them feeling empowered. I concluded with stories of young people boldly and courageously working for change; Pakistani activist for girls’ rights Malala Yousafzai, climate change advocate Greta Thunburg, and the Parkland high school students who organized for gun-control legislation, and others.

As I told these stories, the young woman on the front row put down her pen. She listened intently to the stories, her face brightening. I believe God was speaking to her, calling her, in that moment. By the look in her eyes, I have no doubt she was ready to say yes to God, to use her power for good.

May we all be so bold.

Questions for reflection

  1. What thoughts, ideas, feelings, or images arose as you read this text?
  2. What stories can you share of people, empowered by God, who boldly do good?
  3. When have you felt empowered by God to act boldly and work for positive change?

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