If you were to briefly consider what makes a relationship a good relationship, what might you include? Honesty, I would say would be near the top. Respect and trust, would likely make your list. Validation, commitment, empathy, those are all qualities of a good relationship. Most of us, I think would agree that a good relationship consists of people who build you up, encourage you, support you…which brings me back to one specific quality of a good relationship, and that is honesty. When we think of honesty, we often think in a positive way of someone who doesn’t lie or hide things. But there is also a negative side to honesty. Honesty might also mean you offend.
Now, I’m not talking about the typical question of a wife asking her husband “Does this dress make me look fat.” Men, husbands, she’s never fat – never. And, yet at the same time, if someone you love is living an unhealthy lifestyle, if someone you care about is saying or doing things that are detrimental to their long-term success, or harmful to others. In a healthy and strong relationship, the honest thing to do, the right thing to do, might be to offend. You tell that person whom you love that he/she is wrong.
You know, you go back to our gospel lesson for today. And it’s really an uplifting scene in a lot of ways. Jesus is gearing up his disciples for their first big mission trips. He tells them what to bring, what to wear, “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic.” But then you get these words from Jesus, “If any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.”
Why would people not listen to Jesus’ disciples? Why would they not welcome them? The disciples were entering these towns with the power to drive out evil spirits and to heal people for crying out loud! Yeah, they were doing that but their primary mission was, we see in verse 12 of Mark chapter 6, to preach “that people should repent.” You and I know what that means. They told people about sin. They told people they were wrong. They told people that they needed Jesus. And that, that to many people was offensive. Yet, was that the goal, to offend? No, the goal was to bring others into a relationship with their Lord.
That brings us to the prophet Amos. What do we know about Amos? Amos lived around 750 B.C., making him a contemporary of a prophet we know quite well, Isaiah. He was sent by the Lord to prophecy to Israel. At this time, Israel consisted of the 10 northern tribes, which is why it was sometimes referred to as the Northern Kingdom. Now during Amos’ time, Israel was in a condition that might be comparable to 21st Century USA; outwardly prosperous, but inwardly there was significant spiritual decay and moral bankruptcy. For this reason, Amos was called to bring these wandering souls back into a relationship with their Lord. Unfortunately, his words were deemed offensive.
Amos in the chapters leading up to our verses called out the sins of Israel and pronounced God’s judgment upon the people and upon the land, and this didn’t go over well with the High Priest of the land, Amaziah. He accused Amos of raising a conspiracy and said his words were unbearable. Amaziah was offended. “Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, he said to Amos, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”
Amaziah was supposedly the spiritual leader of Israel, and yet here he was offended by what God had to say through his prophet Amos, demanding even that God’s prophet shut his mouth and go home. I’d like us to think about that today, this idea that God says things that are offensive. Because I know there are things about God and what he does and what he says in his Word, that do likely offend you on some level, or at least bother you. I want us to be okay with that because what happens if you eliminate anything from God’s Word that offends your sensibility and crosses your will? What happens if you pick and choose what you want to believe and what you want to reject?
If you don’t trust God enough to let him challenge you and at times correct your thinking, you won’t have a personal relationship with him. Instead, you will have a God, essentially, of your own making, and not a God with whom you can have genuine interaction. Only if God can say things that outrage, offend you, and make you struggle (as in a real friendship or marriage!) will you know that you have a real God, and not some figment of your imagination.
So, if you come across a teaching of the Bible that is hard for you, or you have church friend whose words of correction bother you, or that pastor sends an email that guilts you, go ahead, be offended at first, but then listen. Listen because this is it: God coming to you in a real way. He enjoys the relationship he has with you – he gave up his own Son so he could have it – and he doesn’t want to lose it. He doesn’t want to lose you.
Amos in our lesson was trying to restore that genuine real relationship with God’s people, God didn’t want to lose them. So, his prophet spoke words that offended. Amaziah, for his part, preferred the God of his imagination. I read it already, but Amaziah referred to the “temple of the kingdom” the one at Bethel where they currently were. You might recall that Bethel was one of the places where King Jeroboam set up a golden calf for worship. That was their God. A figment of their imagination. A statue that could never offend.
So, what does Amos do next? Well, first he made clear that he was no prophet for hire. He was a shepherd. He tended to sycamore trees. It was God who called him to speak these offensive words. So, he did. And that right there is a lesson for us too. God can use you, a stay-at-home mom. He can use you, an architect. He can use you, a teacher, or you, a nurse. He can use any of us to speak his Word, to share Jesus. But understand what that means: you’re going to offend people.
People won’t like what you have to say. YOU may not always like what you need to say, but you need to say it. You need to speak about him, about God, about Jesus, about it all, because so many people have it wrong. Throughout history the people of this world have nearly always been in error about some fundamental thing, and this won’t change. Say we find a cure for cancer or the precise center of the universe, will it turn out that everybody was right? No, some will be wrong, because the answer, the discovery, will be specific. So, also is the answer and the cure for our sin and death. Not everyone is going to have it right, because it too is specific.
It’s a cross. Gilbert Chesterton an English writer once wrote about that cross that stood perpendicular to the ground. He said, “There are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands.” But at that spot, the only spot that it stands we find the answer to everything we’ve gotten wrong, because there hung Jesus. There he died for all. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve done, what color your skin is or what culture you embrace. God died on that cross for you. That was his answer to our offense, his death.
Do you think that will offend some? Good. Often it offends me, and I know it offends you too. Sin does that to us. At times, it bothers us all when we are told that we are wrong, and it bothers us that we need to be saved, and it bothers us how we are saved. But that’s faith. You, as Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, “were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” And it was those bothersome and offensive words of God that brought you into that real relationship you now have with him. Remember that.
That’s why Jesus sent his disciples with a message of “repentance” not a message of “do what you want.” That’s why God sent Amos with prophecies of judgment not prophecies of glory. And that’s why God sends you to speak about him, sin, repentance, grace, forgiveness, Jesus – all of it! He wants a real relationship with his people. One that, yes, might at times offend us, but thank God it does, because otherwise we might not think that we really need him, but we do. We all do.
Does that offend you? At times it might, but today I hope it does something else. Because, I get it, there is often a part of us that doesn’t feel like we know enough about the Bible to share our faith, or that our lives aren’t together enough to be a representative of Christ. But what about Amos? He was a shepherd. And Jesus’ disciples? They were a hodgepodge of average people. My point is this: You and I will always be God’s unfinished work, mere beginners, wounded healers, offended listeners…and, yet, you do know what you need, and you know what the world needs too. WE need Jesus, So, today, rather than be offended I hope you go and offend others, in a good way – I hope you speak about sin and grace. I hope you speak about him who lives and now waits in heaven for you. Amen.