For such a short book, Amos packs a pretty big punch. A pre-exilic prophet (that is, before the exile happens), Amos warns the people that their time living as they–prosperous and secure, is short. They have not been living as God intended for them to live together. They are not loving God fully. They are not loving their neighbor as they ought. The people and their rulers are taking advantage of the poor. In short, they worship God with their sacrifices and offerings, but their heart is far from God. God wants their heart.
At first reading of Amos 5, you may recognize the difficulty of our task. Reading Amos and many of the prophets is very difficult. Most of the prophetic works are poetry. They are not as story driven and they depend heavily on historical context and the use of metaphor, two things that can be very difficult for young students. On the flip side, these texts are rich with imagery and symbol that build on so much of what we have seen about God in our other stories. it seems a shame to miss such a great opportunity to talk about justice as Amos provides. As you read though Amos 5, select only a couple of verses on which your class might focus (I suggest verse 8 since it is in the BCP and verse 24 since it will be quite familiar).
Our opportunities for engagement with these kinds of texts are (at least) four-fold, then. First, we can learn about the prophet and their life outside of the Biblical text we have for a particular week (so, this week you will see and activity that focuses on learning about the life of Amos). Second, we can see how the story about the prophet or the text helps us better understand the role of the prophet. Third, we can start to work with images that may be meaningful for the students. Finally, we can use the text to reflect on practices in the Christian tradition (this text, for example, offers the opportunity to discuss the practice of lament as well as thinking about a line of Scripture that is oft read in evening prayer). So many opportunities! Okay, before we move on to the responses, one more thing to discuss.
This is a pretty dark text and the judgement is thick. Two questions I learned to ask in preaching classes are “what is the good news in this text?” and “what does this text say about God?”. So, what is the good news? This text tells us that God loves and cares for the poor and vulnerable. That God loves and desires justice. We may be powerful, but the children in our care are not–God loves, cares for, and wants justice for them. The second bit of good news: when we walk away from God, God goes to great lengths to bring us back. God desires that the people of God are transformed into greater love of God and one another. Now this is something we can focus on in Church School!
Hear the Word
Please share the story of Amos with your class. We know very few details about Amoses life and Amos is not in any of our children’s Bibles. Instead of reading all of Amos chapter 5, perhaps focus on one verse: 5:8 or 5:24 are good possibilities.
Respond to the Word
- Biography of Amos: Explore some of the information about Amoses life. He is a sheep-herder, a fig farmer, and a poet. He is from the Northern Kingdom. He is one of the first prophets who has an account of his call (rather than his being in the family business). Amos is neither a prophet or son of a prophet. From these biographical points, students in your class might enjoy working on an activity on sheep herding, fig trees, or maps of Israel and Judah. You may also want to look of images and icons of Amos, like the one above or here. Create your own image of Amos and write words from the story around him (justice, etc.).
- The Prophets: Did your class create a poster of what a prophet is from our Nathan lesson? What do you notice about Amos as a prophet? How is he similar to some of the other prophets we have covered? How is he different? What does he emphasize? Some possibilities for Amos: he wrote a book instead of their being stories about him within a larger book (like Nathan and Elijah), he speaks to God’s people through poetry, he is speaking to all of the people of Israel and not only those who are in power, he focuses a lot on the poor and marginalized.
- Pleiades and Orion in the BCP: At evening prayer (115), the officiant begins with a sentence of Scripture. One of the sentences from which the officiant might choose is from our text today (found in Amos 5:8). This sentence orients those who pray it within the larger universe of God’s creation, a creation which cries out to and celebrates the God who made it. Why would be begin a gathering of prayer with this declaration? What does this passage emphasize about God? Find this sentence of Scripture in the BCP. Children of writing age may enjoy copying and illustrating it to take home.
The one who made the Pleiades and Orion,
and turns deep darkness into the morning,
and darkens the day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea,
and pours them out on the surface of the earth,
the Lord is his name […]
4. Little ones: He’s Got the World World in his hands is a great song for exploring the way God creates, cares for, and loves the whole universe. With your class, create a list of things from the passage quoted above on the board–light and the dark, planets in the sky, Pleiades and Orion, waters of the sea, etc.– that you can insert into the song. Then, list things that are made by God that worship God that may also be good in the song.
5. Justice in Amos: Perhaps you would like to focus on the overall theme of justice with your class. You could start with this coloring page of the Book of Amos. Then, as a class, come up with a list of words that mean justice. You might begin with the following prompts: How does God want us to live together? What does an image of God’s justice look like here and now?
Amos had his own image of justice: “let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”
6. Prophet timeline: Sometimes when we are working our way through the Bible it seems like everything is in chronological order. While this is usually the case with some of the early books of the Old Testament, it’s no true with most others. The Psalms, for example, were compiled over a very long period of time. The prophets also come at various times (some of their books seem to have been written mostly all at once, others, like Isaiah were clearly written over a long period of time by at least a couple of authors. Work through a timeline of the Biblical prophets, watch a video here (it’s short). Here are several (1, 2, 3). Create a visual timeline for your class, like this.
7. Baptism and Justice: In the liturgy of Baptism, we are asked: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” In Amoses time, the people of Israel were not answering this question affirmatively with their lives. Discuss what this question means. Where do we see injustice and a lack of fairness in our world? Where do we experience it? How does God want us to live just lives and what does our baptism have to do with it? If your class is able to identify a particular injustice in the world–a lack of care for the poor, a group of people who are denied medical care, or something else they care about, invite them to come up with a plan together. Can they do a project to comfort a group of people? Can they give to a particular outreach group at Holy Family with a small offering? Can they write letters together to their elected officials identifying the injustice they see?
Close in Prayer and with a Feast