We heard several great readings this morning! In Luke we heard the well-known story of Mary and Martha. In Colossians we heard the famous hymn with its theologically–significant line: “In him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” But today I want to focus on the passage from Amos.
But I don’t want to begin with the passage from Amos. Rather, I want to begin with Adele’s list of her favorite break-up songs, a list revealed last month. There are six. Starting with number 6….
- Number 6: (a throwback to 1960): All I Could do is Cry, by Etta James
- Number 5: Not Like the Movies, by Katy Perry
- — Then, two from England: —
- Number 4: This Year’s Love, by David Grey
- Number 3: Cosmic Love, by Florence and the Machine
- Number 2: After the Storm, by Mumford and Sons
- Number 1: I Can’t Make You Love Me, by Bonnie Raitt
Perhaps out of modesty, Adele’s own Someone Like You is not on the list. (What a great song!)
As I consider this morning’s passage from Amos, and as I consider Adele’s list, I can’t help but think of what might be the best Biblical “break up songs.” In the running might be passages such as:
- Ezekiel 16 and the parable of the faithless bride: “I spread my cloak… over you… I pledged myself to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord… But you… played the whore…”
- Hosea: “I… taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms… I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks… [But] they forgot me… So I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs, and tear open the covering of their heart.” (chs 11 & 13)
- Joel: “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart… Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” (ch 2)
- Nearly the entirety of Lamentations: “What can I say for you, to what compare you, O daughter Jerusalem?… For vast as the sea is your ruin.” (2:13)
The Bible is full of “break-up songs!” Which is what today’s passage from Amos is.
Hear this, you that trample on the needy … [who buy] the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals… I will never forget any of [your] deeds… On that day… I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentation.
In Amos, God sings a break-up song to Israel. “I have loved you so much,” says God. “And you have forsaken me and thrown my love right back at me.” And so:
I will never forget any of their deeds. Shall not the land tremble… and everyone mourn who lives in it?… I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.
This passage sounds vengeful – as do many from the prophetic literature. But break-up songs are often vengeful. Consider:
- Alanis Morissette’s , You oughta know: “And I’m here, to remind you, Of the mess you left when you went away… You oughta know.”
- Gloria Gaynor’s, I Will Survive: “Go on now, walk out the door. Just turn around now cause you’re not welcome anymore.”
- And I can’t say from the pulpit the full title of Eamon’s, I don’t want you back. And I certainly can’t say the lyrics!
Like these break-up songs, many passages from Scripture are break-up songs, for God loves – LOVES – God’s people, Israel. And God is heartbroken when Israel rejects him.
The break-up songs in Scripture are not like Taylor Swift’s “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together” (“Like, ever.”) Rather, the break-up songs in Scripture are like the title line of Whitney Houston’s, “I Will Always Love You.” The prophetic literature may sometimes, like Alanis Morissette, sing, “I’m here to remind you of the mess you left when you went away.” But God never forsakes his promises; God always – ALWAYS – loves, and always seeks reconciliation.
In a way, the entirety of the Scriptures are God’s love songs to us, singing to us again and again, in different ways, how much God loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. Some of the Bible’s songs are break up songs that tell of the depth of God’s love for us. And tell, too, of the hurt God must feel when we don’t return God’s love. For, though God is all-knowing and all-powerful, God cannot command our love. As Bonnie Raitt sings:
‘Cause I can’t make you love me if you don’t.
You can’t make your heart feel something it won’t…
Because God cannot command our love, God must woo us. And God does. God would do anything to make us know how much God loves us. And in Jesus, God did.
There is a song by Adele that is ostensibly about one with whom she is in love and for whom she says she would do antyhing. But I can hear Amos – or Joel or Hosea or one of the prophets – sing it as well in regards to God’s love for us. I’ll leave us with a few lines from Adele’s “Make You Feel My Love:”
I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue
I’d go crawling down the avenue
No, there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
To make you feel my love
Nothing that I wouldn’t do
Go to the ends of the Earth for you
To make you feel my love
To make you feel my love
[Correction! After the service, Prof Thomas, a noted scholar of Bob Dylan, correctly pointed out that the above song was originally sung by Bob Dylan. Adele’s was only a cover.]