I took my car to a new car wash yesterday afternoon. Prius though it may be, it had started to look more like a well used farm ute, and this place promised to hand wash it inside and out down to the last detail for $20. There was one other customer sitting at a picnic table in the warm sun and cool breeze of an April afternoon. She was reading the bible. So I sat down across from her and asked what she was reading. Joel and then Amos, she said. It turns out that a famous prophet is coming to town soon, all the way from Dallas, and the people in her church are to read Joel and Amos in preparation for the revelations he will offer on the impending doom about to engulf us if the nation does not repent and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps it is already too late for the nation, but it may not be too late for our valley, or, at least, that is what I heard her say that she expected him to prophesy.
She was mildly disappointed, but not the least bit surprised, that I had never heard of this prophet. She had already asked about me and learned that I was an Episcopal priest whom she knew by my occasional newspaper columns to be one of those “progressive” Christians of interesting but highly questionable faith. Any doubt about that was erased when I asked if we should anticipate a swarm of grasshoppers anytime soon.
Grasshoppers aside, and most definitely doomsday prophets aside, I firmly believe that we should be taking Joel, Amos and each of the so called minor prophets most seriously. God has something important to say to us through them. This living Word that comes crashing into our time through words written 2,800 years ago is not to be ignored.
What impresses me about them are the powerful words from God that set a high standard for social justice as the way of life for the people of God. Worship that is not offered within the context of life lived in the full knowledge that one is ever walking in God’s sight is not worship at all. Moreover, the issues that are illuminated through the prophets by the God in whose sight we are ever walking seldom have anything to do with adherence to levitical laws or the apocalyptic end of the world and everything to do with the very issues we struggle with in our own day: justice for the poor, integrity in daily life, inequalities engineered by the privileged and well off, presumption of God’s grace while denying it to others, and so forth. There is little in our individual, corporate or political life that the prophets have not addressed in God’s name.
My car wash friend reads all of this as a warning of the coming of That Day, the day of the Lord’s wrath when all but a few will stand condemned. I read the same as a loving God warning us of the natural and ordinary consequences of unjust lives in unjust societies, and calling us to live as faithfully as we can as followers of Jesus Christ and agents of God’s grace, doing our best to continue Christ’s work of healing and restoration in a fallen but much loved world of God’s creation.