Sermon by Pastor Robert Green, 21st Sunday after Pentecost, October 25, 2009, Yr. B, No. 772, Ascension Evangelical Lutheran Church, Harrisburg and Lewisburg, PA., W.E.L.S., based on Amos 5:6-7, 10-15 About 750 years before Christ God sent Amos, a shepherd from Judah, to the north, to be his prophet and spokesman. By the time of Amos, Israel had separated into two separate countries, the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. In his prophesy, God through Amos spoke to all of ancient Israel, to both kingdoms, but here he focused on the Northern Kingdom. From the beginning of the nation many Israelites turned from God to worship pagan gods, which were no gods at all. Over the centuries God had repeatedly sent his prophets to warn Israel to repent and return to him, but they would not listen. Indeed, often they killed the prophets or told them to stop prophesying. Through Amos God was making it known his patience was coming to an end even for his Chosen Nation. Recall that the status of Israel as being the Chosen Nation was conditioned on the obedience of the people to all that God commanded. This condition was never met and thus God never had any obligation to keep physical Israel as the Chosen Nation. Israel’s daily life became caught up in sin with the rich exploiting the poor, bribing judges and so forth. Though God would have been perfectly justified in destroying Israel, God in his grace called the people to repentance through Amos, but his judgment was coming. What does this have to do with us? These words were written to God’s Chosen People, many of whom were falling away and give us sound reason to take to heart St. Paul’s remark about Israel’s history as recorded for us in the Scripture, 1 Corinthians 10:6 (NIV) “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.” May the words of our God from the reading of Amos encourage all of us to always seek the LORD and live; through faith in him; to repent of our sins; and live a life of faith. Hear now the words from Amos 5:6,7, 10-15 (NIV) “Seek the LORD and live, or he will sweep through the house of Joseph like a fire; it will devour, and Bethel will have no one to quench it. 7 You who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground … 10 you hate the one who reproves in court and despise him who tells the truth. 11 You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. 12 For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. 13 Therefore the prudent man keeps quiet in such times, for the times are evil. 14 Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. 15 Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.” May we always seek the LORD and live I. through faith in him; The House of Joseph was a name used at times for Northern Israel. Bethel, which means “House of God,” was a city in the North. The first king of the Northern Kingdom, Jeroboam, set up idols, two golden calves, to worship at Bethel, at the southern end of the North, and Dan at the northern end, and declared to the people, “These are the gods that brought you up out of Egypt.” Though the two golden calves were supposed to represent the LORD, they closely represented the pagan god Baal. The golden calves encouraged Baal worship in the North. There was Baal worship in the south as well. It is no surprise that Bethel, home of one of the golden calves, became a center of pagan worship by Israel to Baal; who was no god and could not quench the coming judgment of the LORD. Amos told the people, “Seek the LORD and live…” When the name of the LORD appears in all capital letters it actually is his name Yahweh, which reminds us that he is the God of grace and promise. These are commands from our God. To seek God is to turn to him, to desire him to be your God and to follow him. It is a command to continually seek him. To live speaks of living a spiritual life, a life of faith. But it is critical to understand that both commands are impossible for us to keep apart from faith and so for those who do not believe this is a powerful declaration of God’s Law of condemnation. No one without faith can seek God as God clearly tells us through the Apostle Paul in Romans 3:10-11 (NIV) “As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. God explains why this is true telling us through Paul that before faith all were dead in their sins and trespasses. The spiritually dead can not possibly seek God. Ephesians 2:1 (NIV) “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…” How then can any one seek the Lord and live? The unbeliever cannot and so he will suffer physical death and then eternal death. As Jesus says in the gospel for today, what is impossible for the unbeliever is possible for God. What God demands of us, faith, he freely gives through Christ Jesus. What this means for you and me is to take seriously to heart God’s powerful condemnation of sin inherent in his command to seek him and live, for without him we die. It means for us to have reason to hold onto the faith he has given us and to do all we can to maintain that faith and to never become complacent over sin and to therefore seek him daily in his Word. After, if God’s Chosen People can fall into unrepentant sin and fall away from God, then so can we. II. to repent of our sins; and The LORD sent Amos to preach the law and the call to repentance to a people who thought the status of being the Chosen Nation made them right with God. The people were merely going through the motions of religion, for while they offered sacrifices and did the outward things of faith, but they had little or no faith in the only God, the Triune God. The deadness of their faith was evidenced by unrepentant sin and the worship of pagan gods. In this reading, God points out the sins of the unbelievers, sins which also caught the heart and minds of many of the believers. It seems that the heart of the matter was greed and a desire for earthly wealth at any cost. The game plan was to do anything and everything to gain wealth even if it meant corrupting the courts of the land. Thus, instead of justice being by definition the fair perseveration of life and property, it was turned into bitterness as cases were resolved not on merit but on bribes. No wonder God said they were throwing righteousness to the ground. The unbelieving heart hates and despises even the attempt of others to do what is right and has no qualms about trampling upon the poor taking from them what little they have. This hatred became severe and “Therefore the prudent man keeps quiet in such times, for the times are evil.” God shows how serious he is about sin and his call to repentance telling the people that because of their sins he would bring his judgment in this life depriving these sinners of their ill gotten gains. The houses of stone they built for themselves would be lived in by another; though they would plant lush vineyards, not they but others would drink its wine. This is not a promise of God to stop or reverse the injustices of this world. This judgment was a decree of God that his people who had forgotten him. The earthly suffering was but a picture of the far greater suffering of eternal death. The key of this reading is to see God speaking to those who claim to be his, believers, and to listen to his call to repentance. We would miss the point if we were content to merely condemn those ancient Israelites and applaud God’s condemnation of them, for the point for us is to allow God’s Law to function as a mirror for us. As we look at God’s Law and compare our acts we must see reflected our sins. Thus, the key is to apply this reading to our own conduct in this powerful judgment by God to see our sins and to see if we are attempting to live a godly life. God’s Law calls for fairness in all our dealings, especially in relation to those we have power or sway over. Parents are you acting fairly in all matters to your children? Are those who supervise others acting fairly in all matters of employment? Do we act fairly with our neighbors and friends? Do we not become greedy and seek what is best for ourselves, instead of others? Only a believer can repent, for repentance is not just sorrow over sin, although it certainly includes such remorse, for it is a turning away from sin and turning to and trusting in God for forgiveness through the Savior. May you hear and listen to God’s call to repentance over all your sins. When we fail to turn from sin, we would do will to go back and listen to Amos, and once again repent, trusting again in forgiveness, and again make the effort to turn from sin. The key to forgiveness always takes us back to trusting in forgiveness. Faith is not a license to sin, rather it is a call to live a life of repentance in faith producing fruits of faith in keeping with repentance. That means we strive to amend our sinful ways to live a life pleasing to God. III. live a life of faith. Speaking to believers, God says, “Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is.” In other words, live a life that is good before the LORD one that seeks to please the LORD in all it does. Even with faith no one always seeks good and not evil, for we all sin. That is why we need a Savior from sin. As we have the Savior from sin, that gives us reason to live for God as St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (NIV) “Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” As we have faith we know that the LORD is indeed with us and as he is with us we have reason to obey him in all we do. Amos closes saying, “Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.” Remember he is speaking to a people who had for the most part forgotten God as their conduct proved. They had pushed the LORD to the limit and believers would be caught up in his judgment. If there were repentance perhaps, yet again, God would be merciful, this side of heaven, not to all of Joseph but to the remnant of believers. Though the believers were caught up in the suffering of this judgment, God indeed would be merciful on Judgment Day to all of Joseph that believed. This gives us reason to in our struggle to maintain faith may to always seek the LORD and live; through faith in him in faith repent of our sins; and live a life of faith. To God be all glory, amen!
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