Pastor Joel Leyrer - The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost - Sunday, July 3, 2022

Text: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

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Dear Friends in Christ, As we continue our summer sermon series on the Old Testament minor prophets, today we have the privilege of acquainting (or reacquainting) ourselves with the prophet Amos.

By vocation, he was a shepherd and, in his own words, “one who took care of sycamore-fig trees” in the small Jewish town of Tekoa. We are struck by his ordinariness. He never went to seminary, nor did he come from a line of religious workers. He farmed.

And, he probably would have kept farming. Except for this one thing: the Lord chose him to be his man of the hour in the land of Israel approximately 800 years before the birth of Christ – a time marked by spiritual indifference, hypocrisy, and rank unbelief.

Like most of the Old Testament prophets, Amos’ primary role was to openly identify and then confront God’s spiritually straying people with their sin. Hopefully this would lead to repentance and a restored relationship with God.

It’s been said that the task of the preacher in any age is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Based on that description we’d have to say Amos spent most of his time making Israel uncomfortable. He was engaged in an uphill battle that called for strong words and preaching. Our text is a sampling of this.

But his words are not limited to his era, nor are they “Israel specific.” They cut across time. True, they were originally directed to Israel almost 3000 years. Also true is how they address problems, sins, and tendencies which most certainly exist in the present. And not only among “other people” or a “godless society,” but among us as God’s present-day people. As we examine them, here is the main lesson for us today:

WHAT ISRAEL FORGOT, WE MUST NOT

Amos ministered at a time when the nation of Israel as a whole enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity. If the era under the reign of Kings David and Solomon was rightfully considered Israel’s “Golden Age,” Bible scholars refer to this period as Israel’s “Silver Age.” Politically and economically, things were good.

Spiritually, however, Israel was a wreck. The people had lapsed into a “surface spirituality.” Meaning, they said the right things and made the necessary religious appearances, but they did not practice what they preached. And while they kept polished an outward veneer of faithfulness to God, inwardly they were drawn to ungodly practices and worldly influences. So Amos called them on it.

With that brief introduction, let’s work our way through this rather stern text.

Seek the Lord and live, or he will sweep through the tribes of Joseph like a fire; it will devour them, and Bethel will have no one to quench it. There are those who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground… There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth.

By asking the people to “seek the Lord,” Amos implores them to return to God and his Word as the real center of their lives. He follows it up with the promise that when they do this, they will “live” – both eternally and physically.

On the other hand, if they did not, they could expect some very real consequences. He paints a vivid picture of destruction. He also makes it clear that this isn’t a case of God having a bad day and wanting to take it out on someone. No, these wounds would be self-inflicted. The people would bring these consequences upon themselves. Amos explains why as he lists the flawed fruit of their phony faith…

Specifically they “turned justice into bitterness” … they “cast righteousness to the ground” … they “hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth.” In other words, injustice was the rule of the day.

Amos brings forward more evidence: You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins.

The prophet portrays a people who were self-seeking, never satisfied, and willing to mistreat other people in order to further their selfish ambitions. The Lord tells those who are so self-absorbed and driven by materialism that they will never have the pleasure of enjoying what they felt was so important.

Amos is not done yet. The indictment continues: There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil. Again, although these were supposed to be “God’s People” who were to model fairness and impartiality, it wasn’t happening. Things had become so bad that truly wise people would not even attempt to use the means God had set up because the system had become so corrupt.

Yet as bad as it was, God had not given up on his people. Through Amos he again pleads with them: Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.

How do you think the people of Amos’ day responded to this plea? Did they listen? No. As a result, the judgment God predicted happened. In 722 BC – about 40 years after the ministry of Amos – the world superpower at that time, Assyria, invaded and led these people into captivity. This was a sad and tragic portion of Old Testament history. One thing the people could not say, however, is that they hadn’t been warned.

So for the text. Like all of his Word, God has given this to us for our spiritual benefit. What can we as 21st century believers learn from the strong words of an ancient farmer? Let’s now consider what Amos clearly suggests Israel forgot – and that we must not. Two things in particular.

Israel forgot about the nature of true faith. Though outwardly religious, they had reduced the life of faith to performing certain external activities rather than incorporating the will and Word of God into every area of their life. They had religion, but they didn’t practice faith. And it showed in the way they interacted with others. They were anything but the “salt and light” that Jesus asks his followers to be.

At some time I’ve probably told you about a guy I worked with while I was going to school. I’ll call him Gary. If you asked him if his faith was important to him he’d be proud to tell you how he was in church every Sunday and even taught Sunday School.

I never knew what Gary was like on Sunday, but I can tell you what he was like on Monday. All I’ll say is that his language, his treatment of others, and his general attitude did not in any manner reflect the will or the spirit of the Savior he said he loved. There was a great and obvious disconnect between what he said and what he did. And it was noticed by both believer and unbeliever alike.

If we’re honest, we all have to admit we’ve got a certain amount of Gary in us. Israel certainly did. What they forgot and we must not is that the life of discipleship is not about meeting certain external requirements or fulfilling certain obligatory rituals. The life of discipleship is about a connection to and a relationship with Christ.

Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches, if a man remains in me and I in him, he will bring forth much fruit.” A life that is connected to Christ through time spent in his Word, time spent at his Table, time spent in quiet contemplation of the Gospel message, is inwardly transformative, and will produce genuine fruits of faith.

Therefore, if we honestly evaluate our lives and see there is a disconnect between the profession of our faith and the practice of our faith, there is only one way to bring the two together. In the words of Amos: Seek the Lord. And where can he be found? In the means of Grace – Word and Sacrament.

Practically speaking, a brief devotion or Bible reading in the morning sets the tone for and fortifies our soul for the day that is about to unfold. And that minimal time spent in the Word when we actively “seek the Lord” will oftentimes, spiritually speaking, be the difference between a good day and a bad day at work, at school, at home.

A second and related thing which Israel forgot that we must not has to do with a proper self-image and the vital importance of repentance in the life of the believer.

“The ultimate proof of man’s sinfulness is that he does not think he is a sinner.” That’s a quote (I believe) from Martin Luther. Amos’ Israel was a nation in denial. They didn’t think they sinned. Or if they said they did, they didn’t really believe it.

One reason is because they began to increasingly take their cues from the world around them and their own self-centered thinking, rather than from God and his Word. I don’t think they ever intended to be infected by worldliness. But slowly and incrementally it happened. Because whenever God’s people detach themselves from the Word and will of God as the touchstone of truth, there are all kinds of substitutes out there to fill the void.

Case in point: The suggestion that man is sinful is not very popular in our world today. Truth be told, the world we live in has made an art form of eliminating the entire concept of personal sin, or has limited it to the most egregious cases like mass murder, etc.

The only problem is that sin is real. When we look in the mirror of God’s Ten Commandments where God tells us what he expects of us, there is only one conclusion. I’m a serial sinner. And so are you. As such, I deserve God’s wrath and punishment. And so do you.

Consequently, when sin is brought to our attention – either by God in his Word or by others – the proper response is not to defend our sin or redefine it or explain it away as Israel did. The proper response is to admit it, confess it, and repent.

Because here’s the good news. Though we deserve his wrath and punishment, God’s not going to give it to us. He put it all on his Son. Jesus Christ, though sinless himself, paid for all the rottenness and sinfulness we ever have or will commit. He took the penalty of death we deserve upon himself on the cross. And then he provides the white robe of his righteousness to all who embrace him in faith as their Sin-bearer and Savior.

And you know what? The fact that sinners like us are loved, redeemed, and apparently mean so much to God does loads for our self-image. The reason we confess our sins every Sunday is not to make us feel badly about ourselves, but to remind us of the greatness of our God’s love for us.

Truly, we live in a state of “amazing grace,” don’t we?

A philosopher once said those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. After spending time with Amos today, may God grant that what Israel forgot, we do not. Amen.