Wholly for Christ
A Homily for 18 Trinity, 2019
October 20, 2019
All Saints Prescott, AZ
Text: Amos 8:4-12
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
One of my favorite poets from the last century is Robert Frost. His poetic observations of the world have long inspired me to be more thoughtful about how I live. One of his lesser known poems is called “Departmental” and reads as follows:
An ant on the tablecloth Ran into a dormant moth Of many times his size. He showed not the least surprise. His business wasn't with such. He gave it scarcely a touch, And was off on his duty run. Yet if he encountered one Of the hive's enquiry squad Whose work is to find out God And the nature of time and space, He would put him onto the case. Ants are a curious race; One crossing with hurried tread The body of one of their dead Isn't given a moment's arrest- Seems not even impressed. But he no doubt reports to any With whom he crosses antennae, And they no doubt report To the higher-up at court. Then word goes forth in Formic: "Death's come to Jerry McCormic, Our selfless forager Jerry. Will the special Janizary Whose office it is to bury The dead of the commissary Go bring him home to his people. Lay him in state on a sepal. Wrap him for shroud in a petal. Embalm him with ichor of nettle. This is the word of your Queen." And presently on the scene Appears a solemn mortician; And taking formal position, With feelers calmly atwiddle, Seizes the dead by the middle, And heaving him high in air, Carries him out of there. No one stands round to stare. It is nobody else's affair It couldn't be called ungentle But how thoroughly departmental
Frost is not lamenting ants but the way in which we tend to departmentalize what we do. He is lamenting our cultural struggle to be whole people. This morning we heard a stark reminder from the prophet Amos that we cannot departmentalize our lives.
It is always interesting and a little challenging to preach these portions of the prophets, because it would be very easy to slip into works righteousness. That is to say, it would be very easy from this text to say “you must care for the poorest and most vulnerable around you in order to be saved.” Yet, we are saved by grace, through faith in Christ. So, how do we understand this passage?
First – we must recognize that our behavior is bad – while it is possible that we can perform virtuous acts without Christ, if we created a balance sheet, we would see our thoughts and actions do not line up with the perfection of God. We fall far short of his glory.
Secondly – it reminds us of the importance of the law – it is the law that condemns us. We read the Decalogue once a month so that we can see our lives spelled out in front of it. We can see our need to repent, the need to cry out to God “Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.” Incline our hearts to keep them because so often we are inclined to buck against them fiercely – in thought, word, and deed.
Likewise, when we read something like this, it should convict us – to repentance, and to a renewed trust in Christ. So, in that repentance we are set free from our sin, but called to something deeper, called to love better. Ultimately, we should be made uncomfortable when we read the prophets, but we should also recognize that we are freed by grace, and as our lives are transformed by that grace we are called to a sanctified life.
That is the baseline from which we will jump off of, the prophets should convict us, call us to repentance, call us to a deeper trust in Jesus, and call us to love as Christ loved.
Now, who is Amos? On the surface he was blessed to live in a time of prosperity – Syria had become besieged by the Assyrians, and as such their assault on Israel had stopped. This allowed Israel to flourish.
But in this flourishing they became wealthy, and their wealth was not gained by virtue and hard work, but by cheating others and by taking advantage of the poor. Their wealth was gathered by trampling down those who God’s people are called to love – the poor, the outcasts, the neglected, the shunned by society, the foreigner, and the unwanted.
And so, we get to the charge Amos lays before Israel:
Hear this, you who trample the needy
and do away with the poor of the land,
“When will the New Moon be over
that we may sell grain,
and the Sabbath be ended
that we may market wheat?”—
skimping on the measure,
boosting the price
and cheating with dishonest scales,
buying the poor with silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
selling even the sweepings with the wheat.
The condemnation stands in stark contrast to the commandment we heard from Christ this morning in the gospel reading – “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” We learn from Amos that the people of Israel were flagrantly breaking the second half of the greatest commandment, not only were they not loving their neighbors as themselves, they were buying and selling their neighbors into slavery!
How we love people shows a lot about our attitude towards God. For remember Genesis 1 which reads –
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
Men and women, all men and women are created in the image of God. That means when we treat men or women unkindly, trample them down, we are defacing the very image of God. Let that sink in for a moment. How we interact with co-workers, clients, contractors, those we meet on the street, spouses, and friends reflects our heart towards God.
I had an incident this past week where I snapped at someone. My reaction to the situation surprised me, and I felt bad immediately afterwards. As I thought about it – I realized my reaction was not rooted in frustration with the person but with a lack of trusting God. I had a meeting shortly after that and I was nervous about it and my fear about caused me to snap unkindly. My reaction had everything to do with a lack of trust in the Lord and his provision and very little to do with the small annoyance I was stumbling through at that moment.
The calling of the Christian is to love our neighbors as ourselves. The Christian community is to be a beacon of love in a world where sacrificial love is so undervalued, where anything goes but genuine care for another’s soul. So let us be convicted, let us learn to love others fully and trust wholly in God’s provision.
Amos leans further into this charge – Israel had trampled the needy – a large portion of the law was concerned with how we treat those in the community who are most in need. Perhaps the most radical of these was the year of jubilee, which was supposed to occurred every seven years, in that time all debt was to be forgiven. Instead, the people who Amos was charging were taking advantage of the very people they were supposed to care for.
So this continues to press us – how are we treating those in our community, our neighbors? Do we treat them with love or distain?
One of those scary things we can do is pray that God would reveal to us the ways in which we’ve failed, but it is a good challenge – let us take the time this week to ask God – who do I need to love better? How have I failed to love those in our community well? Show me how to love better.
But the charges laid out by Amos get worse, and here it can hit home in another way, perhaps we have loved well, but where does our mind go during worship? The second part of the charge is that they longed for the Sabbath to be over so that they could get out there and make more money. Sabbath was created first as a time to glorify God, but also because our hearts, minds, and souls need a time of rest, time to renew. Not only do we sully God when we do not take a sabbath, a lack of rest wears down our bodies.
Here is the question that we need to ask ourselves, where is our mind when we come to worship? Are we longing for it to be over so that we can get to tasty treats at coffee hour?
So we can get home and do that house work we were planning on?
Are we longing for it to be over so we can go and watch sports?
Friends – the time of worship together is so critical to our spiritual formation – drink this time in, delight in it, rejoice that we have the freedom to spend time together and worship the Lord who died for us!
Rejoice that we get an hour and a half together to read His word!
Rejoice that we get to sing holy hymns of praise that are older than us and that countless brothers and sisters that came before us sang!
Rejoice that we get to break the bread that is his body! And drink the wine that is his blood!
Rejoice that we get to read, learn, mark, and inwardly digest His word!
Rejoice, and let this time be the sweetest of time in the week, not a time of rote duty that you just need to get through, but rejoice and be glad for it, for this time is a gift.
My friends – if it were not enough that we were distractible beings, be aware that the devil will stoke up our distractions. I have found in my worship – private and public that so often errant thoughts wander in. Be on guard against this – let us learn and pray that we are daily loving God with our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. Let us learn to be given deeper and more intimate to worship.
The next part of his condemnation is that the rich were cheating to get richer – he notes that they make their ephah small and their shekels great. An ephah was not small – in fact it was 22 liters, while a shekel was quite small at 2/5th of an ounce. So, they were misleading about volumes and worth to make more money. We are called and charged be honest in all matters, including matters of money.
Next they were selling the poor for silver – there was a system in biblical times of indentured servitude. Do not confuse this with slavery, either of our country’s past, nor of what is being described here. This was designed to allow people to work off their debts they had for a season and in exchange the worker would be provided for and their debt forgiven. However, here we learn that people were actually being bought, sold, and traded.
So, judgment comes. As I was reading this passage I found myself confused by this statement that God swore “by the pride of Jacob.” I thought – what in the world does this mean. As I read, I came to realize – this in and of itself was a judgment on them. It was an ironic statement, God normally swears by his name, or himself – but here he swears by his rebellious people. So little regard did they have for God that knowing this, God swears by them and not himself!. They viewed themselves as gods.
The first two judgments are an earthquake and darkness. Take note that these the same two judgments that take place at the crucifixion of Christ. Although the world may spin into darkness, we never lose hope for we always have Christ by our side.
Let us also remember that our tendency is to want to be comfortable. However, it is in the discomfort and adversity that we draw closer to God and grow ever more dependent upon him.
With these two truths in mind, let us thing about an event from this past week where a politician made a rather shocking and unsettling statement about churches and taxes. We can, for a moment, ignoring the blatantly unconstitutionality of what he said, recognize that it was alarming, to say the least.
It would be easy after a statement like this to stoke the fear of people, and many have, but let us instead seek to comfort one another. We are promised that persecution will come, and that in adversity the church will flourish and so news of the possibility of persecution should not overwhelm us with fear.
But more than that, we are not called to stoke fear. Rather we are called to love. St. John tells us in his first epistle that love drives out fear. So instead of worrying, instead of being scared – let love dictate how we live, and not fear. Do not be afraid though the ground may tremble and the darkness may fall – whether that be metaphorically or literally. For judgment will come, and the world will tremble, but Christ is with us to the end.
Now we get to the third judgment – these are the hardest words – for in that third judgment a spiritual famine comes.
I have found as I’ve grown in Christ, observed the world we live in, and talked with people that sin compounds. It grows inexplicably greater, once one is given over to it, the growth is explosive and people become numb to its effects.
St. Paul talks about this in his letter to the Romans, he tells the readers that those who chose licentiousness grow worse and worse. So it is with sin – but Paul’s words and the words of Amos beg the question: does God turn us over to it, or do we just dive deeper and deeper?
I think both – when we choose a sinful life style we end up getting sucked into this unending pit until we can no longer hear God. It is both a direct result of us turning our back on God and God’s judgment upon us.
Our reading ends this morning with the bleakness of the Word of God going silent for God’s people as they chose their sin over revelation from God. I do not want us to end in hopelessness so let us turn to Amos’s ending – which is a promise of restoration, he writes:
In that day I will raise up
the booth of David that is fallen
and repair its breaches,
and raise up its ruins
and rebuild it as in the days of old,
I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
My friends – though we may have sinned, though we have fallen, though our hearts and minds may have wandered from the living Lord – take heart – he his rebuilding us. In Christ we are being made new, in Christ we are being made spiritually rich. Do not grow dismayed that the world around us trembles, do not be dismayed that there seems to be an impending spiritual darkness, but cling to Christ and learn to make him the center of your life, let Him saturate all that you do – all your thoughts, words, and deeds, for he died to set us free from our sins, and in Him we are made children of God. Let us therefore reflect the love that Christ has for us in how we interact with the world.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.