6th Pentecost Sunday
July 16, 2017
Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church,
Sioux Falls, SD
Rev. Norman F. Seeger
Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. For this is what Amos is saying:
“ ‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’ ”
Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”
Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’
“God Gives Us His Word to Share With Our World…”
1) People Will Oppose the Preaching of our Lord’s Law;
People Will Not Want to See Their Sin, yet…
2) We Will Clearly Declare Our Lord’s Salvation
Dear children of God,
When God gives us his Word to share with our world – when God in the Bible clearly shows us his commandments (revealing our sin); as God lovingly shows us our Savior Jesus, crucified but risen to redeem every individual — when God guides us into specific situations (in certain places at certaine times among certain people) to deliver a message our Lord wants these souls to hear, what can possibly go wrong? Will we not anticipate unparalleled approval as God picks the place, picks the people; as God puts his words into our mouth. Peter preaches Jesus’ truth on Pentecost; the Holy Spirit leads three thousand people to believe; to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins…the way thousands marvel at Jesus’ wisdom while he preaches his Sermon on the Mount.
Not everybody, of course, believes Jesus’ truth. Not every soul confesses their sins & faithfully clings to our Savior. Not everybody believes Peter either. Jewish judges who convicted & crucified Jesus also imprison Peter, certifying Jesus’ prediction, ‘If the world hates you, keep in mind it hated me first –if they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.’[JN 15] Experience still tells us, when God gives us his Word to share with our world, people will oppose the preaching of our Lord’s law; people will not want to see their sin. Nevertheless, like Amos, in the face of opposition, let us clearly declare our Lord’s salvation.
Amos, ‘a shepherd who also took care of sycamore-fig trees in Tekoa’ (a little town near Bethlehem in southern Judah), is ‘told by the Lord, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”’ Not trained in schools of the prophets, not what we picture as a pastor today, Amos is a regular believer God asks to share his truth; to deliver our Lord’s message. Specifically sent north to Bethel (where king Jereboam defiantly set up a ‘new’ place of worship, not wanting Israelites who separated from Judah returning to Jerusalem for yearly festivals God dictated – not wanting his people to renew old acquaintances & possibly go back to being that one nation God led into his Promised Land), Amos is given three specific visions (three law/gospel pictures) to share.
First, Amos saw ‘the Lord preparing swarms of locusts after the king’s share had been harvested (first); just as the late crops were coming up. When the locusts stripped the land clean, I cried out, “Sovereign Lord, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!” So the Lord relented. “This will not happen,” the Lord said.’
Secondly, Amos saw ‘the Sovereign Lord calling for judgment by fire; fire dried up the great deep (the Mediterranean Sea) & devoured the land. I cried out, “Sovereign Lord, I beg you, stop! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!” So the Lord relented; said, “This will not happen either.”
Finally, Amos saw ‘the Lord standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. The Lord asked, “What do you see, Amos?” “A plumb line,” I replied. The Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer. “The high places of Isaac will be destroyed; the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined; with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.”
Amos shares God’s Word with the world. What can possibly go wrong? People who do not want to see their sin will oppose the preaching of our Lord’s law. Consider opposition we still encounter today as we investigate Amaziah’s objection to Amos’s message. Amaziah is ‘the priest of Bethel,’ a person who supposedly offers sacrifices promising the Lord’s forgiveness for his people’s sins. Was Amaziah not pointing out people’s sins? Is Amaziah defending his turf, disturbed to have a prophet from Judah speaking in his place; distraught to have his personal failure to speak God’s truth exposed? Does any parent today resent a stranger (or even a friend) pointing out their son’s or daughter’s poor behavior because dad & mom know they have not been disciplining – have not been discipling; not been training – their children the way God desires?
Not seeming to hear how the Lord lovingly relents in Amos’s first two visions, Amaziah is pierced by that third picture of God’s plumb line identifying Israel’s failure to live in line with our Lord’s commands. Rather than rightly respond to this message, rather than repent – a first goal whenever God’s law shows us our sin — Amaziah aims to eliminate the messenger, asking King Jereboam to intervene. Amaziah twists the truth, trivializes the message — ‘this is what Amos is saying’ rather than ‘the Lord says…’ Amaziah reports, ‘Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel’ rather than tell Jereboam, ‘God is calling you to recognize your sins, to repent, to beg the Lord to relent; to not deliver punishment Israel’s sinners deserve. Twisting the truth, Amaziah reports, ‘Jereboam will die’ rather than God warns, ‘the house of Jereboam will be struck by the Lord’s sword.’ Amaziah announces personal opinion as if it is irrefutable fact, ‘the land cannot bear all of Amos’s words.’
Names change as the years pass, yet God’s message, God’s law/gospel messengers; people opposing God’s truth regular replay the same roles Amos & Amaziah acted out at Bethel. When God gives us his Word to share with our world, is the government today ever asked to silence God’s truth? How many enemies of God around our earth are trying to silence our Lord’s messengers, trying to quiet our Lord’s accusing law by killing Christians? Millions more than we first want to imagine. How many American people, not wanting to see their own sins, not willing to confess & beg for God’s merciful forgiveness,are trying to silence souls who speak our Lord’s law by asking our country’s courts to declare one sin after another ‘legal.’ How many people opposing our Lord’s immutable law trivialize God’s truth by calling respect for authority, a detest for divorce; a plea for sexual purity at every stage of life – calling outrage against greed, a commitment to telling the truth; prioritizing our neighbor’s needs above our personal desires – nothing more than a Christian’s personal opinion (as if every individual’s uninstructed idea must acceptable) rather than admit our Creator’s conscience ultimately identifies right & wrong for every individual? Like Amaziah, people who do not want to see their sin – souls unable to change God’s message; anticipating a disastrous death under God’s ultimate judgment – people still try to silence our Lord’s law/gospel messengers.
How could Amos be kept quiet? How could the Lord’s visions, God’s call for repentance, be kept off the air; not allowed to go viral on social media? Before king Jereboam can respond, Amaziah takes matters into his own hands; orders Amos, ‘Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there; do your prophesying there. Do not prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary & the temple of the kingdom.’ Do people today ever ask to be left alone; to not be bothered with God’s Word? Do souls in our world ever tell Christians to tolerate whatever anybody wants to believe; to simply allow individuals to form their own faith? Not even calling Bethel a place to worship God anymore, as the first King Jereboam first pretended, now labeling it ‘the king’s sanctuary; this kingdom’s temple,’ Amaziah tells Amos, ‘Preach whatever you want, but not in my place. Stay out of my space!’
Will Amos walk away, quietly head home to Judah? Will believers wilt under pressure? Will Christians today keep quiet if worldly listeners denounce the Word God gives us to share with our world? If Amos is silenced – if the Lord’s law is not heard to turn people’s hearts to repentance – the gospel’s good news of a Savior winning God’s forgiveness for our sins will not assure hearers in Israel or Judah our eternal home is in heaven, not hell. Recalling how Jesus declares Christing ‘the light of the world’ as Jesus, the Light of Life, lives in us; recalling Jesus’ instruction to ‘Let your light shine before others, that they may see our good deeds glorify our Father in heaven,’[MT 5] Amos explains why he will not, cannot follow Amaziah’s order to ‘stop preaching against Israel.’ ‘The Lord took me from tending the flock & said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’
Annoucing again God’s plans to discipline, to disperse rebellious Israel, Amos pictures personal punishment for unfaithful Amaziah as Assyria overruns Israel, ‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city; your sons & daughters will fall by the sword. Your land will be measured & divided up; you yourself will die in a pagan country. Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’ False prophets crying ‘All is well’ would not stop the Lord from delivering his judgment on the rebellious, God-defying northern kingdom of Israel. Do you think false prophets telling us ‘All is well’ in America will stop God from punishing our increasingly unchristian country today?
At the same time, Assyrians being used by the Lord to discipline people in his promised land – later, Babylonians the Lord used to carry faith-faltering Judah into captivity for seventy years – could not stop God from sending his own Son (Jesus) to be born in Bethlehem, as promised, to be born of a virgin, as promised; to live a perfect life & die an innocent death God has credited as our righteous life; has accepted as our sin’s death. If we who are given God’s Word to share with our world were to keep quiet, souls around us might not see their sin as clearly as when the Lord’s law flows from our lips; souls might not feel as guilty in this lifetime as they do when our Christian encouragement & example sharpens their conscience. But they will suffer immeasurably in eternity if we keep quiet because, not hearing our Lord’s law, they would then not hear God’s gospel promise to relent as we repent — as we with Amos confess our sins, we admit our helplessness; we pray for mercy. Realizing, ‘If we confess our sins, God is faithful, God is just, God will forgive us our sins; God will purify us from all unrighteousness’ because ‘Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, is the atoning sacrifice for our sins; for the sins of the whole world,’[1 JN 1 / 2] we will consistently, I pray, share God law & gospel truth with the world in which we live, as well as in our own sin-confessing, Christ-trusting hearts.