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Seek the Lord and Live October 11, 2015

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

Proper 23

October 11th, 2015

Focus:  God gives us His guarantee.

Function:  That the hearers repent.

Structure:  This is the historical situation in the text…this is what it means for us now.

 

Seek the Lord and Live

 

O you who turn justice to wormwood and cast down righteousness to the earth… For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins.”

God certainly knew the wickedness of His people.  He knew that they taxed the poor and spat on the homeless.  He knew they were taking bribes, persecuting the faithful, and ignoring the needy.  He knew they were full of themselves, that they refused to listen to those who challenged their wrongdoing.  He knew their pride, that they looked at the works of their hands, their beautiful homes, their bountiful crops, and they boasted, bragged among themselves.

So God acted.  He sent them a prophet.  He sent them Amos.  Like the other prophets, Amos was given a prophet’s work.  God sent him to the Israelites to give them a warning.  To call them to repentance, to turn away from their sin and to seek the Lord.

And Amos goes.  Amos addresses the people, he calls them out on their wickedness and their wrongdoing.  He enumerates their evil deeds in their midst, how they laugh in the face of their sin and chase after idols.  And in so doing he warns them, warns them of the consequences of their sinfulness, warns them of what will happen if they continue on this way.  “Seek the Lord and live, lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel.”  If you keep going, your own sin will bring down upon you the full wrath of God.

And then he gives them a chance.  He tells them the way out.  “Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.”  Repent, turn away from your sin, take care of the hurting and the needy, and do good.

But did you catch the last part.  Some translations read “it may be” and others say “perhaps,” but either way, there’s only a chance.  If you repent, maybe God will spare you.  If you turn away from evil and turn back to God, maybe He will forgive and not destroy.

This is the way it was.  Look throughout the prophets in the Old Testament, read their preaching, listen to their voice.  There often was no guarantee of hope and restoration.  In fact, sometimes the prophet offered none at all, like Jonah.  He went to the Ninevites and preached the shortest sermon ever.  “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthown.” (Jonah 3:4).  Then he left!

And while the Ninevites did repent, and God actually chose to spare them, the Israelites, the people to whom Amos prophesied, they didn’t.  They refused his message, as God knew they would.  It was even in the message, “They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth.”  Amos came, he presented the words of the Lord, and the people ignored it.

Worse than that, they accused him and kicked him out.  The priest at the time, Amaziah, brought charges to the king against Amos.  And he spoke to Amos saying, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” (Amos 7:12-13)

The Israelite leaders chose their sin.  They chose to boast in their own works, and to worship their own kingdom.  And so Amos responds with chilling words of judgment.  He lays out the planned destruction of the nation of Israel, their death at the hand of the Assyrians, not one shall escape.  In their wickedness, they have brought about their own demise.

It was not Amos speaking.  These were God’s words.  And within a matter of just about fifteen years, they came to pass.  Assyria came and conquered the people of Israel.

And so we fast-forward to today, to our present lives.  And I can tell you truly that what we have is no longer an “if,” but a guarantee.  In his children’s sermon last week, Pastor Fritsch described the job of a pastor as sharing God’s Word with you, His people.  In many ways, pastors today are much more like prophets than we are Levitical priests.  It isn’t really our job to maintain the sanctuary.  Sure, we help, but largely, it’s you that does that.  We also don’t have to offer countless sacrifices throughout the week to atone for your sin.  That’s been handled by Christ.

But we do share God’s Word with you.  We share the good and the bad.  We call you to repentance, and we also tell you what happens when you do repent.  But unlike Amos, I don’t have to leave you with a “perhaps” or a “it may be.”  I can give you a guarantee.

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, through God’s great love for you, your sins are forgiven and you have life in His name.  And there can be no doubt.  It is a promise given you in your baptism, poured out upon you regularly when you confess your sins and when you come to this altar in repentance.  It’s no longer a question of “if” God will do this.  He’s guaranteed it.

Unfortunately, like the Israelite’s abused God’s grace, we do, too.  We cheapen repentance.  We cheapen it first by often not knowing what it really is.  Repentance is turning away from sin and evil, and turning back towards God.  Because of this, we’re not actually repenting if we confess our sin while at the same time already planning how we can do it again.  We’re not really repenting if we have a “oh woe is me” attitude and think that we can’t possibly help but do it again.  We turn away from it and we give it to God.  It is possible to slip up again, to truly be repentant and fall back into our sins.  But we shouldn’t be planning it or banking on it.

We cheapen repentance when we outright refuse to repent.  This is when we walk away from God.  When we tell Him we would rather keep our sin than to have our relationship with Him.

We again cheapen repentance when we say it can wait.  Sometimes we do this when we’re actively sinning.  We think we can continue the lustful look for a few more seconds, or keep the lie going for a couple more days, and that we’ll be okay.

We cheapen repentance when we laugh at our sin.  When we ask for forgiveness almost half-heartedly, thinking oh, but everyone speeds.  Everyone gets grumpy behind the wheel.  And we neglect to consider just how serious the matter is.

We cheapen repentance when we think we don’t need it.  That wasn’t really a sin.  It didn’t hurt anyone.  But that ignores the very gravity or our sin.  That even breaking the smallest of God’s commands just once is an offense punishable by death, everlasting death.

These things are why Luther begins his 95 Theses by saying that “our Lord and Master Jesus Christ…willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

To these things, the prophet Amos still speaks to us:

“Seek the Lord and live, lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel…

…Seek good, and not evil, that you may live…

…Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate…”

 

We are called to repent.  To turn away from our sin, indeed to run away from our sin, and to turn back to God.  We are called to flee from sin, to hate evil, and to seek good.  We are called to seek the Lord.

And He has made us a promise.  He invites us to come and see, to taste and see that the Lord is good.  When you come to this altar today, pray for true repentance, that God would guide you, that His Spirit would work repentance in you, that He would help you to seek a relationship with God and not evil.

When you come to this altar today, the forgiveness given in this body and bread, in this blood and wine, is real, it’s genuine.  Your sins are forgiven, they are removed from you.  The blight that made you a transgressor, the pride and the boasting, the hate and the filth, indeed death itself, is removed from you.  It has been nailed to the cross.  That price was paid.

And so as you leave the table, this is why I’ve changed the words of dismissal.  Depart now in God’s peace, and with His joy.  As you walk away, you do so in rejoicing and in thanksgiving.  You’ve been purified and cleansed, your relationship with God has been restored and strengthened.  Let joy overwhelm you.  Let joy overflow.  Smile!  Your sins are forgiven.  It’s no longer an “if,” it’s a guarantee!

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