8th Sunday after Pentecost
You know, they say that there are two things that you’re not supposed to discuss at family gatherings, at the hair dresser, at deer camp, on the boat or at the bar. Do you know what they are? Politics and religion. People say that because they want situations to remain civil, they don’t want to offend anyone or put anyone out of sorts.
I think that Christians are sometimes thankful for that unwritten social contract because they are afraid that they might not know what to say if those topics come up. Or perhaps they too, don’t want to offend anyone with what they believe. They don’t want to say something at the wrong time or in the wrong way. Many Christians stay silent because they don’t feel qualified to answer, or they feel that it’s not the right time or the right place. Well when is the right time? What is the right place? Who is the qualified messenger?
We meditate on those things today with the words of the prophet Amos – an unlikely prophet in his own right – and we are encouraged. Just as God told him to go and prophecy, go and share the Word of the Lord. So, he also tells us the same thing Go! Prophecy! Be certain of the message you are speaking, and be certain that you were chosen to speak it.
In the case of the prophet Amos, he was called to prophecy to the Old Testament church, God’s people, the 10 northern tribes of Israel. The king of the Northern tribes was a man by the name of Jeroboam II. By all earthly accounts he was an excellent ruler. He had the longest reign of any king up to that point. His country was prospering economically and militarily. It was a time of peace and prosperity in Israel. Peace and prosperity, yes, but spiritually the country was bankrupt.
Part I – Be certain of the message!
Where the text for today picks up, is after Amos has been preaching and prophesying for some time in and around the religious heart of the nation of Israel. Not at the temple in Jerusalem, where the Lord had commanded them to worship him, rather at the city of Bethel. A city known for his pagan past, and it’s worship of the god Baal. Amos records this:
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. 11 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.’”
First and foremost, notice who Amaziah attributes the message too! Amos! Was this Amos message? Is this something that he just came up with one day and decided to go bother Amaziah’s conscience with it? No! It’s God’s message to his people.
Yes, it is a harsh message. These are hard words to hear, and this is why. As the people of Israel lived and worked among the native Canaanites they became friends, and neighbors to these people. They heard about their religion and must have thought, “Huh? Baal means Lord? We have a Lord too. This Baal grants fertility and bountiful harvests to the land? Didn’t our Lord say that it would be a land flowing with milk and honey? They make sacrifices to their god? Don’t we make sacrifices to our God? Well what’s the difference then? Just because they speak a different language and call ‘god’ by a different name – it doesn’t really matter does it? It’s got to be the same God!”
Sound vaguely familiar? What had really happened to Israel spiritually? They lost the message, the true message. They wanted one that was convenient to them. Amos chapter 2 is too long to read here but it contains the message that God had for his people, his Old Testament church the one he gave to the prophet Amos to speak. In a nut-shell it’s this, “I am not Baal! I am the LORD! You have profaned my name with your temple prostitutes and your sacrifices. You don’t offer me sacrifices to appease me, or bargain with me for better crops. I have acted for YOU! I brought you out of Egypt, given you the land of your enemies. I’ve even given you a repeated message to you in the temple sacrifices – of the greatest promise I’ve made to you – That I will send a savior!”
This was indeed God’s message. Amos was told to GO! PROPHESY! God’s absolute message because Israel ignored it and then utterly forgot it.
We live in a world not so different than the ancient land of Canaan. The devil, our sinful natures and the world conspire and have a message of their own! We see Jesus used and abused for political causes, for environmental causes, even for support of homosexuality! We even see some “Christian” preachers doing those things.
I guess to give you a little insight into my own mind as a new pastor as a proclaimer of God’s Word, how do I make sure that I’m not preaching my own message, or impose my own message on God’s Word on the text for any given Sunday? Seriously, these days it’s a huge temptation for preachers to talk about what they think is enlightening, what they think is deeper or more important, or a softer message, one without the Law because God forbid that the preacher ever say something from the pulpit that makes people squirm in their seats and convicts them because of some private sin. How does a pastor make sure that he is certain of God’s message? Well, in the same way that any Christian can be certain they have God’s message.
When, just like Amos, they listen to God’s voice. Not, in our head, not what we think God is telling us to do, or what we feel God is telling us to do, but when we go to his pure Word. God’s message and testimony written down for us compliments of the Holy Spirit. Yes, just like Amaziah, or King Jeroboam II, it’s a message that can make us squirm – there’s parts of it that we don’t like to hear, naturally because we’re sinners. But what is the purpose of that? Why did God’s message make ancient Israel sit up straight in the pew? It’s for no other reason than to bring the sinner back.
That just as Amos prophesied to bring the Israelites back to worship at the Temple and to remember their true God, so the same is true of us. Whether Old Testament Church or New Testament Church, the message is the same. That we have a God who acts for his people. Who gave his only Son for his people that he might draw the sinner back to himself. There is no more enlightening, deeper, more important or more relevant message. Whether dealing with our spouses, our kids, or our brothers in sisters in Jesus, be certain of that message of forgiveness because we all know we are sinners here who need it!
PART II – BE CERTAIN YOU WERE CHOSEN
Because believers have God’s Word, we’ve been entrusted, chosen, to speak it. This is something that Amaziah, that priest of Bethel just didn’t understand. He said, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”
Did Amaziah think that Amos was after his job as priest? At the very least Amaziah thought that Amos was in this for the money or fame or maybe just to be a trouble maker.
But Amos replies, “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. 15 But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”
What is Amos saying here? Is he denying his role as prophet of God when he says that he is not a prophet nor the son of a prophet? No. Amos point is simply this, that the actual means by which he made a living, that of being a gardener and a shepherd had been taken from him. Those things are what he was trained to do, brought up to do. He was no seminary graduate. He didn’t have his doctorate in Theology. Or a bunch of letters after his name. But he knew, that not just he, but rather the whole nation of Israel had been chosen by God. In Amos 3 we hear God say to Israel, “You only have I chosen over all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins.”
Why would God be so harsh with his chosen people? Well I think there’s a clue in a song we sing after Communion – the Nunc dimittis – the Song of Simeon. “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all people – A light to lighten the gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.”
Israel’s glory. The reason it was chosen, was that it carried the light to lighten the gentiles. They were supposed to be the royal priest hood, the chosen nation the people belonging to God…
They forgot what it meant to be God’s chosen people. It wasn’t about wealth, power, or glory. It was about being a people who knew the only true and living God who keeps all his promises. What a blessing, honor and a privilege they had forfeited and forgotten.
Earlier we heard St. Paul in the letter to the Ephesians say, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he[b] predestined us for adoption to sonship[c] through Jesus Christ.”
What is Paul’s point here? Is this that we might boast or be arrogant? Is it that we might sit and wonder if God elected us, does that mean that he elected some to be sent to hell? No. absolutely not Scripture never says that. The fact that we, like Amos a shepherd, like Israel with all it’s flaws, like the fishermen, tax collectors, and sinners that Jesus called to be apostles, like St. Paul a murderer – that fact that Scripture tells believers that God knew you before time began – only ever serves one purpose – it is to comfort.
To comfort the person who wonders if God really cares about them because their lives are in shambles, the person who wonders if their sins are too great, or if they really have saving faith. Because God the Father knows that the servants are not above the master, Jesus. And look what the World did to him, so ought not expect any better treatment!
You know Scriptures speaks of ALL believers as the nation of Israel. The spiritual nation of Israel, meaning that we believers in 2018 have the same faith in the savior that Abraham did. Believers today have that same mission and message as those in ancient times. We’ve been chosen to carry the Light of God’s Word, to the nations.
If you feel at times that you’re an unlikely, unqualified messenger. If you wonder if it’s the right time or the right place to speak. Remember that prophecy is not just the foretelling of events in the far off future – Prophecy is really just speaking God’s message. And you know it! Because you know exactly what Jesus did for you, you know what his blood paid for. Because you have that message – and it’s not yours, it’s God’s and he gave it to you – you know you were chosen to speak it. So Go! Prophecy and proclaim that Gospel message! Amen.