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Sunday July 19, 1998 ~ Amos 8:1-12

The Bad News and the Really Terrible News

"I hate to tell you this, but..."

Have you ever had to begin a sentence with these words? Unless you have a bit of a kind in your wiring it is no fun being the bearer of bad news. And when the recipient of the bad news doesn't have a clue as to what's coming, the task is all the more difficult.

It is no wonder physicians frequently retreat behind a wall of medical terminology when they have to tell an unsuspecting patient that they are terminally ill. Delivering bad news can be a real stress producer.

// Perhaps you hear about the physician who called a patient and said, "I have some bad news and some worse news." "Oh no, Doc," the man said, "What is it?" "Well," the doctor said, "Your test results showed that you have only twenty four hours to live." "Gee, Doc," the man replies, "What on earth could be worse than that?" "Well," the doctor replies, "I tried to call you yesterday!" //

If anything is worse than having to be the bearer of bad news it is having to take that bad news to people who are in the midst of enjoying good news. Have you ever found yourself enjoying one of those midsummer picnics when you looked up and saw dark clouds gathering in the western sky? Imagine that no one else could see these clouds. The sky grows darker by the minute and lightning is flashing all over the place -- it doesn't look good for the picnic at all. You try to warn people to seek cover, but all people can see is blue sky and good times! Your voice comes as the voice of one who rains on the good time parade.

This gives you just a hint of what Amos went through when God called him to leave the tranquility of his shepherd's field to take a message of doom to a nation living in the midst of good times. The economy was good, the nation was at peace and all signs pointed to more of the same. Amos would be roundly criticized as a "negative thinker" in our time -- a prophet of "doom and gloom".

There is something disturbing about our scripture today! Indeed -- if we take the words of Amos as God's word to God's people -- we might just find ourselves uncomfortable and disturbed with what he says.

If there had been a Wall Street Journal in the time of Amos, the headlines would have read something like this:

"Dow Jones Average Hits a New Record High"
"Unemployment at Lowest Rate in Decades"
"Housing Starts at a Ten Year High"
"Interest Rates to Go Lower"
"Consumer Confidence Rises Again"

On the back page of that same newspaper there could easily be a story about a homeless mother and her two children who are asked to leave a local shelter for abused women because her two month time period had expired.

In the midst of all this glad handing and high living God says to Amos, "Go tell my people I've had it! Time's up!" Amos is sent with a message to the people of God that translates to; "I have bad news and I have really terrible news! The bad news is -- God has had it with your hypocrisy and the really terrible news is -- there is no longer anything you can do about it!"

This is not a message any of us would want to hear. However, it is a message we modern Christians would do well to pay attention to so that God will not have to send an Amos to us! However, if Amos made an appearance in our time and was sent to you or to me with his message, it would come out something like this:

"God is absolutely displeased with your life!"

You reply, "Is there anything I can do about it?"

Amos answers, "No -- It's too late! Judgment time has arrived!"

For Israel, this is what happened. It is as though they had gone around the gate at a railroad crossing -- a freight train was bearing down that could not stop! The time for warning was long gone -- it was too late!

It is imperative to listen to the prophet -- to hear the voice of God while the grace of God still invites us to hope and new life. There is a question it would be good to know the answer to. What is it that brought God to the end of patience with the people of Israel?

To fully appreciate Amos and his message, we have to understand that God, like a human parent has gone through a process. 1) Reach out with love, [and when that fails] 2) Reach out with discipline, [and when that fails] 3) Reach out with consequence. The consequence for Israel was devastating. It was the end of their national existence!

There are two essential points to the message of Amos from which we can learn:

I. Be Sure What You Profess Lines Up With What You Practice!

The issue is "congruence". Does what you believe determine what you practice? Is what you want from God what you give on behalf of God? Is the mercy and grace you hope from God the mercy and grace you extend to others? Is the forgiveness you ask of God the forgiveness you grant to those who "sin against you?"

Even as they sat in worship, the people Amos spoke to were thinking about where they could gain their next bit of profit. Even though they were descendents of those who escaped from Egypt as a band of slaves, they now turned their backs on the poor and dispossessed. The ancient rule of Israel was to leave the leftovers of the harvest for the poor, but even the leftovers were now packaged for sale.

There is large scale conspiracy amongst the merchants to "squeeze" the customers and increase profit margin. Lying and cheating for the sake of gain is par for the course. All the while, those who practice deceit are singing the hymns, praying the prayers and bringing the offerings. They are the "movers and shakers" -- the influence brokers in their communities. They delight in a belief that they are the good and blessed of God who will one day live in the presence of God -- inheriting the kingdom as all "good" folk do.

The absolutely critical question Amos brings to us is, "Do what I profess and what I practice match?"

II. Justice Delayed is NOT Justice Denied!

Amos' message comes as a total shock -- a thunderbolt out of the blue! "Your joyous hymns will become wailing!" You will suffer utter destruction! Earlier Amos told the people, "God says, 'I hate -- I despise your worship! I will not accept your offerings and I don't want to hear your hymns!" Devastating! How did such a thing happen? What would it be like to hear God say to us... "I hate your worship!"

I have to tell you honestly folks -- I am not at all sure I could have answered the call Amos answered. I am glad I was not born Amos! If I had to speak his words to you today I am not sure I could have gotten out of bed this morning, much less get into this pulpit. But... just between you and me, Do I let you off the hook?

Perhaps it is human nature to drift into self centered living when life is good and we are free from troubles. It is like the narcotic lull of the Jamaican beat... "Let's get together and feel alright." Amos is not the first to confront a spiritually dull Israel. The book of Judges is an up and down -- on again-off again litany of people who forget God, then cry out to God, then forget God, then cry out... and on it goes.

Under King Jeroboam II there had been several decades of prosperity. As the "haves" grew spiritually unresponsive, they also grew ethically corrupt. The "have nots" on the other hand grew increasingly impoverished, driven further into debt and forced into slavery. It must have seemed, to many of the dispossessed, as though God was looking the other way.

Amos says otherwise... (8:7) The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: "Surely I will never forget any of their deeds." In other words, with God, justice delayed is not justice denied. The judgement of God may take long because it is tempered by patience and a longing for the return of his wayward children -- but when it comes it is swift and "rolls down like a mighty river." What an incredible blunder it is to mistake the patience of God for permissiveness!

There are two important lessons that leap across the centuries to us:

1. Complacency is one of the deadliest enemies of spirituality.

As the people grew in wealth, they became more self-centered. As they became self-centered, they became complacent in their relationship with God. When they took God for granted and made their faith more a religion than a relationship with the Living God, they became candidates for judgment.

2) Compassion is one of the surest signs of a lively spirituality.

Most disturbing to God in all of this was the destruction of the caring community. One of the chief characteristics of the People of God was that they were to treat each other with the care and compassion of God. They were people who God has released from slavery and now they were bringing their own brothers and sisters into bondage!

Some years ago, a pastor wrote an article about two families in his parish who lost loved ones. He did a funeral for an aged man in the morning. "He was a well loved, well known, well to do man. His funeral must have cost close to $20,000. That afternoon, I went to visit a funeral director I knew to see if he could delay payment for funeral services for a family in our parish who had lost their youngest daughter. The young father had lost his job and the family had just applied for food stamps. How can this be in a church where we live under the words... 'Love one another as I have loved you?'"

Can you imagine?

Whether it is ancient Israel or the contemporary church, compassion in the community of faith is a sign of the presence of God and the absence of compassion is a sign of God's absence.

There is a final, crucial message in this text. It calls to mind the words of the prophet Isaiah, "Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near..." (55:6) In other words, there is a time when God can not be found. There is a time when we want to hear from God, but God can not be heard from. There is a limit which can be reached when God no longer has anything to say. It is the famine Amos speaks about at the end of our text. Trouble has come, devastation is at hand and people are hungry to hear from God. "But," Amos says, "God has nothing to say."

This message from Amos may come as a gentle reminder, or as a stern warning. Only you can be the judge of that. However it comes to you -- isn't it wonderful to be able to come together to worship and to hear from God and to ask that our lives be given shape according to the Word of God!?

[Apply It]

1. How would you rate yourself in terms of your belief lining up with your practice? (i.e. How's your Congruence? )

2. When is the last time you really wished you could hear directly from God? (Was it a time of trial?)

3. What is the last thing you did for the poor in our midst? (Or do you usually believe the poor bring their poverty upon themselves?)

Notes on The Text

vv. 1-2 The Hebrew word for fruit is "qayits" and for the end is "qets". Amos' play on words implies "as with the summer fruit -- the time is ripe" for an accounting between Israel and God. "I will never again pass them by" -- carries the sense -- "I will spare them no longer."

During Amos' ministry (during the reign of Jeroboam II approx 786-746 B.C.) Israel was in a time of tranquility and prosperity. Amos' unwelcome words speak of doom when everyone was predicting boom.

v. 3 "The songs of the temple shall become wailings -- in that day" Everyone thought of "The Day of the Lord" -- "Yom Yawed" as a day of joy and rejoicing and the absolute blessing of God. See chapter 5:18ff for a startling description of the "Day of the Lord." "Be silent!" -- Chilling... see Revelation 8:1 at the opening of the 7th seal, "there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour." Severe judgment follows.

vv. 4-5 Point out the hypocrisy of their worship -- they can hardly wait for the "new moon" (added to the observance of the Sabbath - Ex.23:12) and the Sabbath to be over so they can increase their wealth at the hands of the poor.

v. 9 Judgment and darkness go hand in hand. See also Isa. 13:10; Joel 2:2; 3:15; and Amos 5:18. All of this is called to mind on the day of crucifixion when the sky is darkened from noon till 3.

vv. 11-12 Cf. "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4, Luke 4:4) The whole of the text points to the utter dependency we have upon God whether we are willing to acknowledge and celebrate it or we are compelled to finally acknowledge it in judgment.

Alternate Sermon Ideas

Worries, Distractions and Spirituality ~ Luke 10:38-42

The well known story of Martha and Mary may be due for a re-examination. Many commentators have seen this as a suggestions that the "praying" person is spiritually ahead of the "practical" person. God is more pleased with bible study than with meal preparation. Most churches had a "Martha and Mary" circle for women or a "Martha" and a "Mary circle -- or a "Martha" vs a "Mary" circle!

None of this however, is the issue at all. Take a fresh look at this story in terms of:
..The Context
.The Content
III. The Comment

I. The Context vv.38-39
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. The lines in the sand have been drawn, the inevitable road to Calvary has been set into motion and the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus in Bethany on the outskirts of Jerusalem is a "refuge" for Jesus.

There is an intimacy with this family that comes through in John 11 and in these few verses. Martha and Mary are free to be themselves with Jesus and Jesus' "Martha, Martha" in verse 41 bespeaks a familiarity.

II. The Content vv.40-41
Martha had invited Jesus to spend some time with them. Mary avails herself of the opportunity to learn ("sat at the Lord's feet" -- the familiar position of a student or disciple).

Martha "distracted" by her many tasks... asks Jesus to "tell" Mary to give assistance. (Note the language here... "Distracted" in verse 40 is "periespato" which in plain English would be something along the line of "Mary had so many things going on at once". "Distracted" in verse 41 is "turbazo" or "troubled -- disturbed". The sense of these verses then would be: "Martha had so many things going on at once that she was overwhelmed and she asked Jesus to tell Mary to help her out. Jesus says to Martha, 'Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled by so many things -- settle down -- there is only one thing you really need..."

III. The Comment v.42
Jesus does not say the task of being a hostess is not important. He does not say that praying instead of preparing dinner makes you more spiritual than your sister. He is not even saying that the work of the church can be divided into work that is spiritual and work that is not spiritual. The Bible Study leader is not ipso facto more spiritual than the Treasurer because of the work they do.

[Variant readings in v. 42 make an exact word for word translation quite difficult, but the sense of the verse in all readings comes through clearly in that Martha and Mary have differing priorities.] Jesus' comment is simple and to the point. "Don't let life's supposedly urgent demands take your focus off your spiritual welfare. In other words, "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all His righteousness -- and all the rest will be added unto you!"

The Power Behind the Proclamation ~ Colossians 1:15-28

Verse 29 should really have been included in the lectionary reading. "For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me." It completes the thought of verse 28.

There is an amazing truth that you might dwell on in a sermon on this passage. If you trace the occurrences of "he is" along with "in him", "through him" and "he has", you will have a list of incredible statements about who Jesus Christ is and what he does. It is clear that this message consists of the most amazing claims imaginable.

How can we proclaim such a message? It is what Paul calls the "energy he powerfully inspires within me!" <or perhaps better as in NASB, "His power, which mightily works within me."> In other words it is the Holy Spirit who enables proclamation of this earth shattering message!

And if there is the power of the Holy Spirit behind the proclamation -- there is no less a power at work behind the "reception" of the message! How do we "know" - <or appropriate> this message? It is God who "chose to make known..."

Important truths to ponder -- perhaps as much for we who share the word of life with our flock as for those who hear the words!

Prayers and Readings

A Call To Worship (Based on Col. 1:15-28)

Leader: Lord Jesus Christ, You have called us together,
People: To rejoice in who You are.
Leader: And delight in who we are because of You!
People: We stand amazed in Your presence,
Leader: Because, O Lord, You live your life in us!

A Prayer of Dedication

We stand before You today, O Lord of life, Creator, Redeemer and Friend, with full hearts, empty hands and open minds. Come live Your life in us, O God. Receive our gifts and let joy fill this place and love come upon us like an overflowing stream. Amen.

A Benediction

Go from this place O People of the Lord, with thanksgiving in your heart and the joy of the Risen Christ in your spirit. Go with praise on your lips, a smile on your face and compassion in your heart. Go as light and life in a dark and broken world. And may the God of everlasting love give to you the gift of peace. Amen!

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