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21st Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23) - Series B

Text: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

Title: “Seek the Lord and Live!”

Date: Sunday, October 14, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

See if you can identify the speaker of this quotation: “I have spent the best years of my life giving people the lighter pleasures, helping them to have a good time, and all I get is abuse, the existence of a hunted man.”  Who was this man? Was he some public servant from the world of politics? Was he a sports hero? Was he an honest, hard working businessman? No…this man was an infamous American gangster who led a crime syndicate dedicated to smuggling and bootlegging of liquor and other illegal activities during the Prohibition Era of the 1920s and 1930s. It was none other than Al Capone, who was for a time America’s Number One Public Enemy. Capone rationalized and justified his antisocial behavior. He actually regarded himself as a public benefactor…a generous and giving person, who was simply unappreciated and misunderstood.

         In our Old Testament reading this morning, this same rationalizing and justifying bad, sinful behavior is recognized by God’s prophet Amos, who lived about 750 years before Christ was born. Although Amos' home is in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, God sends him to the Northern Kingdom of Israel with an urgent message. Unless the people repent of their sins, their nation will be destroyed. And just what are these sins that cause God to be so angry?

At the time of Amos, the Northern Kingdom of Israel is enjoying great material prosperity and political independence. But there’s a problem…God’s people have forsaken Him. They are worshipping the gods of their pagan neighbors. Widespread crime and injustice makes life dangerous and difficult. The whole judicial system is crooked. Anyone who dares to speak up in court and reprimand those who are guilty of wrongdoing is hated and harassed. Anyone who speaks the truth is ridiculed and socially ostracized.

The situation for the lower class is worse. Extortion is a method used to bleed the poor and helpless. Blackmail…threats of violence…and other types of harassment are used to force farmers to give up the grain they have harvested. In their business transactions, merchants are guilty of shameless dishonesty by overcharging their customers and by shortchange them, using false scales and mea­sures. The greedy landlords demand excessive rent from their tenants so they can live in luxury. The rich and power­ful spend their time enjoying their luxuries and living it up, while ignoring those less fortunate. All of this results in bitterness in those who are wronged. The word that describes their bitterness actually means “wormwood,” which is an herb or shrub that has a very bitter taste.

But God, in His grace, sends Amos to urgently call God’s people to repentance and to warn them of the judgment that is about to come upon them. The Lord's prophet doesn’t mince words, warning that they will not enjoy the comforts and wealth they had so wrong­fully acquired for very long. God's patience with His rebellious people and their shameful sins is running out. Through Amos, God warns the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel that unless they turn away from their sins…and embrace Him in humble faith…and live in willing obedience to His commands…He will consume them with a fire that cannot be put out. Fake repentance won’t do. No hypocritical show of piety will prevent the impending disaster. Unless there is a genuine change in their attitude and lifestyle, the Lord in His righteous anger will sweep them away. Just as a fire that burns out of control sweeps through a house and reduces it to ashes, so will the house of Joseph become a heap of rubble.

         Sad to say, Amos' message fell on deaf ears. Within a few short years, God permitted the ruthless and cruel armies of Assyria to invade and sweep across Israel. The Assyrians are the great world power of that time and they leave the Northern Kingdom cities in a smoldering ruin, thus conquering Israel. Through their idolatry and wickedness, the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel forfeited their heritage. Many of the aristocrats were killed. The rest were forcibly deported to Assyria…exiled hundreds of miles from their homeland…and never returned.

         You might be wondering why these people didn’t listen. Why didn’t they repent? It’s vitally important to realize and understand…and to believe and confess…that not one person is exempt from sin! In fact, just the opposite is true. By nature, you and I are enemies of God. By birth, you and I have inherited sin and unrighteousness from our first parents…Adam and Eve. Just as certain as you live and breathe on this side of heaven…you sin…you sin daily…and you sin much. Satan tries to blind your mind and your spiritual thinking. For example, there is a cartoon by Dan Pegoda depicting four congregation members with concerned faces meeting in their pastor's office. With earnest and imploring eyes, they presented him with a clipboard filled with sheets of signatures. "This petition," said the spokesperson of the group, "requests changing the term 'sinner' to 'person who is morally challenged.' "

As hard as it is to admit to yourself “I sin daily and I sin greatly,” God points out in His Word in 1 John 1: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we claim we have not sinned, we make [God] out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives." (1 Jn 1:8, 10) The old Adam in each one of us loves the possessions and plea­sures of this world. Idolatry, immorality, dishonesty, greed…there is no sin in which our sinful nature is not capable of embracing. We are guilty in what we think…in what we speak…and in our actions. That’s why Jesus declares to all sinners in Luke 13: "Unless you repent, you too will all perish." (Lk 13:3) The cry of “Fire! Fire!” at midnight will startle a sleeping person rudely, harshly, and unpleasantly. But who would complain if that cry was the means of saving one’s life? The words "Unless you repent, you too will all perish" (Lk 13:3) may at first seem stern and severe. But they are words of love and may be the means of delivering precious souls from hell.

Without repentance, the old Adam in each one of us will try to deny sin as if it never existed, especially in your own life. You can try to reject sin, dismiss it, or explain it away. But sin is still with you as long as you live…you can’t escape it. Spiritually, your heart is infected as Jesus says in Matthew 15: "Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual im­morality, theft, false testimony, slander." (Mt 15:19) Sin provokes God's wrath and His punishment is not only death but also eternal damnation.

For that reason, you and I are to “exhort one another every day…that none of [us] may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:13) “Seek the Lord and live” (Amos 5:6) a life of thankful love toward God and helpful service toward your neighbor. Being covered with the robe of Christ’s righteousness, God's true children will hate what is evil and love what is good, and do what is just and right according to His Word and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you.” (Amos 5:14–15)

You and I also need to heed Jesus’ and Amos' call to repentance. Unless you daily repent of your sins and with God’s help overcome our natural inclination to love the riches and pleasures of this world, you will lose the wonderful inheritance Jesus has won for you. And take to heart Amos’ reminder that the Lord is merciful. St. John assures us that “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9)

Believe and trust that God’s Word can radically change hearts from rationalizing and justifying bad, sinful behavior. His Word can work repentance in you and understand that “No one is good except God alone.” (Mk. 10:18)< > The life that you are called to live is found neither in your great possessions nor in your good works, but only in Christ Jesus. Do not harden your heart against His voice, nor turn away from Him, for fear that you will “fall away from the living God.” Rather, “seek the Lord and live,” hear and heed His call, cling to His Word, and “exhort one another every day,” so that you may remain steadfast in Christ and “firm to the end.” (Heb. 3:12–15) Amen.

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