Monday, July 13, 2009

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Amos 7;7-15
Bror Erickson

“Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was not prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the lord said to me, Go prophecy to my people Israel.”

Speaking in the name of God s not something to take lightly. There is the issue of the second commandment, in which people who presume to speak in the name of God on things that He has not spoken of or say things He has not said are guilty. If you ask me this might be the most vile of all transgressions of the ten commandments, as it has potential to drag many down to hell with the perpetrator. And this doesn’t concern itself though, with just the more grandiose false prophecies of J.W.s and Mormon’s. But even such things as the sacraments and there nature, or the blessing of homosexual unions, and the condoning of homosexual activity, the ordination of women. I could go on and on about things where previously Christian Churches have gone so far astray that they are unrecognizable as Christian anymore. People feel far to free to speak for God these days.
Yet there is also the issue of the world, when we speak the things that God has said. It cannot fail to bring us scorn from the world. And yet what choice do we have?
Amos, this humble herdsman chasing goats among the sycamore trees, dressing figs as the goats lay around in the shade, and chew their cud. What a peaceful life that must have been. It doesn’t seem like much, but I imagine it was quite a comfortable life. Much more comfortable than being a prophet.
What a rude awakening it must have been for Amos. The Lord taking him from the flock, and telling him, “Go, Prophesy to my people Israel.”
God’s word is very seldom welcome. It has a tendency to cause guilt in the people who hear it. It has a tendency to make people defensive. Especially, when it is law. And prophets cannot avoid the law. The law is the word of God. Pastors can’t avoid the law either.
Oh, we would like too. At least there is a part of me, that would like to ignore the law. By now you know me, I tend to take a live and let live approach to life, with a heavy emphasis on living myself. Part of me wants to teach nothing but Gospel, or what passes for Gospel in this world. I get it all the time, people asking for an uplifting message. People asking me to bless their sin, or at the very least ignore it. I can’t do either, though I can forgive it. That is what I am charged to do as a pastor, forgive sins. But then forgiving assumes guilt. And people don’t like to hear that they are guilty, and deserving of hell.
Israel was no different. As an aside, this isn’t Israel as we know it today. Israel is what is known as the northern kingdom in the Old Testament, that broke off from the southern kingdom after the death of Solomon. Israel did not want to bow to Solomon’s son, Rehoboam. So they made Jeroboam their king. Jeroboam did not want his subjects going to Jerusalem to worship so he set up idols for his people in the Northern Kingdom.
So Here is Amos, a herdsman, a dresser of sycamore figs sent to speak the word of God to these people who had abandoned God for idols, and the right to have their own king. He had had a peaceful life. It may not have been the most glamorous life, but it was peaceful and nice enough. He probably didn’t have very much of an education. He could not have been the most cultured of men. He watched goats all day, chewing the cud with them I suppose. They actually chewing, he probably had more than enough time to sit and think. At least in between lion attacks, and bear attacks.
Seems to me a fairly laid back job most of the time. I see the charming Basque wagons out there in the desert. Coming around a corner, up and over a desert mountain pass, and there tucked away in a clearing, surrounded by cedars, is the camp. What more is there to do then camp? Couple Pyrenees sheepdogs keeping the coyotes at bay, some feed and water, but after the kids or lambs are born, tails docked, ears notched, and a few shots, what is there to do but sit and play cribbage if you have someone to play cribbage with? You camp, cook a few chorizo sausages for breakfast, and throw the rest in the Dutch Oven for the evening’s stew, right? I doubt Amos’s life was all that different, shepherding doesn’t change much from culture to culture, hasn’t changed much over time either.
Then comes the time to speak God’s word. God calls him to speak. Comfort is left behind. God’ sends him to God’s people. But these people were decisively opposed to being God’s people. They wanted little to nothing to do with him. They sold their loyalty to God for loyalty to a king long ago. When Israel broke with Judah, many of the North flocked to Jerusalem, not willing to give up God, turn their back on the God who led them out of Egypt. The rest stayed, unwilling to pay the taxes of the new king. Their king, Jeroboam, afraid that they would go to Jerusalem to worship, and there be poisoned against them, built a temple complete with golden calves. Got to love golden calves. The way these people tended to worship the bovine you might think they descended from Hindu’s.
History, even archeology shows that they referred to these idols as God, even Yahweh. The believed in worshiping these golden calves, they worshiped the same God that was worshiped in Jerusalem, the same God that brought them out of Egypt, the same God that forbade the making of graven images, the likeness of anything in heaven above, or the earth beneath, or the water under the earth, including bulls and calves, and bowing down and worshiping them. They thought they worshiped that God, even while doing that which, He forbade. In fact, they though they were worshiping Him with the very acts that he forbade! And they weren’t much interested in listening to this God. Not when he forbade the making of idols. Not when He forbade fornication, and prostitution. Not when He forbade the oppression of the poor, and the selling of the righteous into slavery.
The book of Amos, it paints a picture of prosperity and decadence not unlike our own day. It paints a picture of a people who wanted God on their own terms, like many today. It paints a picture of a church fallen in apostasy, as people worship whatever god they want when they want, and how they want. And Amos is sent to tell these people that God is not pleased with what they do in His name, in the sacred name that he gave to Moses from the burning bush. With that name they bowed down in front of golden calves! In that name father and son were guilty of, as Amos says, knowing the same girl. In that name they sold the righteous for a pair of sandals. That is, in the name of God, they persecuted those who tried to hold true to God. In the name of God they drank the wine they stole from the poor, in their temple. Rather than giving strong drink to the one perishing, and wine to the one in bitter distress as we are told to do in Proverbs. These “people of God,” stole their wine from the poor and oppressed and drank it themselves, getting drunk while claiming to be worshiping God.
They did not want to hear what God had to say. They would worship Him on their own terms.
I don’t think that is so different from today. Do you? Who of us really wants to listen to God, when He is condemning our sins, and not the sins of others. How many of us would rather take God on our own terms than on His. How many of us would rather have God condone our sin than forgive it?
And the “Christian Church” today? I blush when I think of what passes for Christianity today. So-called bishops writing in porno magazines. Condoning sin rather than forgiving it. And the righteous are robbed of their houses of worship as they are told they have to submit to the ecclesiastical authority of a man who divorced his wife, and abandoned his children to shack up with his boy friend. It makes me want to puke. And God bless the souls of those who will not submit to this. Yet, most of them are guilty too of wanting God on their own terms. And this has even effected our own congregation as it split 15 year ago, not all that long when some decided it mattered not what God said about the roles of men and women in the church. God’s word, you take all of it or none of it. He doesn’t let you pick and choose, which is why pastors, no less then prophets, cannot afford to ignore the law before we give the gospel. People would like us too. They would like us to give a sermon that was nothing but gospel. But these very rarely have any gospel in them, but law light. No gospel, just a Dr. Phil sermon on how to change your life around. No gospel just a little that’s o.k.
No it really isn’t o.k. It just really isn’t o.k. It is sin. It is the reason God died in our place. It isn’t o.k. It is death. And God will not condone it. He will not let us take Him on our own terms. Rather He takes us on His terms. And though we be guilty of sin, like His people Israel. We are His people. He will make us listen. He will not condone our sin. But neither will He forsake us, for we are His people, bought and purchased, made righteous, not for a pair of sandals, silver, or gold but with His holy and precious blood, and innocent suffering and death. Therefore, He will speak to us, His people. Just as He ransomed us, captive Israel. And in His word He makes His will known, coming to us, our Immanuel.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord Amen.

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