Sermons

< Back

Maybe?

October 14, 2018
By Rev. Peter Heckert

See the Weekly Bulletin

Maybe?
Amos 5:6-15

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our Old Testament lesson, specifically where Amos writes, “Seek good, and not evil that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. 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.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

“Maybe.” There are few words as frustrating as the lukewarm, so-so, wishy-washy “maybe.” Will you be home for dinner? Maybe. Did you have anything to do with the broken vase? Maybe. Would you like to go out on a date with me? Maybe. When all we want is a clear “Yes” or “No,” maybe can be absolutely infuriating

“Maybe” can also be downright terrifying. Maybe we’ll have enough money to make payroll. Maybe we’ll work through this rough patch in our marriage. Maybe my loved one will pull through this and live. Uncertainty of this caliber can be torturous. We don’t want to hear maybe. We want certainty, confidence, and assurance – usually that things will work out in our favor  – which is part of the reason why that phrase at the tail-end of our Old Testament text is so unsettling – “it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.”

But before we talk about that, we need to remember the context of this text. Amos, from the southern kingdom of Judah, has been called by YHWH his God to prophesy to the northern kingdom of Israel, a place that was a paradise for some, but a deathtrap for many others. We see why elsewhere in Amos’s prophecy, as he calls the Israelites to task for their deplorable treatment of their neighbor, especially their neighbor who was in need – the poor, the slave, the weak. He’s prophesying against those who have [sold] the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and turn aside the way of the afflicted. These are a people who wouldn’t bat an eye when a man and his father [would] go in to the same girl, so that [God’s] holy name is profaned; they lay themselves down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge, and in the house of their God they drink the wine of those who have been fined.

Where did this appalling behavior come from? These are supposed to be the chosen people! This is supposed to be the nation from whom the Messiah of the world was going to come; how could they treat their neighbor so shamefully? Their behavior was worse than that of the surrounding pagan peoples! Well, the conduct of the rich against the poor was intrinsically tied to their abandonment of true worship of the true God in the northern kingdom. They would worship YHWH, but they would also worship the gods of the peoples surrounding them – Baal, Molech, Asherah, and the like. These gods didn’t say anything like, “You shall not murder” or “You shall not commit adultery.” They didn’t require that their worshippers treat their neighbor as they would like to be treated; instead, they were advocates for egocentrism. Get yours while the getting is good, and to hell with anyone else. These spiritually adulterous people were not living as the people of the one true God ought to live – either in their service (or lack thereof) or in their worship. Their foul living necessitated the sending of prophets, including Amos, to declare to the people that they must repent of their wicked ways, and turn back to serving the one true God, to return to loving their neighbor … or else.

So Amos, like the other prophets, pleads with the people to do just that! “Seek the Lord and live,” begs the prophet from Tekoa, “lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel, O you who turn justice to wormwood and cast down righteousness to the earth!” Amos is pleading because YHWH is pleading. As God would later speak through the later prophet Ezekiel, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” So also YHWH pleads with Israel through Amos, Seek good, and not evil that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. 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.

So what kind of “maybe” is this? Is this a hopeful “maybe,” a maybe where someone can read a “yes, it will be so” into the subtext? Or is this a maybe of hopelessness, a maybe that says, “It might happen, but I wouldn’t count on it”? Which one is it? Well, here in this text, I would argue it’s the latter – remember, the people to whom Amos is speaking are stiff-necked. These are the people who look to the likes of Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, for peace and comfort – the same Amaziah who will later say to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel ….” These are a people who love their sin and hate being called out on it. These are a people who confess their God with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him. This is a people who have become indistinguishable from the heathens and pagans around them; they were unbelievers. Tragically, their unbelief, their rejection of YHWH’s warnings and pleadings and exhortations, would result in a reckoning and reaping of horrific proportions a few decades later. Israel had, to put it in Pauline terms, made a shipwreck of the faith that YHWH their God had given them, and in 722 BC, they pay the price for their spiritual adultery as Shalmaneser V, king of Assyria, captures Samaria and deports the population of the northern kingdom, scattering them to the four winds. It was a day of darkness, and not of light, a Day of YHWH, as He executed judgment on sin and sinners.

The “maybe” Amos spoke to Israel was not a “maybe” that God would turn back His wrath. It wasn’t a “maybe” that God would hold back a bit. This “maybe” is a reminder that there is no guarantee of YHWH voiding of His judgment, even if faithless Israel should repent. Any compassion He shows is not the result of Israel’s repentance forcing His hand; no, He shows His compassion to whomever He wills, as He told Moses centuries before, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”

The beautiful reality is that, in a way, Amos’s “maybe” was YHWH being gracious to the remnant of Joseph. After the southern kingdom would likewise be destroyed, the people wouldn’t be completely cut off. Of His mercy, He allowed a portion of His people to survive and be the people from whom the Messiah would come. This is a marvelous reminder for us as well. We are sinners, too – no better than faithless Israel, and certainly meriting God’s righteous indignation and wrath. But there is no “maybe” for us, as we have been given God’s promise that His wrath has been satisfied, that the penalty for our sin was taken by Another. Because of Christ, because of the sacrifice that He made on a far more agonizing Day of YHWH, because of the punishment and pain that He endured in bearing our sins – indeed, in becoming sin, He secured for you and me the promise of eternal life and the pledge of sins forgiven, of atonement made. We need not fear the final Day of YHWH, for we know what awaits us on the other side!

For those to whom the Holy Spirit has given faith in the waters of Holy Baptism, there is no such thing as “maybe.” In His high priestly prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to His Father, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” While we are sinners, worthy of condemnation, we can rest safely in the pierced hands of our Savior. He has given us a promise, and He is faithful to bring the work that He started to completion. No, there is no maybe for those who fear and trust the one true God; those who trust in the promises that are given in Christ, there is simply and only, “Amen. Let it be so.

Amen.”