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Not Wanted Here ... But Needed

July 15, 2018
By Pastor Peter Heckert

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Not Wanted Here ... But Needed
Amos 7:7-15

+ 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, especially where Amos records the words of Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

Amos begins his prophetic work with the words, YHWH roars from Zion and utters his voice from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds mourn, and the top of Carmel withers. After a few words of condemnation against the nations, he moves to his longest and most scathing word of rebuke against the worst nation mentioned: Israel. He calls them to task for their corrupt and faithless living, Amos calls those same miserable sinners to repentance, ultimately pleading with the Israelites to Seek the LORD and live.

Apparently, it doesn’t work, because the shepherd-turned-prophet from Tekoa then presents his hearers with two visions that he has received from YHWH, neither of which is terribly comforting. The first is a vision of locusts that descend upon the land of Israel and consume everything, including the young crop recently planted. The second is like the first, with an unquenchable fire so intense that it consumes everything, even the waters of the deep. In both cases, Amos demonstrates his love for God’s people and His covenant with them as he intercedes on behalf of Israel, begging with YHWH, “O Lord God, please forgive, please cease! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” In both cases, YHWH relents, saying “It shall not be.”

THEN … we come to our text, and we have the third vision God gives to Amos. YHWH holding a plumb line against a wall, and the wall is Israel, and it is not plumb. It’s certainly not as dramatic as the previous two, but YHWH’s response to this un-plumb wall, the faithlessness of Israel, is certainly chilling: Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass by them – that is, forgive them – the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword. And for his part, Amos … is silent. He no longer attempts to intercede on Israel’s behalf. The opportunity for them to repent, to turn from their exceedingly wicked ways was over. The way is shut, the clock has struck midnight, and now it is only a matter of time before YHWH deals the killing blow.

Wow. If you’re taken aback by this, it’s not surprising. Here we do not see what we often think of when we think of our gracious and merciful Triune God. This hardly seems like the “Jesus so meek and mild” we so often imagine. This is no bleating lamb, but rather the roaring Lion of Zion, the righteous judge, punishing the sin and the sinners who love to wallow in their transgression. The time for mercy toward those faithless people is over, and it is terrifying.

It’s no surprise, then, that, as our text moves into the single instance of narrative writing in the book of Amos. Here, we have Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, who is less than pleased with what Amos has been preaching. See, Bethel was the center of worship in the northern kingdom of Israel, but more than that, it was the epicenter of all the unfaithfulness and the downright diabolical behavior of the people of the north. There, the people worshipped YHWH … in addition to other deities they had adopted from the surrounding culture. These syncretistic worshippers allowed their worship of false gods to affect their conduct, resulting in the trampling of the poor while the crème de la crème indulged in gluttony, slavery, adultery, and all-around hedonism. What’s worse, they felt their affluence was a sign of YHWH’s (or perhaps Molech’s or Ba’al’s) pleasure with them. In any case, the idea that YHWH was a lion, roaring from Zion against them, was far from their thoughts!

This is reflected in how Amaziah misrepresents to King Jeroboam what Amos actually said, and sneers at Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” In other words, “Listen, Amos, we do things different here; there’s no need for you to trouble yourself with what we do here in Israel. Go back to Judah; make your living by prophesying there. There, you’ll be welcome! But this? This is my turf, the temple and sanctuary of King Jeroboam! Get outta here!”

It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but obviously there are parallels between Amos’s presence in the northern kingdom of Israel and where we find ourselves as Christians living in the world. Here, we find ourselves as strangers in a strange land, a land that tolerates any and every message but the message of Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of sins. Hedonism is still a thing – it’s a rampant infection, really. Egocentrism and narcissism are a plague upon our land. Idolatry certainly still exists – not only with actual false deities, but with more subtle and dangerous apparitions like the love of money or the worship of movie and sports stars. When we bring God’s Law and His Gospel – as both are needed in our proclamation – like Amaziah, people will reject the word we bear, saying “Go elsewhere with that tripe; you do you, and I’ll do me!”

Those who are of this world … reject the Christ. They reject the forgiveness that is found in His life-saving cross. They forgo the life that is found in His shed blood. They treat with contempt the very idea of life everlasting for all those who hold onto the promises given in baptism. They reject the Christ, and they certainly reject His prophets and all others who bear His message. It’s not surprising that church attendance, across our synod, across denominations here in our country, and, indeed, across the entirety of Western Civilization, is down. They do not want our Jesus. They do not want to be told their sins are forgiven; they want to be told YOLO, you only live once. They want to be told what their itching ears long to hear, that God will love them even if they carry on, full-steam, diving headlong into unrepentant sin – indeed, in the joyous indulgence thereof!

But we would do well to remember that we, ourselves, were there once. All mankind is born spiritually blind, dead, and an enemy of God, and that includes us. We are no better than every other lousy, rotten, no-good stinkin’ sinner that has ever lived or ever will live. We have all been there, and of ourselves, as we confessed mere moments ago, “we cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition.” It is only by the grace of God, by His favorable attitude and disposition toward us miserable sinners that any of us can – rightly – declare that we are saved from the consequence of our sin on account of Jesus the Christ and His redemptive work. Certainly, as believers who have been forgiven much, we want to spread the full Word, the Law and the Gospel, to all people so that they may stand side-by-side with us and all believers on the Last Day as we enter into the presence of Christ the King.

Will it always go well? No; it is entirely possible that we end up like John the Baptist, whose strong word of rebuke and call of repentance to King Herod earned him nothing but prison time and a rather grim death sentence. But frankly, that matters little. Our call is to proclaim God’s Word to all people – including those who refuse to hear it! We are called as Christians to spread the Gospel near and far, regardless of the reaction people have to it.

Make no mistake, it is a holy and terrifying thing to bring the Word of God before an unbelieving world. Amos knew it. John the Baptist knew it. But as those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb of God, it’s what we are called to do: to speak the truth of the Law that kills, so that the healing balm of the Gospel may make alive again. May we all be so bold, to speak God’s Word to a world that doesn’t want it, but nevertheless needs it.

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.