Faithlife Sermons

A Severe Love

RCL - Trinitytide (Ordinary Time)  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  23:33
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This sermon considers the love of God for his people in the prophetic ministry of Amos, particularly chapter 8. In addition, it highlights God's care for the poor.

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Introduction

Good morning!
The end has come.
I will never again pass them by.
Temple songs will become wailings.
Dead bodies everywhere, cast out in every place.
Where’s the good news there?
You’re probably wondering, “Wow, Ben! Where are you going with this one?”
I will say that this whole week I’ve been depressed with Amos, but at the same time I have felt impressed to sit with this text and let God speak to me, and now I hope to you.
This text from Amos is evidence for some that the nature of God in the First Testament (aka the Old Testament) is very different than the nature of God as expressed in the person of Jesus. One modern worship song even suggests that Jesus is God’s "sloppy wet kiss” on the world.
Why was God so angry?
Why did he send prophets to predict such harsh things?
How do we reconcile God’s love with his judgment?
Does God ever feel this way towards us?

Illustration

Many years ago, when Luke was our only child, Amy and I were with him on the back porch of a friend’s house. They had several younger children of various ages and a small swing set in the back yard.
Luke immediately went running up to the swings which were in full tilt and I sprung into action. After rescuing him from getting accidently mowed over, our friend’s daughter, who was much younger than Luke began waddling over to the swings. So, I began warning our friend of the impeding doom.
Her response to me made my jaw drop. She said,
It’s ok. She’ll do that once and she’ll never do it again!
So, which is more loving, to warn your child of consequences, to discipline them, and to physically intervene if necessary, or stand by while the child learns by hard nocks?
We had no doubt that our friends loved their kids, but we weren’t ready for this kind of Rambo parenting! Several kids and years later, I’m admittedly more sympathetic to our friend’s approach, but it’s still too radical for me.
What I’m suggesting from this illustration is that Amos captures God’s love for his people through his prophetic ministry of warning them of the results of their continued disobedience.
Rather than say nothing, God was desperately trying to reach his people.
The good news, Wilmore Anglican, is that God’s love pursues us to the very end of our disobedience. Will we listen and respond to his voice?

Why Can’t We Hear?

So what was wrong with Amos’s audience? Why didn’t they hear and respond? They had a prophet come to them after all!
If we turn to the church fathers, they are disappointingly less interested in understanding what God has to say to them as they are for maligning Jewish people.
But this is easy for all of us to do. God’s message of judgment is usually for “those people.” Am I right?
As outsiders of Amos’s context, a lot of things appear obvious to us, because we are not in the thick of things. If we were insiders, we would be as hard of hearing as they were.
If you don’t think so, I need only mentions topics such as:
the border wall
immigration holding facilities
racism or white privilege
gun control
medicare for all
global warming
I don’t even need to state what my position is on these issues and most of you have already lined up your arguments to explain why I’m wrong in case I take a position contrary to your own!
If we have ears to hear, this morning, Amos invites us to take stock of our own commitment to God, not point fingers at others. Of course, Jesus was no stranger to this kind of discipleship either.
So, let’s dive into this text and open our hearts to the word of the Lord.
Would you pray with me?

Some Context & Reasons We Can’t Hear

First, let’s get a little insider context to understand why Amos’s message was so unbelievable.
Chronologically, Amos is the first writing prophet. The book mentions king Uzziah of the southern kingdom and king Jeroboam II of the northern kingdom. The mention of the earthquake in the opening of the book dates it to around 760 BCE, about 40 years prior to the Assyrian exile.
So, strike one… he’s an early voice warning of trouble. Kids rarely listen the first time, and neither do most adults. And we have God’s grace, right?
We learn from Amos 1:1 and Amos 7:14-15 that Amos comes from Judah in the south to prophesy to the north. He is a herdsman and dresser of fig trees.
Strike two… Amos was a southerner. This guy ain’t from around these parts. He is out of his jurisdiction. He hasn’t earned the right to speak.
Thus, Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, wanted to “send him back” to the south (Amos 7:12).
Amos defends himself against Amaziah by explaining that he is not a “son of a prophet.” This meant that he neither held the “office” of prophet nor was part of a prophetic guild that trained prophets.
Strike three… this guy is not even qualified. He hasn’t been to prophecy school. Not to mention, there are false prophets everywhere. Highly suspicious!
Furthermore, Amaziah accuses him before Jeroboam, the king, of conspiring against him. He says to Amos,
never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom. (Amos 7:13)
Strike four
(I realize that there are only 3 strikes in baseball, but this is how bad Amos is doing!)
this guy is unpatriotic. How dare he speak against the king. Doesn’t he know that he should pray for world leaders not call them out?
Notice that Amaziah says that it is a “temple of the kingdom.” That is, the worship of God was in service of and supported the goals of the kingdom, not the other way around. There are boundaries on acceptable prophetic speech. Critique of the kingdom is ungodly.
Finally, we know from our text in Amos 8 (cf. Amos 6:14, and 2 Kings 14:23-29), and from both historical and archaeological evidence that times were good for both the northern and southern kingdom.
Both kingdoms were at peace and had expanded their land holdings by conquering their neighbors and had control of the major trade route.
Strike five… if God were truly upset with us, surely times would be harder, right? There is peace, the economy is booming, sales and trade have never been better! Bug off Amos.

Summary of Context

If we put ourselves in the shoes of Amos’s audience, there are plenty of reasons to ignore Amos. While we look back in hindsight and scratch our heads as to why the Israelites didn’t listen to God, it is for the same reasons we don’t listen to one another.
Amos is just another guy
he’s not from here, he has no authority here
he’s not qualified and thus doesn’t know what he’s talking about
his message is unpatriotic and out of touch with reality, and
did I mention that times are good?
We, like Amos’s audience, look for evidence and arguments that support what we want to believe and we minimize evidence and arguments that challenge us.
The good news, Wilmore Anglican, is that God’s love pursues us to the very end of our disobedience. Will we listen and respond to his voice?

What God Really Cares About in Amos 8

Perhaps the most difficult obstacle that made Amos’s audience deaf to the Word of the Lord is that to listen and obey would have cost them dearly. It cut to the heart of their financial system. Just like them, we have a hard time listening to anything that cost us dearly.
The most pressing problem for the Lord was the poor and needy and Amos 8 is directed at the businesspeople and their abuse of the poor.
Idol worship and the temples at Bethel and Dan are also a problem, but these are consistently mentioned second.
Yet, it is not wealth per se that is the problem, but wealth accumulated at the expense of others.
The sale of goods was unfair:
poor quality,
unfairly measured,
unfairly weighed,
and all to benefit the wealthy.
The fact that they even sell the waste demonstrates that they have only one concern, making everything they can at the expense of others.
In Amos 8:4, the word translated “trample on” means “to grasp firmly” in Hebrew.
The poor are squeezed to the point of extermination.
Against them, Amos shares his vision. He sees a basket of summer fruit, most likely figs. There is a play on words in the Hebrew. The word for “summer fruit” looks and sounds nearly identically to the word for “the end.”
Implied is peak harvest.
Judgment is ripe, and God is reaping.
Like any peak harvest period, there is always fruit that falls before it can be harvested. This harvest-judgment imagery is blurred by Amos’s notice of bodies lying everywhere.
God has had enough and something must be done. For now, he’s warning his children. If you keep doing this… this is what will happen.
Many commentators think that Amos’s vision of judgment is sealed with no turning back. The NRSV says in Amos 8:2,
I will never again pass them by.
What it means is that God is no longer going to continue letting their evil go on. He’s no longer going to pass over or overlook their disobedience. This is grace tested over and over.
It is not a summary rejection of the Jews as some of the church fathers would have it, rather this is a Father who’s had enough of his children's disobedience. It is a specific judgment on a specific generation.
Now don’t miss this. When God swears by the “pride of Jacob” in Amos 8:7 about what is predicted, one commentator notes,
God’s “oath is just as unalterable as Israel’s haughty arrogance is beyond reform.”
But this also opens up the possibility of repentance and God relenting judgment, because the basis of God’s oath could change.
Of course, in hindsight, we know it unfortunately didn’t. Yet God continued to warn them until it was too late.
The good news, Wilmore Anglican, is that God’s love pursues us to the very end of our disobedience, intentional and unintentional, by what we have done and what we have left undone. Will we listen and respond to his voice?

A Severe Love

As I conclude, whatever your view of parenting and whether it is right to let your kid walk into the path of another kid swinging so he or she will learn a lesson, we would find it unjust for God to bring upon the Israelites the judgment predicted by Amos without first trying to warn them.
While we are accustomed to read the prophets as doom and gloom, God’s love for his people runs throughout.
Thus, Amos 3:7 says,
Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.
Of course, neither America nor the church is Israel. But that does not make Amos’s prophecy irrelevant to us today. One thing that hasn’t changed is God’s concern for the poor and needy.
The worst judgment of all presented in our text is not
not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.
The complete absence of God’s presence and communication.
Friends, our Father has a severe love for us that pursues us until the end. Let us not turn a deaf ear and presume we are self-righteous. May we turn to Him and enjoy the fullness of life He offers us!
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