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Longing for the Future

Amos  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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As we long for the future, don't lose sight of what God is doing now and who he is

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What we long for

I wonder what you are longing for?
Maybe a new job? Or a better paying one?
Maybe you just want a bit of peace? Perhaps you’re experiencing a lot of problems in your family or group of friends and you just want it to end.
A suspect most of us are longing for an end to this current pandemic. We’re praying for that vaccine to be found and then to be mass manufactured and widely dispersed.
I’m longing to be able to sing in church without fear that we might be spreading a virus.
Perhaps you’ve set your eyes a little higher. You want all of this hate and fighting throughout the world to end. And there is a lot of hate. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that the division being the left and right ideologies seem to be bigger than ever.
Why can’t we sometimes just agree to disagree so we can live in harmony together.
As Christians, we set our heights even higher. A time when we won’t just get along, but that all wrongs will be made right. When all pain and suffering are gone.
I’m talking about the time when Jesus comes back.
I know for some the longing for this time is very strong.
And we long for it to be soon.
Certainly we can look at the world around us and conclude it must be soon. In fact, I believe it will be soon, but what soon actually means when you’re talking of a God with eternity in perspective, who knows?
Now longing for this is generally a good thing. That is, it’s good… until it’s not.
What do I mean by that? Well, in part, I’m going to explore that question as we go.
You see, our longing should be producing something in us. And if it’s not, then something has happened.
My aim this morning, is to explore what that something is, that should be produced in us as we long for the return of Christ.
Let me try to explain what I’m getting at by using an example.
Let’s say you are longing for a new job.
This isn’t an uncommon longing - probably most of you have been in this situation at least once in your life.
Now, sometimes, people say they long for a job, but the reality is, it’s more about wishful thinking, in the vein hope that some plump job will just fall in their lap. Something which might happen on a very rare occasion, but really very unlikely.
But if your longing for a job motivates you to search job vacancies, and to doing re-training, and to actively put in job applications, then you’re longing becomes a very useful thing.
So let’s dive into the passage for today.

Context

As I’ve explained over the last few weeks, this is an interesting time for Israel.
We find ourselves a couple of centuries after the hey day of King David and his son King Solomon, when (with the exception of the latter part of Solomon’s reign), there was great unity and prosperity in the land.
Things had taken a nose dive as Israel tore in two and more or less, ran off the rails. But, in this time of Amos, there has been a positive change.
And one concluded that God must be on their side.
After all, they had won some recent battles against surrounding nations in order to regain that territory.
Clearly, if they won those battles, God must be working for them.
Now, the Israelites had an expectation. It was an expectation that had been hinted at prior to the time of Amos, but had not been clearly articulated.
It was an expectation that at some point in the future, God would act in a decisive way to bring the peace to his people.
It was hinted at right back when God promised Abraham that from him would come a great nation. When God promised David that he would always have a descendant on the throne, we saw a further hint.
It seems clear that for some time prior to the ministry of Amos, people had started using the phrase: the day of the Lord, as a way of talking about this decisive day when God will act on their behalf.
And it would seem that they probably thought this decisive action would happen very soon.
After all, why not? As I’ve mentioned they’ve regained their territory, so things are already on the way up. It makes sense that the next move would be to completely wipe those other nations out.
And if you cast your mind back to the first message I gave on Amos, we saw even Amos himself declaring judgement on these nations - so there you go. It’s just a matter of time.

A correction

Now, the interesting thing is that Amos is about to use this phrase, and it is actually the very first time that this phrase is explicitly used.
What is interesting is that while he doesn’t disagree with the concept, he tells them that they have misunderstood it.
Let me just read verse 18 to you again:
“Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light.”
You see, Amos is essentially saying, yes, God will act decisively, but they should not think that it is Israel above other nations. Rather, the decisive action of God is actually to purge the evil from the good.
And God does not distinguish between the evil of the other nations and the evil of Israel. All of it is abhorrent to him.

A parable

Now if you look in verse 19, we get a parable of sorts. A short and sharp image to help us understand.
It starts with a man. He is in the wild outdoors and he comes across a lion. The lion is a threat. He represents danger.
And so the man runs. By God’s grace, he is able to escape this danger. The lion is no longer a threat. But as he ran away, he stumbles over a new danger. A bear. A ferocious animal that again represents danger.
And so he runs again. He runs his little heart out, and again, by the grace of God, he is able to escape again. Thankfully, this time he looks up and he has made it home. His safe place.
He has been delivered from the lion. He’s been delivered from the bear. He is safe.
Once safe in his house, he leans against the wall to get his breath back. But lurking in the darkness is the stealthy snake. With his hand on the wall, the snake strikes, and bites him.
The message is: don’t think that just because you’ve got past those other nations, that you are now in the clear.
The snake, which carries a lot of symbolism about evil, is lurking. Unless you can remove the evil from within, you have not escaped danger.
He is telling them, if you look forward to this decisive day of the Lord, then be prepared for a reckoning of evil from good.
Now what I want you to note here, is not that the longing for the day of the Lord was wrong for the people of Israel. The mistake they made, was that in dreaming about a cushy future, they lost sight of God. And as they lost sight of God, they forgot what was at the heart of God.

When worship goes bad

And this was perhaps most noticeable in their religious observations.
And as we move to verse 21, it is this issue that is in the cross hairs of God.
You see, I’ve argued throughout this series on Amos, that essentially what we are seeing is a nation that politically and economically are going great - but spiritually, they’re bankrupt.
But that’s not to say that they had forgotten their religion. Quite the opposite. It would seem that as they longed for that decisive day of the Lord, they kept going to their religious festivals and giving burnt offerings and grain offerings.
In fact, most likely it was during these observations that they longed more and more for that day of the Lord. As they came together, they would likely have felt this great sense of being on God’s side.

God’s strong language

But just look at the strong language that God uses when talking about this religious observation.
He says in verse 21: “I hate, I despise… your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me”.
In verse 22, even though he acknowledges their various offerings, God flat out refuses them: “…I will not accept them”.
In verse 23, he calls an end to the noise of their songs. I wonder if he calls it noise because it doesn’t really qualify as music.
So why was God so angry at their worship?
Well let’s just imagine a husband and wife.
Imagine this particular husband just showered his wife with gifts. He would bring flowers home and once those flowers had finished, he bought more. He would take her on nice dates. They would go to fancy restaurants. He would take her on romantic weekends away.
But one day the husband comes home and the wife has left leaving a note saying she didn’t feel loved.
Well, let’s imagine this couple decided to get counselling. And the husband finally gets to ask the question, but how could you not feel loved when I gave you all those gifts, and took you to all those nice places.
And she would answer: because you never listened to me. You never just sat there and heard what was on my heart. You never helped with the things I actually wanted help with. You were so busy thinking what you could do next that you forgot about me.
It would seem to me that this is pretty close to what is happening between the Israelites and God. And let’s face it, it is a huge danger that we face today as Christians.
We can get so caught up in what songs we should sing - and boy does song selection discussion get a good run in most churches these days.
We get caught up in communion. We question the frequency and the procedure.
It was certainly interesting hearing a few discussions that were doing the rounds early in the pandemic about whether communion should even be done when we can’t physically gather.
We discuss the church building. We discuss the church’s governance structure.
I know for me, I can get caught up with the latest technology. And there are more and more different pieces of software that can be used by churches to transform their worship service.
The reality is, it is easy to take up a significant amount of our time, particularly for those in leadership, thinking about the nuts and bolts of worship.
Now don’t get me wrong, the worship service is something that deserves our attention. We do want to give him the respect that he deserves. But it is easy to become like that husband who showered his wife with gifts, only to forget to actually listen to her.

What we should be doing

For this reason, it is so important that as a church and as individuals, we stop. And listen.
As we listen, we will begin to hear what is at the heart of God.
And what is that: well, I think verse 24 certainly helps to point us in the right direction.
“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
In fact, I think it’s fair to say that this theme of justice is a recurring theme throughout this book of Amos.
You see, what becomes clear is that God’s heart is with his creation and in particular, humanity - the ones that were created in his very own image.
He loves us - every last one of us. And because of his great love for us, his heart breaks when he sees anyone being mistreated and abused.
This is why we so often seeing God defending the oppressed and the vulnerable.
This is at the heart of who God is. And if our focus is on our worship, or on some future event, and if this causes us to lose focus on the thing God cares about so deeply, then we have missed the point.
Our worship, and our longing for heaven should be drawing us closer to God. As we draw close to God, we should be understanding his heart.

Caring for the vulnerable

And this means, that we too need to care for the poor, the marginalised, the vulnerable, the oppressed.
And it doesn’t just mean we should utter a few prayers for them and think we’ve done our bit.
Prayers are important, and we should certainly be praying for them, but there is more that we can do.
Now on a practical level, this is going to look different depending on what your specific context is. But for all of us, I believe it means we need to keep our eyes open to those around us who are doing it tough.
And when we see someone, to step out of our comfort zone to help them.
It means talking to your neighbour. Hearing what is going on in their lives, that is, getting deeper than just a friendly hello, how are you doing.

Special interest

So we need to be aware of those who need help, but sometimes it might mean becoming involved in certain cause that promotes justice and care for the vulnerable.
For example, Baptist World Aid put out ethical buying guides for fashion and electrical goods. Engaging this, is one way we can help to make a difference, particularly to working conditions in third world countries.
Or look into groups that support vulnerable people like refugees, victims of domestic violence or various minority groups.
We obviously can’t give all of our energy to all of the causes, but sometimes having a particular focus that is close to your heart can be one way you can help to make a difference in this world.

Worship directed in wrong direction

So, we’ve seen so far in this passage that their longing for the day of the Lord has become misdirected. Their worship has missed the mark.
But as we get into the final section of this passage starting in verse 25, we see that not only did their worship overlook the things that are important to God, but it also was directed in the wrong place.
Now, if you read the various scholars, you’ll find out that verse 26 proves to be a very tricky verse to translate, and so depending on what translation you are reading, it will probably sound quite different.
Without going into all of the boring detail, most of the scholars seem to agree that this verse is an accusation of the Israelites worshiping foreign gods.
So, not only were the Israelites failing to see what it actually important to God, they were also playing it loose with other gods.
Now if I was to bring this back to the analogy I made before of the husband showering his wife with gifts. You could imagine that not only was he not actually listening to his wife, but he was also flirting, or possibly even going further, with other women.
Now this is where many of us would think - well, I’d never worship another god.
Well, that might be true, at least, it’s true that you don’t worship shrines or home made gods like what was happening in the day of Amos, or still happens in some parts of the world today. But, while it might not happen explicitly, it is very easy for us to verge on worshiping things of this world. Sport, TV, our work, our hobbies. None of these things are wrong or bad, at least not until they start taking over and becoming what life is about.
Our worship needs to be to God and God alone. Because when it goes to others things, we will find that our actions and our support will go to the things that aren’t of concern to God, but to ourselves.

Conclusion

I started by asking us what we are longing for.
And I made the comment that our longings are usually a good thing, until it’s not.
And as we’ve explored this passage, I hope you’ve seen how it’s possible for that longing to take us off track.
When our longing is blind to the facts. That is, when we somehow think we’re entitled to something. That it will happen irrespective of how we act.
Then our longing might not be a good thing.
When our longing means we lose sight of what’s important. When going to heaven is more about us, then about God and caring for the things that are important to him.
Then our longing can become a distraction.
And when our longing is put onto things that are not of God. Then our longings are not good.
But when we long for heaven, and in the process we draw close to him. To see and hear what is important. Then we are on to a good thing.
It is exciting to think of Christ return. This will the final culmination of the day of the Lord.
But please, when you consider it, make sure that it is driving you to the heart of God, not into further self-focus.
God cares about justice. He wants us to care for justice as well. To look out for the oppressed and vulnerable.
And at the end of the day, this should be the fruit of our worship and our longing for the day when Christ will return.
Let me pray...
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