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I invite you to open your Bibles or Service Folders to our first lesson from Amos 5 as we hear Amos plead with us to Seek the Lord and Live.
The man who ran up to Jesus, knelt before him, and seemed to compliment Jesus by calling him “good teacher,” received a seemingly harsh response from Jesus. Why? Because Jesus knew what was in his heart. He not only called Jesus good, but he thought he was good too, that he and Jesus were on the same level. After all he had kept the second table of the law from his youth and had probably never missed a Synagogue service or a temple festival in his life unless he had been deathly ill. But Jesus helped him see that he lacked one thing. He had an idol. He loved his stuff, his wealth, more than he loved God. He wasn’t good. Only God is good.
The people in the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the days of Amos were also wealthy. They had stone houses, a summer house and a winter house, and beautiful vineyards. They thought they were good, and they pointed to their stuff, their wealth, as evidence that God was with them, blessing them. But Amos was sent by God to let them know that they weren’t good. Their sins were many. Their prosperity wouldn’t last. Judgment from God was coming. His call to repentance is: “Seek the Lord and Live!”
Despite its prosperity, Israel was a nation that was in deep trouble with the Lord. It was a difficult place for a believer in the true God to live. In addition to the fact that they tried to worship God at golden calf idols, there were two great sins that God points out as examples of how they had forsaken him, and for which he intended to rush upon the house of Joseph like fire.
The fire will consume, and no one will extinguish it for Bethel. One was the overturning of justice.
God tells them through Amos: 7There are some who turn justice into wormwood, who throw righteousness to the ground. 10There are those who hate an arbitrator in the city gate. They despise anyone who speaks honestly… They take bribes. There was no such thing as a fair trial in Israel. The nation as a whole had lost its sense of justice. There was no right and wrong. Since money, material things, had become their god, money ruled. The question was not guilt or innocence, but how much money do you have? Anyone who tried to point this out, or who stood up for the truth and morality was despised and laughed at.
Unfortunately, this sounds all too familiar. Our nation as a whole seems to have lost its sense of morals and justice. People confidently state that there is no absolute truth, no right and wrong, everything is relative. My truth can be different than your truth. TV, movies, advertising, all fuel our sinful nature’s desire to love money and things and make them our god. When we look at our courts today it seems that if you are guilty and have money, you can drag your trial on for years and years, and even if you are convicted, if you can afford to keep paying the attorney’s fees, you can file appeal after appeal. But if you are poor you don’t have that luxury, and sometimes, it seems people are convicted even though they are innocent, while those who are obviously guilty go free. We live in a society in which it is getting more and more dangerous to point out God’s truth. It’s been said that the only “sinner” left in our world today is the person who dares to stand up and call something, anything a sin.
The second sin that served as an example of how they had fallen away from God was abuse of the poor, over-working employees in order to enrich yourself at their expense. God says: you trample on the poor, and you collect taxes on their grain. Again, there seem to be fewer and fewer companies that are truly concerned for their workers, and there are fewer and fewer workers who are concerned for the welfare of the companies they work for. Everyone is looking out only for their own welfare, chasing the almighty dollar. They don’t care what happens to the other guy as long as they get what they want and think they deserve.
There are a lot of parallels between what Amos says about the conditions in Israel in his day, and what’s happening in our world today; enjoying prosperity, thinking it’s a sign of God’s blessing, while perverting justice and taking advantage of others. But the point of seeing those parallels is not to just to serve as a warning that God may be about to rush upon America like a fire; that we might expect God to allow catastrophe to come upon our country; but more importantly, the point is that we see these things in ourselves. As Jesus did for the rich young man who came to him thinking he was good, God wants us to see how much we are affected by the world around us. He wants us to see how much we are affected by materialism. He doesn’t want us to get all high and mighty and think that we’re GOOD and it’s the rest of the world that is going merrily on its way to Hell. He doesn’t just say to everyone else, “Seek the Lord and Live,” he says to you and to me, “Seek me and live.”
The times were prosperous, but morally, the times were evil. Therefore, Amos says, (not that is was the right thing to do) 13That is why a prudent man will be silent in that time, because it is an evil time. If you saw evil and corruption, you would just look the other way and keep quiet to keep yourself out of trouble. Certainly that’s a temptation for us today. We know if we say something about abortion being murder, or homosexual behavior being sinful, or groundless accusations being sins against the 8th commandment, or that Jesus is the only Savior, we might be persecuted, called names, ignored, ostracized, maybe even prosecuted for hate speech. We are tempted to think, “What’s the use, speaking God’s truth won’t do any good anyway.” Seeking the Lord in our world today sometimes makes life difficult; but, it does show where our heart is, that, unlike the rich young man, we love God more than stuff, more than we love the world.
In Amos’ day, most of the people were very religious. They attended worship and brought sacrifices and offerings. But, their actions described above showed what was really in their hearts. They were merely going through the motions. They were worshiping in word and deed but not in spirit and in truth. They thought that if they just went through the motions God would be with them and bless them, but that was not the case. Later in the chapter God says: I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. . . Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. And then he says: But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! And in our text he says: 14Seek good and not evil, so that you may live, and then it will be like this for you: The Lord, the God of Armies, will be with you, as you claim. 15Hate evil and love good. Establish justice in the city gate. Perhaps the Lord, the God of Armies, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
This is not a call to do good works and to earn God’s favor. This is a call to repentance, a change of heart. It’s what Jesus was doing when he told the young man who was outwardly doing all the right things to sell all he had and follow him. It was a call to acknowledge his sin of making his stuff more important than God, and to seek forgiveness in Jesus. It’s a call to us to acknowledge that, although we might go through the right motions, we might be making comfort, or stuff, or pleasure our real god.
When we are brought to see our sin and the unquenchable fire of God’s judgment about to engulf us; when we see how many are our offenses and how great are our sins, and we confess them to our Lord and acknowledge that we deserve only his punishment, may we not do what the young man did, and what most of Israel did, and continue in our sin. Instead, may we be enabled by the Holy Spirit to throw ourselves on his mercy and grace trusting in Jesus for forgiveness. He always did what was just and right in our place. He always spoke up for those who were being wronged and against those who took advantage of others. He was good in our place He willingly suffered and died for all the times when we have loved evil and hated good, or have tried to pervert justice for our advantage. When we are assured that God’s love and grace covers our countless sins, even that one sin that is tormenting our conscience, there will be fruits of repentance. Such fruit begins with a desire, worked in our hearts by faith, to avoid sin and to live moral lives, to speak against injustice when we see it, and do all we can to uphold justice, to worship the one true God not just in outward observance, but in spirit and in truth.
Seek good and not evil, that you may live. Hate evil and love good. Establish justice in the city gate, maintain justice in the courts. These are words of encouragement from God. These are not things we do to earn his favor, but these are things that we do because we have his favor, because Jesus has paid for all our sins and now we want to serve the Lord and do his will. These are things that show where our heart is, for it is either set on the things of this life, or on the things above.
Seek the Lord and Live! That may make life in evil times very difficult, but it will show what’s really in our hearts.