11/8/20 – Pentecost 23 – “Righteousness like an Ever-Flowing Stream” – Amos 5:18-24

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. As you probably know, this past Tuesday was a historic day in the life of our country. There was a record participation in the election, despite the fact that a growing number of voters weren’t exactly excited about the choices on the ballot. Yet Americans feel a civil duty to voice their opinion on Election Day, so an ever-flowing stream of voters poured into polling booths across our country. But, let’s be honest, other than maybe a slight decrease in political advertisements, not much has changed in our country or our lives. Politically, our nation is in turmoil, but everyday life still goes on—partially because it has to, but also partially because we’ve become so good in our country at compartmentalizing our lives.

In this country we often adopt the attitude that “I’ll care about politics again when the next election rolls around, but until then I have other areas of my life to focus on.” There’s a problem with this way of thinking for a Christian. If we begin to compartmentalize our lives, it becomes easier and easier to live like Jesus only applies in certain areas of our lives. And if we begin to adopt this attitude of Jesus only applying in certain areas of life, then we’ll find ourselves in a very similar situation to the original audience of Amos’ prophecy that we heard in our Old Testament Reading today.

2. Let’s be honest, this prophecy from Amos is quite harsh. The prophet does not mince words. He says, Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? (vv. 18-20). In other words, Amos is telling the Israelites, “Look, I know you’re looking forward to the future ‘Day of the Lord’ when he will defeat his enemies and establish rule and reign and presence with his people, but you really shouldn’t be so excited about it. It’s not going to be what you expect—at all! You’re right, God will defeat his enemies on that day—but he’s going to judge and defeat all his enemies and all sinners on that day, regardless of ethnicity.” This was a false idea that the Israelites had. They thought that just because they were sons and daughters of Abraham, they were safe. Amos corrects this thought and continues, “There will be no safety for sinners on that day—as if a someone escaped from a narrow encounter with a lion, then a bear came after them. And when they finally made it, exhausted, to the safety of home, a snake came through the mud-brick wall and bit that person!” Why is the Lord going to judge Israel so harshly? Well, Amos gives a clue as to why in the verses that follow when he says things like: I hate, I despise your feasts (v. 21), I will not accept [your burnt offering] (v. 22), Take away from me the noise of your songs (v. 23). Wait, didn’t the Lord command Israel to do those things? What’s going on? It’s the final verse of our text that gives us the answer. Amos says that the Lord does not accept mechanical offerings and rote songs that do not come from a heart of love and a commitment to act in righteousness. Those who seek to honor the Lord must be those who honor the Lord’s character in deed as well as word.
3. Let’s be honest, there’s doesn’t seem to be much hope for Israel. You want “Good News”—the Gospel? It’s just not here. In fact, Amos continues his prophecy for three more verses after our reading ends and announces that Israel will be conquered and sent into exile. The Lord is so serious about righteousness and justice that he can’t leave Israel’s sins unpunished. That’s why our reading ends with these words: But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (v. 24). God is a just and righteous God. He made humanity to be his imagers who would bring God’s justice and righteousness to the world. And he called Israel specifically to do this for the nations. But because Israel failed miserably, God became man to bring his righteousness and justice to this world anyway. And there on Calvary, the full measure of God’s justice fell upon Jesus. On the cross, righteousness flowed like an ever-flowing stream—a river of life—from Jesus’ pierced side. Though Israel had failed—though you and I have failed—to bring God’s justice and righteousness to this world, Jesus came to forgive our shortcomings and our sins.

4. And now Jesus invites his followers into a life characterized by his love. He invites us to let all of our life be characterized by his love. See, the compartmentalization of our lives isn’t a problem unique to 21st century Christians. Israel, too, was coming to worship the Lord, then walking out the door as if nothing had changed—as if the Lord was only lord of one small part of their life. My friends, Jesus calls us to live life differently. Jesus calls his people to view all of life as worship. Yes, what we do on Sunday mornings is worship, but it’s also worship when we help a struggling neighbor, when we are polite to the cashier, when go above and beyond with housework, and so many other things. These words from the prophet Amos are harsh words. But they should remind us how serious God takes sin—seriously enough to die for you. And now Jesus calls you to respond to his gracious love by worshiping him in all areas of your lives.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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