A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Loaded Words: Sermon on Amos 1 (Beginning of our sermon series on Amos) June 15, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on June 6, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. It is week one of our sermon series on Amos: Let Justice Roll Like Waters

The texts were:
Amos 1:1-2:5
Mark 6: 1-6

Young Friends Message: Have the first verses of John 1 (as many as you need for the number of children/youth you have or solicit some adult help! I only used the first two verses.) printed out. I broke them down into small phrases and numbered the phrases 1-6.  Distribute them to the children/youth randomly. Make sure they are not in numerical order! Go around your circle or group randomly and ask the children/youth to read their phrase. It will be all jumbled! Then ask them to read in numerical order. It will make sense! We have to start at the beginning for things to make sense, and sometimes that’s hard for us! But God always starts at the beginning with us, which is the story of life that is about love and wholeness for all. We’re learning about Amos for the next few weeks and we’re starting with his words on how God is the Lord of all nations, everyone no matter what. It’s a good place to start and a reminder for us that God is STILL the Lord of everyone in the world, and loves us all. We’re going to talk more about how we can tell the story of God’s love for the world, even if the words are hard and might sound scary.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start isn’t it? There is so much that you want or need to say that it’s hard to not blurt every thought inside your head out at once. Particularly when there is a lot of emotion involved, or when it’s words that have been welling up inside of you for a long time and the dam that is your filter can’t contain them anymore. The last time I preached on Amos was kinda like that! I love the prophetic literature in the Bible so much that I get really excited when I get to preach on them. I fancy myself a solid preacher/writer but even I forget basics from time to time. When I was on internship, Amos 5 came up in the lectionary on my week to preach. I was fresh off of a class on the prophets so I had ALL THE WORDS about Amos. I felt the pressure of having to say everything, to convey the importance of it all at one time. And to the chagrin of the congregation, for about 25 minutes, I indeed told them all the words on Amos. After church my dear, supportive, husband, looked at me and said, “that was a fabulous sermon SERIES on Amos.” Yes, I had preached a whole sermon series in one sermon…not recommended by the way. We have since referred to it as the “Amos incident” and when I muse that I am concerned my sermon might be too long, Mike will say “it’s not the Amos Incident again is it?” He’s looking out for all of you! I promise that this sermon won’t become a hostage situation. The good news for you is that this IS a sermon series on Amos for the next six weeks so I don’t have to tell you everything today! I can filter all my words.

The gift of a prophet, as we see in our biblical literature, is that they too often filter their words, they speak to a specific people, in a specific time, with a specific message. They actually don’t try and give people all the information all at once and it’s why God sent multiple prophets. Each one has a message from God that only they can tell with their particular personality and skill. Prophets have laser focus that cut through the curtains that veil the people’s vision from seeing what God sees and what God wants the people to see. Prophets offer a lay of the cultural landscape, a truth telling that is hard to hear and hard to ignore. And true prophets speak hard things out of love and concern for people, not out of spite, hate or division. Prophets tell people what is really happening, even if the people don’t like it, even to their own risk, demise and ostracization. We are blessed with many prophets throughout the ages into today. Amos, Elijah, Isaiah, Paul, Martin Luther, MLK Jr. Lenny Duncan, and more.
Like most prophets in the OT, Amos wasn’t a full-time religious person. Amos was a 8th century BCE, middle-class herder, and orchard owner. He knew a bit of the geopolitical landscape around him, but he was basically an ordinary person who lived in the southern kingdom of Judah. But Amos heard the voice of God, heard words from God he couldn’t ignore and a message that was too important to keep to himself. He had a loaded message of repentance and devastation for the people of God. His very name hallmarks this as Amos means “to load or to carry a load.” Martin Luther said of Amos: “He can well be called Amos, that is ‘a burden,’ one who is hard to get along with and irritating…” Prophets, as Jesus said, are not without honor, except in their hometown, among their own kin, and in their own house. Amos, like most prophets, was probably not well-liked for his messages. Amos did prophesy in Israel, not his own country of Judah, but Judah and Israel are siblings, still connected by the common identity of worship of Yahweh, the Torah, and the Commandments. Amos’ words from the Lord, were to bring the people back to this truth, this reality and were to point out where they were falling short on this basic of their communal lives.
            At this time in history, Israel and Judah were experiencing relative peace and prosperity, or at least the upper echelons were. Yet, Israel and Judah had grown complacent in their worship, in their prosperity, confident that their security was due to their own abilities, skill and doing. Israel and Judah were more interested in being like other kingdoms in the ancient near east, more interested in their own well-being, wealth, and military might, than in being the people of God. Worship focused on self-gratification and affirmation, and rituals were acts of piety for performance. They had abandoned their true identity as God’s people and the real tragedy was who was being oppressed, harmed and marginalized because of this lack of identity. They didn’t care for the orphaned or the widow, they didn’t provide for the poor, they didn’t welcome the stranger. They were striving to fit in with the nations around them. This is why Amos starts his proclamation by pointing out the transgressions of the kingdoms around Israel, including Judah. God is indeed interested in Israel, but God is also the Lord of all kingdoms. Israel is supposed to be the beacon, the witness, the example to the other nations, not assimilate to them.
But it’s hard to see wealth, status, power and not want that for ourselves. It stokes our egos; it provides momentary contentment. Until, as Amos will point out, it is not contentment for all. Wealth, status and power in our world for some, tends to mean a lack of those things for others. When wealth, status and power are shared, we get itchy as we worry that there won’t be any or enough for us. Jesus came to proclaim that God wants wealth, status and power evenly distributed to and for all people and those with wealth, status and power didn’t like it. It is loaded with all kinds of implications that mean a change in how we all live together, particularly those of us who can admit that we have a disproportionate amount of wealth, status and power. We forget that when we share wealth, status and power, it increases not diminishes. Diminishment leads to diminishment; abundance leads to abundance. Jesus had a hard time offering healing power to people who didn’t want it shared. It was too much for the people to bear that Jesus proclaimed a message that went against conventional wisdom of hoarding. Unbelief is not wanting to see what is true, what is real and what is healing. Unbelief is turning away from the loaded message that is a hard burden to bear.

But God doesn’t give up. God’s word that we need to hear, even if it’s hard, comes to us, embraces us and doesn’t let us go. God is willing to bear the burden of the message, all the way to the cross, for the message of healing, wholeness and justice to roar through creation like a lion. A message that shakes us to our core, shakes us out of complacency, shakes us to action for belief in what is true, shakes us to also bear that message to the world. And this is where we begin each day, where we start: open to the word of the Lord that is loaded with transforming implications not only for the world, but for us and our lives. Thanks be to God!

 

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