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October 14, 2018, 5:43 PM

Dear America: Remember Amos 5:24 and the Remarkable Words: with this Faith!


The Word of the Lord from Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It is a classic example of prophetic utterance from the Old Testament reading today. Amos the prophet is pleading with the people to finally, finally repent. "Three times and a fourth time" we the prophets have begged you: remember the poor and disenfranchized, remember and do not forget the Lord your God. But if they listened at all, it was too late. They had forgotten already and brought the wrath of God upon themselves. Exile was near. The Empire of Assyria was about to march its armies and chariots into the northern kingdom and smash it apart and take them captive. Thankfully we are not facing down such a thing (!) but the utterance--as part of the Word of God--the utterance is ever applicable and relevant to us today. God LAMENTS over his people; everyone is called to mourning; God does not tolerate sin or wink at it as if it were no big deal. People of God: leave your religious ceremonies behind and repent! If you are going to neglect the weakest among you and the neediest, but still pretend to worship God, just put it all DOWN. Stop! Turn your hearts to God and seek Him first.

Of what sins do WE need to repent in our day and age, and where we are in our lives? We can always ask this question and be doing right by God and His kingdom. 

Really, though, as I mentioned before the hymn just sung--the sermon hymn today--it really does say it all; I almost would not need to preach this sermon today, you could just look at those words. That's it. It's what I mean to say today with this message: God laments over sin, but gives us a tremendous opportunity to repent and change course: "For Jerusalem you're weeping, in compassion, dearest Lord."

An outline avails itself on Page 16, if you'd like to follow there.  

Now, as a preacher I am really interested in the great oratories of the past, like Amos's sermon, and like those of our past here in America--and how they often intersect. Amos 5:24, for example, is quoted in a certain iconic speech given on August 28, 1963. You remember that it was in the sweltering heat in Washington and yet 250,000 were gathered there, peacefully, before The Lincoln Memorial. And they were captivated, inspired, and moved to act. At the center of the speech, these words rang out: "Let justice roll down like the waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream!" Those words and the words of the whole speech were the right words, at the right time, in the right place. That is why the people listened. That is why the people acted, and the nation was changed in most cases for the better.

And so I am going to throw a Greek word out at you today: KAIROS. The dictionary definition of this word in English is "a time when conditions are right for accomplishment of a crucial action." For fun, you see, I used to repeat some of the great speeches of the past such as the I Have a Dream speech to people I was helping, to people with disabilities. I would recite things like this: "I have a dream... that one day my four little chlidren will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." And as great as those words are--and holy and for a right cause--my hearers just kind of raised an eyebrow and continued eating their lunches. They were not the right words at the right time for the right people.

Yet the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were the right words, at the right time, in the most perfect moment. He also quoted Isaiah--a contemporary of Amos, by the way, speaking at the same time in Israel's history: "the crooked paths shall be made straight, and the rough places plain. And in their flesh all people shall see God" (40:3-5). The fulfillment of which is our Jesus, and John the Baptist before him, crying in the wilderness. And with which Dr. King followed: "this is our hope, this is our faith." For you see: they had to go back. He seemed to be bracing himself, also, to go back to where they normally live--for they couldn't always be there, together, marching on Washington. They would have to go back to the places they came from, and that would be tough. And then he says what I think is the highlight of the speech: "with THIS faith we will go back to..." Alabama / Georgia / Mississippi. And I wonder if the same thing could be accomplished at all today in our culture, and in our time. Could a leader today stand up and quote Scripture like this?

It's not that the speaker of the words, or the people gathered there that day were perfect. It is that the ideals were from God. They held to the deep, faithful ideals of the Founders of our nation, in fact. Ideals most often and most deeply forged by the Christian faith, and by the God we know and preach. 

We also know such oratories as that of Franklin Deleanor Roosevelt, speaking on March 4, 1933. "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Only that "nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror" that makes us curl up and freeze and do nothing. These--again--were the right words at the right time spoken to the right people. 

Dr. King's words had hearkened back to the Emanicpation Proclamation of 1863--exactly 100 years before they marched on Washington that day. And the document had read: "we will maintain and recognize the freedom of such persons [the slaves in the Southern States]." This kind of godly impetus, penned by Abraham Lincoln, gave the slaves military and political protection as a group of people. It led almost directly to victory in the Civil War. (Yes, believe it or not, the Presidency is supposed to be a dignified and at times prophetic office. It is not supposed to be the kind of mockery that it's being turned into today; it's not for indecency and then laughing at it; it's not for bragging and promotion of a brand name!) 

And so all of this brings us to the question for today: What is our Kairos? 

Well, several things. For starters, a return to civility is needed, yes. A return to the humane treatment of people, especially the unborn. And that we do not treat them like junk or something inconvenient, or in the way. Yes, we need a return to that. A return to respect for authority. Oh, there's one! People going around today and not respecting policemen. These servants uphold the First Use of God's Law! (And there are Three Uses of God's Law--which you confirmands should know, and I hope the rest of us remember--1. curb. God will use force if necessary to stop wickedness in its tracks, this is the role of the police. And look at how they aren't respected. The second use: 2. a mirror. To show you your sin, as a sermon such as this one is supposed to. And 3. a Guide. These are the Three Uses of God's Law.) And we are seeing more people shoot at them, mock them, curse them, and disobey them--the police and FBI and other authorities. So yes, we need a return to respect for them as well. People often walk in here to church and remark, "Wow, I can't believe how disrespectful people are nowadays, and what I just saw," for they will have seen someone young (or even older than young!) be entirely disrespectful and rude to the authorities. So yes, we need a return to that as well... and all of these are godly points and improvements of our society to ponder. 

But most of all we need a return to God's Word! It alone changes us. We must allow it to speak and we must listen. We must finally realize that behind all acts of love and self-giving sacrifice in the world is our God, and His Word. They are not from Buddha, or any other god of man's own creation. They are from God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

As a case in point, I present the Gospel lesson for today. In Mark 10, we heard Jesus tell the rich young man that he lacks one thing, going and selling all he has and giving the proceeds to the poor. Now, we might say as a result that we must all sell what we own and give the money to the poor. But I know also Luke 16:9, and the goal is that you know it, too. And maybe you wouldn't remember chapter 16, verse 9 (chapter and verse, that is) but you would remember Jesus saying, "I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it's gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings." And so you see the matter is to be held in balance; we may use worldly wealth to welcome others. From time to time, for one example, folks will question why we use silver Communion ware. "Why don't you use wooden vessels, as those are more humble and what Jesus would have used?" Yet why not use silver, as we are showing that something special and holy and blessed is happening here? We are welcomed to God's meal here and for the strengthening of our souls in such a way that only God can give it. And so we use the best things we can afford to carry it. The point is, we must hold each part of God's Word in balance. We must know the context, and be ready to review it so that we can speak it accurately to a world so lost and in need.

Luke's Gospel invites us into a world were we are invited to many feasts, and this one that we share today again--at this railing. It is the best sermon of all and it has no words. Think of the direction of our salvation: from God to us. Think of Jesus' life and you see that it's all one, big picture of "God to us." A man is God but also born of a virgin. He grows up in lowly Nazareth as the apprentice of a builder, a tekton in Greek--a mason and carpenter. He humbles himself to learn the Torah when He already knows the Torah and the whole Word of God, and IS the Word of God. He then brings forth the single greatest picture of self-giving love there's ever been: the cross. And it is why we display it to this day in our churches; it is the culmination of God's speech and action to the world. 

We will have to go back there, you see. We can't always be here at church, going to the Lord's Supper, and encouraging one another with God's Word. We will have to go back to people who have no use for the Word of God. If you haven't noticed, America is getting forgetful. She is not remembering her foundation in godly wisdom and accountability. And I do not mean to equate ancient Israel with modern-day America as if they are the same nation. But I mean that if once our Founders and those after them knew God's Word was the foundation of this experiment in freedom and government, we are swiftly forgetting even that! And so, WITH THIS FAITH we must go back to them, even those who don't believe in our own families. And WITH THIS FAITH we must go forth and shine in a world full of thoughtless, gutless, evil men.

"This is my Father's world / O let me ne'er forget / that though the wrong seems oft so strong, / God is the ruler yet. This is my Father's world / why should my heart be sad? / The Lord is King! Let the heavens ring! / God reigns, let the earth be glad!" 

And so we will take our actions. We can even stand against evil from time to time. But in such activities--even well informed by the Scriptures--we must be able to put them in their proper context. God's action is always the Greater. HIS is always at the perfect time, and what we needed most... and so we simply pray (in the hymn aforementioned): "O dear Lord of my salvation, / grant my soul your blood-bought peace / by your tears of lamentation / bid my faith and love increase." (LW 390, v. 3).

And so we'll take our stand as the people of God in Christ. We'll do what we can. We'll make our speeches. But we'll look back and see that this whole time it has all been about God's action toward our fallen world in Christ Jesus our Lord. It has all been for righteousness and for salvation spoken through us, for believing on His Name, repenting, and receiving eternal life on earth, as it is in heaven.

In His Name. 

Amen.

October 14, 2018 + Pentecost 21 

Referenced above: "I Have a Dream" Speech, Aug. 28, 1963: https://youtu.be/HRIF4_WzU1w 

      

 

 

 

 

 


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