Sermon for Sunday, October 10th, 2021, the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Psalm 90:1-12; Amos 5:6-15; Mark 10:17-31
The Text: Amos 5:6-15
The Topic: The call to seek God and live
A little boy sat on the floor of the church nursery with a red rubber ball in each arm and three Nerf balls clenched on the floor between his knees. He was trying to protect all five from the other children in the nursery. The problem was, he could not hold all five at once, and the ball nearest to his feet was particularly vulnerable to being stolen. So whenever another child wanted to play with one of the balls the little boy snarled to make it clear these toys were not for sharing….
For about five minutes, this little boy growled, postured, and kept the other children away from the balls. Like a hyena hunched over the last scraps of a carcass, this snarling little canine was not in the mood for sharing. The other kids circled like vultures around the kill, looking for a way to jump in and snatch the ball without being attacked and bitten….
Yet this little boy was having no fun….Not only was he unhappy, but all the other kids seemed sad as well. His selfishness created a black hole that sucked all the joy out of that nursery…When church was over and his parents came to pick him up, he left the balls behind. The old saying is true: you can’t take it with you.
– Kevin G. Harney, Seismic Shifts (Zondervan, 2005)
In our First Lesson today God speaks through the prophet Amos to warn the wealthy ruling class of the northern kingdom that God will take their land and wealth away from them because they have perverted justice and deprived the poor of justice.
THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT
Amos was a herdsman and a gatherer of sycamore fruit (Amos 7:14b) whom God called to prophesy to the northern kingdom of Israel, although he lived in Tekoa, in the Judaean hill country south of Bethlehem. He prophesied during the reigns of King Uzziah of Judah (783-742 B.C.) and Jeroboam II of Israel (786-746 B.C.). Most of the eighth century B.C. was a time of peace and prosperity for the northern kingdom of Israel until Samaria, the capital city of Israel, was conquered by the Assyrian kings Shalmaneser V and Sargon II in 722/21 B.C., about forty years after Amos prophesied. The northern kingdom of Israel ended then and its people were exiled to Assyria, and Samaria and the cities of the northern kingdom were repopulated by peoples of various national origins whom the kings of Assyria supposed would be loyal to them.
GOD’S CALL TO PEOPLE TO CHOOSE LIFE
The significance of Amos’s prophetic oracles in our First Lesson today lies in the fact that they are God’s call to his people to turn their lives around and seek him before it is too late. The exile of the people of the northern kingdom after the Fall of Samaria in 722/21 B.C. was no historical accident. It could have been miraculously prevented if the people of that kingdom had obeyed the call of the prophets and turned back to God with all their heart, mind, and soul.
Our First Lesson opens with the words, “Seek the Lord, and ye shall live; lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and devour it, and there be none to quench it in Bethel” (Amos 5:6). Now the house of Joseph is the northern kingdom, and Bethel was a religious center for idolatrous worship. Long before this, Jeroboam I had set up golden calves in Dan and Bethel for the people of Israel to worship (1 Kings 12:26-30), since he didn’t want them to have to go to Jerusalem to worship God, in case their loyalty turned away from him to the king of Judah, the southern kingdom. At the heart of Israel’s sin is their worship of false deities, in disobedience to the first and second of the Ten Commandments.
THE CALL TO SEEK GOD INSTEAD OF PRACTISING INJUSTICE
This idolatry leads the people to pervert their system of justice and abandon righteous living. Instead they are turning justice into bitter injustice and forsaking righteousness (Amos 5:7). Again, the call is issued to the people to seek God, only here in verse eight, the creative power of God in making the constellations of the skies and turning night into morning and day into night, and bringing rain on the earth, is celebrated as a reason for seeking God. It is no mere false god that people must worship, but the one whose Name is Jahweh, or Jehovah (Amos 5:8). Unexpectedly for the powerful and the wealthy upper class that had emerged in Samaria in the eighth century, this same Lord strengthens the hand of the weak against the strong, so that destruction comes to the fortress of the strong (Amos 5:9). The wealthy class in the northern kingdom hated people that rebuked their wickedness in the courts at that time, and they detested the person that spoke uprightly (Amos 5:10).
God sees all these wrong things, including those who pervert justice, take bribes, and deprive the poor in the gate (that is, in the courts) of their legal rights (Amos 5:12). God’s judgement on the wealthy class of Samaria for these crimes was that their fine houses and pleasant vineyards would be taken from them, and this indeed happened forty years later.
In this evil time, when justice was perverted, the prudent, those with wisdom and understanding, were to keep silence.
The prophet Amos now sounds the call to seek God in a specific way. People must seek good, and not evil, that they may live and the Lord, the God of hosts, shall be with them, as they are fond of claiming (Amos 5:14). Not only this, but people must hate evil, and love the good, and practice justice in their courts, that the Lord God of hosts may be gracious to them (Amos 5:15).
THE APPLICATION OF THIS MESSAGE
The eighth century B.C. passed away long ago, but these prophetic oracles still stand today, calling people to seek the Lord and live, to hate evil and to love what is good, to practice righteousness, and not to discriminate against the poor.
In today’s church and society we must pay attention to God’s call to seek him and to live justly. God will not be with those who practice injustice and discrimination against the poor or anyone else. How we treat people, especially the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable, matters to God. The rules and values of God’s eternal kingdom must direct all our relationships in church and society.
 p. 509, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.