The Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, 12 November 2023
A Sermon on Amos 5:18-24 by Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
Amos 5:18-24 English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles
18 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,
19as 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.
20 Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?
21 “I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
HOLY COMMUNION: RECLAIMS
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Good Old Boy, Amos
Imagine the scene. The parking lot was filled to overflowing with large, late model SUVs and high-end sedans. The worship place was huge and filled with well-dressed, well-coiffed people. It was an affluent crowd of hospitable, well-to-do folks with well-behaved children; indeed, there were many children and young people. The music, the worship, and the programming were well-researched according to an excellent marketing plan. The message was tailor-made to the audience; yes, they thought the worship team were tops in the region. Indeed, this was an assembly of the greatest political, business, and religious leaders in the nation and their families. Everyone who was anyone in the country was there or going to be there or had been there.
An old white-over-red, short bed, side-step, pick-up truck belching a cloud of black smoke and rattling up a storm pulled into the parking lot. A dark-skinned man of indeterminate age wearing denim overalls, a fertilizer gimme cap, a yellowed tee shirt, and work boots slammed the door, spit a wad of dipping tobacco into a styrofoam cup, and tossed it in the immaculate waste bin by the main entrance. He walked into the crowd and began to speak God’s hard “no” to folks who were content with their religion, content with their leaders, and content with their lives.
It could have happened anywhere the people of God gather for worship. The demographics might be quite different. Yes, it could have happened to us this evening or this morning at St. Matthew’s. It could have happened at the large church where synod leaders or seminary professors worship. Like Saul of Tarsus, Amos wasn’t there on anyone else’s dime. He wasn’t paid to show up. He had not been certified by a synod candidacy committee. He had not received the approval for ordination from a seminary faculty or the laying on of hands by a bishop.
What Amos had was the call of God. The Spirit of the LORD was inhabiting Amos, a good old boy whose day and night job was in agribusiness. The Word of the LORD came to Amos, and he could not refuse to speak God’s hard “no” against the idolatrous people of God, whose faith, life, theology, and piety were woefully wrong-headed. They were looking for the LORD’s approval, vindication, and blessing on themselves and for God’s swift, brutal justice on their enemies.
The Day of the LORD Is Darkness
It is always dangerous when we start with ourselves and create the LORD God in our own image. It is always dangerous when we remake Jesus into what we want Him to be… as justice warrior, as therapist, as home boy or buddy, as a projection of our own worldview and beliefs. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis wrote of Aslan, the Jesus figure, “He’s no tame lion. But He’s good.” Aslan on the move was good news to some but certainly not to all.
As you imagine a glorious future for yourselves, Amos warns us: be careful what you ask for. Be careful how you imagine things will turn out for yourselves. God’s “no” echoes throughout the Bible from beginning to end: from our rebellion in the garden in Genesis 3 to the end of this old creation in Revelation 22. So, be careful what you say in God’s name to people claiming to be His and to all the rest. James warns: “Not many of you should aspire to be teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you will be judged more strictly” (3:1). The Lord Jesus Christ warns: “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). Today, the Lord Jesus says it clearly to foolish Christians: “‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:12-13).
Why, then, do so many speak of God’s justice so passionately as if their definition of justice were light and not darkness? For, the justice of God is getting what we deserve. The confession of sins in Lutheran Book of Worship, p. 194, says: “I, a troubled and penitent sinner, confess to you all my sins and iniquities with which I have offended you and for which I justly deserve your punishment.” The older words say, “temporal and eternal punishment,” this world and the next.
God’s justice is not “my will be done.” God’s justice is not accomplished by the ballot box. Indeed, sometimes the worst injustices occur at the hands of justice warriors who create hell on earth. Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. Hitler was a progressive, not a conservative. Stalin and Mao killed millions in the name of justice for the masses. Sixty-three million babies have been aborted in the name of justice. Illegal immigrants and inner-city school kids suffer at the hands of justice warriors. And leftist theologians prop up those who make guinea pigs of the poor in the name of doing justice, loving kindness, and all their godless idols.
The justice and righteousness of God can be found in one place only: on the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, truly God and truly human, the only One who takes upon Himself the death we poor, miserable sinners deserve. Yes, the Crucified is the only One who is righteous! So, the blood of Jesus rolled down like waters, like an ever-flowing stream. From the sixth hour to the ninth hour on Golgotha, the day of the LORD was darkness for you and me… for the world’s salvation!
Christ Alive in His People
Holy Baptism is a way of life that begins at the onetime washing with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yes, Holy Baptism is the death of the baptized, the daily death of the baptized, yes, the daily rehearsal for that day we take our last breath in these sinful, mortal bodies. On the eighth day of creation, the Lord Jesus was raised from the dead in a Jewish male body that bore the marks of His saving death in His hands, feet, and side. Born of water and the Holy Spirit, the baptized are raised to share in the eternal life and love of God, a life in which Christ is alive in His people, who are His Body in the world. As we gather for right worship, we repent, confessing our sins, admitting the truth about ourselves and the justice that we deserve and that will envelop us as the wages of sin come due on that dark day when this life is no more.
The late theologian Edmund Schlink writes: “In this world Christians and heathen always stand under law and Gospel at the same time; everybody must repent under the law and may receive forgiveness of sins by faith in the Gospel. By teaching the distinction between law and Gospel, but forbidding the separation, the [Lutheran] Confessions acknowledge the Last Day in which Jesus Christ will separate men. Then he will condemn some on account of their sins without pardoning them, and will save others in spite of their sins without condemning them. Then he will speak the condemning word of the law to some without the proclamation of forgiveness, and by grace acquit others without the word that condemns. Then no further call to repentance will sound forth, and the separation of law and Gospel will be Christ’s deed on the Last Day” (Theology of the Lutheran Confessions, Concordia Publishing House, 272).
The practice of our Baptism, the daily death of the narcissistic self that dogs our earthly days, is the recognition that only Christ Jesus can by His saving death deliver us from sin, death, and the old evil one. Fr. George Hoyer, dean of our seminary chapel, would urge us to place a crucifix or simple cross on the wall opposite our pillow so that the last thing we would see each night and the first each morning would be the Crucified Lord Jesus. He would say, “Let your first word be, ‘God’ comma vocative.” Yes, call upon the Lord to whom we must flee for grace and mercy.
Because our sinful flesh is weak and our trust in the Crucified Jesus wavers, the baptized hasten to the Lord’s table often, which ought not to be less than weekly, in that the church in Acts daily shared in the Lord’s Supper, the breaking of the bread. Those who would claim to be a biblical church will reflect that by daily repentance and the practice of Baptism (Acts 2:38) and by continuing in the apostles teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and the ordered prayers inherited from the Temple (2:42). Receiving the Lord’s true Body and most precious Blood at the table, the baptized are reclaimed by that Lord Jesus to bear His Light in our various vocations that comprise daily life and work. We will love neighbors near and far by following our Lord Jesus, pouring out our lives in limitless, humble service unto death. We will embody the inextricable bond between the services of God’s house and the daily service of those who are His own!
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel David Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA
Holy Communion: Reclaims
Lord, when the day of wrath comes we have no hope except in your grace. Make us so to watch for the last days that the consummation of our hope may be the joy of the marriage feast of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” … who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (Lutheran Book of Worship, 29).
Amos 5:18 “Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light,”
Origen [Late 2nd – early 3rd century Bible scholar in Alexandria, Egypt]: “If you can envision after the consummation of the world what the gloom is, a gloom that pursues nearly all of the race of humans who are punished for sins. The atmosphere will become dark at that time, and no longer can anyone ever give glory to God” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Amos, 102).
Amos 5:22 “Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.”
St. John Chrysostom [Late 4th – early 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople, Turkey]: “The observances regarding sacrifices, Sabbaths, new moons, and all such things prescribed by the Jewish way of life of that day – they are not essential. Even when they were observed they could make no great contribution to virtue nor when neglected could they make the excellent person worthless or degrade in any way the sanctity of his soul. People of old, while still on earth, manifested by their piety a way of life that rivals the way the angels live. Yet they followed none of these observances, they slew no beasts in sacrifice, they kept no fast, they made no display of fasting. They were so pleasing to God that they surpassed this fallen human nature of ours and, by the lives they lived, drew the whole world to a knowledge of God” (102).
Amos 5:23 “Take away from me the noise of your songs;”
St. Gregory [4th century Patriarch of Constantinople, Turkey]: “What shall I say to those who worship Astarate or Chemosh, the abomination of the Sidions, or the likeness of a star, a god a little above them to these idolaters, but yet a creature and a piece of workmanship, when I either do not worship two of those into whose united name I am baptized, or else worship my fellow servants, for they are fellow servants, even if a little higher in the scale; for differences must exist among fellow servants” (103).
Amos 5:24 “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Professor Gary Smith writes: “If you worship him [God], you must walk in his ways. If worship does not further the development of spiritual character, it may just be empty emotions… Amos exhorts the people to let righteousness and justice characterize all their activities. Justice should flow continually like a year-round river… it not an optional trait that one can choose to practice, it is a key value that must characterize the behavior patterns of those who claim to love and follow God” (The NIV Application Commentary: Amos, 323-324).
1. Do I understand that justice and righteousness are not my good works but rather are the saving work of God’s Son Jesus into whose death and resurrection I am baptized and by whose life I now live?
THE CREED (from Luther’s Small Catechism)
As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.
The First Article
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
What does this mean?
I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.
He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.
He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.
1. Pray for every unbaptized child and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too.
2. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.
3. Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend how the First Article of the Creed helps you to understand the Father’s ongoing creative work and calls you to greater gratitude for all you have and all you are.
4. Consult Lutheran Book of Worship, p. 185, for the daily lessons for the Week of 24 Pentecost (Year One) and read them daily before offering your prayers on behalf of your family, the world, our nation, our state, and our local communities.
5. Reflect on the end of all things whether at the hour of your death or when the Lord Jesus returns in glory. Ponder how the palpable love of neighbors demonstrates your love for the one true God: The Lord Jesus, His Father, and the Holy Spirit.
6. Join a Bible study at St. Matthew’s either on Sunday morning or during the week.
For Husbands and Wives
Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.