Amos 5:6,7 10-15
Reformation Sunday is only a week away. Are you ready for it? I’ve been humming “A Mighty Fortress” and I’ve been thinking about the 95 theses. I’ve thought of Luther saying before the mighty Emporer, “Here I stand.” I’ve been thinking how Luther wrote the Bible into the language of German so his countrymen could read the Bible for themselves.
Reformation is not a pep rally where we say, “Uh-rah-rah Lutherans!” We sing Reformation hymns, read Reformation readings, review reformation history and give thanks for Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone.
To reform is a verb. It means to amend what is wrong, corrupt, or unsatisfactory; to abandon evil thoughts and evil ways. If Reformation ends the moment we leave the church, we’ve missed point. If you’re wondering why I’m making a big deal about Reformation a week before the day of Reformation, you’ve missed the point.
But we are consistent. How often we have treated Christianity like a spectator sport and not something to work at. How often is Christianity something to watch, or something to go to. How often is Christianity something to cheer, but when it’s over we go back to the same-old, same-old. Christianity is not spectator sport. Christianity is our life. Jesus defined the Christian life: Love the Lord your God `with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind….Love your neighbor as yourself. This doesn’t sound like something you watch, but something you do. This sounds like the Reformation, the life, that Amos calls for this morning in our text when he says, “Seek the Lord and Live.”
Amos did his work during the reign of Jeroboam II, king of Israel, probably between 760-750 BC. He prophesied during a time of political success for Israel. It was a second golden age. Under Jeroboam, the northern kingdom of Israel expanded to her greatest territorial size.
But not all was well. Amos’ ministry came 40 years before the Assyrians wiped the northern kingdom off the map. Things were rotten beneath the surface. And God used His prophets to warn the people. Amos warned about the consequences of idolatries and and gross, open sinning. He warned them of the Assyrian danger and he warned them that the end was near. “The LORD will sweep through the house of Joseph like a fire.”
Why was the end coming? Just listen to the litany of sin in Israel. They sought the help of worthless gods. They made justice bitter. They trampled the poor. They hated truth. They exacted taxes from those who already had so little. They built mansions and vineyards for themselves. Those who did right were punished. They accepted bribes. Those with money won They didn’t try to hide their sins but made them in public, in the courts. No one upset the status quo, no one blew the whistle. To put it plainly, life in Israel wasn’t fair. The wicked prospered and nice guys finished last. And Amos says, “Stop it now, or else!” But they didn’t. 2 Kings reports: They would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their fathers, who did not trust in the Lord their God. They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their fathers and the warnings he had given them. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, “Do not do as they do.” And “or else” came. The Assyrians swept through, and in 722, the nation fell, the people were taken and they never returned.
Sound familiar? You might guess that Amos is describing today’s conditions. There are false gods that people seek help from instead of going to God. Justice is a word we sometimes roll our eyes at. The system doesn’t seem to work. Those who need help don’t get it, but the dishonest work the system. Who speaks up about injustice anymore? Does one vote really matter? Yes, the world is a mess. The US looks like Israel shortly before its destruction.
But instead of talking about how we can reform our world, let’s talk about our reformation. Amos’ words are for us. They are damning words. So what needs fixing? What needs amending? What role have I played in the conditions that surround me? Perhaps I haven’t been overly unjust or oppressive, but I have sought my own needs first and ignored my brothers and sisters’ needs? Where have I failed to act on behalf of others? Where must I admit that perhaps instead of hating evil, I’ve tolerated it, compromised with it, made a deal with it, or embraced it whole-heartedly? Where have I treated my faith as a spectator sport, being purely passive in my Christian life, letting others do all the work? In other words, when have I failed to give God my whole heart, and expressed that whole-hearted love of God by loving my neighbor in the exact same way that I love myself? How long have I sat on the sidelines of my Christian life? How long have I lived blissfully ignorant of my actual situation – that when God condemns sins like this, God is talking to me too? And while you may be ignorant of your sins. God is not. I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. And we have no response.
Well, we have one. Amos said “perhaps.” Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph. It was iffy, at best, for Israel, given their track record, that things could turn around. But, it had happened in Nineveh. They listened to Jonah, and God spared them. And it would be iffy for us too, except that God stepped in, literally. The Bible says, “The Word became flesh.” God became flesh. God didn’t wait for us to reform ourselves, He achieved the reformation Himself. He didn’t wait for us to seek the good before He came. He came and was with us. We who would not seek the LORD were sought by Him. Christ came to seek and to save the lost. Christ came to save all the oppressors of the poor and all the destroyers of justice. He came to reform us. And He did it well. Hebrews says: Fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. He was faithful to the one who appointed him….But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. Christ didn’t sit on the sidelines as a spectator. He jumped into this rotten mess and cleaned it up. The indictment that was ours for our sins, He said, “I’m guilty. Take me instead.” Hebrews describes Jesus’ active life on your behalf: He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. And later: He is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them….Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.
Our sin is great. But praise God that his mercy is greater than our sin and disobedience. The first reformation happened 2,000 years ago, when a lowly Jewish rabbi died for the sins of the world. But it didn’t end there. That rabbi rose from the dead, declaring death dead, declaring your sins paid for, declaring Himself with power to be the Son of God. This was God’s eternal covenant, made in Eden, kept in Christ, made with you in Baptism, renewed in you as you receive the sacrificed body and blood of Christ.
This first reformation is the source of all other reformation. Christ for you is the beginning of Christ in you. Christ for you changes your whole outlook on life, equips us with everything good, and works in us what is pleasing to Him. And that comes and remains as we are connected to Him. And so, as always, the coming Reformation is a reminder to seek Christ, for only seeking Christ where He is found – Word, Water, Meal. And as we seek him where he is found, we seek good, we hate evil, we love our neighbor.
Seek the Lord and live. Praise God that his mercy is greater than our sin and disobedience. "If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared"(Psalm 130:3,4). God is not like man. God forgives and forgets. Seek the Lord and live. “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.” (Micah 7:18) God blots out our sins. Our evil thoughts, wicked words, and disobedient actions are removed forever. Sins are erased as if they never existed. Who is a God like this? There is none but one: the LORD.
Seek the Lord and live. Our sins are great. But his mercy is greater than our sin and disobedience. Seek the Lord and live. Our lives are changed. We are no longer slaves to the sins that once entangled us. What a life: with sin forgiven and peace restored because of Christ for us, Christ is in us. With Christ for us and in us we truly live. Amen.