Read This Page in My Language
Sermon: Amos 8:4-7
Pentecost 18 – October 13, 2019 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
Businesses in the United States have a rather unusual, and, maybe I should say a very cozy, relationship with holidays. When a holiday is approaching greeting card, candy, appliance, clothing, and other businesses are right there to help people observe the holiday. We of course see this reality especially at Christmas time. As a matter of fact, many of you, I’m sure, have already noticed that Christmas items are available in stores, even before Halloween and Thanksgiving.
This connection between businesses and holidays goes back many years in our country. In ancient Israel there was a relationship between businesses and the holidays as well. But there was a difference. In Israel the business people looked forward to the end of a holiday so that they could continue to sell their products and make money. For example, the Israelites couldn’t conduct any business on the Sabbath, so they waited anxiously for the Sabbath to be over so they could get back to their stores and shops and make more money.
There’s nothing wrong with making money, there’s nothing wrong with being wise business people, but the problem was that too many of the people in Israel were more concerned about making money than celebrating the Sabbath. And worse yet, too many were more concerned about making money than they were about worshiping God and caring for their neighbor in need. They were so focused on their business that they completely forgot and ignored what business God had in their lives.
Today we’re going to ask the question
WHAT BUSINESS DOES GOD HAVE IN OUR LIVES?
Amos is one of those Old Testament prophets we don’t hear about too much. He was one of the Minor Prophets, one of those twelve prophets at end of the Old Testament, who wrote short prophecies for a very focused purpose and specific time. Amos did his prophesying around 760 or 750 B.C. The nation of Israel was divided at this time into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Amos was from the Southern Kingdom, but the LORD called him from his life as a farmer to be a prophet to the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
Israel was enjoying a great deal of prosperity at this time. Jereboam II was the king, and he extended Israel’s borders back to where they had once been. Business people were doing quite well. Many people had more wealth than usual.
Jesus once said that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus wasn’t saying that it’s impossible for rich people to go to heaven. That’s good because most of us are pretty rich compared to other people in large portions of our world and compared to many people in the past. But Jesus was saying that wealth, money, possessions, as well as the physical concerns of this life often get in the way of people’s focus on God and their own spiritual welfare. That’s a threat we always need to be concerned about. It was a big problem in Israel at the time of Amos.
It’s why the Holy Spirit inspired Amos to write this prophecy to the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. They needed to admonished for their materialism which distracted them from God and for their careless disregard for the poor. God didn’t hold back in his angry admonition: “Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, saying, ‘When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?’ . . .”
There’s that connection between business and holidays. Do you understand what God was saying to these greedy business people in Israel? No business was conducted on the Sabbath and other holidays as well, but especially that weekly Sabbath. And all Sabbath day long many of these business people sat at home wringing their hands, anxious for the next morning so they could get back to business and make money. And God especially implied what they didn’t do. They didn’t appreciate the Sabbath as a day of rest, and, worse yet, they didn’t observe the Sabbath as a day of public worship, a day to honor God.
When I was growing up, my home church had a clock on the wall in the front of the church, probably a very bad place to have a clock. I know that I looked at that clock a lot during the service. Our service began at 9:30 so I knew that by about 10:05 or 10:10 the sermon should be over. And the whole service should be over by about 10:25 or 10:30. The hands of that clock moved pretty slowly, I thought.
Amos isn’t specifically admonishing us today for not focusing very well on God during the worship service, or being impatient for the service to end, or wishing to be somewhere else. Those are symptoms of a bigger, more general problem – our inability to focus faithfully on God, to give him worship time, devotion and prayer time, our inability to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. We Christians are trapped in sinful flesh with sinful natures that don’t want to worship God, that don’t want to listen to his word, that don’t want to obey God, sinful flesh and sinful natures that can’t wait to get to something more pressing, more necessary, something more interesting.
What Amos is telling us in these words is that God has very important business in our lives. Not only does God care for our physical needs and wellbeing in this world and often gives us abundance and wealth, his primary business in our life is to forgive our sins and give us eternal life.
Amos lived about 750 years before Jesus so he didn’t know exactly how God was going to save his people from their sins, but you and I have the fulfillment of all of God’s Old Testament prophecies in the New Testament. We do know that God sent Jesus to be the Savior of the world. We do know and believe that Jesus died on a cross to atone for our sins. We do know that Jesus rose again from the dead victorious over sin, death, and hell. We do know and believe that Jesus is going to come again to take believers to be with him in heaven.
Amos is telling us today, “Give that God your worship and attention. Nothing in life is more important. Focus clearly and intently on Jesus Christ and the forgiveness he offers you. There are all kinds of business in life that are necessary and important, but God’s business in your life, his desire to save you eternally, is infinitely more important.”
The Israelites had another problem in addition to not being able to love God and focus on him for one Sabbath day. They didn’t love God, and, as a result, they didn’t love their fellow Israelites, especially those who were poor and in need. Not only did they not love them or care about them, they mistreated them. The LORD described their sinful behavior with some pretty specific and reprehensible business practices “- skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat.”
They put their finger on the scale, they used measuring baskets that were deceptively smaller than they were supposed to be. A needy husband and father who just wanted to feed his family might be forced to sell himself for something as cheap as a pair of sandals. A woman might come home from the market with a basket of wheat only to find that it was also partly filled with worthless chaff and straw.
Amos was clearly decrying cheating in business, but the Israelites’ sinful business practices were the symptoms of a much more serious problem – their inability to love their Israelite brothers and sisters, especially the poor and those in need, their inability and unwillingness to help those in need, worse yet, their horrible mistreatment of those in desperate situations.
Jesus commanded “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. . . . And . . . love your neighbor as yourself.” On the night before Jesus died, he gave his disciples this command: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The Apostle John in his 1st letter writes, “We love because he God first loved us.” We have a responsibility to love other people and to help those in need.
We demonstrate our love for God who has forgiven and saved us by showing love to others, especially those in need. God isn’t calling on you to give money to every person asking for money on street corners here in Waukegan or Chicago. But God will provide opportunities for you to love with words of encouragement, words of sympathy, words to the lonely, words of wisdom. God will provide opportunities for you to love with gifts of food, gifts of money, to organizations that are in the business of providing for those who are in need. God will provide opportunities to help individuals we know are in a difficult situation. Pray for those opportunities and show love to God by loving your neighbor in need.
Don’t miss the interesting connection today between this reading from Amos and our gospel reading. The gospel is that unusual parable in which it almost sounds as if Jesus is telling us to use money to buy our way into heaven. He of course is not saying that, but Jesus is saying be wise and shrewd in the use of our money. Use your money not just to pay your bills and live, but use your money to your spiritual advantage and the spiritual advantage and blessing of others. Use your money to bless others in both physical and spiritual need. Use your money wisely to help build the kingdom of God.
That’s God’s business in our lives – to love us and save us from our sins and to teach us to love him and our neighbor.
And don’t miss God’s warning for those who were so focused on their own personal business that they had no time for God’s business: “The LORD has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: ‘I will never forget anything they have done.’” God has sworn by his own holy name. He does not miss, he will remember, the sins of those who don’t love God and their neighbor.
Don’t be one of them. Make God’s business your business. Amen.