Read This Page in My Language
Sermon: Amos 6:1-7
Pentecost 19 – October 20, 2019 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
There’s a commercial on television that warns about lethargic and inactive behavior of children that leads them to be overweight and unhealthy. The commercial shows a young boy about ten years old who’s at his grandmother’s house. He’s clearly a little lazy and most certainly inactive. He’s supposed to take the dog out for a walk, but he accomplishes that responsibility by lying on the couch holding the dog’s leash while the dog walks on a treadmill. He gets thirsty for another soda, but instead of getting off the couch and going to the kitchen to get it for himself, or asking his grandmother for permission to have another soda, he uses his cell phone to call his grandmother in the next room on her landline and tells her to bring him another grape soda. The grandmother looks on in frustration and consternation.
We might chuckle a bit at this depiction of an inactive child, but the warning is a very serious one. Laziness, inactivity, self-indulgence are very unhealthy for children as well as adults.
There’s a very clear spiritual parallel to this kind of inactivity and self-indulgence. Spiritual inactivity, indifference to the word of God, and self-indulgent interests that don’t include God will make us like lazy children lying self-satisfied on our spiritual couches, unaware of how unhealthy we are in our relationship with God.
That was exactly the problem among the people of Israel in the days of Amos the prophet. The LORD God inspired Amos to write words of warning to the Israelites:
YOUR FEASTING AND LOUNGING WILL END
The LORD called Amos to be a prophet to the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel around 760 B.C. It was a very prosperous time in Israel’s history. In a less prosperous time an Israelite home would be quite bare, with the least of necessities. There were seldom beds to sleep on, perhaps only a straw-filled mat of some type, little or no furniture, usually only a bare dirt floor to lie on for sleep or to sit on for meals.
But in these days of prosperity in Israel the wealthy enjoyed many luxuries. They dined on the meat of lambs and calves, a diet that for most people was reserved for only special occasions and festivals. They spent their time playing and listening to music. They drank a lot too, wine by the bowlful, and used special lotions on their skin. And they did spend a great deal of their time lying around on beds and soft couches, and not just any beds our couches, beds and couches with frames inlaid with ivory.
The grandmother in that TV commercial should have told her lazy grandson to get off his oversized behind and get his own soda, or not have any soda at all, and to take the dog outside for a walk. God should have confronted the people of Israel in the same way. Actually he had, many times. For well over one-hundred years this Northern Kingdom of Israel that had broken away from the Southern Kingdom of Judah with its capital Jerusalem, strayed farther and farther away from the LORD God of Israel. It began with idolatry and the worship of false gods like golden calves and the Canaanite god Baal and finally descended into this careless and godless self-indulgence.
The time for God’s patience and warnings was over. The Northern Kingdom of Israel’s days were numbered. To the northeast was the rising empire of Assyria, ruthless and aggressive people, who dominated the Mideast. In about thirty or forty years their armies would sweep southward swallowing up the Northern Kingdom with its capital Samaria and carry the people away into captivity. They would be resettled among the peoples of other nations, intermarry, and ultimately disappear from the pages of the Bible and history. The LORD’s warning to them through Amos was very clear, dire, and appropriate: “You will be among the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end.”
Even this strong warning didn’t rouse the people of Israel out of their self-indulgence and spiritual indifference. They couldn’t imagine that anything bad would ever happen to them. Everything was going so well. But God warned them, as well as the people of the Southern Kingdom of Judah: “Woe to you who are complacent in Zion and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, . . . . Go to Calneh and look at it; go from there to great Hamath, and then go down to Gath in Philistia. Are they better off than your two kingdoms?” God used examples of cities that had already been conquered. Israel and its capital Samaria were not somehow going to be exempt. They would be conquered as well. Their feasting and lounging would come to an end.
You could read these seven verses from Amos a hundred times, but you’d never find any good news in them. There just is no gospel message in these verses at all. That absence of the gospel is an indication of God’s anger at the people and the certainty of the coming judgment. But what had the people done that was so bad? What was so bad about Israel enjoying prosperous times, enjoying some good food and wine, and owning a few luxuries? After all, one could argue they were blessings from God.
We might indeed wonder what was so bad about the behavior of the people of Israel. We might wonder because God’s description of them sounds very much like lots of us Americans. By the world’s standards we’re quite wealthy people. We have meat or some type of protein at every meal. Wine and alcohol are readily available to us. We can drink it by the glassful if we wanted to. We own fine homes filled with convenient appliances and beautiful furniture that we don’t mind sleeping and lounging on.
It wasn’t Israel’s wealth or the good food or the wine or couches inlaid with ivory that angered God. He had given them these blessings. But it was their over-indulgence and self-indulgence in these blessings that indicated a spiritual problem. They loved their self-indulgence and their ivory couches more than they loved God. They loved feeding their bodies with meat and fine wine more they loved feeding their souls on God’s word.
We know that they didn’t love God and his word because of one very interesting and revealing sentence in God’s admonition: “You do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.” Joseph is a reference to Joseph the son of Jacob. Joseph’s descendants comprised a very large portion of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and so Joseph’s name was sometimes used to refer to that Northern Kingdom. But God’s point was that these self-indulgent Israelites, these descendants of Joseph, didn’t care that their own nation was crumbling under spiritual apathy and indifference and that it was going to be destroyed.
We might wonder why the disappearance of the Northern Kingdom of Israel was such a bad thing. After all, nations have come and gone, risen and fallen, appeared and disappeared regularly throughout history. If you look at a map of Europe and the Mideast from the days of Amos or even from Jesus’ time the names of almost all the nations have changed compared to today. So what was so bad about the disappearance of this Northern Kingdom of Israel? Why was it so bad that the people didn’t “grieve over the ruin of Joseph”?
Israel was God’s chosen nation. It was comprised of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God had promised each one of those patriarchs that their descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. And from them would come the one Descendant, the Savior for a world of sinners, the blessing for all the peoples of the earth. The destruction of a good portion of this nation by unbelieving nations because of the spiritual apathy and self-indulgence of God’s own people was one of history’s most ironic tragedies, a source of bitter grief. And most of the Israelites didn’t care.
Do you care that America’s days of spiritual blessing are coming to an end, or at least, that these blessings of God’s word and religious freedom are threatened? More important, do you care that the Christian church in America is dying, that churches are closing, that attendance is at worship is seriously declining?
This past week our nation’s Attorney General took the somewhat unusual or unprecedented opportunity to address the students and faculty at Notre Dame University on the issues of religious freedom and the importance of spiritual influences on our government and people. He warned that secularism and those who espouse secularism are working feverishly to remove from our society churches or any religious influence in government or on our values. Secularism is a philosophy that is godless, that replaces God in the life of a nation and people with the government, with mere human wisdom and laws.
America is becoming frighteningly secular. And many Americans are not grieving. Many don’t care. Many actually rejoice. Many are unaware. Ancient Israel and Judah had the same problem. People were wealthy and self-indulgent. They were more focused on what they wanted, what gave them pleasure and comfort, than they were on God, building the kingdom of God, or their own spiritual welfare.
Amos would ultimately warn the people of Israel that they would have a famine of the word. He recorded God’s words and warning: “The days are coming when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.”
So what’s Amos saying to you and me today? He’s not telling us we have the responsibility to save our nation. We can certainly pray for our nation’s spiritual health, but Amos, actually God himself, is telling us each individually something far more important. Don’t let there be a famine of God’s word in your life. Don’t be so self-indulgent and spiritually apathetic that God and his word have little or no place in your life. Don’t be casually and spiritually lounging while you’re headed for God’s judgment.
Make God’s word the most important thing in your life. The gospel of Jesus Christ forgives your sins and gives you eternal life. Dine each day on the choice and rich words of the Bread of life. Drink endlessly from the water of life. Amen.