Pentecost 18c

Preached: September 30, 2007

How Much We Need the LORD to Forget!
Amos 8:4-7

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who pours out the Holy Spirit on us through his Word and Sacraments. That Word today is Amos 8

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?” 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.
The LORD has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.” (Amos 8:4-7 NIV)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints of God:

1. Describe life in Amos' day.

Let's go back to days of Amos, the 8th century B.C. Jeroboam son of Jehoash is king of Israel. The old enemies, Damascus and Assyria, were weak. Territory that had been lost in ages past was reconquered. Trade grew. Prosperity spread. Luxuries abounded. The times reminded the people the golden age of David and Solomon two centuries earlier.

As we walk their streets, remember that their economy worked differently than ours. Instead of bread and butter, wheat and grain were basic products. They bought wheat, ground it, baked it, and had fresh bread. Wheat was measured in ephahs. An ephah equaled about four ice-cream pails. Instead of cash little pieces of silver were weighed out on a balance scale. On one side would be the silver, on the other a stone weighing a shekel, which was about as heavy as two quarters.

These were good times politically and economic, but spiritually the people were rotting away. They outwardly went through the religious motions. The New Moon festivals marked the beginning of each month; the Sabbath was the day of rest at the end of each week. The people observed these religious times, but where were their heart and mind? They were thinking, “How soon until I can get back to work and make some money.” Their hearts treasured earthly gain. “When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?” (Amos 8:5 NIV).

But the selfishness didn't stop there. The merchant made the ephah small. That's sort of like going to buy a pail of ice cream, but grabbing the four-quart pail instead of the five-quart thinking you're getting a good deal, not realizing that it's a smaller size. Our merchants at least have to be honest about marking the quantity. But in Amos' day the merchant claimed it was a full ephah. That's how he skimped the measure.

Likewise, when it was time to measure out the silver, he would use a shekel that weighed extra or a balance that was heavy on one side. So the buyer weighed out more silver for less wheat. That's how the merchant boosted the price and cheated with dishonest scales.

Even this short-measured, over-priced wheat may not be all that was advertised. Mixed in with that wheat could be the sweepings from the chaff. How would you like paying extra for an impure product?

Now it appears that some of the poor and needy couldn't pay the price for the wheat. But they had to eat. So they would borrow money, maybe giving even there sandals as collateral. And when they couldn't pay off the debt, the merchant sold them into slavery. Amos puts it this way: “Buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals” (Amos 8:6 NIV).

They had no love: No love for God, only going through the outward motions of worship; no love for the poor and needy, treating them as commodities to get rich off of. What lovelessness! No wonder the unchanging Lord with a solemn oath declared, “I will never forget anything they have done” (Amos 8:4-7 NIV). What devastating, damning words! Never forgetting, holding them to account for every sin that's the verdict of God's law.

2. How does lack of love show itself in our worship life, business life, and charity?

Now what do these words from the ancient prophet have to do with us, or have we advanced beyond such harshness? We do live in similar times, don't we? We live in a time of material prosperity but spiritual depravity, just as Amos did. But if we listen to Amos only to shake our finger at the people out there in society, we've closed our hearts to what God wants to bring to light.

Let's examine our own heart. Those merchants that Amos rebukes observed their religion but their hearts and minds were not in it. In 55 minutes the Vikings and Packers kick off. How easily our minds wonder! Whether its the afternoon football game, last week's worries, or that distraction three pews in front of us, the devil works overtime in church. He wants you to get as little as possible out of the liturgy and hymns, the readings and sermon. How easily we fall!

And then we add to our guilt by trying to excuse our inattention. “The liturgy was boring. The hymns were hard to sing. The pastor talked about the same old stuff again. I just have so much on my mind. I'm so busy, so stressed.” And our list goes on.

Yes, you are here, just as those merchants in Amos' day observed the New Moon festivals and the Sabbaths. Your are here, but where is your heart and mind? Honestly confess your sin; don't make excuses. We fail to devote our full attention to our God and his Word even for an hour a week. You and I, even though as pastor I have to pay special attention, you and I fall short in love toward God even in our worship life. Our minds wonder, our hearts dream, our focus blurs. That's a damning lack of love toward God and his Word. The Law condemns us for it. We need the Lord to forget our sin.

The text also makes us think about our life as buyers, sellers, and workers. Do we lie, cheat, or fudge when it comes to the business world? “Everyone else does it. If I don't, I'll fall behind.” “If they make a mistake in my favor, that's their tough luck. What they don't know won't hurt them.” “They won't miss this little bit.” Such attitudes broadcast that we love earthly goods more than the good our God wants us to do. Is that what we want our God to remember about us? We need the Lord to forget our sin.

And thridly, what about our love toward the poor and needy? I know that in your heart, as a Christian, is a longing to help the poor and needy. But how can we do it? The TV floods us with images of the starving from around the world. Yet would your donation actually help them or just go for more advertisements or end up in the hands of a corrupt government? We hear of the poor and needy in our own country and community. But we wonder whether they are working hard or hardly working. We wonder how much of their money goes to cigarettes, alcohol, and pull tabs.

These can be legitimate concerns. God wants us to be wise stewards, shrewd managers. He tells us if someone will not work they should not eat. But do we too easily use these as excuses to shut off our hearts? “I don't want them to take advantage of me. I don't want to enable bad behavior.” So we imagine that we love the poor and still hold on to our money, loving it more.

Yet wouldn't genuine love for the poor see that their true need was deeper than physical wellbeing? Their true need, like ours, is for the Savior from sin. And as they grow to know their Savior, wouldn't their use of earthly goods also grow more in line with God's will so that we wouldn't need to worry about enabling them? Love for the poor gives generously for their spiritual welfare, to bring them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And part of bringing that Gospel may include helping them in their physical needs, demonstrating the love of Jesus who not only took away our sins but healed the sick as well.

Now where does this leave us? I suppose we could act as a lawyer pointing to our charity as good enough and explaining we don't want to give to much and enable bad behavior, and so argue that we truly have loved the poor as ourselves. But do you want to enter God's courtroom on the basis of how well we've done? God's law will expose the lovelessness in each of our hearts. No amount of charity or lawyerly arguments can excuse how often we have loved ourselves and our comforts more than the poor. Do we want to hear God's law declare: “I will never forget anything you have done”? We need the Lord to forget our sin.

3. How has God forgotten our lovelessness?

And in the cross he has forgotten. Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord declares: “The time is coming . . . when I will make a new covenant . . . I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiahs 31:31, 34 NIV). He sealed this new covenant, this solemn promise, with blood not the blood of lambs and goats, but the blood of his Son, the blood of Jesus Christ, the blood of God, poured out for you. Think of that in the Lord's Supper when you hear Jesus' words: “This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

In the cross God has forgotten all of your sins. Psalm 103 pictures it this way: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12 NIV). All your sins are removed and forgotten because God placed them on Jesus and nailed them to the cross. In baptism you have been crucified with Christ and buried with him, so that just as he was raised to life through the glory of the Father, so also you have a new life in him. Put off the sinful flesh and live that new life that rejoices in God's forgiveness that forgets your sins.

As your heart rejoices in God's forgiveness that forgets your sins, worship changes for us. We eagerly come. We work hard to listen, and despite the distractions we pray for the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin and fill us with the joy of forgiveness in Jesus through his Word and sacraments. That message enables us to worship in spirit and in truth, not just in outward actions.

As your heart rejoices in God's forgiveness that forgets your sins, that changes our perspective on our daily buying, selling, and working. We see that all that we do reflects on our heavenly Father who has adopted us. Why dishonor his name by lying, cheating, or fudging. Even if honesty seems to put us at a disadvantage, will not your Father, who already gave you his Son, take good care of you?

And finally, as your heart rejoices in God's forgiveness that forgets your sins, that joy enables us to give cheerfully and generously to help the poor and needy. Of first importance is to help them spiritually by bringing them the Good News of Jesus. We do this through our mission offerings to the WELS. Through your offerings the WELS trains workers and sends out missionaries in our country and around the world. But we can also help the poor in physical needs as God's wisdom directs us, especially as that physical help reaffirms and emphases the spiritual message of God's forgiving love in Christ. That's why the WELS has both the Committee on Relief to help with physical needs after disasters and the Humanitarian Aid Committee to help the needy around the world where we're doing mission work. These both are funded through special gifts from people like you. Through these committees you can give to help those in physical need and know that the aid will be used as much as possible to reinforce the saving message of Jesus Christ. So also as you give to Christian Life Resource you not only help those in need make choices about abortion or other life issues, but you allow the light of Jesus' love to shine out.

So take to heart the message of the ancient prophet, and know that it truly does apply to us. Let the Holy Spirit call your heart to account and expose the lovelessness that still lives there. See its deadliness as you hear the damning words: “I will never forget anything [you] have done” (Amos 8:4-7 NIV). But then rejoice as the Holy Spirit lifts you up with the Good News: “I will forgive [your] wickedness and will remember [your] sins no more” (Jeremiahs 31:34 NIV). “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12 NIV). Rejoice in the blood of the new covenant, the blood of your God and Savior Jesus Christ. For in the cross God has forgotten all your sins. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313