Southminster Presbyterian Church

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When Condemning is Easy

Ken Onstot

Scriptures: Amos 2:4-8, Romans 2:17-24

            I suspect the prophet Amos was a great preacher.  He

certainly knew how to work an audience. The book of Amos begins with these words, reading from the translation of the Bible by Eugene Peterson called The Message. Amos says, [Slide 1]

Thus says the Lord:

Because of the three great sins of Damascus

-make that four-I'm not putting up with her any longer.

She pounded Gilead to a pulp, pounded her senseless

with iron hammers and mauls. (Amos 1:3)

To explain: Damascus was the capital of Syria, one of Israel's enemies to the north. At one time Syria invaded Gilead, one of the provinces of Israel, and crushed the people like a threshing machine, chewing them up like stalks of wheat and spitting them out. Amos continues with the Lord's message: [Slide 2]

For that, I'm setting the palace of Hazael on fire.

I'm torching Ben-hadad's forts. [Hazael and Ben-hadad were Syrian kings]

I'm going to smash the Damascus gates

and banish the crime king who lives in Sin Valley,

the vice boss who gives orders from Paradise Palace. (Amos 1:4-5)

            After a sermon like that, the people of Israel would have

greeted Amos at the back of the church and said, "That was a great sermon, Pastor Amos. It's nice to hear someone preach against sin." And they would have been right. It is always nice to hear a sermon against sin when the preacher is talking about someone else.

            The next week they would have come back to church and heard

this sermon from Pastor Amos, chapter 1, verse 6: [Slide 3]

Because of the three great sins of Gaza

-make that four-I'm not putting up with her any longer.

She deported whole towns

and then sold the people to Edom. (Amos 1:6)

Gaza was the capital of the Philistines, Israel's enemies to the west. The Philistines would invade Israel, capture some of its people, and sell them as slaves to the people of Edom who were Israel's enemies on the east. The Lord says, [Slide 4]

  For that, I'm burning down the walls of Gaza,

            burning up all her forts. (Amos 1:7)

  At that point the people of Israel would have shouted, "Amen, Pastor

Amos. Hallelujuah!" Well, maybe not if they were Presbyterians. We Presbyterians tend to be quiet and reserved. But if they were some other denomination, there would have been "Amens" in the congregation, maybe even applause.

            Amos goes on this way for the rest of chapter 1 and the

first three verses of chapter 2. He preaches hell-fire and brimstone to every one of Israel's greedy, godless, oppressive enemies, and the people shout, "Hallelujah."

            But then we come to our second scripture reading, the story

for today from our 365 Bible stories. This is Amos chapter 2, beginning at verse 4. Again I am reading from The Message. [Slide 5]

Because of the three great sins of Judah

-make that four-I'm not putting up with them any longer.

They rejected GOD's revelation,

refused to keep my commands.

But they swallowed the same old lies

that got their ancestors onto dead-end roads.

For that, I'm burning down Judah,

burning down all the forts of Jerusalem.

            Suddenly Amos is no longer preaching; he's meddling.  Judah

is one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Amos is no longer talking about our enemies; he is talking about us. But he does not stop there, verses 6-8: [Slide 6]

Because of the three great sins of Israel

-make that four-I'm not putting up with them any longer.

They buy and sell upstanding people.

People for them are only things-ways of making money.

They'd sell a poor man for a pair of shoes.

They'd sell their own grandmother!

They grind the penniless into the dirt,

shove the luckless into the ditch.

[Slide 7]

Everyone and his brother sleeps with the 'sacred whore'-

a sacrilege against my Holy Name.

Stuff they've extorted from the poor

is piled up at the shrine of their god,

While they sit around drinking wine

they've conned from their victims.

            Do you what Amos is doing?  In effect he says, "You

Israelites, who think you are God's special people, you are as bad as everyone else. You treat the poor like dirt while piling up money to buy the expensive clothes you wear to church. You condemn unwed mothers while hiring prostitutes or viewing pornography. You call for harsh punishment on criminals while making sure that your own crimes are legal, thanks to clever accounting and substantial campaign contributions. You, hypocrites. You are going to suffer God's judgment like everyone else." Suddenly the sermons aren't so fun anymore.

            Like many of you I followed the debates about the Alaska oil

drilling rig that was docked in Seattle for over a month before heading back to Alaska. [Slide 8: Oil rig] Activists protested the drilling rig as a step back for the environment, making us more dependent on fossil fuels rather than less. The Seattle City Council even passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on offshore drilling. But then the speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives, Mike Chenault, passed a resolution of his own. He suggested that if Seattle really wants to reduce greenhouse gases they should shut down Boeing. [Slide 9: Boeing] He pointed out that closing Boeing would reduce the number of aircraft in the skies by 650 a year, aircraft which otherwise would discharge more than 500,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the air. Suddenly the protests weren't as fun anymore. [Slide 10: Blank]

            C. S. Lewis once wrote an essay called "The Trouble with

'X'", where 'X' stands for anyone who creates problems in your life. Interestingly, he wrote this essay for a church newsletter, which means he had church people in mind. He writes,

I suppose I may assume that seven out of ten of those who read these lines are in some kind of difficulty about some other human being. Either at work or at home, either the people who employ you or those whom you employ, either those who share your house or those whose house you share, either your in-laws or parents or children, your wife or your husband, are making life harder for you than it need be.

We know how utterly hopeless it is to make 'X' see reason. Either we've tried it over and over again-tried it till we are sick of trying it-or else we've never tried it because we saw from the beginning how useless it would be. We know that if we attempt to 'have it all out with "X" there will either be a 'scene" or else "X" will stare at us in blank amazement and say 'I don't know what on earth you're talking about'; or else (which is perhaps worst of all) 'X' will quite agree with us and promise to turn over a new leaf and put everything on a new footing-and then, twenty fours later, will be exactly the same as 'X' has always been. .

[God] sees (like you) how all the people in your home or your job are in various degrees awkward or difficult; but when He looks into that home or factory or office He sees one more person of the same kind-the one you never do see. I mean, of course, yourself. That is the next great step in wisdom-to realize that you also are just that sort of person. You also have a fatal flaw in your character. All the hopes and plans of others have again and again shipwrecked on your character just as your hopes and plans have shipwrecked on theirs. . And it is almost certainly something you don't know about-like what the advertisements call 'halitosis,' which everyone notices except the person who has it. (God in the Dock, pp. 151-153).

            During the Assurance of Pardon this morning I read these

words from Paul's letter to the Romans: [Slide 11] "Everyone has sinned and is far away from God's saving presence." That is the message of Amos. "Everyone has sinned and is far away from God's saving presence." But here is the good news: "But by the free gift of God's grace all are put right with him through Jesus Christ who sets them free" (Romans 3:23-24, TEV).

            That, friends, is our only hope: not that we are less

sinful, less problematic than other people, either in this church or this country or this world, but that God's power and grace can transform all of us, if we let it.

"Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care."

Psalm 95:6-7