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Sermon for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost 2022

First Reading: Amos 8:4-7

4Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end, 5saying, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances, 6that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat?” 7The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.”

Psalm 113

1Hallelujah! Give praise, you servants of the Lord; praise the name of the Lord. 2Let the name of the Lord be blessed, from this time forth forevermore. 3From the rising of the sun to its going down let the name of the Lord be praised. 4The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens. 5Who is like the Lord our God, who sits enthroned on high, but stoops to behold the heavens and the earth? 6He takes up the weak out of the dust and lifts up the poor from the ashes. 7He sets them with the princes, with the princes of his people. 8He makes the woman of a childless house to be a joyful mother of children.

Second Reading: 1 Timothy 2:1-15

1First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. 8I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 9likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10but with what is proper for women who profess godliness — with good works. 11Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15Yet she will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

Gospel: Luke 16:1-15

1{Jesus} also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. 10One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” 14The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”

God Notices

When we consider the prophetic work of Amos today, we understand him to be one of Israel’s 12 minor prophets.  But the word minor has nothing to do with his work or dedication to God, it’s simply seen as the number of chapters in his book.  Despite being only 9 chapters long, the words God spoke through Amos were hard hitting, sharp, and in many cases unwelcomed in Northern Tribes of Israel.  The Assyrian nation had risen to great power and soon the mighty Assyrian army would come.  God was desperately trying to get the people’s attention.  The message from God? there was still time to turn back from their evil ways.  Despite the threats from the north, the people had hardened their hearts toward God’s warnings, all because it was a time of prosperity.  This is very important to understand.  Consider our country today.

Last week we reflected on the terrorist’s attacks of 9-11.  We recalled the names of those killed in the twin towers, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.  But more than this, I hope we recalled the fear and of how our churches were filled to capacity for the next few weeks.  For a brief of time, the people of this country recalled who it was that could protect us, keep us safe and for some, who would avenge us.  But as the fear subsided, as the threat seemed to be neutralized, as life returned to more normal, so did our pattern of prayer and gathering in our churches.  Soon the people then, as do now, forgot who it was who blessed them with the land that they prospered in. 

The Israelites had forgotten who it was that had brought their ancestors out of slavery in Egypt.  They failed to recall how God had provided water, bread, meat, and protected them during their desert wanderings.  They, in their comfort, enjoying a perceived level of security and financial success, so they refused to acknowledge who enabled them to conquer the people who had previously occupied the land they prospered in.  They, in their arrogance, considered themselves the masters of their own destinies.  They had chosen instead to serve the many gods of the land, instead of the one true God. 

As I bring all this to your attention, I hope your mind is pondering the possibility, that in reality, this prophecy wasn’t simply given to the people of the past, it also speaks very loudly to us today.  Let me be more direct.  In so many ways, we’re no different than the nation of Israel.  Think about it. 

How prosperous have we become as a country?  As a nation, what is our attitude toward God?  What are the little gods that we’ve chosen to serve in our lives?  Do we see ourselves as secure, as comfortable, as financially prosperous?  Despite the overtures made by our elected officials, who are they really interested in?  Themselves and their prosperity, or the poor, the needy, the widow and orphan?  What is the prevailing attitude in this country: do we view our blessings as a result of our own hand, do we see ourselves as the masters of our own success and destiny?  Or, as St. James reminds us, do we acknowledge that all good things come from the hand of God? (vs. 1:17).  We must, even if reluctantly, acknowledge that the words of Amos are as important for us today, as they were for the people of Israel centuries ago.  Let me give you an example of how we have become the same as the Jewish people of the past. 

Look at our First Reading for this morning.  Amos is sharing God’s warning of how the people are breaking the Third Commandment.  “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain?  And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat?”  To the modern ear, this may sound like a then problem.  But let me put this in our language.

Before I do this, let me remind you of the Third Commandment.  “Honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy.”  How faithful are we in honoring the Sabbath and keeping it holy?  Yes, we come to church, mostly.  That is unless we’re on vacation, are tired, or have other plans.  However, other than coming to church on Sunday, what else changes from say a typical Saturday?  The stores are still open, so we shop.  Restaurants are still open, so we eat out.  Youth sports and activities continue throughout the weekend.  What this means is, that we’re guilty of making others work.  Now I realize that this is more complex than I’m presenting. 

I know emergency and protective services like the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue and medical facilities must remain open and available.  I acknowledge that Electric companies must remain in operation as well as other essential services.  This of course means that some people must work on the Sabbath.  But the vast majority of these companies rotate worker schedules so that these key people don’t always work on the Sabbath.  The critical questions we must ask ourselves is, how does our indifference to keeping the Sabbath holy contributed to the overall problem of keeping the Sabbath as God commanded.  How has our failure to honor God, promoted and encouraged the greed of this country?  Hasn’t Hobby Lobby and Chick Fillet’s policies, of not being open on the Sabbath, taught us anything?

We have a difficult time sleeping, we struggle with our health because of the lack of adequate rest.  We complain we work hard, 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, or more, just so we can procure the stuff we need to recreate, so the only time we have to use this stuff is on Sunday.  I watch as people frantically get ready on Friday night or Saturday morning and rush to the campgrounds and lakes, only to have fun as fast as we can, then they rush home to start the whole process over again on Monday.  How much rest did they really get?  Now add to this lack of physical refreshment, a lack of spiritual refreshment.  We need all three, physical, emotional, and spiritual refreshment.  This is why God set aside the Sabbath.  The problem is we fail to listen to those sent to warn us.  And then there’s the greed.

Look again at our reading from Amos; look at the questions they’re asking.  When “can we make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat?”  The ephah was a dry measure which equals about 10 US gallons.  The shekel was of course a coin used to purchase goods and services and is the equivalent to about 29 cents today.  The question they were asking is how can we maximize profits?  Sound familiar.  Consider this.  Take your average box of cereal. 

In most cases the size of the box hasn’t changed in a very long time.  Yet, when you look at the size of the packaging you think you’re getting the same amount you’ve always been getting.  Yet when you pay attention to the dry weight printed on the box, it has gone from 16 ounces down to 10½ ounces.  “How can we make the ephah small and the shekel great?”  Have you paid close attention to potato chips lately?  The size of the bag hasn’t changed, but when you open the bag, it’s only about ½ full.  They pump in nitrogen to inflate the bag so it looks big, but the actual product is less.  Is this deceitful advertising?  They put the dry measure on the package.  Or is it a case of making the ephah small and the shekel great?  Look at the issue of selling the chaff with the wheat.

In Leviticus God commanded the people of Israel to not harvest to the edge of their fields nor were they to pick up the gleanings of the harvest (23:22).  They were commanded to “leave them for the poor and for the sojourner.”  In their greed they were taking the sweepings from the grain floor, the “gleanings” and selling it like they did the rest of the crop.  In essence, they were depriving the poor of the ability to provide for themselves by gathering the gleanings, and then charging them for what they should have left behind.  In their greed, they were contributing and even perpetuating the problem.  Can the same be said of us? 

How are we part of the problem?  How does our attitudes and actions encourage people and companies to making the ephah small and the shekel great?  What does our attitudes and actions do to contribute to people not keeping the Sabbath holy?  The message of God through Amos is clear, we as a people, we as a country, have forgotten who it is who has blessed us and where all good things come from.

Amos took great pains to remind the people that the words he spoke were not his warnings, but that of God.  In the case of Amos, tradition holds that God came to him in visions while he worshiped.  As he participated in these common ritu­als of worship, God spoke to him with a clarity like never before.  Our reading for today is part of the fourth vision given to Amos.

The fourth vision, which began in chapter 7, given to Amos was that of a basket of summer fruit.  It was the annual offering of the firstfruits of the harvest.  Firstfruits was a Jewish feast held in the early spring at the beginning of the grain harvest.  It was observed on the third day after Passover and the second day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  Firstfruits was a time of thanksgiving for God’s provision.  The people were to bring a sheaf of grain to the priest, who would wave it before the Lord.  A burnt offering, a meal offering, and a drink offering were also required at that time.  Deuteronomy 26:1-10 gives even more detail on the procedure of firstfruits.

No additional grain was to be harvested until the firstfruits offering was brought to the Lord (Leviticus 23:14).  The offering was made in remembrance of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt, the Lord’s deliverance from slavery, and their possession of “a land that flowed with milk and honey.”  Because the people refusal to remember, Amos’ message was an angry message and hard to hear.  He was angry because he feared for the soul of Israel.  He was fearful that God was going to reach the limits of divine patience and give up on the people.  Despite the fact that people were actively partici­pating in acts of worship, Amos believed that they had turned their backs on God.

If Amos was to parallel his message to us today, he would be focusing on how our materialistic culture is driving us away from God.  The people believed that it was the best of times.  A time of prosperity and confidence, a time of relative peace, a time when most everything looked pretty good, a time when most everyone felt pretty good.  It was a time that we could easily parallel with our own time.  In such a time, among such a people, naysayers are hardly welcome.

Who wants to hear about the bad that could be coming in the future when what’s going on in the present looks so good?  Who wants to hear protests when the prevailing winds of prosperity are blowing so strongly?  Who wants to hear criticism and condemnation when it should be obvious to anyone that things have never been better?  It’s hard to be a preacher when all seems well.  Who needs a word from the Lord when our own words appear to be quite sufficient?  

Who needs to acknowledge a creator when the works of our own hands have been so successful?  Who cares what God thinks when our own thinking has produced so much wealth?  It’s hard to be a preacher when all seems well, and wallets are fat, and tummies are full.  It’s even harder to be a prophet when the vision you would share and the message you would speak contradict what the current evidence suggests and what so many believe to be true.  But Amos is faithful and refuses to hold back God’s word of truth.

Amos announces the end, the end of everything: The parade will end.  The prosperity will end.  The peace will end.  The good times will end.  The nation will end.  Nothing will last.  God has revealed to Amos what others have overlooked.  God has seen the corruption and the greed and the sin by which the wealth has been achieved.  God sees behind the facade of affluence and achievement.  He has seen the cracks in the structure and the weaknesses in the foundation.  

God warns us in the last verse of our Old Testament reading that not only does He see what’s going on, but God warns, “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds” (vs. 7b).  God has witnessed the deceitful practices at the scales; the cheating at the money tables (8:5b).  The fortunes that have been amassed at the expense of others.  He sees the  needy that were trampled upon and the poor who were put to ruin (8:4).  The Sabbath had become ordinary rather than holy.  Worship had become half-hearted, something to be endured, something to pass the time until we can beat the Baptists to the restaurants, and then stop by the markets, just so the money can start flowing again.  Amos contends that it was not the best of times.  

It was a time marked by dishonesty and deception.  Amos has seen all these things going on in the culture, and God has now given him a warning for the people.  The fruit that looks so good right now and for the moment is intensely sweet, will not be so for very long.  The good times will come to an end, unless changes are made.  God is warning His people that the good times won’t last.  The plans, the fortunes, the achievements, whatever has been dishonestly gained and deceptively maintained, God will spoil.  God notices.

God notices and God will never forget.  Our lives are lived under the watchful eye of God.  God knows the truth about who we are and what we’ve done.  It all matters to God.  The kind of life we live as individuals, the kind of life we live collectively as a society, how we treat the lowest and the least and the lost among us, all matter to God.  This is God’s message through Amos.  The question is, how many of us believe that God notices and God cares?  How are we guilty of contributing and perpetuating the problem of greed and of failing the keep the Sabbath holy?  A few of us?  Some of us?  All of us?

I know our lives would be different if we truly believed that who we are and what we do matters to God.  If we did, we’d use our time differently, we’d probably vote differently, we’d spend our money differently.  We wouldn’t be so quick to beat others to the restaurants or stop by the market to pick up those odds and ends on Sunday.  I bet we’d even rethink the things that lead us away from being here on Sunday morning.  Or when we are here, we wouldn’t be simply going through the motions.

If we truly believe that what we think and what we do matters to God, shouldn’t we be more sincere in our worship of God?  If we believe that God notices and God cares, shouldn’t we be rethinking our commitments and the need to reshuffle our priorities?  If we truly take God’s warning to heart that He will never forget, then shouldn’t we be more concerned with obeying God’s commands and statutes than we are about our prosperity, our comfort, our security, and our own desires? 

God’s message through Amos wasn’t intended solely for the people of ancient Israel, this message is given to warn us as well.  Now is the time to rethink our priorities, rethink our worship of God and to reconsider what it means to remember the Sabbath and to keep it holy.  “All good things come from the hand of God” and that includes Sabbath rest.  God declared the 7th day as a day of rest and worship because He knows that we need spiritual, physical, and emotional rest.  God sees, He’s clear about this.  Who we are, what we think and what we do all matter to God.


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