Sunday, February 28, 2016

Is your daily bread junk food?


Behold the days are coming says the Lord God when I will send a famine on the land. Not a famine of bread, nor thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. And they will wander from sea to sea, and run to and fro from north to the east, and they shall seek for the Word of the Lord but shall not find it. Amos 8:11-12

A FEW WEEKS AGO we heard from Ezekiel who is Scripture’s most frightening prophet. Today we hear from Amos who is less alarming but only because his book is nine chapters to Ezekiel’s forty-eight.

Now Christians might wonder why we must be subjected to such a prophet. Why, if Christ redeemed those who are under the law, do we need to hear the Law at all? There is only one reason, dear Christians, because of the Old Adam in us who loves sin and hates God. Old Adam is incorrigible. He cannot be improved or reformed, but the only way to deal with him is to put him to death by daily repentance. Yes, we must hear the Law. If for some reason it were to cease, then sin would soon overtake us and bring us to ruin, so rather than shun the Law, let us gladly hear and learn it because it exposes our sin and prepares the way for the Gospel to make us whole.

Amos’s first word is Behold. By it he calls for Israel’s undivided attention because he sees a day on the horizon when God’s patience would run out; when He would severely judge His people for their unfaithful and immoral lives; a time when the time for talk would be over, a day when God would go silent! The only thing more frightening than God’s voice, is His silence. When God spoke at Sinai, Scripture informs us that the people trembled with fear. They implored Moses: you tell us what God says, but do not let Him talk to us lest we should die. But if God’s voice is alarming His silence is deafening! Deadening! Amos warns his feckless and reckless nation that when God goes silent then destruction will begin. His Word will be withdrawn, the temple will crumble, the earth will return to the void from which it came and darkness will once again cover the face of the deep. Nevertheless, Israel kept sinning.

Is God’s Word really so vital to our well-being that men cannot live without it? Don’t ever doubt it, Dear Christians. It is the source and sustenance of our lives. By it God created all things and sanctifies all things. By the Word made flesh He redeemed us from death. By the preached and sacramental Word He provides us with ongoing remission of our sins, the resurrection of the body, and the matchless gift of life everlasting. Still Amos’ people would not hear it, so God destroyed them all.

A similar situation has occurred in our generation. The church is in shambles today. People starve for a true Word but none is forthcoming. They thirst for a pure message but remain unquenched. It’s not that there is a shortage of Scripture. There are Bibles to be found everywhere: in churches, hotel rooms, hospital rooms, houses, drug houses, in cell phone apps and on the internet. The Bible is God’s Word. It is the spiritual food we need to sustain us for a life time. It diagnoses our true problem. It eradicates our sin. It empowers us to live holy lives and promises visions of wonder greater than St. Paul’s to all who believe. There is no shortage of Scripture, but there are precious few places where it is rightly understood or properly administered.

In Moby Dick, Herman Melville writes: the pulpit leads the world.” But when the pulpit goes silent, when it churns out foolishness instead of the Law and the Gospel then chaos descends. God’s Word, which in a previous age taught virtue, which gave men a reason to live and a reason to die, has gone missing. Without its divine power we run to and fro making more and more regulations to replace the self-control that love once gave. We erect cameras in hopes of forcing good behavior, or if nothing else at least to pilfer a few more dollars from the unsuspecting. When you enter the city of East Cleveland there is a sign that warns, “Be careful, there are cameras everywhere.” Such a sign should be an affront to every Christian and insult to every American.

Now you may be wondering: is there any good news to be found in the Book of Amos? Yes. God’s Old Testament church faltered and failed and paid the price for her sins that Amos predicted. But all the things she suffered were not an end in themselves, but instead pointed to the greater reality that was fulfilled by our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the One who truly suffered for sin. He is the one on whom all of Amos’ curses fell when He was sacrificed on the altar of the cross. When He prayed: My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me He received no answer, but suffered the silence of God in our stead, so that we might hear His never-ending benediction.

And there is another bright spot as well – God is still speaking, still calling, gathering enlightening and sanctifying sinners everywhere, inviting us one and all to come to Calvary’s holy mountain and to drink the sweet wine that flows from it, to find forgiveness in Christ, and to have our fortunes restored by Him. Even now when it appears that a severe spiritual famine has descended upon our land and upon our Lutheran church, the seed is still sown and still received in good and honest hearts. There are still places of plenty, Oases where the water of life can be had until we want no more. By God’s grace we still have His Word, His Sacraments and the sacred ordinances of His house. These are the green pastures, and still waters that the Psalm speaks of and we have them in rich supply, so much so, that we can rightly say with King David: my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.

Rev. Dean Kavouras

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