A NATION THAT DIDN'T LISTEN
Dear friends in Christ,
There is a lady at Autumn Leaves, one of the memory care homes where we go to worship, who used to take a book of word puzzles wherever she went and worked on them. Lately I haven’t seen her carry it. In fact, most of the time she simply stares. Her dementia is growing more severe. Experts do advise the elderly to do word puzzles or picture puzzles to keep their minds active. At the different elderly care homes daily schedules include times for trivia. There is a reason; when it comes to memory - “use it or lose it.”
Parents often want their children to get interested in music and play some musical instrument. Perhaps you were one but dropped it the moment you got out of school. If you picked up the trumpet or clarinet or French horn today, you would probably have to start over from scratch. You didn’t use it, so you lost it. Muscles in the body are the same way; they atrophy when they are not used.
The Lord issues a very similar warning when it comes to the Word of God. God used Amos to issue such a sobering warning. Use it or lose it. Amos was sent to Israel because they were “A Nation That Didn’t Listen.” 1) The evidence is presented; 2) The warning is given.
Amos was a minor prophet. His role is not as well-known or even as broad as Major Prophets like Isaiah or Jeremiah. Amos prophesied during the time of King Uzziah in Judah and King Jeroboam in Israel.
100 plus years prior to Amos the nation of Israel split in two. The man who was mostly responsible oddly enough was also a King Jeroboam I. He did everything he could to split Israel in two and keep the nations split.
Why? The tribe of Judah in the south they felt was favored over the other tribes that made up Israel. The line of kings came from Judah. The holy city of Jerusalem was within Judah’s borders. So Jeroboam enticed the other tribes to split and make a kingdom of their own. They were the northern kingdom of Israel. The southern king was Judah. He also enticed Israel to follow a calf god. That calf god was supposed to be a visible representation of the Lord, but the commandments forbade any graven images of God or other gods.
He made calf-god worship more convenient. Instead of going to Jerusalem three times a year, he set up two worship centers more convenient in Dan to the north and Bethel in the south. They didn’t need to go all the way to Jerusalem anymore. He also introduced a more diversified spiritual menu. Shrines were found on the top of hills. Israel could worship Asherah there. She was a fertility goddess. She appealed to the sinful flesh. If Asherah had televangelists, their channel would not be among the religious channels but on the “X-rated” ones.
Amos’ prophecy is among the twelve books we call the Minor Prophets. At one time the books were one book called the “Book of the Twelve.” Bible critics say these books are really out of touch with the 21st century. Read them. An honest look will lead you to conclude they were written for the good old 21st century USA. Amos wrote to people who had turned their backs on the LORD.
The evidence given is overwhelming.
Let’s compare to our nation. According to the Hartford Institute of Religion Research, more than 40 percent of Americans “say” they go to church weekly. The math doesn’t add up. Less than 20 percent are actually in church. In other words, more than 80 percent of Americans are finding more fulfilling things to do on weekends than learning about and worshipping the Lord. Consider that these 20% go to churches where the Crucified and Risen Christ is not consistently preached.
I’m going to get personal. I was asked to get some stats together for our district president that I would only know. It will help him put a call list of candidates together. I went down the roles of baptized members here at Messiah. I found 55% of our members are in church regularly, meaning 3-4 Sundays per month. 31% of our members are in church somewhere between once every six weeks to two times a month. 13% are here Christmas and Easter and maybe not even that. 45% of our members are here two or fewer times a month. Give thought to where you are.
People who study these things would say that if everyone were like Messiah with 55% in church regularly, that would be great. Really? With 45% of members here two or fewer times a month?
Going to church doesn’t get into heaven, but we do learn about Jesus here who does. Here is where the Holy Spirit works faith through Word and Sacrament. That doesn’t happen when a fishing line is in the water or when someone swings a golf club or when someone’s head remains buried in a pillow.
There are practical considerations. Christians sure have a better chance at a more peaceful life. Families that pray and value the Lord Word do stay together. I am not saying that Christians handle all the stresses of life perfectly, but we know where to get help. Jail populations don’t generally consist of people who are church members in church every Sunday.
Let’s face it there are 168 hours in a week, is it really that challenging to be in church an hour or two a week? One thing that I have wondered for almost 40 years, where in the Bible does it say that church must last an hour and not a minute more? Remember we are not even talking about Bible class attendance. Harsh facts? I don’t think they are harsh fact; they are hard facts that need everyone’s personal reflection.
Let’s face it there is a whole lot more to Christianity than showing up at church. How many of us can say we read the Bible daily? How many of us can say that everybody with whom we associate know we love Jesus? How many of our conversations are peppered with how much the Jesus means to us?
Let’s go a bit further. Amos was a shepherd who was called to be a prophet. Someone made an interesting observation about this. There were schools for prophets in those days. They were like seminaries where prophets were trained. We hear a lot about them during the time of Elijah and Elisha not far removed from the time of Amos. This observation was made. Was Amos called from the pastures to be a pastor because God couldn’t find many good men in the schools where prophets were trained?
I met a pastor from a mainline faith. In fact, he is a Lutheran. He said when he graduated from the seminary he attended not a single graduate believed Jesus rose from the dead. He included himself. For two years he never preached the resurrection from the dead. God had mercy on him he said. He read the Bible and had a “Paul experience” or “Martin Luther experience.” He spent time in his ministerial life undoing the damage done in those first two years. When all is said and done, here we are in 2017, the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, Christianity could use another one.
Let’s return and learn more from the days of Amos. Israel didn’t listen to the LORD. When that occurs there sure aren’t going to be the fruits of faith that normally follow.
During that time Israel’s economy was cooking. The stock market was booming. Instead of giving humble thanks to the Lord there was more greed. Amos spoke about that too. Amos 5 says, “You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them.” Those who governed took advantage of the poor to make themselves rich. I read an article about some of the richest zip codes America. Seven or eight zip codes are in Washington DC or around DC. The average income in those zip codes range from $191,000/ year to $450,000/year. Interesting, don’t you think in the context of Amos’ prophecy?
Amos mentions that people had summer and winter homes and their homes were adorned in ivory. They even had snowbirds then. God blesses people, but he also says that to whom much is given, much is expected. Amos complains, “They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed.” As I said, read the book of Amos. It is very straightforward.
The evidence was presented and then God gives a warning. “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “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.” Notice first that Amos does not say there will be a famine of the word of the Lord, but a famine of hearing. God's words will still be available, but it will be rare that those words will be heard. As a judgment God will cause the truth not to be listened to or practiced.
Examples? Israel was the nation God chose to bring Jesus into the world. Jesus came to them, but they rejected. The promises of salvation through Jesus, but who of them listen? Their backs are turned and their ears are deaf and their hearts are cold.
The very land of the Reformation is experiencing a famine of hearing the LORD’s word. Northern Europe was the land of Martin Luther who took on the big machine of the Roman Church with the LORD Almighty on Luther’s side. This the land of the Leipzig Debate, the Diet at Worms, and the Augsburg Confession. This is the land of the printing press where the truth was published. This was the land that once loved the rediscovery of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, found in Scripture alone. This was the land where people packed churches and stood and listened to Luther preach for two hours. So great was their thirst for the truth.
Now the many cathedrals are nothing more than museums of beautiful Middle Ages architecture. The thirst is rare for the beautiful saving message of life through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Are we as a nation like a blind man who stumbles around but doesn’t comprehend why he keeps falling? We are a nation that doesn’t see a problem with sin, but to sin is our right. We think the problem is found on the other side of the aisle in Washington DC and not our individual sinful and prideful hearts. We see money as the solution for everything instead of God’s eternal grace found in his Word and his sacraments.
We need change all right.We all need to be like those Bereans in the book of Acts who "received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so."
We need to be like a man who left an amazing example. He was a man who loved the word of God when misfortune made the study of God’s word almost impossible. A man in Kansas City was severely injured in an explosion. The victim's face was badly disfigured. He lost his eyesight as well as both hands. One of his greatest disappointments was that he could no longer read the Bible. He heard about a lady in England who read braille with her lips. Hoping to do the same, he sent for the Bible in braille. He discovered that the nerve endings in his lips had been destroyed by the explosion. One day, as he brought one of the braille pages to his lips, his tongue happened to touch a few of the raised characters and he could feel them. Like a flash he thought, I can read the Bible using my tongue. At the time when this story was printed, he had "read" through the entire Bible four times.
Father in heaven, make us zealous like him. Forgive us for acting far too much like a nation that never listens.