Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 25, 2016, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Amos 6:1-7
Sermon Theme: “A ‘Prophet’ Who Practices What He Preaches”
(Sources: Brokhoff, Series C, Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Commentary; Prophet and Priest, chabad.org; “Practice What You Preach” by Neil Epler; notes in Life Application Study Bible; original ideas; Harper’s Bible Dictionary; Greek/Hebrew Key Bible)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Since you regularly attend a church that uses CPH inserts from a Lectionary Series, I’m sure you have noticed how all three Scriptures for each Sunday, — Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel – all have a common thread that ties them together. Your pastor chooses one of the three to focus on, but the others relate to it. That of course is true of today’s Scriptures.
Moses led the people of Israel as God’s Prophet, and God made Aaron, the brother of Moses, the first priest. Many people are often confused about the difference between the “Navi” [Prophet] and the “Kohen” [Priest]. That’s because in the New Testament and in our own time, they seem to merge together. Aaron was a descendant of Levi, so for centuries, priests and other professional church workers had to come from the descendants of Levi.
The duties of prophet and priest were distinctive, but sometimes overlapped. Although you had to be a Levite to be a priest, you could be a prophet without being a descendant of Aaron or Levi. Still, the most famous of the Old Testament prophets came from the families of priests, — Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Zechariah, — and I’m not sure about Isaiah. We don’t know enough about many of the minor prophets, like Joel, Obadiah, Micah Nahum, etc., to know if they were also priests. The Old Testament Prophets, whether from priestly families or not, were Godly men whom God used to admonish the people and to proclaim His plan of salvation. Eventually the priests, but not the prophets, of Israel became so decadent that God had to call pure and good men like Samuel to serve as both priest and prophet.
But we do know that the Prophet, Amos, the author of today’s text, did not come from a priestly family and was not a priest. In fact, what is so unique about him is that he came from a remote village on top of a mountain where he raised sheep and goats and was a dresser of fig trees. Today we’d call him a farmer and rancher. That such a lowly person would be chosen by God to be a prophet underscores the fact that God works in strange and mysterious ways, — or maybe it’s not so strange for a good, simple, hard-working person to become God’s spokesman!
Amos was not the son or grandson of a priest, he was not the son or grandson of a prophet, he was not a disciple of another prophet as Elisha was a disciple of Elijah, — his chances of becoming a religious leader were remote until he had a vision from God. Amos came from Southern Israel, but God called him to prophesy to Northern as well as to Southern Israel.
During this time period, the northern Israelites were divided from their southern brothers and sisters in Judah, but they were still God’s people. They were prosperous, and life was good, too good. Even though they gave the impression of being pious, they were actually worshipping idols and oppressing the poor. Amos, this fiery, fearless, and honest shepherd from the south, confronted the Israelites with their sin and warned them of God’s judgment and what was about to happen to them. Amaziah, the priest, tried to stop Amos, the prophet, from making such harsh prophesies.
Amos speaks out, “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria . . . Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the midst of the stall, who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp .. who drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!” Since Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, this is a metaphor which suggests we are our brother’s keeper.
When we first read Amos’ chastisement, we think he is criticizing those who are wealthy just because they are wealthy. But when he adds, “They are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph,” we realize he is condemning them for being so comfortable in their own life-styles that they don’t notice the poverty of others who are less fortunate. Their comfort cushions them to what is going on the world around them and blocks out the reality of the suffering and poverty they don’t seem to see
Amos was writing during the eighth century BC, during the prosperous reign of Jeroboam II. He warned the people about dire consequences, should they continue to ignore the plight of those in poverty. He told them, ‘Therefore they, the idle rich, shall now be the first to go into exile, and their decadent revelry will be over.’
Amos was of course proved to be right in his prophesies, and he was greatly disliked. While they were living in a time of peace and plenty, the people had no wish to be reminded of God or to be publicly criticized in such a way. After prophesying the overthrow of the Temple, the fall of the Royal house, and the captivity of the people, Amos was finally thrown out of Israel.
Our text speaks to us and our country today, doesn’t it? We Americans are a people of ease, comfort, luxury, and affluence, aren’t we? Like the Israelites, our good life keeps us blinded to the evils of our age, — greed, poverty, violence, dishonesty, wastefulness, disregard for others, disregard for religion and religious freedom. Who needs God when life is so good?! Like the Israelites, we refuse to see the consequences for the next generation.
I think we can all see ourselves in Israel’s problem as presented by Amos, we even speak out with similar criticisms, but maybe the real issue for us is to practice what we preach.
To assure that we practice what we preach, in our Epistle, Paul reminds Timothy and us what characteristics and behaviors are demanded of church leaders, not just pastors, but all the leaders in the church, — be gentle, self-controlled, not greedy, not a drunkard. In fact, this applies not just to leaders, but to the whole priesthood of all believers, as Peter calls all of you.
As Christians, it is very important that we follow the example of Jesus Christ and practice what we preach. Sometimes we are good at telling other people what they should do and how they should live, but we fail to follow our own instructions. We need to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
There is a Peanuts comic strip which shows Snoopy on top of his doghouse with a flock of baby birds. The time had come for the baby birds to learn how to fly, and Snoopy was their teacher. Snoopy flapped his ears and walked to the end of the roof of the doghouse. He leaped into the air and continued to flap his ears. Unfortunately he landed right on his head. He got back up onto the roof and shared this lesson: “Do as I say to do and not what I do”
How do we practice what we preach? I like the way Neil Epler, answers this question. Epler says, “One way is to be careful about the words we speak. You can tell a lot about a person by the words they use. You can tell even more by the words they use when they are distressed, angry, or threatened. James tells us the tongue is very dangerous. It can set a great forest ablaze. We can tame all kinds of animals, but we cannot tame the tongue.
“People are listening to the words we speak. Do our words build people up or cut them down? Do our words bring peace and calm to a situation or do they add fuel to the fire? The words we speak should match the person we claim to be. If we profess that we are followers of Christ, then our words should be a reflection of that relationship.
“We practice what we preach when we live our lives as reflections of the life of Christ. The way we act at work should be same way we act at home, at church, around other Christians, in the supermarket, or waiting for a bus. When people see us, they should see a reflection of Christ.”
The Book of Amos contains 9 chapters, and our text is just a part of one of those chapters. Almost all of those chapters are Law, they present God’s judgment, and in the sins of Israel we can see ourselves. However, the Book of Amos concludes with a message of hope, because our God is a God of hope. Eventually, God will restore His people and make them great again. Our Nation has that hope. You and I have that hope. It’s God’s promise! Because of what Christ has done for us, we can rejoice in that promise! Amen.