Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost/LWML Sunday
October 14, 2018
“Ugly and Beautiful”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Have you ever had a preacher that you didn’t like? (Don’t let me know who it is!!) Your problem with them wasn’t how they spoke, their unique mannerisms, that they spoke much too long or that they could put you to sleep at their very first word. Your problem wasn’t how they spoke but what they spoke. They were too direct. Too pointed. Too personal. They spoke about you rather than about someone else. Their sermons made you mad. You couldn’t wait for them to finally say the “amen” and get out of that pulpit.
If you have ever had such an uncomfortable experience welcome to today’s sermon. (And you thought having to suffer through another Bronco loss was going to be the toughest thing you would face today!!) It comes from Amos, the John the Baptist of the Old Testament. Amos, preaching around 750 B.C., had an appropriate name. His name means ‘Burden’. His mom and dad must have known something about him when they named him!! Martin Luther said of him, “Amos was hard to get along with and irritating.”
Amos spoke about people being ugly. Not the ugly of your body and your looks, but the ugly of your character, personality, soul. Ugly concerning who you really are.
Ugly can show up in worship, in church. Amos, speaking on behalf of God’s purity says, “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24)
Religious exhibitionism provides no beauty in God’s eyes. Attending church and just going through the motions has no honor at all. Jesus says the same when he quotes Isaiah, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” (Matthew 14:8-9)
But ugly is more than simply faithless actions in worship -saying the Lord’s Prayer without even a thought about what is being prayed, or coming to the Lord’s Table without even a consideration of what it really is. It is more than what we say; it is also what we don’t say. In the Proverbs we read, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and the needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9) In that day the poor were treated poorly. Justice for them was forgotten. They were forgotten. No one would speak for them. No one would champion their cause. They became invisible and their needs were dismissed.
How about today? This week I saw a sign of one of the poor people on the corner of Mineral and Santa Fe, but instead of saying that they needed some money his sign read, “How about just a smile?” Whether you give a buck or two to the folks on the corner is your choice. They could use that money to buy something bad – alcohol or some drugs, some do, or they may get something good – like food. But we can’t ignore them. We can’t pretend we don’t see them. We must treat them as humans in need of kindness, just as we need kindness.
Amos, the man whose name tells us his purpose in life, to carry a burden and to share a burden says, “Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.” (Amos 5:14-15)
When we see evil or know something is wrong or unjust, our God who loves what is just and right calls us to act and speak in the same way as He would. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”
Silence, at the wrong time, can be ugly. We should have spoken. We should have demanded the right for justice for the other. We should have defended the one who had no voice.
Amos wants to take us from ugly to beautiful. But such a transformation is not easy. Frank Layden, a long-time coach of the NBA Utah Jazz had a very talented basketball player who just wasn’t getting the job done on the court. His attitude was poor. His practice was negligent. And his play in the game was not good. Layden called the young player into his office. He simply asked, “Is it apathy or ignorance?” The player responded, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”
In Oswald Chambers book, “My Utmost For His Highest” he says, “Thank God that He has given us difficult things to do.” It is easier to be ugly in life, but God has given us greater things to do, harder things, even more difficult, but those things are much more beautiful. They are more beautiful in us and they are more beautiful in those we touch with that beauty.
The name Amos means burden. But it also means burden bearer. Amos was very good with placing a burden on our shoulders. In his nine chapters he is direct with his accusation to God’s people. They had forgotten true religion. They went through the motions. They cared very little for those who had less in life. He begins his letter with the words, “The Lord roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem.” (Amos 1:2)
But he is also a burden bearer. That is the only way that God’s beauty can come to us. The end of his book concludes with a word of hope and grace, “In that day I will restore David’s fallen tent. I will repair its broken places, restore its ruins and build it as it used to be.” (Amos 9:11)
You know of another burden bearer, don’t you? You’d better!! This burden bearer is better than Amos. His work makes us beautiful – on the inside and all the way to the outside, now and eternally. Here’s a word about Him, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6)
Jesus is the burden bearer. He was a magnet for all the sins we have committed, the sins of silence, or the sins when we should have been silent, the sins we have committed and the sin of failing to have the strength to do what was right. The burden bearer, Jesus, makes us holy, pure, cleansed, whole, right. We are restored and completed by the death of Jesus and by His resurrection.
This transformation is quite amazing. From ugly to beautiful!! And we, by God’s Spirit, can even be the vehicles bringing beauty to others. That same prophet, Isaiah, would talk of shared beauty like this, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” (Isaiah 52:7)
Some people are naturally beautiful or handsome. When someone tells me that my grandkids are good looking, I tell them, “I know – it comes from their grandparents.” You know where the beauty of a redeemed child of God comes from? It isn’t a natural beauty. It is inherited. From God, our Father.
Jesus Christ makes us beautiful. On the inside. In our character. In our soul. St. Paul, who knew how ugly human character can be, remember he talked about being “the worst of sinners”, says this, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us…Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are renewed day by day.” (II Corinthians 4:7,16)
We know about ugly. It can be within us and it shows itself in our society all too well. When we approve of injustice, when we are afraid to speak, when we become indifferent or apathetic, we are as ugly as can be. In Jesus Christ life in transformed. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)
Just as Jesus addressed ugly, evil and sin, so do we. “Seek good, not evil…Hate evil, love good.” God’s beauty has come to us in our Savior Jesus. Live beautifully. Amen!!