“A Terrible Blessing”  Amos 8:4-7

How can we appear one way on a Sunday and put on another face on Monday? 

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost  September 17 and 18, 2022

“A Terrible Blessing”  Amos 8:4-7

Rev. John R. Larson  Ascension Lutheran Church  Littleton, Colorado

            We have a problem.  Us.  All those in this room.  I know it and I bet you know it too.  The very problem that exists grossly and uncontrolled in our society is also ours.

            This problem just ravages the soul.  It makes it very difficult to walk closely with our God.  It destroys the relationships that we should have with others.  Let’s see, the last I counted 5 of the 10 commandments that God gave to His people speak directly about this problem.  The 5 – #1, #3, #7, #9 and of course, #10.  We have a problem.

            What is it?  After the endless talk this week about last Monday’s football game, you might think that the problem has to be something about the Broncos, but that is not the case.  It is the problem with things – stuff and how it can bring us a misplaced soul and a wrong view of others.  Reed Lessing, in his commentary on Amos (the text I’m preaching about) says, “There is a sickness and madness in Western society called consumerism – the notion that life consists in having and getting and spending and controlling and using and eating.  This system places stress on accumulation and believes that meaning and security come by ‘more’”.  “Just how do people live in a society that screams at them daily to buy things they don’t need with money they don’t have to impress people they may not even like?”  (Page 514, Concordia Commentary)

            The Old Testament prophet, Amos, speaks up against the problem of hypocrisy and the abuse of people of less power than us – “Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, saying, ‘When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?’ skimping the measure, boasting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling the sweepings with the wheat.”  (Amos 8:4-6)

            For many there are two separate realities that don’t ever meet – there is religion – church, worship, being a Lutheran – and then there is business, work, making money – and the two never meet.  One is a Sunday thing, a spiritual thing and the other is the other six days and it is how you live in the real world.  That is how it is for too many today – maybe you, maybe me.  That is how it was for the people 2,700 years ago when Amos wrote what he wrote.

            They were hypocrites.  They showed up to church, that is, to the Temple.  They did their duty but they were not engaged with the God who wanted to speak to them.  Their minds were elsewhere.  “When will the New Moon be over?  When will the Sabbath be ended?”  Modern translation – “When will the sermon be over?”  “When can we get out of here?”  For the Jewish people there was no business transacted on the Sabbath.  When the New Moon showed up there was no buying and selling.  For them, the day that God made for physical rest and spiritual vitality, was just a day that was wasted. 

            But what was worse then the twiddling of their thumbs in God’s house was what was done to the poor and needy when they finally got out of the prison of the Temple.  What was said in that service, what was read from God’s book, what they went through for the forgiveness of sins, didn’t take.  Their religion and their business didn’t blend.  God’s ways and their way of making money didn’t quite agree.

            Here’s how they cheated others back then – When the farmer came in to sell the grain, the merchant had an oversized bushel that received the grain.  He got a bunch for a small price.  But when the merchant sold that grain to others that big bushel now was undersized.  He lied to the one who sold him his grain and then lied to the one who bought the grain.  Two different sized bushel baskets can make someone a lot of money.  They did the same thing with scales, fixing how much things weighed for their advantage.  Amos said that what they were doing was “trampling the poor and doing away with the needy of the land.”

            5 of God’s commandments were broken in this reading.  #1 – No others gods.  #3 – Remember the Sabbath day.  #9 and #10 – You shall not covet, which led to #7 – You shall not steal.  The blessing of things, from God’s generous hand, became a terrible blessing because of their heart that was deceitful and misguided.

            How could we cheat another?  How can we appear one way on a Sunday and put on another face on Monday?  How can we do such things and still call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ?  I believe that our heart can get misplaced and misdirected.  We start believing the world that says we are only successful if we have more.  What we have then becomes a terrible blessing.  Our money and the things we own, all gifts from God, blessings from Him, can become a terrible blessing to us.  Money, for some of us, becomes deified.  It is our god.  It is what we worship.  It becomes the most important thing in life.  And we will get it however we can get it, honest or dishonest.  Paul says, rightly, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”  (I Timothy 6:10)  The love of money is what kept the rich young man, spoken of in Matthew’s gospel, out of heaven.  Jesus knew how important having stuff, having things, possessing more and more, was to this guy, so Jesus says to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.”  (Matthew 19:21)  But that guy couldn’t do it.  His things had a grip on his soul.  Matthew, who wrote this account, told us of his response, “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.”  (Matthew 19:22)  Jesus invites him to a new and better life, but he rejects the invitation and he leaves the presence of Jesus sad.

            God cares about the integrity of His people.  He calls for a worship that is centered upon Him and Him alone.  He calls for His people, for us, to have the same heart as He has.  So this is where we start with all of this.  We acknowledge that our soul is poor and empty.  And we find out how blessed we are when we start with nothing.  Jesus invites us to begin with poverty, emptiness, in our soul.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 5:3)

            We will know how rich we are when we recognize and rejoice in the price that was paid for our life.  The Bible says, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.  He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.  Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.”  (I Peter 1:18-21)  We find ourself content because Jesus has come to us.  Psalm 73:25 says, “Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you.”

            There is something greater than things.  It is a person, a person who would give up His life so that our life would be made new.  And when we are redeemed by Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes to us so that we may live life with a full blessing to others.  Now we don’t look at others to see how we can use them for our benefit but now we consider how our lives can be used for them.  Proverbs 31 says, “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 needy.  (Proverbs 31:8-9)

            Amos, the book that we read, is harsh.  It speaks about people who weren’t true in their faith and were worse in their life.  I pray that the living faith we have in Jesus is the basis for our great love for all people.  Amen!!       







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