Monday, October 15, 2012

Sermon on Amos 5:6-7, 10-15, for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost, "Justice in the Gate"

·         Amos, a shepherd living about 750 years BC—sent by God to Israel to call them from their sin. Warns that time is running out for them to turn, seek the Lord and live. 722 BC, the whole northern kingdom of Israel would be wiped out by the Assyrian armies.
·         Should never surprise us that Biblical times even 2700 years ago were not far from the way things are today. Customs, technology and fashion might be different, but the problems and the sins are much the same. Just like King Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” In today’s passage, listen for parallels to today.
·         The prophets’ main focus was usually on idolatry—leaving the true God for any other—or trying to worship the true God alongside any other. God does not allow divided loyalties to Him. v.6 reads: “Seek the LORD and live, lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel.” God’s anger was rising against Israel’s idolatry. The town of Bethel had become a shrine for worship of false gods, a terrible irony, since the name “Beth-el” literally means the “house of God”—a name given by the patriarch Jacob, when he saw God and received His promises and blessings at that place. The place that had been dedicated to the honor and glory of God had now been turned into a home for idols and false worship. Other prophets scornfully called it “Beth-aven” or “house of nothing” or “house of wickedness” (Hos. 4:15). If they would turn and seek God instead of false and worthless idols, the LORD might spare them and be gracious to them.  It is only for the sake of God’s grace and forgiveness that we can live. Life is from His mercy.
·         But hand in hand with seeking false gods was the way they were living. Evil and injustice were springing up like bitter weeds across the land. Of course when we think of justice and injustice, our minds go immediately to the courts. The court is where a person expects justice to be delivered. Its where we should find civil or criminal wrongs dealt with fairly and honestly; that the innocent are vindicated, upheld in their cause; and that the guilty are fairly punished or held accountable. It’s a travesty of justice when right and wrong are turned upside down—when the innocent are unjustly condemned, or when the guilty go free. Amos’ audience also would have thought of the courts when he was addressing them about justice and injustice. Though the “court system” was less formal than today, this is just what Amos is talking about when he refers to “the gate” three times in the reading. In v.10 it says “They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth.” The city gate was the informal court, where the elders or respected wise men of the community would gather to hear and settle disputes. Here was the place for the poor and the needy to seek justice against their adversaries.
·         But what happened instead? Corrupt men obscured the wrongdoing of their wealthy friends. Unjust judges took bribes to keep silent, and not enforce justice against those who were getting rich by dishonest gain. The needy came to the city gate seeking justice, but they were being turned away and denied it. And when the truth was spoken against this corruption, those guilty judges and wealthy oppressors hated public rebuke and deafened their ears.
·         At the root of injustice and corruption, whether it’s in the courts of yesterday or today, whether it’s in the marketplace, government, education, business, or even in the church, is when men forget that God is the ultimate Judge, and that He will uphold justice. Forgetting God and ignoring what is just and right, people imagine that they are getting away with injustice. They think that no one sees their actions, or can stop them. They think that with bribes they can keep authorities quiet about their wrongdoing. Who suffers the most from injustice? The poor and the helpless. Those who cannot stand up for their own rights either because they don’t have the means or the power to do so, or because they are voiceless. Today, the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly are often the most defenseless, and the least likely and sometimes least able to have their rights defended.
·         But God is the “Father of the fatherless, and the protector of widows” (Ps. 68:5). “The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin” (Ps 146:9). So God warns the evildoer that they will not enjoy the riches they have stored up for themselves—that their false sense of security will be lost when God comes to defend the cause of the innocent. God will deal with all injustice. He sees and knows all sins and transgressions, and will deliver justice. He is the ultimate judge, and His courtroom will upset all the unjust verdicts handed down by men.
·         And we, His followers, are likewise to be agents of His justice. Not only are we to pray and wait upon His deliverance, but also we are to work to bring “justice in the gate” to all who need it. We are to “Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate.” Because we know and remember that God is the righteous Judge and upholder of all justice, we are to have a passionate hatred of evil and injustice, and a passionate love for good and justice. A Christian lives not only in an isolated world of other Christians, but in a wide world that often does not remember God is Judge. We see injustice taking place all around us, and we must seek to establish justice in its place. It begins with us living justly ourselves, according to the good pattern and example that God lays down in His commands; and it extends through loving our neighbor and seeking justice for them as well. We cannot be blind or deaf to injustice, or the cry of the needy and poor. We should seek to be free of partiality or favoritism, and to seek only what is right and true.
·         For we believe in and know the One True God, the defender of the weak and helpless, and we believe in and know Jesus Christ His Son. We saw how He came into the world to suffer under the great injustice of our human sin—to be the innocent man who died in our place for all of our guilt. But also the One who did this because He came bringing Divine Justice to us—to pardon us from our offenses to make us new in Him. He is the hope of the “remnant”—of the few who remain and believe and trust in Him. The hope of those who seek good and not evil. And if we have suffered injustice in this life, and if we can find no justice, but only corruption—then we can cry out to Him, to the only One who can finally deliver true justice to us. And we wait for the day when Jesus will finally return and bring justice to all. It is His love of justice, and His gracious mercy toward us that motivates our love of the same, and our forgiveness toward others. Only in Him can we be confident that a world of injustice will one day be made right again, for "Righteousness and Justice are the foundation of His throne" (Ps. 89:14). Amen, Come Lord Jesus!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Amos lived in the mid 700’s BC. Who was he? Amos 7:14-15. What was the primary sin that the prophets of God usually spoke against? How did idolatry overtake the city of Bethel? 1 Kings 12:26-33. How did it originally get that name? Genesis 28:10-22; cf. Hosea 4:15
  2. Why is it not surprising that sins of idolatry and injustice were the same yesterday as they are today? Ecclesiastes 1:9-10.
  3. What basic expectation would people normally have when taking a matter to the courts? Leviticus 19:15. What kind of practices threaten to interfere with justice? What normally took place at the city gate? Deuteronomy 21:10; Ruth 4:1–12.
  4. What injustices do we see in various realms of life? The court? Business, government, education, church? What must we do if it is in our power to change injustice? To whom should we cry out if it is not in our power? Who are most in need of our protection today?
  5. How does God assure us that He brings justice and is the defender of the weak? Psalm 68:5; 146:9; Hebrews 10:30. Why should those who are corrupt and cause injustice fear God and His judgment? What should they remember?
  6. How are we to “establish justice in the gate”? Where can we assist and protect the cause of the weak, the helpless, the poor, and the vulnerable? Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 7:5-11; James 1:27
  7. How does justice and injustice relate to Jesus’ coming into the world, and His death on the cross? How was He delivered from the injustice of His innocent death? How was the sin of the world justly dealt with? How is He the hope of all those who have suffered injustice and wrong? How then shall we live until He returns? 2 Peter 3:10-13

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