God Stands Behind You
Two great miracles have already occurred in our life. One – God gave us a Savior. Two – he adopted us into his family. Amos 7:10-17 shows us that God Stands Behind You. July 26, 2009.
Pick up the paper or click on-line, and the front page has a disgusting article about some old guy who has molested children. Flip to the metro section, and rare is the day when someone didn’t get shot. The community paper lists the location of thefts, and you begin to wonder if it’s safe to put a package in your trunk when you park at the mall because someone might see you do it and come up behind you to steal it. You’re standing in line at Burger King, and the guy in front of you makes a lewd comment to the girl taking his order. You’re thinking, “First of all, that’s harassment, and secondly, what if that were my daughter?” Then wickedness swirls in closer as the men and women in the work stations around you use language that isn’t even fit for the bathroom and as lying and cheating seem as natural as sneezing. Then Satan pokes his bony finger right into the corner of your brain and tries to get you to justify illicit behavior as though God doesn’t care if you’re shacking up or getting hammered on Friday during happy hour.
How can we step outside our doors and live with confidence? An incident from the career of the prophet Amos supplies the answer, recorded in the first lesson today, from Amos seven, God Stands Behind You.
I’m not sure any of us would volunteer to trade places with Amos. He had a tough assignment. Picture a civil war going on. Imagine that you are on one side, and the other side is completely heathen and godless. Then God appears and tells you to go to the rich, snooty, high and mighty, big dollar, ritzy capital of the bad guys to confront the king and proclaim, “God considers you and all your people to be a bunch of ruthless, rotten rodents, and you better get your act together, or he’s going to blast you to hell!” That was Amos’ job. He lived several decades after a civil war had split the nation of Israel in two, north versus south. God told him to leave his little farm town of Tekoa down south in Judah, travel to the big capital city of the north, march into the palace of the king, and tell him, “God considers you and all your people to be rotten, and he will destroy you unless you repent and return to him.” Making matters worse, there was a sharp‑tongued opponent named Amaziah. He had a very important position. He was the priest at Bethel, the worship site of the northern kingdom. Amaziah got up every morning, looked in the mirror, and nearly threw his shoulder out of joint patting himself on the back. He was proud of himself and his station in life.
But then one day, along came this Amos with a message completely counter to his own. “Who is this Amos guy?” Amaziah asked, “His resume is blank. He has had no formal training. He has no letters behind his name.” But what was particularly galling for Amaziah was that Amos not only contradicted him, but he looked terrible. “Just take a look at this goof!” “Hey, Amos! You tracked mud and sheep dip on the king’s new Oriental rug. Your hair’s not combed, your coat has holes in it, and you smell like a barn.” Amaziah looked down his pointy nose at Amos and despised him for his lowly station in life.
What did Amos do? Was he embarrassed and ashamed? Did he tiptoe back to Tekoa with his head hung low and his tail between his legs? No! He was not ashamed of his station in life. God had given him the gifts and skills to take care of flocks and to farm the land, and he used those gifts and skills to the best of his ability. He had nothing to be ashamed of. He replied to Amaziah with the truth, “I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore fig trees.” He was not sinfully proud. Rather, he was content with his station in life because God stood behind him.
Would you agree that there’s a lot of discontent in this world? Would you admit that perhaps you could learn to be a little more content with your station in life, especially when you see the office gossip queen get promoted and your neighbor hit the jackpot? Then learn from Amos that what was true for him is also true for you. God stands behind you. He is the one who has given you your station in life. Is it wrong to try to get ahead in life? Is it wrong to seek a promotion or retrain for a job with a better benefit package? Of course not! But remember! If you are at the low end of the totem pole, if you have decided to cut back your work schedule to devote more time to your infant or toddler, if you had to take a step back or a step down in this economy and feel like a broken brick at the bottom of the corporate pyramid, you have nothing to be ashamed of, as long as you are using the gifts and skills which God has given you to the best of your ability. Join with Amos to grow in contentment as God stands behind you in your station in life. Then you will be able to confess with the apostle, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Philippians 4:12).
The king of the northern kingdom surely didn’t want people going to Jerusalem, the center of worship in the southern kingdom. So he had set up a worship center at Bethel twelve miles north of Jerusalem and appointed his own priests. Whoever served as a priest at Bethel had likely risen through the ranks and called the shots when it came to worship in the northern kingdom. So Amaziah not only had a very important position serving at Bethel. He also had status in the eyes of the king. That’s why he felt he had a right to take Amos to task. Amaziah said to Amos, “Don't prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”
We might expect Amos to back down, not just ashamed of his lowly station in life but out of sheer fear. Amaziah had the authority of the king of the northern kingdom to back him up. But Amos didn’t shrivel or shake in fear because he had a higher authority standing behind him. Look at his courage. “I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son ... but the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, Go!’” Amos replied to Amaziah, “My station in life may be low, but my status is high. You get your authority from a king, but I have been called by God!” Amos had the status of a prophet not because he had sought out the job, not because his resume was printed on slick stationery but because God had given him that status. He had courage to carry out his task because God was standing behind him.
Where do we get the courage to live our lives as Christians when there’s an army of demons trying to detain us, a host of allurements to lead us astray, and the ball and chain of our own in‑born corrupt character pulling us into gutters where God doesn’t want us to go? We get the courage from the status God has given us. At our baptism he gave us the status of being royal priests even if we don’t feel like it or look like it. He gave his promise to stand behind us. We can say, “No!” to temptation. We can say, “Yes!’ to godly living. We can stand our ground in an evil and hostile world. Join with Amos to grow in courage as God stands behind you in your status as his priest and prophet. Then you will be able to confess with the apostle, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
One day, as Amaziah was going about his duties preparing for a sermon on the virtues of calf‑worship, he looked out the window and what did he see? A scruffy‑looking shepherd coming up the road toward the calf‑worship temple at Bethel. Amaziah expected this lowly shepherd to beg for a hand‑out and thought, “What a rude interruption!” But when Amos opened his mouth, he didn’t do any begging. Instead, out came statements that really set Amaziah back on his ear. He poked right into the heart of the problem, the sinful hearts of Jeroboam the king, Amaziah the priest, and all those who followed them, and he delivered God’s message of doom. “Well, I never!” thought Amaziah. He had his servants bring the chariot around and sent his most trusted messenger off to the king, “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. For this is what Amos is saying: ‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’” Then he turned to Amos and shouted, “Get out you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there.” Amaziah couldn’t stand Amos’ statements about doom and gloom.
But what was Amos supposed to say? If the king of the northern kingdom became sick to death in his heart over his sinful life and leadership, God would have told Amos to proclaim mercy and compassion. But that’s not what the king and his priest Amaziah needed first. They needed the factual statements unloaded by Amos. He had been called by God to speak the truth and only the truth. Anything else would have been sludge in the water. So Amos didn’t make things up or flounder around for words. He spoke with clarity because God was standing behind his statements.
When I have asked people for reasons why they find it difficult to witness for Christ, I have heard some folks say that they find themselves at a loss for words. They’re not sure what to say. My usual response is that you do know what to say. Maybe you just haven’t organized it. When we get right down to it, in spite of all the denials, excuses, and criticisms from others, in spite of all the challenges from our society, witnessing for Christ is as easy as counting to two. There really are only two clear statements I need, only two clear statements you need, only two clear statements anyone needs. “I am a sinner, but I have a Savior.” So join with Amos to grow in clarity as God stands behind your statements. Then you’ll be able to confess with the apostles, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).
Two great miracles have already occurred in our life. One – God gave us a Savior. Two – he adopted us into his family. That means that even when it seems the odds are against us, we are always in the majority with the Savior at our side. Go and live your life with contentment, courage, and clarity because God stands behind your station, status, and statements. Amen.
Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI (www.gracedowntown.org) on July 26, 2009