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Just Amos

A Four-week Series

What is worship? Who is it for? Who can attend? In our North American culture often the answer in practice is that worship is for us churchgoers, but of course anyone who wants to can come and participate. Worship is for our enjoyment, amusement, or sanctification. We spend a lot of time and energy on planning our worship; we even have publications, denominational staff, and church staff whose sole purpose is to help with the planning and implementation of worship. And all of it is meaningless. Absolutely meaningless.

Unless . . .

Unless, as Amos suggests, our worship is directed to God and flows out of a relationship with God. Unless our worship is more than a once-a-week ritual and is built on a life modeled after Christ himself. When we approach God’s throne in worship, we should ask whether our hearts are one with Christ’s and filled with the things that concern Christ, and whether our actions reflect the actions of Christ.

The message of Amos is a much-needed corrective to the message of our prevalent culture. —JB

WEEK ONE

Chosen to Do Justice

Text: Amos 3:1-15

Psalm: 101

Sermon Notes

“I chose you and only you.” So begins the oracle God gave the shepherd Amos against the people of Israel. In righteous indignation, God issues judgment against Israel for their failure to act justly—and thus, their failure to give God glory. They are God’s chosen people, but they have not lived lives worthy of this distinction.

God’s election is two-fold: it gives us identity, and it gives us purpose. Amos makes clear that the purpose of election is to give God glory. God’s glory is seen when God’s people demand justice for those who are oppressed. Being chosen by God is not so much about what God’s people do in their own homes—it is about how they show the compassion and justice of God to the world around them. As a parent, I don’t want my children to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that could be construed in any way as being private. I want them to have a relationship that is deeply personal and very public, a scandalous affair that makes people’s heads turn! Faith is meant to be lived out.

Amos’ words are reminiscent of Jesus’ words in Luke 12:48: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Being God’s people means doing justice. It is as simple as that. If we are following Christ, we take seriously the humanity of those who make our clothes, harvest our food, paint our kids’ toys. We consider the dignity of the person who scans our groceries or sorts our recycling. We remember the worth of the resources that go into our plastic packaging, cell phone chips, patio furniture. This declares to the world that Jesus Christ is Lord over all.

Confession

Awesome and compassionate God,
you have loved us with unfailing, self-giving mercy,
but we have not loved you.
You constantly call us, but we do not listen.
You ask us to love, but we walk away from neighbors in need,
wrapped in our own concerns.
We have been called your own,
and yet we fail to see the world the way you do.
We condone evil, prejudice, warfare, and greed.
God of grace, as you come to us in mercy,
we repent in spirit and in truth,
admit our sin, and gratefully receive your forgiveness
through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. Amen.

—adapted from The Worship Sourcebook, 2.2.18

Assurance

You are a chosen race,
a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,
in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him
who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
People of God,
all of us together have received God’s mercy in Christ.
In Christ we are forgiven, redeemed,
and made to be a community united in faith.
Thanks be to God.

—The Worship Sourcebook, 2.4.1

Sending

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Col 3:12-14, NRSV)

Song Suggestions

“Praise God for the Harvest of Orchard and Field” LUYH 397
“Touch the Earth Lightly” LUYH 18, WR 38
“Speak, O Lord” LUYH 755
“For the Healing of the Nations” LUYH 289, WR 621
“Will You Come and Follow Me” LUYH 742, SNC 267, WR 350
“Church of God, Elect and Glorious” LUYH 252, PsH 533, WR 541
“We Are Called” LUYH 296, see also p. 22

Prayers

A Prayer for Our Work LUYH 272
A Prayer for the Nations LUYH 287
Affirmation: The Unity of the Body LUYH 259
Prayer of St. Francis LUYH 860

Sample Litany

Leader: We have been called out for a purpose: to be a light for justice, to be makers of peace, to be sowers of the seeds of new life. We are part of God’s family—our fathers and mothers in the faith were also called to participate in God’s plan to bring good news to the poor and delivery to the oppressed.

We remember Moses, who brought God’s message of deliverance and led the Hebrews out of slavery.
Through Moses we see God’s justice breaking through.
We remember Rahab, who had the courage to shelter Joshua’s men from danger.
Through Rahab we see God’s justice breaking through.
We remember Gideon, who led the Israelites out of oppression and back into relationship with Yahweh.
Through Gideon we see God’s justice breaking through.
We remember Deborah, a woman who organized the Israelites to overthrow their enemies and brought a time of peace for God’s people.
Through Deborah we see God’s justice breaking through.
We remember Ruth, a foreigner and widow who sacrificed her own safety to be faithful to her family and to God.
Through Ruth we see God’s justice breaking through.
We remember Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and all the prophets who braved fear, isolation, and personal oppression in order to call Israel to live lives of justice.
Through the prophets we see God’s justice breaking through.
We remember Esther, who implored for mercy and risked her life to save her people.
Through Esther we see God’s justice breaking through.
We remember Nehemiah, who advocated to the leaders to stop their oppression of the poor and vulnerable.
Through Nehemiah we see God’s justice breaking through.
We remember John the Baptist, who proclaimed the reign of God at the cost of his life.
Through John we see God’s justice breaking through.
We remember Mary, a poor young woman who said “yes” to what seemed impossible and bore a son named Jesus.
Through Mary we see God’s justice breaking through.
We remember Joseph, who did the right thing and cared for Mary and her Savior son.
Through Joseph we see God’s justice breaking through.
We remember the blind, sick, deaf, disabled, and grieving people whom Jesus healed, and through those healings showed us the signs of God’s kingdom.
Through the faith of Jesus’s followers we see God’s justice breaking through.
We remember Mary Magdalene, a women who broke the boundaries of propriety and announced the Lord’s resurrection to the apostles.
Through Mary we see God’s justice breaking through.
We remember the early church apostles who noticed the suffering of widows and orphans and who called on deacons to serve them.
Through the apostles we see God’s justice breaking through.
We remember Paul, who heard the voice of God and turned from a life of violence and hatred toward a life of love and reconciliation.
Through Paul we see God’s justice breaking through.
May we too allow God’s justice to break through. In the big and the small choices of our lives, may we be near those who are oppressed, may we find ways to deliver those who are captive to injustice, and may we be a part of the great hope of God’s coming kingdom.
Through our lives may we see God’s justice breaking through. Amen.

Other Resources:

 

WEEK TWO

Seek the Lord and Live

Text: Amos 5:1-17

Psalm: 82

Sermon Notes

God issues a call for lament and repentance—lament for injustice and repentance for the role God’s people have played in it. God is grieving for his people, who are running after the things that lead to death. God is grieving for the poor, who are suffering at the hands of “his chosen ones.” Amos demands that God’s people repent and turn toward God.

In verse 14, God strikingly declares, “Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is.” If we want to enjoy God’s presence in our own lives, we must commit to seeking goodness and justice for those who are vulnerable.

Doing justice is not an option, one choice on a buffet of “good deeds” for church members to browse. It is not activities for those who have “a special heart for the suffering.” All those who follow God must do justice. Through seeking another’s good, we live.

In Luke 17:7-10, Jesus reminds his disciples what servanthood means: “we have only done our duty.” It is our duty, as servants of the Most High God, to repent of our complicity in oppressive systems and practices, to turn toward God, and to embrace God’s care for the vulnerable. God’s presence, which we long for, demands it.

Confession and Assurance

When we have afflicted others,
whether by our own power
or by our silent support of systems
that oppress, enslave, and crush,
break us, Lord.
When we have perplexed others
and purposely confused them for our own gain
or driven them to despair,
break us, Lord.
When we have persecuted others,
casting them out of our community,
leaving them forsaken and alone,
break us, Lord.
When we have struck down others,
casting stones on their dreams and hopes
until they are destroyed,
break us, Lord.
Then broken, we carry in our bodies the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus
may be made visible in our bodies;
make us, Lord.
With the power that belongs only to you,
make us into your treasure;
make us, Lord.
We are the clay, and you are the potter.
We are the work of your hands;
make us, Lord.
Do not be exceedingly angry
and do not remember our iniquity forever.
Now consider, we are all your people.
Make us, Lord, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

—The Worship Sourcebook, 2.2.54

Sending

Now go out into the world, seeking good for your brothers and sisters. In so doing, may you experience the presence and goodness of God for yourself. May you seek the Lord by doing justice, and in seeking the Lord, may you find life.

Song Suggestions

“We Are Called” LUYH 296, see also p. 22
“Open Our Eyes” LUYH 297, SNC 263, WR 491
“Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love” LUYH 299, PH 367, PsH 601, WR 273
“Hear Us, O Lord, As We Voice Our Laments” LUYH 290
“For the Healing of the Nations” LUYH 289, WR 621

Prayer

Optional prayer LUYH 419
Prayers of the Oppressed and the Oppressor LUYH 31

Other Resources:

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WEEK THREE

Let Justice Roll

Text: Amos 5:18-27

Psalm: 105

Sermon Notes

When you think of a river, you probably envision a river of water. But have you ever seen a river of people? Have you ever seen a river of blood?

In the Reformed tradition, church sanctuaries often place the Word of God, the communion table, and the baptismal font front and center. When you enter the sanctuary you approach these means of grace. The Holy Spirit works through the speaking of God’s Word, the sacraments give signs of exactly how God is present in your life, and by God’s grace you are changed and renewed.

Then, when the sermon ends, the last song is sung, and the benediction is delivered, you gather your things and leave. So does everybody else. This is a river of people.

The image from Amos that is more foreign is that of a river of blood. The word blood doesn’t appear anywhere in Amos 5, but we cannot understand the river of justice without talking about blood. When sacrifices were made in the temple as an atonement for sin, the blood of those sacrifices literally flowed past the threshold, out of the sanctuary, and down into the valley below. This is a river of blood. The source of this river of blood is God’s sacrificial grace later made complete in Jesus.

Did you know that prevention measures are lowering the number of new HIV/AIDS cases? And because the availability of treatment that stops the spread and effects of HIV/AIDS is going up, we are on track to reverse the disease’s once exponential spread by 2015. If this trend continues, it is possible that in 2015 virtually every person with HIV/AIDS will have access to treatment and the number of new cases will continue a rapid decline. There is still disparity in how HIV/AIDS affects poor versus wealthy regions, but because of the voice of Christians, this disparity is shrinking. Until brave Christians spoke up in the early 2000s, this crisis was being mostly ignored at best, and stigmatized at worst.

God’s anger in Amos was because the religious festivals were not followed up by just actions. God gave the means to reverse the people’s systems of injustice, to end inequity and oppression—like reversing the trend of HIV/AIDS. But the river of people who were supposed to flow out of the temple to fulfill God’s promises walked out of the temple and did nothing.

That was then.

Now there is Jesus accomplishing the call to let justice flow down with the promise that it will one day be fully completed. Jesus’ way of accomplishing this work is first through grace, then by sending the Spirit, and then by the Spirit sending the church: a river of people who flow out into the world, working to end systems of oppression. We are the river.

Confession and Assurance

Lord, you gave me arms that I might reach out to those who suffer;
but too often I keep them wrapped around myself.
Lord, have mercy on me.
Lord, you gave me feet that I might take the first step
toward those who feel alone, afraid, oppressed;
but too often I stay planted where I am most comfortable.
Lord, have mercy on me.
Lord, you gave me ears that I might hear the stories people tell
to know your work in their lives, or the ways they’ve been denied justice;
but too often I fail to listen.
Lord, have mercy on me.
Lord, you gave me a mind
that I might understand the brokenness of the world
and be inspired to imagine a new way to live;
but too often I am distracted, disinterested, disengaged.
Lord, have mercy on me.
Lord, you gave me a mouth
that I might tell your truth in the world,
that I might speak for justice where voices have been silenced;
but too often I use my words to harm and not to build,
or I remain silent, afraid of being judged.
Lord, have mercy on me.

I will sprinkle clean water upon you,
and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness,
and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
A new heart I will give you,
and a new spirit I will put within you;
I will remove from your body the heart of stone
and give you a heart of flesh.

—The Worship Sourcebook 2.4.15, Ezekiel 36: 25-26, NRSV

Song Suggestions

“Let Justice Flow” LUYH 295, see also p. 17
“Praise the Lord, the Day Is Won” LUYH 200
“Canto de esperanza/Song of Hope” LUYH 941, PH 432, SNC 282
“Blest Be God” LUYH 285, see also p. 21
“Hail to the Lord’s Anointed” LUYH 109, PsH 72, TH 311

Prayer

A Prayer for the Common Good LUYH 276
A Prayer in Times of International Strife LUYH 215
In Solidarity With Those Who Suffer Injustice LUYH 413
Lament in Circumstances of Injustice LUYH 643

Other Resources:

  • For more on HIV/AIDS: crcna.org/pages/osj_hivaids.cfm
  • Every Friday, the Office of Social Justice of the Christian Reformed Church sends out a prayer guide based on justice-related current events. These prayers are good additions to a congregational prayer as we seek to include practical ways to be part of God’s river of justice. To sign up, go to crcna.org/pages/osj_newsletters.cfm.

WEEK FOUR

The Lord Will Restore

Text: Amos 9:11-15

Psalm: 144

Sermon Notes

Israel’s land is reaping a harvest, but the temple is in ruins. God’s plan to repair the temple is to plow under the vineyards, replant, then tread upon the new grapes and produce new wine that will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills. Israel’s old ways will be plowed up, and the advent of Jesus will equate to the planting of a new vine.

Israel is remaking her gardens. God is remaking his people. The process that God is using to remake his people will bring a result that will touch every nation. God’s covenant in Amos goes beyond a permanent inheritance of a piece of Mediterranean property (Amos 9:15 isn’t God’s permanent claim to the political land of Israel). “Never to be uprooted again” is a message of God’s promise of an eternal covenant whose grace overcomes shortcomings. Before the restoration, Israel’s sins resulted in punishment—their being captured and brought into captivity. After the restoration there will be no more captivity for those who believe.

The land where Israel is to be planted will be unlike any land any person prior has ever known. The restored include all nations—even Edom, one of Israel’s worst enemies.

Israel may have originally been content with keeping the old vineyards and rebuilding the same old walls, but God is not satisfied with the status quo. God’s promises go beyond keeping the peace on the surface. God’s purposes go beyond punishment to the complete restoration of all things. Our lives, too, may appear to be filled with peace. But living in God’s new land means a life committed to restoration, justice, and the “new thing” God is building in the world: where all people are allowed to live in the cities they build, to drink the wine of the vineyards they plant, and to eat the fruit of the gardens they make. True peace comes with working to build God’s kingdom in the world—a kingdom in which, even now, all things are made new.

Confession and Assurance

Sovereign Lord,
you have anointed us with your Spirit,
yet we have not shared your great gift.
Create in us a clean heart, O God.
Restore to us the joy of your salvation.
We have not proclaimed your good news to the poor.
We have not bound up the brokenhearted.
Create in us a clean heart, O God.
Restore to us the joy of your salvation.
We have not proclaimed your freedom to the captives.
We have not comforted those who mourn.
Create in us a clean heart, O God.
Restore to us the joy of your salvation.
Forgive us for closing our eyes to the needs of others.
Forgive us for limiting your abundance.
Create in us a clean heart, O God.
Restore to us the joy of your salvation.
Open our minds, Lord. Open our hearts, Lord.
Open our hands, Lord. Open our lips, Lord.
Give us a willing spirit to show your love to your world.
Amen.

—The Worship Sourcebook 703; based on Psalm 51 and Isaiah 61

Sending

May the grace of Christ, which daily renews us,
and the love of God, which enables us to love all,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, which unites us in one body,
enable us to be agents of renewal in the world,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

—The Worship Sourcebook, 9.2.4, alt.

Song Suggestions

“In the Day of the Lord” LUYH 485
“O Day of Peace” LUYH 487, PH 450, WR 539
“O Morning Star, O Radiant Sun” LUYH 472
“We Will Walk with God” LUYH 931
“Song of the Prophets” (st. 1, 8, 18) LUYH 53
“The City Is Alive, O God" LUYH 278, PsH 597
“O God of Every Nation" LUYH 282, PH 289, PsH 606, WR 626
“Lead On, O King Eternal" LUYH 328, PH 447/448, PsH 555, TH 580, WR 508

Other Resources:

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