Monday, October 22, 2012

Sermon -- 21st Sunday after Pentecost (October 21, 2012)

AMOS 5:6,7,10-15

In the name + of Jesus.

     The prophet Amos proclaimed to the people of Israel, Seek good, and not evil, that you may live.” (Amos 5:14)  This sounds so sensible, so simple, and so obvious that we wonder why it had to be said at all.  Everyone knows that we are to be good.  Everyone knows that we should avoid what is evil.  But the prophet Amos also highlighted the problem that was happening in Israel at the time: They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth.  Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time, for it is an evil time.” (Amos 5:10,13)  The people of Israel had turned good and evil on its head.  Evil was being practiced, defended, and praised.  Those who found evil to be repulsive were afraid to call it evil for fear of their own repercussions. 
     There is nothing new under the sun.  It is the same old world, the same evil world, that we live in.  We still live in a world where evil is practiced, defended, and praised.  Anyone who still stands up to say, “That is evil!  Whoever does that is evil!” is shouted down, vilified, and despised.  We are told to believe that no one has any false beliefs unless he believes that there is only one source of truth.  Lies and spin are excused—even encouraged!—when they promote a certain cause.  People have parades to promote perversion and hold rallies to advance wickedness.  Whoever celebrates evil is praised.  Whoever tolerates evil is commended.  Whoever exposes evil is demonized.
     No matter what evils people give themselves to, they still believe that they are good.  The problem is not only with the reprobates, it is also with the decent people.  Take, for instance, the rich, young man who came to Jesus in our gospel.  A man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone.  You know the commandments….  And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” (Mark 10:17-20) 
     The rich, young man called Jesus good and assumed that he himself was good.  But what was the measure of good?  Both were decent, well-behaved people.  Surely that is good enough, right?  Jesus redirected him right away.  “You call me good.  You realize that the only one who is truly good is God.  Are you calling me God?  Is that your confession?  In any case, God is good because God is holy.  He has given you perfect commandments to obey.  If you have kept the commandments perfectly, willingly, and continually, then you will live.  For then, you are truly good.”  Seek good, and not evil, that you may live.
     And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” (Mark 10:20)  Like so many people, the rich, young man lived under the delusion that if he was satisfied with his behavior, then God must be too.  Don’t you assess yourself similarly?  Don’t you compare yourself to others and commend yourself because you grade yourself better than them?  Haven’t you also considered the commandments and thought, “Yeah, I’ve kept those.  What’s next?”
     The problem is that we have a wrong assessment of what is good and what is evil.  In some things, it is obvious.  You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” (Mark 10:19)  The rich, young man understood that, too.  But Jesus had to show the rich, young man that he could not even kept he First Commandment.  Jesus … said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:21-22)  This man loved and trusted in his wealth.  If he had believed that Jesus is good and that, therefore, Jesus is God, then Jesus should be able to take care of all his needs.  But he would not trust Jesus, and he would not give up his wealth for Jesus.  So the rich, young man was not good, as he claimed; he was an idolater.
     Seek good, and not evil, that you may live.  Do not invent or rely on your own definition of good and evil.  You are not the judge of such things.  Your definition of good and evil will always be distorted – whether by popular opinions or by your own personal longings.  There is only one who is good, and only he can tell you what is good and what is evil.  He urges you: Seek good, and not evil, that you may live.
     If you heed God’s definition of good and evil, you will have to confess that you are not good.  You will have to acknowledge that you are evil – for you have sinned against God’s commandments.  It is hard for us to call ourselves evil.  If we are not felons, then we aren’t bad, right?  If we aren’t caught, then we aren’t guilty, right?  We just don’t want to assess things the way God assesses them.  That is why Amos chastised the Israelites: They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth. (Amos 5:10)  But if God would save you, he first must show you that you need to be saved.  Therefore, he shows you that you are idolaters who love yourselves more than God and who trust your own judgment more than God’s word.  The Lord exposes your wickedness and obliterates your excuses so that you finally cry out with the apostles, “Who then can be saved?” (Mark 10:26)  And Jesus says, “With man it is impossible, but not with God.  For all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)
     Seek good, and not evil, that you may live.  Jesus reminds you, No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18)  And so God has done what is impossible for you to do.  He obeyed the Commandments.  Jesus did not just talk about what is good; he lived it.  He gave up everything to do God’s will.  He preached God’s truth faithfully, calling evil what God says is evil.  For this, Jesus was hated.  Jesus’ enemies plotted his death, but Jesus’ was plotting to pay for the evils of mankind by that death.  Jesus did not tolerate evil and he did not make excuses for your sins.  Instead, Jesus suffered and died for every evil thought, word, and deed.  Jesus made the once and for all sacrifice for your sins.  He endured the fury of a God who must punish and condemn all who have sinned.  And since Jesus has taken the sins of all, he has suffered and died for all. 
     Seek good, and not evil, that you may live.  The good that you seek is Jesus Christ.  He is the Righteous One who lived, suffered, and died for the unrighteous.  Jesus’ life is where the Lord has supplied the good you need.  Jesus’ death is where God has dealt with all of your evil.  And the place that Jesus dispenses this righteousness and forgiveness to you is in word and sacraments.  Jesus declares your sins to be forgiven so that you may believe, and that by believing you may have life in his name.  Jesus purifies you in the waters of baptism, and he renews his covenant with you whenever you are absolved.  Jesus gives you his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper – that which was given to pay for sin is given to you to forgive your sins. 
     Seek good, and not evil, that you may live.  Jesus Christ, who has united himself to you, will also work in you so that you believe, and think, and act according to God’s holy word.  As hard as you work to serve the Lord, you know that your works will never be perfect.  As hard as you strive to avoid sin, you know that it will still creep up and get the better of you.  But you do not need to walk away sad like the rich, young man.  You do not need to cry out in fear like the apostles.  It is not impossible to enter the kingdom of God, for God is on your side.  Jesus Christ has done all good for you.  Jesus Christ has delivered you from all evil.  Salvation is not only possible, it is certain.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.