Sermon – September 25, 2016

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Amos 6:1-7 “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria, the notable men of the first of the nations, to whom the house of Israel comes! Pass over to Calneh, and see, and from there go to Hamath the great; then go down to Gath of the Philistines. Are you better than these kingdoms? Or is their territory greater than your territory, O you who put far away the day of disaster and bring near the seat of violence? “Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall, who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music, who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile, and the revelry of those who stretch themselves out shall pass away.”

Let us pray. Gracious Father, open our eyes to see Joseph, to see Lazarus, to see our neighbor so very near and so much in need, and open our eyes to see how you lavish your goodness upon us, for the sake of your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Helping Your Neighbor
Is Your Ongoing Task as a Christian.

That is to say, as the people of God, we live for others; we love our neighbors as ourselves.

I.

But from the Old Testament prophet Amos, our text: “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria . . . but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!” (vv 1a, 6b, emphasis added).

Loving others as ourselves is a biblical theme revealed early in the Scriptures. In the Bible’s first book—the Book of Genesis—we hear a story of how sin corrupted people’s desire for God and others. In Genesis, Moses writes of how ten brothers were guilty of not loving their neighbor as themselves. In this story, their neighbor wasn’t a stranger needing assistance. Their neighbor was their brother Joseph.

Jealous because of their father’s favoritism toward Joseph (Gen 37:4), upset that Joseph’s dreams predicted that he would one day rule them (37:8, 11), Joseph’s brothers wanted him to disappear. We read: “And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it” (37:24). Soon the brothers sold Joseph to traders, Ishmaelites (37:28), and he landed in Egypt.

Brother Joseph suffered. While in the pit, he had no water. He cried out in distress (42:21), but the brothers didn’t care. Instead of caring about Joseph’s suffering (and reversing their sinister plot), they ate a meal (37:25). The brothers considered themselves first, caring for their own needs. They ignored their brother’s needs. They were not mindful of the needs of others. Woe to these brothers!

Today’s text from Amos reminds us of Joseph’s suffering and his brothers’ unfortunate, careless reaction. The prophet Amos used Joseph’s story as a way to speak God’s Word of Law to God’s people: “Woe to those who . . . are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!” By appealing to this familiar story, Amos hoped to resonate with his own hearers. After all, God’s indictment against his people during this era was that they lived for themselves. “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria.” Like Joseph’s brothers, Jerusalem and Samaria in Amos’s day considered their needs first. They were living in luxury. Amos described this lavish life in vv 4–6 of our text: “Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall, who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music, who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils.”

Amos captured his hearers’ “me-first” attitude. But did you notice the recurring first word in these sections of the text? Again and again the first word is “Woe.” Woe isn’t a pleasant word. Woe means “How disastrous it will be for you.” Woe predicts the Day of the Lord’s judgment. The Day of the Lord will not be pretty for these people! Woe to these Israelites!

The situation in Amos’s day is similar to the situation Jesus presents in today’s Gospel, the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19–31). Like Joseph’s brothers, and like the Israelites in Amos’s day, the rich man cared only for himself. He feasted sumptuously. He wore expensive clothes. Yet his neighbor Lazarus—his “Joseph”—begged for crumbs of food. Unfortunately, instead of caring for his neighbor, the rich man opted to gratify his own pleasures. That choice was a poor choice. What God predicted through Amos for such people—divine judgment and destruction—became reality in the rich man’s life. The rich man experienced what Amos prophesied: he spent eternity in hell, separated from God. Woe to this rich man.

II.

“Woe” isn’t spoken only to these biblical bad examples of careless living. “Woe” is spoken to you and to me, to all people, for we all have a sinful nature. The devil entices all of us to treat ourselves as first, ahead of others. Woe to you, people of God, people declared to be without sin on account of Jesus and people who by Baptism are dead to selfish sinful behavior and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Woe to you who at times live as the world lives, living in a lavish land of abundance that you use for personal gain. While all around you is poverty, at risk children and youth, ripe for gang recruiters, families broken by violence, divorce. Families struggling for survival. Single mom’s, teenage girls getting pregnant, people enslaved to drugs or alcohol. Josephs in need are all around us, but we turn a blind eye, perhaps out of apathy, or self-absorption to the point we don’t even see the needs of others, or even fear; fear of getting involved and fear that there is nothing we can do. The problem is just too big.

Woe to you, who at times act like Joseph’s brothers, like Amos’s hearers, like the rich man in today’s Gospel. Keep living like these bad examples, fail to heed the call of repentance and faith, and you’ll be first, all right—first among equals in hell!

God’s “woe” stings. It accuses even us baptized Christians, who sin daily and need God’s forgiveness. We assess our lives and realize that at times we fail to care for the people God puts in our lives. We know that we deserve hell for our sinful selfishness.

III.

But we also know that our way out of eternal suffering isn’t by doing better in helping the Josephs in our lives. That will never earn us salvation or the favor of God. As Christians, we have a better reason to help others—and that is our certain deliverance from hell.

While you feel the sting of God’s “woe,” you who have been baptized also have God’s Word of promise: you are “blessed.” Now there’s a sweet word! On account of Jesus, you are blessed! All your sins are washed away—your missed opportunities, your failures, your egocentric actions, and your times of yielding to the devil, the world, and your sinful nature’s “me-first” focus. Your sins are all washed away! Jesus’ innocent blood shed for you on the cross cleanses you from the filth of your self-centered focus. He restores your focus. He puts your focus on him, on his love for you. He does this by speaking the Absolution through his ordained servant, by whom Jesus also delivers to you his true body and blood, which in turn creates “fervent love toward one another” (LSB, p. 166). Here, Jesus places your focus on him, and by extension on your neighbors in need. Out of this focus flows love for those neighbors. You help others because helping others is the way believers respond to God’s forgiveness for Christ’s sake. You are made righteous in Christ, therefore, put away pride and selfishness. You are freed from the law and from sin. Therefore, use your freedom to love and serve your neighbor. The whole law is fulfilled in one word: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Gal. 5:14). This is what God expects because of His love for you.

Helping our neighbor is the ongoing task which God has given you, the Christian. It’s your task. It’s my task. It’s our task together, because that’s what we Christians are to do. Not to justify ourselves or to make us look good among peers. But we simply live for others, meaning we love our neighbors as ourselves. With God’s Gospel power, we endeavor in this worthy response to God’s mercy for us. Amen.