3rd Wednesday in Lent – February 27, 2013

 “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord?” (Amos 5:18) 

 A man was walking along a deserted beach one morning and happened to come upon a lamp that had washed up on the shore. It was filthy, but looked like it might be valuable. So, he took it home to clean it. As he was polishing it a column of smoke suddenly came out of it and a genie appeared. “I am the genie of the lamp,” he said. “Ask, and I will grant your wish.” The man thought for a while, and then hit upon an idea. “Oh genie, I would like a copy of the New York Times that will be published five years from now.” Poof! There before him was a copy of the Times, dated five years hence! He quickly found the section with the closing stock prices for the day and began dancing. “I know what stocks to buy and where to invest my money! I’ll be rich!”

Suddenly, he stopped and turned very pale. There before him, on the next page, was his picture under the heading, “Wall Street Wizard Found Dead At Home.”

“Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!” cries Amos. “It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him.” A day of great evil, and not good, was coming upon Israel!

So what! What do Israel’s sins in 750 B.C. have to do with us? I suppose Amos has a fitting message for Lent – judgmental and depressing and all that – but wouldn’t it be nice to hear something different, something relating more to our lives today? I mean, when’s the last time you escaped from a lion and ran into a bear? When’s the last time you thought about the Day of the Lord?

But, that’s just the point. None of us knows when the Day of the Lord will come: the final Day, when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead; your own Day, when God summons you from this life to stand before Him to answer for your life; or, some climactic moment in your life. We must think about it and always be ready to meet God!

The people of Israel to whom Amos preached thought they were ready. They desired the Day of the Lord, for they believed they were living in His favor and had His blessing. The Day of the Lord would be a day of blessing for them, a day of vindication and victory over their enemies! They were religious people, after all, worshiping people who were often in God’s house. They even wrote new songs of praise for use in worship! No, said Amos. “The day of the Lord is darkness, and not light.” God would come in judgment, because they were not letting “justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Learn from them. Worship must center in justice and righteousness. They must flow to us, and they must flow through us. The people of Israel had stopped up both streams. They refused to listen to their God, but sought out the words of other gods; and then, when they left God’s house, each sought his own good and not the good of others. Good works did not flow forth from their lives for the blessing of others.

The worship, and worshipful life, that pleases God centers in His justice and righteousness. He alone is just and right, and He alone can declare and bring forth what is just and right. Whenever our ideas and beliefs and actions are contrary to what God says, we are sinning and are facing His anger and judgment. We must, then, repent: 1) confess that we are wrong and God is right; 2) reject and turn away from our sins, and 3) turn to God for forgiveness. This is never easy and is often painful, for it involves rejecting oneself and can put you at odds with what others believe is good and right.

Many don’t want to do this. Amos was told to be quiet and leave. In our day:

  • Many churches openly reject certain sections and teachings of the Bible. “They are old and don’t apply to us anymore,” is their excuse.
  • Some churches believe the Bible to be God’s Word, but also reject certain teachings by not speaking of them. There is increasing pressure to do this.
  • Some Christians ignore them by not learning them, or by also saying, “They are old and don’t apply to us anymore.” What about you?

The heart and soul of worship is God’s justice and righteousness flowing to us. It is, then, proclaiming Christ crucified. “What shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” There is no more important message and no more relevant message than the message that the Son of God became man and gave Himself into death to save you from your sins. “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” says 2 Cor. 5:21. There’s God’s justice, carried out on His Son who became sin for us; and there’s His righteousness, given to us in Him. This gives glory to God, for in Christ crucified we see how greatly God loves us. Of course He knows our sins and is rightly angered by them, but He loves us and wants to save us from them! So, He punishes His only-begotten Son for them. How incredible! This message also brings glory to us, for through faith in Christ crucified you are no longer a lowly sinner. You are a child of God, exalted as kings and priests in Him! “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession,” says 1 Peter 2:9. How greatly are we forgiven, blessed, and loved!

Now, let this justice and righteousness that you have received from God in Christ flow through you to others. This is why you live. This is the purpose of your life. This, too, is worship, for it is the stream of God’s justice and righteousness that flowed to you now flowing through you. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me,” says St. Paul (Gal. 2:20). The glory of Christ crucified is not only that He is for us as our Savior. It is also that He lives in us and works through us. His sacrifice cleanses and directs our lives.

What a surprise it will be when the Day of the Lord comes and we see this. Remember the poem “Footprints in the Sand” by Mary Stevenson? She dreamed that she was walking on a beach with the Lord, but was upset that during difficult times it seemed she walked alone, for there was only one set of footprints. “That was when I carried you,” the Lord told her. Well, you know something? On the Day of the Lord we will see that there were always only one set of footprints. Our crucified Lord always carries us. His cross and its forgiveness embrace us, and then His cross and forgiveness flow through us. What St. Paul said of himself is true for each of in Christ: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal. 2:20) All thanks and praise to Him always!