Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Lenten Midweek I


Lenten Midweek I: Upside Down[1]
February 20, 2013
Text: Amos 3:1-2

            Upside down.  That’s what you are, and you know it, and God knows it even better than you do.  You are not what God created you to be.  He created you to be in perfect fellowship with Him, to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things, and so also to be in perfect fellowship with your neighbor, to love your neighbor as yourself.  But you aren’t and you don’t.  You fear, love, and trust in other things and people above God, worshiping idols of your own making.  You do not love your neighbor as yourself.  You put yourself first.  Some neighbors you love, but about most neighbors (let’s be honest) you’re indifferent, and there are many neighbors you despise.  You go on living your life of comfort and luxury while your neighbor for whom Christ died lives in poverty and suffers injustice.  It’s not the luxury, or course, that is the problem, but the indifference to the plight of others.  Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head (Matt. 8:20).  And you sympathize, but you ultimately shrug your shoulders as if it’s not your problem.  So you are not the person God created you to be.  You are the opposite of that.  You are upside down.  And being upside down, you are exposed, naked before God.  For in your luxury you are poor.  In your leisure you are enslaved.  God pours out His blessings upon you and you turn them against Him.  Perversely, you worship the creature rather than the Creator.  And secure in what you think is God’s favor, you believe the call to repentance is for others.  That’s why you love preaching like this.  You know that there are some here tonight who need to hear this.  Not you, of course.  But THEM!  That’s why you need a preacher to come and proclaim this Word of the Lord specifically to you.  That’s why you need Amos, the burden bearer, to bear the burden of God’s Word to you and throw it on your back to crush you with it.  Amos’ preaching brings you to acknowledge what you already know deep down in your heart.  You’re upside down.  You’re not the person God created you to be.  The aim of such preaching is repentance, confession of the sin, so that the forgiveness of God that brings new life to those crushed by the burden of the Law may be proclaimed to you in Jesus Christ, your Savior.
            Amos was sent to preach in just such a context.  Israel had become a nation of luxury and convenience.  They believed themselves secure in God’s favor.  After all, God had delivered them from bondage in Egypt and personally ushered them through the wilderness and into the Promised Land.  The Lord had defeated all their enemies and given this good land to Israel to enjoy in perpetuity.  They were God’s people.  He had chosen no other nation.  To their patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He had spoken the promises.  To Moses He had given His Torah.  Their sense of manifest destiny would put American patriotism to shame.  But in all of it they were blind to their sin.  They were blind to the obvious fact that they were upside down.  They worshiped other gods, not to the exclusion of YHWH, but in tolerance of other religious belief systems.  They enjoyed their wealth on the backs of the poor.  They paid unfair wages to their workers and used dishonest scales in the marketplace.  But it never occurred to them they should repent.  That’s something other nations should do.  Not them.  So God, in His grace, sent Amos to lay the burden of God’s Law upon His people.  In upside down irony, the preaching of the Law that kills is for the sake of preaching the Gospel of salvation for all people.
            What is particularly upside down about Amos’ preaching, however, is that he uses the Gospel to announce the Law.  In our text he reminds Israel that they are God’s children, God’s family, whom God had brought up from Egypt saying, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2; ESV).  You only have I chosen.  It’s a marvelous proclamation of the Gospel truth.  Yet since this is the case, God says through the Prophet Amos… since you have taken my grace for granted, my grace which I have poured out upon you in abundance, “therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”  It’s a chilling upheaval of Israel’s worldview.  It’s a chilling upheaval of our worldview.  For God has rained down His blessings upon us.  He’s given us a prosperous nation, set us in a family, provided our daily bread.  We have a good life.  And if this weren’t enough, He’s given us salvation in Jesus Christ, the full and free forgiveness of all our sins.  He’s called us in Holy Baptism.  He’s made us His own and fed and nourished us in His Word and Sacraments.  And what do we do with it?  We spit on it.  We use it as a license to sin.  God will forgive, we say, as we heedlessly throw His commandments to the wind, never stopping to think about what forgiveness cost our God: His own dear Son, nailed to the cross, suffering death and hell in our place.  We’ve turned God’s grace upside down in our upside down lives.  God should punish us for our iniquities. 
            But He doesn’t.  Instead, He punishes His Son.  The Son of God comes into our upside down world to turn us right side up.  He doesn’t leave us with the roar of His Law.  He doesn’t leave us with the thundering preaching of Amos.  Rather, He turns Himself upside down for our sakes.  Almighty God takes on flesh.  Our flesh.  The Son does not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but makes Himself nothing.  He humbles Himself and becomes obedient to death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8).  No futile shrugging of the shoulders on the part of Jesus.  He sees us in our misery and He does something about it.  Covering our sins with His blood, they no longer count against us.  They’ve been paid in full by the Savior on the cross.  Taking our sin and death into Himself, He gives us His righteousness and life.  He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).  He doesn’t do this because we deserve it, or because we’ll do what we should with it.  He does it all by grace.  In mercy.  In the perfect love of God that loves the unlovable.  Once you were lost, but now you are found.  Once you were blind, but now you see.  Once you were dead, but now you have new life.  Which is just another way of saying, you are baptized into Christ.
            Where you are faithless, Christ Jesus is faithful.  So now, in the fear, love, and trust of the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, just go love your neighbor.  If he’s hungry feed him.  If he needs clothes, you give them to him.  If he needs shelter, provide it.  If he needs your forgiveness, forgive.  Don’t demand that he be lovable before you love him.  For that’s not how God has loved you.  Simply understand this: God does not favor you because you are who you are, or what you do.  God favors you because Jesus is who He is, and has done what He’s done.  That’s the definition of grace: God favors you for Jesus’ sake.  And that truth, beloved, turns the whole world upside down.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  


[1] The theme and many of the ideas in this sermon are from R. Reed Lessing, Restore the Roar! (St. Louis: Concordia, 2012).

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