Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Lenten Midweek III

Lenten Midweek III: Grieving for Joseph[1]
March 6, 2013
Text: Amos 6:1, 6 (ESV): “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion… who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!”

            The problem for the Israelite congregation to whom Amos preaches is not the enjoyment of God’s good gifts, the nice things, the comforts, or even the drinking of wine.  The problem is that Israel now lived for these things, used these things in pagan worship, and enjoyed them to sinful excess at the expense and neglect of the poor and destitute.  The Hebrew of our text suggests that Amos is preaching in the context of what is called a Marzeah feast.  This was a pagan funeral feast, a memorial meal of sorts, in which the guests would consume sumptuous foods and get plastered on wine in honor of the dearly departed.  Amos says they drank wine by the bowlful (6:6)… “foregoing the cups,” they drank “straight from the bottle” (Lessing), so to speak.  They sprawled themselves out on beds of ivory made especially for recovery from a drunken stupor.  Meanwhile, the poor of the land cried to heaven for relief.  God heard their cry, but Israel turned a deaf ear.  Thus the indictment.  In all their luxury and revelry, they “are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!” (v. 6). 
            Joseph, the favorite son of his father Jacob.  You remember the story.  Joseph, the first born of Rachel, the wife Jacob loved.  Therefore Jacob loved Joseph more than all his brothers, which led to no small amount of bitterness and jealousy among the other eleven.  Joseph was given to dreams of grandeur: His brother’s sheaves bowing to his; the sun, moon, and stars bowing to him.  Little did his brothers know that these dreams were from God.  Yes, the brothers hated Joseph.  And on top of it all, to honor Joseph above his brothers, Jacob made for him a coat of many colors.  That would be like your dad making you scrimp and save and pinch every penny to pay for your first jalopy, but buying your brother a brand new Corvette!  Oh, the brothers hated Joseph.  And do you remember what happened?  Jacob sent Joseph to go check on his brothers’ welfare when they were pasturing the flocks far away.  When Joseph arrived, they were about to kill him, when Reuben suggested they throw him into a pit instead.  While Joseph pled for mercy from the pit, his brothers sat down and ate lunch.  At Judah’s noble suggestion, they sold him to some Midianite slave traders, who took him to Egypt.  Now, things worked out for Joseph, thanks be to God.  He ends up second in command of all Egypt and saves many, including his treacherous brothers, from famine.  But as far as the brothers and Jacob are concerned, Joseph is as good as dead.  His brothers even soak his coat of many colors in goat’s blood so as to deceive Jacob, who, for the rest of his days, until just before he died, mourned the son he believed to be dead.  The brothers?  They went on with business as usual.  They were not grieved over the ruin of Joseph. 
            Joseph fathered Ephraim, the prominent Israelite tribe of the Northern Kingdom.  These were the people to whom Amos was sent.  There were rich and there were poor in this Northern Kingdom.  The well-to-do couldn’t care less about the poor, whose cries were like those of Joseph in the pit.  While the poor and afflicted cried to heaven, the rest ate lunch.  The feast must go on!  It’s not even that they were actively persecuting the poor.  It’s that they were ignoring them.  They were apathetic.  They just didn’t care.  Not my problem.  Someone else can help them.  Jesus told a similar parable about a rich man who feasted sumptuously every day (Luke 16:19-31).  A hungry, poor, sick man named Lazarus lay at the door of his home.  Now, the rich man did not drive him away, or call the authorities, or have Lazarus beaten.  He simply ignored him.  Not my problem.  Someone else can help.  He was not grieved over the ruin of Joseph. 
            Are you?  Are you grieved over the ruin of Joseph?  Do you actively care for the poor and afflicted?  The persecuted and the defenseless?  Maybe you do.  But none of us does as we should.  “Get a job!” you might say to those who need money and food.  And you’re right.  They should.  What have you done to help them?  What about those who can’t work?  What about those who want to work, but are victims of this never ending recession?  Where’s the compassion?  I don’t know what to do about Welfare any better than our politicians.  I’m not talking about what the government should do, I’m talking about what you should do.  I’m talking about your heart.  I’m talking about your charity.  I’m talking about your Christian love.  Some of you give generously.  Keep it up!  It’s so important.  What you do for the least of these, you do for Christ.  But don’t for a minute thing you’ve fulfilled your obligation to humanity, that you’ve done enough or done it with pure motives, or that you’ve gained God’s favor in doing this.  I don’t know how much you give, and I don’t want to know.  You know, and God knows.  I simply beg you to give generously.  Give to our Good Samaritan fund.  Give to Project Hope and other places you know will help.  Give directly to people you know who are in need.  Help with the food truck.  Give joyfully and with love.  It’s hard, though, isn’t it?  I confess to you that I always fight this tendency in myself, a lack of compassion that leads me to do nothing, or pride when I do help.  I repent.  God forgive me.  That’s just what the old sinful nature does.  We think it will kill us to put an extra five dollar bill in the hand of someone who doesn’t have a dollar to spare, and if we do, we smile and pat ourselves on the back like we just saved the world.  There is only One who has done that.  His Name is Jesus Christ.  Repent.  Repent of your lovelessness, your lack of compassion, your pride.  Grieve over the ruin of Joseph, over your brothers and sisters in need.  Go ahead and enjoy your gifts from God, even a glass of wine, with thanksgiving.  But remember that God has so blessed you that you may be a blessing to your neighbor.
            The only help, the only solution for our sin of apathy and for our spiritual pride, is Another who was treated just like Joseph.  “He was also despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering (Isaiah 53:3).  Jesus our Lord was mocked by the crowd, betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, forsaken by the ten, unjustly accused in a kangaroo court, sentenced to death by a weak-willed Roman governor, crowned with thorns by those who spat upon Him, and scourged by muscle-men just short of death” (Lessing).  And then He was crucified, dead and burried.  For you.  He was not indifferent.  He was not apathetic.  He loved with the love commanded by God, and His love counts for you.  He loved your neighbor in your place.  He loved you to death, His death on the cross, that you might live in His love, and love with His love.  He loves still.  He is risen and lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and loves you with a love He imparts in His saving Word and Sacraments.  So that you can love others.  You can give His love to your neighbor in need.  Because His love will never run out.  It is, as Luther once said, an unfailing fountain.  The “more it pours forth and overflows, the more it continues to give” (LC III 56; McCain).  So even as His love flows through you to your neighbor, it ever fills you anew.  You are always full.  You never lack.  God will never forsake you.
            Your neighbor is your problem.  You are your brother’s keeper.  And God promises in all of it to keep you.  The proof is Jesus Christ on the cross.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.      

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


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