Seek Good!

Greetings to you and yours in the name and by the power of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen. I am often tempted to go back and forth between the various readings that are assigned to each week. Right now we are hearing a lot of readings out of the Book of Hebrews, but I have pulled away from the temptation to wrestle with this wonderful message. Today I am compelled to speak about the Word of God as it comes to us from the prophet Amos. The prophet’s message is really blunt and really hard-hitting. He leaves little room for doubt and there are no exceptions to the judgment that he is predicting. The House of Israel is in trouble and he is ready and willing to tell them why. They are misusing their privileged position before God and He is there to tell them about it. In our world today, no-one wants to hear that they are sinners. It doesn’t matter who you are, no-one seeks out the person who will make you feel bad about yourself. I am not talking about that person who drives you crazy because they can always one-up you, no matter what the subject. That person actually has a self-worth problem and the only way they can feel good about themselves is to be better than the next person. This is accomplished by building themselves up, or worse yet, tearing others down to the level where them find themselves. We have seen both types in our lives. The challenge for us is to NOT get caught in the trap they are setting for us. Be comfortable in your own skin and don’t crawl into the one they are offering to you. That would leave you just beaten down in almost every situation. Now we see Amos’ warning to everyone but this time on a personal level. We do the same thing, on a much grander scale, in our public and political lives. It is easy to point at political figures and identify what we think is their sin – sins of commission or maybe sins of omission. Either way we can get angry with them for not doing what we think is right. Don’t forget, we elected this mayor or that representative and if they fail us it is likely that we made a bad choice at election time and it is therefore our fault if they fail us. Are you involved in the public discourse, or are you just sitting back and waiting for it to come to you? I am sorry to say that this too is part of what is now called the Entitlement Mentality. “We elected them, now we are entitled to all kinds of benefit from that support.” The House of Israel was violating God’s Law and he was telling them about it. Because he told them off through Amos. This prophet was no more popular than any number of other prophets who had lived before him, at the same time, or would come later. The people did not, and still don’t, want to hear about their sinfulness before God. Amos would be ignored and hated. “O you who turn justice into wormwood and cast down righteousness to the earth!” I had to look up “wormwood” to appreciate what the prophet is saying. Wormwood is a plant that grows close to the ground and is easily trod underfoot. Sometimes it is connected with the idea of poison and therefore becomes identified with spiritual damnation. He is telling them that they have been caught, the Lord has seen them take His gifts of Justice and being made right before Himself and thrown it down and trampled on it. They have abused the privilege of being God’s children and Chosen People. They have taken their gift of His grace for Granted and He is not happy. The next few verses, say 10 thru 13 describe in horrifying detail the things that the people have been doing to their own citizens. Today with think this behavior against your own people is new, but here we see that it is an old idea. It is clear that they have been robbing the people of their self-esteem, taken the money from those who do not have enough, in the first place. They are speaking ill of people in the public courts and require taxes from the poor; all this while living high on the hog themselves. The Lord also promises that this conspicuous consumption will NOT lead to more wealth. They might build a fancy house but they will not be able to live there. They may plant vast vineyards, but they will not get the benefit of the grapes. This is about something happening to them right now. The reality of Israel’s exile in Babylon had not yet come to light, but God knew it was coming. “Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time, for it is an evil time.” Did you hear that? “If you are smart,” he says, “you will keep your ‘yap’ shut at the right time. You cannot improve and help in such awful times.” The Lord, through this prophet does not hold back in His condemnation. Thankfully, he turns the message around so that we have something positive to take away. “Seek good, and not evil.” It is clear from this reading and others that we are NOT able to live a righteous or proper life before God. But we are to seek after it. God promises that this is what we need to do in order to have God with you. Thus we hope that people to run from, even hate evil. Amos gives them the assurance that the God of hosts, the God over all the world and all the heavenly creatures, will be gracious to them. He even goes to the point of saying that He will be gracious to them even when they are reduced to a remnant of their current power and authority. That too is God’s message to us. “Seek good, and not evil.” Most of us would never think that they are seeking after evil. We want to believe that we are chasing after good in everything that we do. No, do not get me wrong, this will not earn you a seat in God’s heavenly mansion. But we want to be His witnesses wherever we go and to do His will in our lives. There is no earthly reward for this, but the retirement plan is out of this world. Our Gospel reading points us in a different direction. The man who approaches Jesus calls Him “Good Teacher.” We know from this distance that this is a correct description, even title…Jesus is our good teacher. But the man could not really know this. Jesus would do ‘good’ and do good again and again. He would do the ultimate good and pay for our salvation. If you take his question at face value, he is seeking after good…but in order to EARN eternal life. This we also know is impossible. God gives salvation as a free gift to all who believe in Him. God decides these things and He is the one who shows us the meaning of “Good.” This man questioning our Lord is actually speaking to “Good” in person. He does not know this, but Jesus is the Good we are to seek after. Now hear again the word of Amos. “Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you.” We too are to seek good and that is Christ. We too are to hate evil and love God – that too is found in Jesus. We to then receive His gift of salvation because He paid the ultimate price so that we can inherit eternal life. This is what Amos was telling Israel and us. This is what Jesus is telling the young man and all us who hear His message. This is why any good that we do is only valuable with it points toward Jesus and the work that he has already done for you. You cannot ‘earn’ eternal life.’ You cannot work your way to heaven. Jesus is all the GOOD that you can want or need or expect. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Seek First the Kingdom of God – LWML Sunday

Grace, mercy and peace be to your, from God, our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Mat 6:26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Mat 6:27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? Mat 6:28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, Mat 6:29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Mat 6:30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Mat 6:31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ Mat 6:32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. Mat 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.   As we come to worship today, on LWML Sunday, what is that you are worried about? Every pastor and well-meaning church member will tell you that you should not worry, but we do. All of us. Yes, we know we shouldn’t, but we do. It is no fun to hear someone tell us not to worry and suddenly we are hearing the song, “Don’t worry, Be happy.” It does not matter whether we are gathered here in church or in a larger gathering like a regional or national LWML meeting…we still do not want to be TOLD how to feel about something. Worry was the last thing that most people we considering when they gathered last June for the LWML Convention in Des Moines. Rather it was based on the theme, “Bountiful! Sow-Nourish-Reap.” There it was heard that God’s children are blessed to be able to sow the seeds of faith in the lives of those God has places in their path. The gathered worshippers were reminded of their Baptism through which the seed of faith was sown in their own hearts. They were nourished through Word and Sacrament as they spent time around the Word of God in worship settings, Bible Studies and personal devotions and social times. That convention put this into practice by selecting a variety of Mission Grants to support in the next biennium. They were also able to celebrate the success that God had given to their effort in the prior biennium. Everything seems to be wonderful…there was not a care in the world as they spent time together on the spiritual mountaintop. The closing worship charged all in attendance to do the urgent business of sharing God’s Word in their home communities, churches and families. They had gone to that place to sow and nourish the seeds of faith and now they sought to reap the harvest by the power of the HS working in and through everyone. Thus the message of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus must be shared everywhere. At the conclusion of the Divine Service, it was time to leave the mountaintop. It was time to get to the work that everyone had been nourished to accomplish. It even calls to mind the word of the hymn, “Tis good Lord to be here! Yet we may not remain; But since Thou bidst us leave the mount, Come with us to the plain.” (LSB 414, Stanza 5) So, how do we, the redeemed, bought back, sons and daughters of the King respond to this awesome mission challenge placed before us? Perhaps this is the source of our worries. God calls us off His mountaintop back into this sin-filled world to share…share the good News of Christmas and Easter – the Good News of the Savior, born at Christmas, crucified, died and buried on Good Friday, resurrected on Easter morning, ascended 40 days later; and now sits with the Father in heaven until He returns to judge the living and the dead. We worry whether we “shared it right” or not and whether THOSE people will receive the message – or not. Despite the blessed assurance that this message is true, we remember another song from Lent we hear “Tremble, tremble, tremble” every time we are called to share this message. So what does the Lord have for us? What is there to help us deal with our trembles and our strong case of worry? After all we say the LWML Pledge, we sing “send me send me,” we listen to the Great Commission and our concern rises and we go back to trembling. The first verse of our text compares us to the birds of the sky…but most of us do not have those kinds of issues in our lives. Be have been blessed to know where our next meal and drink will come from and what we will wear. The real fact is that we have an over-abundance, so that we worry about picking the right clothes from a closet bursting at the seams, we throw out food that has gotten old in the refrigerator or even buy a larger freezer to handle more of our excesses. What really worries me is not health issues for loved ones, or family problems or relationships with others…it is the call You have given to me. You have called me to come off the mountain, get back to the plain, come out of our worship service and go into that dark sin-sick world with the only answer and solution of all of our social ills – Jesus Christ. Well that sounds great…in theory, and I know that this is where my strength and assurance SHOULD be, but when and where the rubber meets the road, how can my focus change from fear to faithful, from worry to faith, so that I am not anxious about working in the harvest field ever again? Scripture, as it so often does; provides our answer. We should not worry any more than the lilies of the field or the sparrows in the air. “O ye of little faith” comes to mind. God provides for all our needs. OR maybe we should call to mind St. Paul who asked that his thorn of the flesh might be taken away and God’s answer was, “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” Well if weakness shows His power than I must be like a nuclear power plant for Him. Then by faith Paul concludes, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” All of these are promises that you are able to use even when you are hanging over the neighbor’s fence, being a laborer in God’s field. It applies to them, or our children who are drifting away from the church or for those times when we are experiencing personal heartache in our lives. You get the point as we could spend all day in conversation with our heavenly Father, picking out and rejoicing in His promises to us…as they are recorded in His Word. You too can easily add your favorite and most comforting verse of assurance to God’s abiding presence even when we allow the worries of the world to intervene and creep like a weed encroaching on our lives. But as good as all that sounds…sitting here in church, you can’t help but wonder whether this has any real application OUT THERE in the world. And that leaves us in the same place…worried again and again. You and I have a heavenly Father who does not just talk a good game. “Don’t worry, be happy,” is not what He would say. He has followed through with His promises 100% of the time. He speaks to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jonah and all the other prophets, then he spoke to us through His Son, Jesus to tell us to seek first the kingdom of God. But He also acts on that advice to show everyone that seeking after His kingdom is actually a response to what He is already doing for us. All of those things that HE has promises are being given to everyone who believes in Him. That verse says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness AND ALL THESE THINGS WILL BE ADDED TO YOU.” There it is, God is again doing all the work and blessing each of us over and over. That, my friends is caring for and providing for you as HE comes through on a promise. Since we were united with Him in Holy Baptism there is nothing to worry about. As we seek first His kingdom, serving Him in response, He pours His blessings on us; and that happens whenever and wherever He desires. We then have the privilege of carrying out the great task He gives to us of bringing the lost and erring into eternal fellowship with Him. Thus we seek His kingdom and can only say afterwards…thanks be to God. Amen.