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.