Be the Change

Kevin Gasser

Staunton Mennonite Church

11/9/08

 

Amos 5:18-27

The Day of the LORD

18 Woe to you who long for the day of the LORD!  Why do you long for the day of the LORD?  That day will be darkness, not light. 19 It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him. 20 Will not the day of the LORD be darkness, not light—pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?

 

 21 “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies.

 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.

 Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.

 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.

 24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

 

 25 “Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings forty years in the desert, O house of Israel?

 26 You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god—which you made for yourselves.

 27 Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,” says the LORD, whose name is God Almighty.

 

            One of the simple joys in life is a cold glass of water…the colder the better.  I want my water so cold that it is almost frozen.  32 degrees Fahrenheit.  And the best way to achieve this temperature is by simply dropping a few ice cubes in a glass of tap water.  Not exactly rocket science.

            I’ve always enjoyed a luxury in the homes I have lived in…an ice cube maker.  You open the freezer and automatically there are a large number of ice cubes just waiting to chill your drink.  Or if you’re truly blessed, you can get ice through the door.

            But our refrigerator in our current house has been without a working ice cube maker since well before we moved in.  So knowing absolutely nothing about ice cube makers, I embarked this past week to restore our ice cube maker to its original form.

            I knew that there was a leak in the water line down in the basement, so I began by repairing that line.  I ran to the local hardware store and got the brass fittings that I needed and in a few minutes I was hooking up a repaired water line.

            Not more than a few minutes had passed before I began to notice something: water dripping through the floor.  I am not the smartest guy in the world, but it didn’t take me long to figure out that I did not have one leak in the water line, I had multiple leaks.  And it wasn’t justice that was rolling down like a river through the floor boards, it was just plain old H2O. 

            I do my share of household chores, but rarely without being asked.  So as I went back to the hardware store and worked with the same salesman, I asked him what he thought my wife would think when she got home from work and saw that I had mopped the kitchen floor.  I wondered if I would needed to tell her the only reason I pushed around that mop was because I needed to dry up a couple gallons of water??  But in the end, I was able to restore my ice cube maker to its original working condition.  We have ice once again in our home. 

            Our scripture for this morning is about restoring something as well.  Our scripture is about restoring the world to the way God intended it to be.  And I hope we can see from Amos that we as Christians are not called to simply escape from this world, nor are we called to forget all of the problems of this world while we keep to ourselves.  No, as Christians, we are called to change the world, to restore it to the way God intended it to be.  So let’s jump into our scripture.

            It is never good when a section of scripture begins by saying “Woe to you”.  That’s never a good sign.  Good things aren’t about to happen.  Woe to you who desire to see the day of the Lord.  It seems to me that the prophet Amos has an issue with those who want to see God’s kingdom fully realized here on earth.  Amos says that the day of the Lord will be darkness, not light.  It will be like you are trying to escape a lion only to meet up with a bear.  And the bear is the least of your worries because in the safety of your own home there is a snake hiding out, ready to bite you.  In other words, you can’t get away.

            As followers of Jesus Christ we often talk about, think about, focus on the Day of the Lord, the day when Christ will come back and set the world back to the way it should be.  We look forward to the creation of the new heaven and the new earth, when these things come together and Christ will rule forever and we will spend eternity giving him praise.  We look forward to eternity in heaven.  And there is nothing wrong with thinking about heaven.

            The problem arises when we become so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good, when all we focus on is some pie in the sky and neglect the world in which we have been placed.  Yes, the second coming of Jesus will be a great day for those who know him as Lord, but the Bible tells us that that day won’t be great for all people.  Even people that think they are in good with God will find themselves running from the lion only to meet a bear or a snake.  If we don’t believe in a universal salvation where everyone will be saved, then the second coming of the Lord shouldn’t be something that we want to come soon.  Because we all have a lot of work to do before that day comes.

            In verses 21-22 we have God speaking through Amos, saying, “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.  Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon.”  God goes on to tell the Israelites that even their music and their praises directed toward Him are worthless.  God is tired of these things.

            But wait a second.  Isn’t it God that has required these things of the Israelites?  Isn’t it God that commanded that they hold religious festivals, make offerings, and praise Him?  The problem is that these things are worthless to God if you are not following him daily in life.

            Do you really think God needs us to keep certain festivals?  Does God need us to make offerings to Him?  Does God need us to sing Him a song every now and then?  No, God doesn’t need these things, but he wants them.  He wants them only if we want to give them to him.  We can’t be forced to worship God, and if we do worship God only because we feel obligated, that worship is worthless to God.  And we are not to use these religious festivals and times of worship as a way to escape the problems of this world, to ignore the work we have been called to do.

            So we aren’t supposed to sit around and wait for the Day of the Lord.  We have work to do as followers of Jesus Christ.  And if we are just going through the motions our worship is pretty much worthless to God.  So what are we to do?  We are to join in God’s revolution.

            The word revolution can be taken many different ways.  Revolution can mean to stand up to the oppressive powers so that people can have a certain amount of freedom, like in the Revolutionary War.  Revolution can mean a drastic change in the way things are in a society, in the way we work, in the way we live, and in the way we see one another.  This is the way we use the word revolution when we speak of the Industrial Revolution.  But the way I want us to use the word revolution today is in its most simple understanding (in my mind).  A revolution is to go around.

            We say that the earth revolves around the sun one time every 365.25 days and around its own axis every 24 hours.  We talk about engines running at a certain number of revolutions per minute with the crank starting at one place and returning to the same place a number of times in a minute.  To revolve means to go from one place and come right back where it began.

I believe that we as Christians are called to a revolution.  We are called to work to bring things back to the way they were.  Now I am not saying that we need to try to return to some high point in church history when everyone went to church, when stores were closed on Sundays and we could pray in schools.  I am not suggesting that we go back to the good old days of 50 years ago.  Our revolution is to return the world to a pre-fall state.

            Verse 24 speaks of this revolution, this returning of things to the status that God had originally intended for society.  “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”  Don’t just sit around and hope for the second coming of Jesus Christ, and don’t waste your time worshiping God if you are not willing to serve Him.  Instead, we are to bring about this revolution, this return to God and godliness.  We are to work for what God wants; we are to work for what is right.  And if you get nothing else from my message today, I hope you remember this: We as Christians are not called to escape the world, we are called to transform the world for Christ.

            I know that this is easier said than done.  Even the apostle Paul struggled with this.  He writes in Philippians 1:21-24, “21For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”  Yes, we all know life will be better on the other side, but it is more necessary for us to remain in the body for now.  We have work to do.

            The Beatles sang, “You say you want a revolution…we all want to change the world.”  There have been a lot of people that have wanted to transform the world, and for good reason…there is a lot wrong in the world.    But the change we want to see in the world must always be in the name of Christ and our methods for changing the world must be Christian. 

In 1951 at 23 years of age, a young medical student and a friend decided to take a motorcycle trip across South America.  These two young men were witnesses to all sorts of injustices against humanity: poverty, isolation, and discrimination.  And these men were changed by their experiences and wanted to make things right.  They wanted to bring about a revolution; they wanted to change the world.

            The young medical student, Ernesto “Che” Guevara said to his traveling buddy, “We cannot have a revolution without guns.”  And while I respect Che’s desire to end poverty and to bring justice to the people, I cannot justify his guerilla warfare tactics.  The ends do not justify the means.  Che wanted to change the world, but he did so with little regard for Christ.

            But I believe that Che was wrong.  You can have a revolution without guns.  And that revolution can be successful.

            Great Britain began to colonize India around the year 1600, claiming the land in the name of the Queen.  The problem with that is that the land was already a possession of the Indians.  Over the next three hundred years or so, the Indians were treated as second-class citizens, often being used as slaves, not being given the opportunity to make decisions for their own country.  But a man came along and he became the leader of a revolution, an attempt to set things back the way they had been.  This man was Gandhi. 

            Gandhi didn’t believe that the way to bring justice to the people of India was through warfare and killing.  Instead he taught that “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”  If you want to see a change, you must live it out.  And in 1947, Great Britain gave India back her freedom.  A revolution had taken place without guns.

            Now you are probably thinking, Kevin, that’s great that Gandhi could lead a revolution like that in a non-violent way.  But what have Christians done to change the world for God?  Plenty.

            Martin Luther King Jr. through non-violent acts brought about a revolution for African-Americans in the 1950’s and 60’s.  He was a Baptist minister, a Christian.  King lived with injustice every day, but worked through the methods of Christ to bring justice, love, and equality.  And I would say had a strong role in paving the way for Barack Obama to be elected as our next president.

            And what about the revolution in South America?  In 1948 a system known as Apartheid was put in place as a system of government which enforced segregation by race.  People were categorized by the color of their skin and only given certain rights while having other rights taken away according to their ethnicity.  There were efforts to group people by the color of their skin in certain regions of the country so that people did not have to interact with other races on a daily basis.  And they didn’t dare cross these territorial boundaries.

            I have a friend that grew up as a black person in South Africa during the late years of Apartheid.  He looks back on his life in South Africa and says, “It was just a part of life.  I knew I couldn’t go certain places because of the color of my skin.  And we knew we had to run from building to building while trying to avoid the tanks.”

            But thanks in part to Christians like Desmond Tutu, former Archbishop of Capetown, Apartheid was brought to an end.  Tutu has been called a voice for the voiceless and continues to work with racial reconciliation in South Africa as well as working to increase the awareness of HIV and AIDS prevention.

            I have only touched on the lives of a few people that have been able to lead revolutions in the name of Christ.  We could name others: Mother Theresa and her work with the poor in Calcutta, William Wilberforce in his efforts to end slave trade.  Even local heroes like Elaine Rose with the Jericho and Damascus Road Project working with ex-convicts and Temple Myers as a leader in the SACRA organization working with the poor in the Staunton area.  Hundreds, even thousands of people are working locally with groups like Habitat for Humanity, the Blue Ridge Food Bank, the Valley Mission, Salvation Army to bring a revolution, to bring the world back to the way God intended it to be.  And they are doing it all in the name of Christ.        

            Well there is one more revolutionary we need to mention.  Jesus was quite the revolutionary.  Not in the militant sense like the American Revolution or Che’s work in South/Central America.  But Jesus was a revolutionary in that he sought to change the world, not escape it.  And he didn’t just teach revolution, he lived it.  Jesus didn’t just teach that we are to turn the other cheek, he lived it out, even to the point where he was crucified on the cross.  Jesus didn’t just teach that we are to love our enemies, he had compassion on and healed Samaritans, Roman Soldiers, Phoenicians, and Jews.  Jesus started a revolution almost 2,000 years ago that is still going on today, a revolution to return things to the way God intended them to be, a revolution that will be completed when he returns to rule the new heaven and the new earth.  If anyone needs proof that a revolution can come without guns, just wait until the Day of the Lord.  Better yet, if anyone needs proof that a revolution can come without guns, we need to show them with our lives.

            So what is our revolution?  As I look at the Scripture for today I can see our 21st Century society reflected in the people of Israel and vice versa.  People have forgotten the Lord and people have forgotten each other.  Our society is one that is “All about me.”  How can I get more money, more pleasure, more stuff.  Even if it is at the expense of someone else.  Many people are gathered in churches this morning going through the motions of worship, thinking about Christmas, or the perverted form of consumerism that we call Christmas which has less to do with Christ and more to do with us.  We hear people saying “Maranatha” inviting the Lord to come back.  But we are not ready for that yet.  I know I am not ready for Jesus to come back.  I need to get my stuff together first and I need to make sure to help other people get their stuff together as well. 

            The revolution that I would like to see is that people around the world would come to know Jesus Christ and his righteousness and follow him.  The revolution that I would like to see is for justice to roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.  The revolution that I would like to see if for God’s kingdom to come, for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.  And the first step toward that revolution is to be the change that we want to see in the world.

            If we want to see poverty come to an end, we must work for poverty to come to an end.  If we want to see peace prevail, we must live peacefully with everyone.  If we want to see more people following Christ, we need to be Christ unto all people.  And we need to remember that we can only do it with God’s help.  We are called to live out a revolution, we are called to be a revolution.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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