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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Seek God and Live

Amos 5 is a prophecy full of righteous anger, and yet, embedded in tragic reality ("fallen is virgin Israel, never to rise again, deserted in her own land), and in the piercing accusation from God ("you who turn justice into bitterness"), and in the ominous truth ("there will be wailing in all the vineyards for I will pass through your midst") is a divine invitation. I don't particularly like words like "fallen," "bitterness," and "wailing." I especially don't like thinking on these thoughts knowing I am going to bed soon. Why would the Lord passing through be a cause for anguish?

It makes me think of Jesus' parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46). The goats were sent off to eternal punishment because they neglected the hungry, the thirsty, and the stranger in need (v.44, 46). In Amos 5, those who end up wailing in horror and sorrow when faced with the Lord's presence are the ones who despised the truth and trampled the poor (Amos 5:10, 11). Amos 5 and Matthew 25 are good companion passages, but not just because both speak God's justice against those who trod down on the weak and needy, the oppressed and the powerless.

In both places, there is also a sign of hope for those who seek God's help and find their redemption in God's grace. In Amos 5, right in the middle of the accusing rant, God says, "Seek the Lord and live" (verse 6). And then again in verses 14-15. "Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord almighty will be with you. ... Hate evil, love good. Maintain justice in the courts." God is angry, but God will not turn away the repentant sinner.

Even is one has been an agent of evil, a dispenser of pain, God will receive that one when he comes on his knees, begging forgiveness. This is not entirely played out in Amos 5, but the seeds of redemption are planted in the rough soil of wrath. God always, always makes room for the recalcitrant who would turn from evil and turn to the ways of God.

I hope that as you read this, you'll realize that your story is not yet written. Some of it is but a lot is still to come and it can always turn on grace. Amos doesn't speak of grace, but what he says would only be possible with a God of grace. Amos is the truth-teller and some times, many times, the truth is really hard to hear. I pride myself in being someone who deals with the whole truth and doesn't hide behind nuance or pretense, but I am frequently surprised by situations in which I have been hiding behind something. When it comes out, it hits me right between the eyes and I realize I have to come clean.

That's the ticket - come clean! The only way one can truly seek God is to come clean about who he (the seeker) really is. God raises up prophets like Amos when his people play the part of holiness but live in evil. Evil isn't some caricatured demon like Freddy or Jason or some other horror movie monster. Evil is when people are cruel to one another in real world ways. Evil is seen in Christians who neglect the vulnerable, needy, difficult people around them. Evil is the church huddling up and keeping out the "undesirables."

To seek God, we have to be honest about where we have ignored God and lived by our own standards whether it be theological arrogance, a sense of moral superiority, or something else. Whenever Christians get into the "us and them" mindset, we forget that at the communion table everyone is equal - a sinner in desperate need of grace. I heard recently about a Sunday school teacher that has no time and no love for homosexual teens and teens that get pregnant. She feels they have no place in the church. She is who Amos is talking about when quotes God as saying "I know how many are your offenses and how great are your sins" (5:12). Is premarital sex that leads to pregnancy a sin? Sure, but the greater sin is the Christian who ought to know better refusing to love the broken sinner who comes to church in need of grace. That SS teacher needs to come clean, admit her prejudices and bigotry, and repent. We all need to do that.

The good news is we can, and God will love us. We can seek God and live. We can have another chance at shedding the clothing of this world and instead clothing ourselves with Christ and living as his disciples here.

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