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God's visitation

Notes & Transcripts

Public Solemn Fasting and Prayer

God’s Visitation

Amos 4

Morning Worship, Lord’s Day 30 November 2008, 9.30am

© Rev D Rudi Schwartz[1]

 

Bible Readings

Old Testament:                     Psalm 51,  Amos 4

Order of Service

1.       Call to worship

Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.  We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. Relent, O Lord! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,  that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble. May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children. May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:1-2, 7-9, 13-17)

2.       Prayer

Loving God, open our eyes to the beauty of your holiness; open our ears to the message of your word; open our minds to the challenge of your truth; open our hearts to the power of your love. Open our lives to the coming of your Spirit, that we may truly worship you, now and forever. Amen

3.       Blessing

May our words, which we pray before the Lord, be near to the Lord our God day and night, that He may uphold the cause of his servants and the cause of his people Israel according to each day’s need, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God and that there is no other. But our hearts must be fully committed to the Lord our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time.” (based on 1 Kings 8:59-61)

4.       Hymn:                                                   “Turn us again, O God of hosts”  (CM)

5.       Scripture Reading                            Psalm 51

6.       Prayer of Confession of sin

 O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your Word.  Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—O Lord, we and our kings, our princes and our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against you. The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against Him. We have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws He gave us through his servants the prophets. We have transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey You. Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against You. You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing upon us great disaster. Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us, yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. The Lord our God is righteous in everything He does; yet we have not obeyed Him. Now, O Lord our God, who have save your people out of the bondage of sin with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. O Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from your church, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our fathers have made your people an object of scorn to all those around us. Our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servants. For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the people that bears your Name. We do not make requests of You because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O our God, do not delay, because your of church and your people bear your Name.” (based on Dan 9:4-19)

7.       Hymn :                                                  “Lord, from the depths I cry to You” (CM)

8.       Prayer of Adoration and Thanksgiving

Our heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord we find our strength. Our mouth boasts over our enemies, for we delight in your deliverance. There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. The Lord is a God who knows, and by Him deeds are weighed. The bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with strength. Those who were full hire themselves out for food, but those who were hungry hunger no more. The Lord brings death and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and raises up. The Lord sends poverty and wealth; He humbles and He exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; He seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s; upon them He has set the world. He will guard the feet of his saints, but the wicked will be silenced in darkness. It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the Lord will be shattered. He will thunder against them from heaven; the Lord will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed. (Based on 1 Samuel 2:1-10)

9.       Hymn:                                                   “Lord, my petition Heed” (Olivet, or tune 373)

10.    Prayer of intercession

·         For the Queen, Prime minister and the Federal Government

·         For the Premier, the State Government and our local Government

·         For the Bible Society of Australia and the Australian Presbyterian World Mission (Victoria)

·         For the Health and Community Chaplaincy Committee

·         For the Theological Education Committee and the State Moderator

·         For the Moderator-General and the Church and Nation Committee.

·         All together:  “The Lord’s Prayer”

11.    Scripture Reading                            Amos 4

12.    Sermon

a)      Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

We live in interesting but dangerous times.  Someone comments that the average household now has more to its disposal than the richest king a century ago. 

We have more to spend, more and better ways of disposing of time and energy, our markets and shopping centres have more to choose from on the shelves than ever before.  The development of science is supposed to give us more knowledge, make life easier, faster, and more convenient.  Transport made our world small and distance is no barrier anymore.  Cultures assimilate in the sight of the powerful multi media, and the computer and internet gave us a wealth of knowledge never experienced before.  We are building a global village!

And yet, in the midst of all our development we have lost people.  We can fly everywhere, but we have lost the art of walking.  We can read everything, but we cannot spell anymore.  We can calculate everything, but we cannot do simple mathematics.  We can see what we want, but we have lost sight.  We can have what we want, but we have lost the ability to admire and appreciate.  Lust and sexual immorality is everywhere to be seen, but we have lost the art of loving.  We know what fun is, but but know no joy. We developed odour killers, but we can’t appreciate fragrance. There are people by the million, but families have become scares.  We have knowledge in abundance, but we lack wisdom. We are passionate about freedom of religion, but for the Gospel we have no room.  Now, more than ever, man is searching for meaning, and even life on other planets, but he is lost in space.  And yet:  he declares there is no God.  Indeed, man has become his own god.

b)      A Society running on its own steam

a)      Ritualistic, mechanical worship

Maybe something of our present day society was already known in the time of Israel in Amos’s day.  Like today, people were extremely religious but it was a religion astray from the law of God.

They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane My holy name. They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge. In the house of their god they drink wine taken as fines. (Amos 2:7-8)

The people were devoid of spiritual good:   they did go to worship, they did bring their tithes and offerings, but they then boasted about it, trying to gain social benefit from it (4:4–5). 

Amos’s congregation would have replied heartily that indeed they were obeying divine law which reached back to the days of Moses.  But of the Lord’s priority that his people should obey Him and live by his commands, they understood very little.  The sacrificial system, which was a provision for their lapses in obedience, a way to find forgiveness in the eyes of a holy but merciful God, to them became mechanical:  it has to be done, whatever the meaning might be. Then, as now, the divine call was to holiness, and if people sinned they had an advocate and a propitiation for their sins (1 Jn. 2:1–2). Ritualized religion, as Israel practiced it, is a reversal of this priority.

Religion became distant to everyday life.  There was the separation between worshipping a child of God and living as a child of God.  Amos had a message for them, as we learn the same message for our day:  we have to deal with the Lord in every aspect of society.  Conduct which is pleasing to Him comes under His blessing; conduct which offends his holiness and opposes his expressed covenant stipulations merits His wrath. Society does not rest on independent, mechanical principles—market forces, money supply, Gross National Product—for its prosperity. Prosperity comes with divine blessing and no matter how efficient the economy, it cannot prosper if it is under the curse of God.

b)      War pratices

Therefore as it was for Israel in the time of Amos, so it is for our age too:  the Lord is concerned with how war is waged (they cut open the pregnant women of Gilead, 1:3, 13).

c)      Commenrce

God is concerned how commerce is conducted.  Hear how they looked at business and religion:

 “When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?”— skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat. The Lord has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done. (Amos 8:5-7)

Coming out of church where they worshipped God made no difference as to how they ran their businesses.  On the market floor false scales were found, cheating was done, the needy was taken advantage of.  The weight of  the wheat was boosted by the sweepings on the floor.  Christian one day, a cheat and a robber the next!  As if the Lord did not see and it was not important to Him!

The Lord is offended by the greed in oppression of the so-called lower socio-economic classes:

Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!” (Amos 4:1)

It is the business of God when wealth is only a means to luxury for some to the neglect of those less well supplied. 

I will tear down the winter house along with the summer house; the houses adorned with ivory will be destroyed and the mansions will be demolished,” declares the Lord. (Amos 3:15)

d)      Justice

The perversion of justice in the courts rouses God’s enmity:

… you hate the one who reproves in court and despise him who tells the truth.  You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore the prudent man keeps quiet in such times, for the times are evil. (Amos 5:10-13)

A defence lawyer writes about some things which are going on in our courts: 

The notion of trial as a vehicle for finding truth is TV law. You won't find this aim in the Constitution, the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Penal Code, or the Rules of Evidence. Rather, trial is simply a means by which disputes are resolved. Truth finding is, at best, an afterthought. At worse, it's a fiction created by the side bearing the burden of proof to shift and lessen it to more easily obtain convictions.[2]

Another legal eagle writes (in all honesty):

Criminal processes, whether at the national or international level, are primarily about meting out justice for alleged wrongs committed by individuals. The process entered into, at least from a common law perspective, is not so much about as part of finding the truth as it is offering evidence that proves guilt or innocence — evidence that is contested, put into question or interpreted in different ways — to win a case. The investigative method of civil law systems is arguably more concerned about finding the truth, but the end result is the same: the case is won or lost by convincing or failing to convince a judge or jury of guilt or innocence. The ‘‘legal truth’’ is merely a by-product of a dispute settlement mechanism.[3]

e)      Inhumanity of Big business

God is also concerned about the inhumanity of ‘big business’ when it treats people as commodities

Because she took captive whole communities and sold them to Edom. (Amos 1:6)

These aspects of commercial and materialistic society, which makes a god out of prosperity, have a worryingly familiar ring.  Wells[4] quotes David Myers from his book The American Paradox saying:

“… we ‘are better paid, better fed, better housed, better educated, and healthier than ever before, and with more human rights, faster communication, and more convenient transportation than we have ever known.’  Alongside all of this largesse, however, are the signs of life in pain and travail. Since 1960, the divorce rate has doubled, teen suicide has tripled, violent crime quadrupled, the number in prison has quintupled, illegitimate children sextupled, and the number of those cohabitating has increased sevenfold.[5]

Ralph Winter writes about America, which rings true for the rest of the West:

America today is a “save yourself” society if there ever was one. But does it really work? The underdeveloped societies suffer from one set of diseases: tuberculosis, malnutrition, pneumonia, parasites, typhoid, cholera, typhus, etc. Affluent America has virtually invented a whole new set of diseases: obesity, arteriosclerosis, heart disease, strokes, lung cancer, venereal disease, cirrhosis of the liver, drug addiction, alcoholism, divorce, battered children, suicide, murder. Take your choice. Labor-saving machines have turned out to be bodykilling devices. Our affluence has allowed both mobility and isolation of the nuclear family, and as a result, our divorce courts, our prisons and our mental institutions are flooded. In saving ourselves we have nearly lost ourselves. [6]

 “The first half of the twentieth century,” writes Daniel Boorstin, was a time of “triumphal and accelerating science,” and yet it “produced a literature of bewilderment without precedent in our history.”[7] At the time, this development in the modern world may have seemed strange. In the very moment of social conquest—when science and technology were promising to rewrite the script of life, to eliminate more and more diseases, to make life more bearable, to fill it with more goods—at that very moment the human spirit was sagging beneath the burden of emptiness, apparently ungrateful for all of this modern bounty.[8]

“This was the moment when the Enlightenment world, which had promised so much, was showing the first symptoms of the postmodern ethos of the West, of that curdling of the soul that would leave the human being replete with goods, smothered in plenty, but totally alone in the cosmos, isolated, alienated, enclosed within itself, and bewildered. The conquest of the world, the triumph of technology, and the omnipresence of shopping malls—our temples to consumption—are not the tools by which the human spirit can be repaired.  The truth, in fact, is that the conquest of our external world seems to be in inverse relation to the conquest of our inner world. The more we triumph in the one, the less we seem able to hold together in the other.”[9]

b)  Our present time

And it is just now, at this juncture of events in world history, that we find ourselves in the biggest and deepest drought in history in Australia.  International markets have collapsed, and the super-rich are losing their ivory beach houses, their fourth and fifth car, their private jets and their 50+ feet yachts.  Those holidaying in super expensive hotels and resorts all of a sudden find their lives at risk for the attacks of terrorists.  Governments are endeavouring whatever possible to boost the economies, knowing there is a limit to what they can do.  Are we facing the horror of a Thirties Depression with its unemployment, poverty, and scarcity of basics?  Or are we too blind to see this possibility?  Or even worse, to we think we can always engineer a better outcome?

Israel in the time of Amos, knew something of this. But God used this simple sheep farmer of Tekoa to wake them up to the reality of living in God’s world. 

                                  i.          Food does not satisfy

It was as if he asked them:  “Why is it that you eat, but you are never filled?”  Or:  “What do you think, where does the famine come from?”  An answer along this vein would not be impossible:  “Well, you know times are tough.  Inflation is a problem, and then there is the reality of economic distress.  Throw in the fact that thousands are losing their jobs, and you know what the problem is.”

Amos would give them God’s perspective:  “God gave it to you.”  “Rubbish, we don’t believe in God.  Religion is for those who have nothing else to do on Sundays.”

 Think again!  It is God’s way to call you to repentance.

                                ii.          Drought

Where does the drought come from?  Why crop failures?  Some places are washed away in storms and floods, while others have not seen a drop in years.  Why?  Why the sudden concern for drinking water, for pipes, for water tanks, for desalination plants, for recycled water?  Why is there no water in the catchment dams?  Amos could answer that.  It is of God’s doing!

Rubbish, it is climate change.  Scientists warned us about whether extremes.  They worked it out and in no time with a bit of care for the environment, a few solar panels, less carbon in the atmosphere we will fix the problems. 

Think again, it is God’s way to call you to repentance.

                              iii.          Pests and pestilence

Where do the pest and locusts, the mildew and the crop deceases come from?  Just bad crop management.  Scientific farming methods have taught us a lot about better farming procure.  We’ll get it right

Think again!  Think again, it is God’s way to call you to repentance.

                               iv.          Unrest

Why are our men killed in terrorist attacks, and why is it so that for some deceases even the brightest scientists just have no cure?  You’ve got me, but give us time and we will have a cure for everything.  Just think what they can do with DNA manipulation and stem cell research.  We can determine the colour of our baby’s eye these days, and if we don’t want it, we can just get rid of it – no harm done. 

Think again!  God’s calling you to repentance.

Time and time again we hear an answer cutting God out of the picture. Of this age David Wells writes:

“It is one of the defining marks of Our Time that God is now weightless. I do not mean by this that he is ethereal but rather that he has become unimportant. He rests upon the world so inconsequentially as not to be noticeable. He has lost his saliency for human life. Those who assure the pollsters of their belief in God’s existence may nonetheless consider him less interesting than television, his commands less authoritative than their appetites for affluence and influence, his judgment no more awe-inspiring than the evening news, and his truth less compelling than the advertisers’ sweet fog of flattery and lies. That is weightlessness. It is a condition we have assigned him after having nudged him out to the periphery of our secularized life. . . . Weightlessness tells us nothing about God but everything about ourselves, about our condition, about our psychological disposition to exclude God from our reality.”[10]

The reaction of Israel to all the calamities God sent upon them was to disregard Him.  They picked up speed and became infatuated with themselves and their abilities of wealth, of warfare, of social improvement, technological advance, commerce, and as such they were obsessed with their own destruction.

c)   Face to face with God

Then one day Amos preached again:  Thus sayeth the Lord:

Therefore this is what the Lord, the Lord God Almighty, says: “There will be wailing in all the streets and cries of anguish in every public square. The farmers will be summoned to weep and the mourners to wail. (Amos 5:16)

“I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. 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.
Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. (Amos 5:21-23)

Therefore, listen:  there were the drought, the famine, the inflation, the failed crops, the locusts, the crashing economy, the plagues – all these things were from God as He wanted you to repent.   You treated it with disdain and heeded it not.  Now, listen to this: 

“Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel, and because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel.” (Amos 4:12)

 It is the day that you will have to face God, whether you believed He existed or not.  Ask yourself what our godless scientists will do for us on that day.  Will our bank account will stand us in good stead?

 We will face God and see Him in his righteousness and judgement. 

Prepare to meet your God!

There is still time.  Ask God to open your spiritual ear to hear the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Hear Him knocking.  Open the door.  He is our only way to God – He is God’s righteousness to us.  Without Him no salvation is possible.  With Him, in Him and through Him we have life- eternal life.

Amen.

13.    Prayer

14.    Tithes, offering and dedication

15.    Hymn:                                                   “Come let us to the Lord, our God” (CM)

16.    Forgiveness

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because He cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:6-10)

17.    Benediction

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:2-21)

18.    Threefold “Amen”

 


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[1]  Feel free to duplicate this file or quote from it.  The Name of the Lord be glorified!

[2] http://texascriminaldefenselawyer.blogspot.com/2008/05/finding-truth-is-tv-law.html

[3] http://www.icrc.org/Web/eng/siteeng0.nsf/htmlall/review-862-p245/$File/irrc_862_Naqvi.pdf.   This article is based upon a lecture given at the T.M.C. Asser Instituut in The Hague on 29 March 2006  as part of the supranational criminal law lecture series.

[4] David Wells, The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books) in:  Piper John and Justin Taylor, The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books) ibid, p. 39

[5] David G. Myers, The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 5.

[6] Ralph Winter:  Reconsecration to a Wartime, not a Peacetime, Lifestyle.

[7] Daniel J Boorsten,  The seekers:  The story of man’s continuing quest to understand his World. (New York: Random House, 1998), p.228

[8] David Wells, ibid, p. 39

[9] ibid, p. 39

[10] David Wells, God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1994), 88, 90.

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