Monday, March 19, 2012

Turning the Clock Back

Amos 2:6–8 (NKJV)
6 Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because they sell the righteous for silver, And the poor for a pair of sandals. 7 They pant after the dust of the earth which is on the head of the poor, And pervert the way of the humble. A man and his father go in to the same girl, To defile My holy name. 8 They lie down by every altar on clothes taken in pledge, And drink the wine of the condemned in the house of their god.

Amos was a prophet to Israel. Thus far in his list of judgments, however, Amos has addressed the nations that surrounded Israel and we can imagine the Israelites cheering at each full stop. “Yes, judge those Moabites, judge those Philistines, judge those Ammonites and Edomite and Judahites. They deserve it.” But the Lord of all, the Lion who has roared forth from Jerusalem, has simply been circling his prey. The real object of his attention is Israel.

What were Israel’s transgressions? It is instructive to note that whereas Amos only mentions the central transgression of the other nations, Israel’s transgressions are explained at length. Rather than seeking to protect the poor and the weak, they are exploiting and abusing them. Rather than honoring the sacredness of the sexual act, they are profaning and prostituting it. Rather than giving thanks for the gift of wine, they are corrupting it. Such are their sins. Israel is a society in moral decline and disarray.

Lilian, Jose, and I are reading C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Early in the voyage, King Caspian pays an unexpected visit to part of his domain, the Lone Islands. The Governor of the Lone Islands, Governor Gumpas, is a practical man, a man who looks at charts and figures and statistics and rules and laws but who has little use for a king or for ideals. Consequently, Gumpas has permitted the slave trade to grow up in the islands.

When Caspian arrives, he confronts Gumpas for allowing such a filthy trade to be practiced in the islands that had always been forbidden. Gumpas replies that the trade is absolutely essential for the present prosperity of the islands; an essential export. Caspian declares that whether it is essential or not, it must stop.

You see Caspian was a man of principle who understood that whether certain activities are economically viable or not they are wrong and therefore to be opposed. He knew that there is One who rules over the affairs of men and nations. Caspian was a servant of the Great Lion Aslan and understood that he held his post in trust. He knew that the slave trade not only debased these men and women who were made in the image of God but also angered the true Ruler of the Lone Islands who would demand an account. So it must stop.

But Gumpas was a practical man. He was a politician, one who, like former Missouri Senator John Danforth, insists that the essence of political discourse is compromise. So he responds to Caspian’s demand with disbelief – and listen to the words that Lewis so fittingly puts into his mouth – “But that would be putting the clock back! Have you no idea of progress, of development?”

Such a question was of course a distraction, a straw man. For progress can only be defined if we have some object toward which we are heading. Gumpas’ object was revenue – so anything that increases revenue is progress, the slave trade is progress. Caspian’s object was honor and virtue. Consequently, the slave trade was not progress but regress.

We find ourselves in the midst of a cultural slide; a slide, as Robert Bork once wrote, toward Sodom and Gomorrrah. When we oppose this slide, we often hear the words of Gumpas, “But that would be putting the clock back! Have you no idea of progress, of development?” Those who define progress as simple economic growth or as moving closer to unbridled license will inevitably express shock and disbelief when others come and oppose them. But this is our calling. We are to stand against immorality, impurity, and tyranny that parades itself as progress. We are to keep ourselves unstained from the world. For one day the Lord of all will act and will judge all those societies that degenerate into filth and decay even as he judged the nation of Israel.

So reminded that true progress means becoming more like the Lord of all, more like the King who rules and reigns over us, let us kneel and confess that rather than progressing we have regressed. We will have a time of private confession followed by the public confession found in your bulletin.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Made in the Image of God

Amos 2:1–3 (NKJV)
1 Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because he burned the bones of the king of Edom to lime. 2 But I will send a fire upon Moab, And it shall devour the palaces of Kerioth; Moab shall die with tumult, With shouting and trumpet sound. 3 And I will cut off the judge from its midst, And slay all its princes with him,” Says the Lord.

In our text today the prophet Amos pronounces the Lord’s judgment upon the kingdom of Moab. Moab was situated just opposite the Dead Sea from Israel and just north of the kingdom of Edom. Between Moab and Edom there was frequent strife and warfare.

In 2 Kings chapter 3 we are informed of one particular battle between these two kingdoms that occurred some years prior to Amos’ prophecy. The battle went against the Moabites. So, in great extremity, the king of Moab endeavored to break through the army of Edom and slay their king. He failed. And when he saw that all was nearly lost and that his kindgom was likely to be destroyed, the king of Moab made the shocking decision to sacrifice his eldest son to implore the help of his god. The sacrifice worked – the Edomites and their allies retreated in disarray.

However, from this day forth, the king of Moab nursed a grudge against the king of Edom, longing for revenge for the death of his son. And some time later either he himself or one of his descendants took his revenge by burning the king of Edom’s bones to lime. As Matthew Henry remarks, the king of Moab “seized him alive and burnt him to ashes, or slew him and burnt his body, or dug up the bones of their dead king…and, in token of his rage and fury, burnt them to lime, and perhaps made use of the powder of his bones for the white-washing of the walls and ceilings of his palace, that he might please himself with the sight of that monument of his revenge.”

The actions of the king of Moab are condemned in the harshest terms by God. Even as the king of Moab burned the king of Edom, God will burn down the king of Moab’s kingdom. And the very fact that God condemns the Moabites for an offense against the Edomites illustrates that God is not only concerned for how men treat His elect people but for how they treat one another. Man’s inhumanity to man is an affront to the God in whose image we are created as human beings.

Amos’ words remind us that as human beings we bear the very image of our Creator and that we must, therefore, treat fellow human beings – even those who are our enemies – with honor and respect. Revenge is forbidden; cruelty is forbidden; inhumanity is forbidden.

The Apostle James chastises his readers for misusing their tongue simultaneously to “bless our God and Father, and [to] curse men, who have been made in the [image] of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.” (Jas 3:8-11) And if it is offensive to God when we defame the image of God in our neighbor with our words then how much more when we debase image of God with such extreme inhumanity as is charged against the king of Moab.

Calvin writes:
“The Lord commands all men without exception ‘to do good’ [to everyone even though] the great part of them are most unworthy if they be judged by their own merit. But here Scripture helps in the best way when it teaches that we are not to consider [what] men merit of themselves but to look upon the image of God in all men, to which we owe all honor and love…

After some examples Calvin concludes:
“Assuredly there is but one way in which to achieve what is not merely difficult but utterly against human nature: [namely], to love those who hate us, to repay their evil deeds with benefits, to return blessings for reproaches. It is that we remember not to consider men’s evil intention but to look upon the image of God in them, which cancels and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them.”

The king of Edom had been made in the image of God and should have been treated with reverence by the king of Moab – instead he was debased and desecrated.

So what of us? Murder is not limited to the actions – Jesus traces it to the heart. So are we reverencing the image of God in our children? The image of God in our employees? The image of God in our neighbors? The image of God in our enemies? This is our calling.

Reminded that we often overlook the majesty of the men and women and children with whom we interact, let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord. We will have a time of private confession followed by the public confession found in your bulletin.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Sin of Abortion

Amos 1:13–15 (NKJV)
13 Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of the people of Ammon, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because they ripped open the women with child in Gilead, That they might enlarge their territory. 14 But I will kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah, And it shall devour its palaces, Amid shouting in the day of battle, And a tempest in the day of the whirlwind. 15 Their king shall go into captivity, He and his princes together,” Says the Lord.

This last Wednesday marked the beginning of a roughly 40 day period that has since the 10th century been called Lent. This period calls us to anticipate and prepare for the celebration of the great feast of Easter – that most momentous of holy days when we commemorate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus from the dead. But the very fact that we celebrate His resurrection reminds us that Jesus died – died for our sin and rebellion, died for our transgressions. And Jesus’ death reminds us that we are called to die to sin, to die to the old Adam, the way of life that despises God and His law and substitutes human wisdom in its stead. And so Lent is appropriately  a time to focus upon specific sins that call for public confession and repentance.

In our congregation the specific issue that we have tied to this period of time is that of abortion. This is the greatest blot on our much blotted national character. Since 1973 we have slaughtered approximately 50 million children, 50 million children who will rise up and condemn this generation in the day of judgment.

Just this week Secretary of State Clinton called the actions of Russia and China “despicable” – that was her word – because they failed to authorize UN sanctions against Syria. In the last several months Syrian President Assad has used increasing force to suppress a rebellion in his country and several thousand individuals have lost their lives as a result.

Regardless of the Syrian question in itself, let me remind us all that this Hilary Clinton who declared the failure of Russia and China to stand against the death of a few thousand individuals in Syria “despicable” is the same Clinton whose hands are red with the blood of innocent children here within our own borders. This is the same Hilary Clinton whose husband while President and whose current President countenance the slaughter of millions of children while still in the womb. And she has the gall to declare the actions of Russia and China despicable? How dare we Americans condemn Syria for deaths in the thousands when each year we slaughter over a million of our own children within our very borders? Will not the Lord hold us accountable for such shameful hypocrisy? Indeed he will.

And it is this that our text from Amos declares to us today. The people of Ammon are condemned for ripping open the pregnant women of Gilead in order to expand their own borders. In other words, the people of Ammon slaughtered these children for their own advantage. They wanted greater power, greater welath, greater prestige, greater influence, greater control – and these children stood in the way of all that. And so Ammon slaughtered the infants of Gilead.

And is this not the driving force behind abortion? Selfish convenience? I want to avoid the shame of having conceived a child out of wedlock, so I slaughter my child. I want to have more disposable income, so I slaughter my child. I want to avoid the inconvenience of raising a child, so I slaughter my child. And what is God’s attitude toward such selfishness; nay, more than selfishness, evil? He detests and abhors it – and promises that His hand of judgment will fall on Ammon and bring her to the ground. 

And so reminded of our sin, reminded that like Ammon we have made war on those children yet in the womb, let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord. We will have a time of private confession followed by the public confession found in your bulletin.