THE DAY OF THE LORD
There are just three weeks left in November and then we are into Advent, the time of preparation for Christmas. As we often remind people, Advent begins a new church year. January 1 may be the start of the calendar year but the first Sunday of Advent is the beginning of the Church year. That means that this Sunday and the next two are the last three Sundays in the current Church year.
These last three Sundays are interesting because if you were to look at the lectionary for these three weeks, you would find that all of the Old Testament readings deal with what is called the Day of the Lord. What is the Day of the Lord? It is the last days. It is the end times when Jesus returns in glory and the world as we know it ceases to exist but rather is transformed into what God initially created it to be with the new heaven and the new earth. That’s significant because on the last three Sundays of the year, we are thinking about the last days of history. Somehow I don’t think that’s a coincidence and so this year, I thought we’d run with it and see where it takes us.
What that does is two things. First it gives us a chance to have a look at three Bible books that we seldom read. When was the last time to opened your Bible and flipped to Amos, Zephaniah and Ezekiel? Probably never. In fact, some of you might be thinking, “Are they books in the Bible?” Yes they are.
Second, it gives us a chance to look at three of the important themes of end times theology. We don’t often do that either so maybe we’re overdue. So today we will look at what it means to be ready for the Lord’s coming. Next week, we will look at the reality that when Jesus returns all of us, saints and sinners alike, will be judged. We often forget that. And finally, on the third week, we will take a glimpse at what God’s righteous judgments actually will mean for us.
Today will serve as sort of an introduction. I wanted to make sure that Jan had all of the time that she needed to do her presentation so I intentionally cut the sermon short. But that’s okay too and most people don’t mind it if the sermon is a bit shorter every now and then. So let’s go.
Amos 5:18-20 (NIV) says this:
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.
It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to be met by a bear,
as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall
only to have a snake bit him.
Will not the day of the LORD be darkness, not light –
pitch darkness, without a ray of brightness?
That very first word just about everything that needs to be said. Woe! Woe is a word that means something is about to happen that is going to rock your world and probably not in a good way. It is going to cause sorrow and distress. And that’s the first surprise because how many people do you know who think that when Jesus returns, everything will be start smelling like roses? When Jesus returns all of our problems will disappear in an instant and we will all just hop on the glory train and have a party on the way to heaven. Do you know people that think that way? Sure you do. But what does the Bible say? The Bible says woe!
“Why do you long for the day of the LORD? That day will be darkness, not light.” Something’s not quite right here. Something is amiss because isn’t Jesus supposed to be about light? Didn’t Jesus say in in John 8:12 that he is the light of the world? Sure he did. And didn’t he call us in Matthew 5:14 to be lights to the world? Don’t we all know that children’s song: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” So what’s all this stuff about darkness?
And then Amos in vivid imagery gives us some idea what he’s talking about. It will be like you just escaped from a lion only come face to face with a bear. And it will be like you going into your house after escaping from the bear and thinking you were finally safe and getting bitten by a snake. This is not a good day. It is not light. It is darkness and not only darkness but pitch darkness without so much as a little ray of light.
It seems that the Day of the Lord is not all that we sometimes think it’s going to be. Or maybe we just need to look a bit deeper at what the Bible has to say about it. Let’s do that. Maybe it gets better.
Amos 5:21-23 (NIV) says this:
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.
I’m not sure this is getting any better. We’ve going from woe to hate. “I hate your religious feasts,” says God. “I will not accept your sacrifices and I will not listen to your music.” This isn’t getting any better at all. In fact, it might just be getting worse. I’m not sure that I’m looking forward to the Day of the Lord the way I used to.
But before we throw ourselves into abject despair, let’s take a close look at what Amos is saying. Look again at the things that he references. He talks about religious feasts. Those would be the Passover, Hanukah and Purim, the three major Jewish feasts. And he mentions the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, all of the sacrifices that the people learned to observe during the forty years of wilderness wanderings as they made their way to the Promised Land. And what of the songs and the harps that God is not going to listen to? Aren’t those also commanded by God? All of these things, the feasts and the sacrifices and the songs of praise are things that God has commanded the people to do. And yet God is now saying that he doesn’t give a whiff about any of it. “Do those things all you want,” says God, “Fill your boots all day long but don’t expect me to give it a second thought.”
Okay so what gives? God has commanded the people to do these things and now God says that he doesn’t care if they do them or not. What’s going on here?
What’s going on is discovered in the next verse. Amos 5:24 (NIV) says this:
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never failing stream!
This is meant to be a comparison. What Amos is doing is contrasting what the people are doing with what they ought to be doing. What are they doing? They are doing all the right things from a religions standpoint. They are celebrating their feasts and they are making their sacrifices and they are singing praises to God. They are doing all of the things that God commanded them to do. So what’s the problem? The problem is with the word that we read in verse 24. That word is justice.
The people are doing all the right outward signs of religion. Now don’t get that wrong. Some preachers would tell you that religion is a bad thing. But that’s not what the Bible says. According to the Bible, religion is a good thing. In fact, it’s a very good thing. That’s because religion is how we live out of faith. Religion is not what we do in the church on Sunday morning. Religion is what we do when we leave here filled with God’s Spirit to change the world. James 1:27 (NIV) says this: “The religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after the orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” That’s religion.
The problem with the people that Amos is address is not that they had too much religion. It’s that they didn’t have enough of it. That’s why God refuses to pay attention to all of their churchy activities. Those feast, those sacrifices, those songs of praise to God are intended to change their lives and change their hearts to live the way God has called them to live in justice for all people. But they aren’t doing that and the Day of the LORD is coming so they had better quit sluffing off and get down to business.
Here’s the thing to remember. One day Jesus is going to come back. On that day, we need to be ready for him. Getting ready does not mean that we’ve sung the right songs at the right time. It doesn’t mean that we’ve done all of the churchy things and sat on enough church committees and given enough money in the offering plate on Sunday morning. Don’t get me wrong because all of those things are good and they all can contribute to the ministry of Jesus Christ. But if, in the process, you don’t come with a changed heart, then Amos tells us that you’ve missed the point.
In the parable of the ten virgins, there were ten young women just waiting for the wedding banquet. In this parable the banquet actually represents the Day of the Lord. But when the bridegroom finally arrived, five of them weren’t ready. They were all there. They were all dressed for the occasion. They had all done the right stuff. But the only five who got into the wedding banquet were the five who had oil for their lamps – otherwise read, those whose hearts were changed and were ready for the bridegroom – Jesus – to return.
Let that be a warning. Those who have ears, let them hear what the Scriptures say to the people of the church in Cottam.
week, we will look at what it means to be judged on the Day of the Lord.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Holy God, your ways are not our ways and your thoughts are not our thoughts. You look towards a higher vision and purpose. We often struggle to understand your path for us. When we are unsure of the way, enable us to walk in the confidence of faith. Help us to trust in you for you are trustworthy in all things. Strengthen us by your Spirit that we may touch others for the cause of Christ.
We come to you this day with thanks in our hearts. We give thanks for the men, women and, sometimes, children who gave of themselves and their lives for the cause of freedom, justice and peace.
We offer our thanks for those who died for us. We also pray for those who survived the wars of the past but are still haunted by the images of what they experienced. We pray for comfort and healing for all.
We, also, lift up in prayer the many millions who are living in war torn regions even today. The world is full of refugees, people fleeing political and social violence. The world is full of needless hunger, caused by the greed and power of a few.
In the midst of so much suffering, we find the veterans, the soldiers and peacemakers who put their lives on the line in the hopes of saving innocent people and ending the unnecessary bloodshed. We remember the Canadian military personnel in various places around the globe. Protect them and bring them home safely to their families and friends.
We also remember our brothers and sisters in Sutherland Springs, Texas who are living with the aftermath of the church shooting in Sutherland Springs. May your peace in their hearts, O God, that they may find a place of healing in this very difficult situation.
We ask for healing for those who are sick or in recovery. Today we pray for Don, Helen, Sharon, Jacqui, Lyle and Lou-Anne. We take a few moments to remember other people who may need our prayers.
In all things, bless us. In all things, keep us. In all things guide us, in Jesus’ name.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
November 12, 2017 / Pentecost 22 / Proper 27
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25; Psalm 78:1-7; Amos 5:18-24; Matthew 25:1-13; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
CALL TO WORSHIP
Let us open our minds to God’s teaching and tune our ear to his word.
Let us listen to the stories of the faith of our ancestors and share our stories with our children.
We put our trust in God.
We worship the one who gives us life.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
God of Heaven and Earth, God of the sunrise and the sunset, God of the highest mountain and the deepest valley, hear our prayers as we come before your throne of glory. Declare your message to us and grant us the courage to listen. May our listening turn to action. May our actions touch the hearts of those who need to hear your voice. We put our trust in you knowing that it is well placed in your gentle and caring hands. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Mercy and Light, forgive us for walking in darkness of our own making. Forgive us for not being ready to receive your love. Forgive us when we move in the wrong direction and away from your word. Forgive us and help us to share. Forgive us and help us to shine. Forgive us and help us to shelter those in need. Light a pathway for us to follow, O God of all Creation. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
God is patient and kind, gentle and loving, slow to anger and quick to laugh. God’s love overflows the deepest sin. Be assured that, when we repent of our sin, we are forgiven. Through faith in Christ Jesus, we are invited to share in the everlasting life.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
You have trusted us with a great abundance, O God. You have blessed us with immeasurable gifts. Not only do we bring our tithes and offerings to the table. We also bring our whole lives asking that you would sanctify us and our gifts for the work of your Holy Kingdom. Amen.
The world seeks light amidst the shadows. Jesus calls us to shine in the darkness. May we, in our lives, be examples of God’s love.