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July 15, 2001 Holy Communion
Text File: Jul1501A.TXT
I now invite you to turn with me in your Bibles to the prophet Amos, chapter 7 and to follow along as I read vs 7-17. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
7 Thus he showed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumbline, with a plumbline in his hand.
8 And the LORD said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A plumbline. Then said the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumbline in the midst of my people Israel: I will not again pass by them any more:
9 And the high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste; and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.
10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear all his words.
11 For thus Amos saith, Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of their own land.
12 Also Amaziah said unto Amos, O thou seer, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there:
13 But prophesy not again any more at Bethel: for it is the king's chapel, and it is the king's court.
14 Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit:
15 And the LORD took me as I followed the flock, and the LORD said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel.
16 Now therefore hear thou the word of the LORD: Thou sayest, Prophesy not against Israel, and drop not thy word against the house of Isaac.
17 Therefore thus saith the LORD; Thy wife shall be an harlot in the city, and thy sons and thy daughters shall fall by the sword, and thy land shall be divided by line; and thou shalt die in a polluted land: and Israel shall surely go into captivity forth of his land.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
Perhaps you have seen the trailers on TV, or the billboards on the highway. It is coming. Buy your big buttered popcorn. Get yourself a mammoth iced coke. Find a center cinema seat and prepare yourself for primal fear, toothy terror and bone-crunching horror--because in just three days, on Wednesday, July 18, Jurassic Park 3 is scheduled to open in a theater near you.
In the first Jurassic Park we felt tingling terror as the terrible T-Rex ran thundering after the heroes' speeding SUV in the rain and dark. The filmmaker's camera was focused on the passenger side exterior mirror. In that mirror we could clearly see what the characters saw, a monstrous brute intent on catching a human dinner. In Jurassic Park series, people get eaten. It is a formula that seems to please us. JP 2 was more of the same, and the dinosaur-dining no doubt continues in JP 3.
But behind the chaos, lessons can be learned from both Jurassic Park and the prophet Amos. In both cases, we discover that well-meaning and sometimes not-so-well-meaning actions create problems that can grow beyond our ability to solve. We then must face the monstrous consequences of our actions. This is not a popular message. Our culture is afraid of consequences, and in our litigious society, we have done whatever we can to shift the blame and spread around damages. We prefer recklessness without responsibility. We want to play, but not to pay.
If you are looking for disaster, mayhem, carnage, gloom, doom and death, stand in line on Wednesday to be one of the first to see the third version of Jurassic Park, but our text today from Amos gives us a more serious look at the consequences of irresponsible living. In Amos, fires devour nations, whirlwinds rage, battles erupt, and earthquakes crumble cities. People face hunger, famine, and thirst from drought, then floods with mildew and rot, then blight, locust, pestilence, death, exile and near genocide. Amos was definitely not a feel-good prophet.
In 7:2, the Lord says to Amos: I'll send swarms of locusts against Israel, swarms so frightening that Amos cries, "O Lord God, forgive, I beg you! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!" And God relents, saying this shall not be. God then decides a roaring inferno will sweep across the land, so intense that it will turn the sea to vapor. Amos cries, "O Lord God, cease, I beg you! How can Jacob stand? He is so small" (v. 5). Again God relents, saying this shall not be.
But then, God appears again saying to Amos, "What do you see?" Amos says, "I see a plumb line." God responds, "I'm setting this plumb line to see if the people measure up. They do not. So, I will never visit them again, the high places of Isaac will be destroyed, the sanctuaries will be wastelands, and swords will come."
Amos delivers the truth, God follows through on the consequences. Israel, as well as surrounding nations, were in Jurassic jeopardy when they flaunted the laws of God. Those nations - Israel, Judah, Damascus, Gaza, Edom, Tyre, Ammon and Moab - behaved heinously. They refused to worship God. They turned away from the Lord,so they received a divinely imposed punishment far worse than a date with a dinosaur.
Why then, do we think we can act with impunity? That our actions have no consequences?
What is the problem that Amos is addressing? The basic problem is that we were created to be a certain sort of being and we seem determined to be something else. We are animals, no question about that. We have much in common with the rest of the animal kingdom. I have often wondered why some folks in church get all bent out of shape when we state that obvious fact. But we are not only animals. We are also spiritual beings. We live here under conditions of space and time, yet we are capable of the conscious worship of a reality that transcends space and time. The problem in Israel was that the people has stopped worshipping God. They had denied their spiritual nature. They were content just to be animals. Now for an animal to live like an animal is fine, because that is what they are supposed to do. But for a human being to live like an animal is a sin against God, because that is not the way we are supposed to live. We are supposed to live in communion with God.
What is a Sacrament?
We have certain means and methods to help in our life in the spirit. For example, we have the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. In general, a sacrament is the use of visible things and deeds not merely to signify, but to convey, invisible realities.
The sacrament of the Lord's Supper is also called Holy Communion or the Eucharist. It is important to us because the goal of our lives is communion with God, and the Eucharist supports and expresses that communion. The sacrament is set between the unseen and the seen, On the one hand, it is human action in that human beings do things in a sacrament. On the other hand, On the other hand, it embodies and expresses a divine revelation. A sacrament is a door through which mystery approaches us, and through which we respond.
A sacrament has an outside and an inside--a visible action and an invisible action--both are real, both are needed, both are so interconnected that each loses its function if torn apart. In Israel, the rites and ceremonies of the OT lost their function because people no longer believed. The same thing can happen to us. A sacrament can become a kind of a ceremonial routine. It can become a kind of mechanical thing, something that we just do every now and then that has no spiritual value. This is what had happened in Israel in the time of Amos. They had the temple. They had the sacrificial system, but they had lost their faith, and without faith all the things we do that symbolize and represent God become a blasphemy and an abomination. Let us be careful then to approach Holy Communion with faith, lest God measure us with a plumb line and find us wanting.
We can overstate the value of sacraments. Ultimately the Lord's Supper cannot show us God because God is not a physical reality. God is not a created thing or being. Historically, the danger Christians have faced with the Lord's Supper is that sometimes we almost replaced the worship of God with the worship of the sacrament. We were more concerned with the miracle of eating Christ's body and blood than with Christ. This is always the danger of using physical things to represent spiritual values. We tend to worship the physical things and forget the spiritual. This is the classic definition of idolatry. Any thing that we elevate to the place of God, even with good intentions, is idolatry. The way some conservative Christians talk about the Bible, you might think that they worship the Bible and not God. The way some folks talk about their denomination,you might thing that they think their denomination is going to get them into heaven. That is idolatry. In so far as we worship things, any things, we commit sin and idolatry.
But having said that, we must also admit that we need physical things to remind us of the spiritual. It is impossible for us to set up watertight compartments between visible and invisible, between outward and inward worship. We think, will, and feel, in a physcial body. Our senses, our eyes, ears, and fingers stir and sustain our spiritual consciousness.
You probably have all heard the old proverb that "Acting produces feeling." If we keep on smiling then pretty soon we will be feeling cheerful. If we adopt a position of prayer, then pretty soon we will be praying. This reminds me of the advice that was given to John Wesley. After his failure in Savannah Georgia, Wesley was returning to England a disgruntled man. He told a fellow believer, a Moravian, that he had doubts about his faith. The Moravian said to Wesley, "Act like you have faith and pretty soon you will have faith." Understand that Wesley had not lost his faith, he was just undergoing some spiritual difficulties. He followed the Moravian's advice and acted like a giant of faith, and worked his way through his difficulties. This is the value of a sacrament. A sacrament is an act that sustains and reinforces our faith.
And the repetition of the sacrament is valuable. I realize that some people might have the attitude that having done the Lord's Supper once, there is not much need to ever do it again. "Been there, Done that, Got the t-shirt." That is the American attitude. But there is a value in repetition. Repetition of the Lord's Supper creates spiritual pathways. Repetition sets up habits of worship that allow us to penetrate more deeply into divine reality. As we do the Lord's Supper over and over throughout our Christian lives, our faith is enhanced and expanded and educated.
May the Lord bless us this day then as we partake of this Holy Communion. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified, 08/06/01