Sermon – Ash Wednesday – Amos 1:1-2
Lutheran Chapel of the Cross, Racine, WI
The words of Amos, who was among the sheep breeders from Tekoa, who perceived events in Israel during the days of Uzziah the king of Judah and the days of Jeroboam ben Joash the king of Israel, two years before the earthquake. He said, “The Lord roars from Zion and from Jerusalem He utters His voice. The shepherds' pastures mourn, and the peak of Carmel withers.”
What was the most devastating, shocking, earth-shaking moment of your life? A job loss? Maybe the sudden death of a loved one? That day in the doctor's office when you heard the diagnosis? Or the moment when your spouse turns to you and says, “I want a divorce”? You feel the very earth move under your feet as the shockwaves shake you to your core. It's as if, for that one moment, everything comes crashing down.
Where is God in a time like that? Is he angry? Does he forsake us? Does he simply not care about the disaster that befalls his people? Or does he care, but is simply powerless to act?
Questions like these have plagued Christans and non-Christians as long as we have lived in this fallen world. Both figurative and literal earthquakes shake our faith, and cause us to question and wonder why.
The people of Amos' day were about to have their earth shattered. There was an army on the rampage, a world empire on the rise – the Assyrians – a brutal and ruthless conqueror who were soon to lay waste to the northern kingdom of Israel. The 10 Hebrew tribes there were utterly wipted out, and lost to history.
Amos was called to speak a prophetic word, to preach a call to repentance, 2 years before the earthquake. What earthquake? The earthquake that everyone knew was a sign of God's judgment. The literal earthquake that accompanied the roar of his wrath over their sin. And would also accompany that shaking of their world, which would soon come crashing down at the hands of the Assyrians.
I'm reminded of another earthquake. Or at least a building that catastrophically crumbled. Jesus mentioned an event that must have been in the local news. A tower in Siloam, the south part of Jerusalem, fell and killed 18 people. Was this a judgment on their sin? Was God angry with these 18 for some particular offense?
Why do bad things happen? Short answer: sin. But rather than trying to connect the dots between particular sins and particular catastophes, Jesus points us to a better way. Rather than trying to figure out what I did to deserve this misery, or worse, what that other person did to deserve theirs, what should we do instead? What is Jesus' answer? Repent.
“Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:4-5 ESV)
Disasters and calamities, tradgedies and sorrows, suffering and pain – the vale of tears in which we live – for the Christian, should be always a call to repent. Whether the earthquake strikes out of nowhere, or whether we can clearly trace it back to our own sin, the call is still to repent. To turn from sin and turn in faith to Christ. To confess our sins freely, and believe in the one who forgives them always more freely.
And when disaster looms and strikes, when the ground gives way beneath us – all the more reason to turn from it to the sure and certain ground of faith in Christ. For on that day when he faced ultimate sorrow and loss, on that day when the sun darkened, rocks split, and the earth shook... on that day he brought remedy to this fallen creation, this earth which is cursed, and all pain that we bear from sin. “It is finished” he declared. And so it is.
The voice of the Lord roars, the Lion of the tribe of Judah – a voice which roars in judgment over sin, shaking and quaking the very earth. But a voice which also roars in triumph and victory over the foe. Your enemy is vanquished. Your sins are forgiven. And with Christ's resurrection, you too are assured resurrection.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the day perhaps, in which repentance is most clearly in focus for us. The day in which we wear our sins on our sleeve, with the ashes on our foreheads. Dust you are, and to dust you shall return. Repent. Sorrow not over the earthquakes of life, but over your sins. Repent... turn from those sins, put them behind you, and look away – in the opposite direction. Repent and believe in the one who suffers all to redeem you from sin and suffering and even death itself. The one who roars and shakes the earth, but also speaks a quiet and kind word of forgiveness. Go in peace. For you are forgiven.
He does not promise to explain all your suffering. But he does promise hope in the midst of it. He does not promise earthly peace, but a peace that passes understanding. He does not take away the effects of all sin now, but will one day, and forever. When the earth shakes one last time, and then all is peace.