Amos 4:5 Offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened, and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them; for so you love to do, O people of Israel!" says the Lord GOD.
There is a wonderful phrase we use, often in exasperation – You just don’t get it – You don’t have a clue – its not that we want people to be clueless – its not that we want people to be ignorant – and its wrong to call someone a blockhead, when in the place their brains ought to be, the brains are missing, and perhaps there’s only sawdust filling the space. The problem is that in our text, it is not someone talking about his neighbor – but it is God talking about his people – not just some people, it is God talking about us.
Its not apparent on the surface, and it might look fine from a distance, or from the outside – we might not even see it in ourselves – but God says its there, and God doesn’t lie. It sounds like a good thing to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving on that which is leavened. Look what I’ve done for you God, isn’t this great? What’s the problem? The only time that Israel had to have unleavened bread was at passover, and unleavened bread is kind of like a soda cracker or a communion wafer – and it ignored the bread that was the staple of the diet.
It is very like the practice of giving up something for lent, and telling everyone what you are giving up – and if you have to give up something, why not give up something you don’t like. Its bad enough to try and fool our neighbors with a show of piety – but to try and fool God – why that’s just plain foolish – perhaps God won’t make a public example of you for such a thing, and maybe you aren’t punished right a way – but it is certainly not unnoticed.
The second point is a free will offering that is proclaimed and published – look at the good that I’ve done, the money I’m giving – did you see my picture in the paper? These also may be seen from a distance to be a great sign of faith and commitment.
The problem is that doing any of these voluntary things, does not make up for ignoring all the things which God has commanded. And that’s what God send the Prophet Amos to bring to the people, a reminder of what it is to be God’s people, a reminder of what it was that God had called for His people to do.
In those days, there was trouble with the farm economy – there was drought, there was plague, there was pestilence, there was hunger – it even says they were sent by God to call the people to repentance – the problem was that though there were hard times, there was no repentance – they didn’t turn from their sin, they didn’t return to the Lord. So God sent the prophet Amos to in effect, say: Hey, folks – do you know why this is happening? Do you hear what God is saying? Do you hear God calling you to repentance?
It is not hard to say – it must be somebody else, especially if you can point to all the fine things you are doing for God and the church. But in such times of trial, it is important that we all ask ourselves – Am I doing all that God has called me to do? In such times of trial – or every day it is important that we examine ourselves – not on the basis of what we have done or failed to do – but on the basis of what God has called and commanded us to do. This is why we learn the 10 commandments, so that we can each examine our own life, see our sins, and repent.
You see, God doesn’t want to send any bad things our way – but sometimes God uses this sort of thing to call us to repentance - to remind us, that we are not God - to remind us, that we cannot save ourselves - to remind us, that we will die – not because we didn’t try hard enough, but because the wages of sin is death – and we cannot earn forgiveness - and we cannot earn eternal life – and we cannot get to heaven without our Savior – because God gives these things to us because of Jesus, and his love for us.
You can’t tell from the outside, but we know from the inside that all human religion is about what we’ve done for God – but the faith in which there is salvation is about what God has done for us. They can look the same, until you notice who is at the center – if man is at the center – it is that human religion which cannot save – if Christ is at the center, it is the love of God which calls us to repent and shows us our Savior. Lent is a time when we look to see our Savior.