The Noise of Your Songs
22nd Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 27) LSB #808
Text – Amos 5:23-24
Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters, & righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
THE NOISE OF YOUR SONGS
Today’s message begins with a simple question. We’re going to spend the sermon time this morning meditating on the concept the question raises.
“What is the 1st commandment?” Depending on the translation you memorized, it goes something like this: “You shall have no other gods.” As the head of the household should teach it, Martin Luther explained that commandment after he asked, “What does this mean?” Luther wrote: “We should fear, love & trust in God above all things.”
It’s a straightforward & simple explanation. The commandment is so brief & obvious it hardly seems worth the time & effort required to meditate on it. However, if your six year old child came to you & asked, “How do I keep the 1st commandment?” how would you explain it?
If the same child asked, “Dad, what do you do to keep that commandment?” would you have a ready answer? Are there examples you could give? What are the struggles you face as you strive to fear, love & trust in God above all things?
As the prophet Amos wrote, almost 3000 years ago, fathers, mothers & children were facing the exact same struggles – how to fear, love & trust in God above all things. It never is easy for sinners to do so, yet statistics & surveys make clear that fewer & fewer of our nation’s people today are making their relationship with God the #1 aspect of their lives.
It should be #1 in the quality of time spent. It should be #1 in the way we use our money. It should be #1 in the way we find rest & relaxation. Our relationship with our heavenly Father should be #1 in how we relate to other people, especially to our fellow Christians. How many of us set aside any amount of quiet time each day simply for the purpose of listening to the heart of our Lord? How often do we use the very first portion of our income to write out the check for our offering to God? In the frazzled anxiety of our never say die schedules is it really God that we turn to first when we’re flat out exhausted, in need of rest & relaxation?
Is it the norm, when planning your day, to consider the needs of other people before your own? Yes, even our relationship to our fellow human beings has to do with our relationship to Yahweh & His first commandment. Note that Jesus said the following all in one sentence:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart & with all your soul & with all your strength & with all your mind, & your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27 ESV) Another way of putting it is to say that the last nine commandments are basically an explanation of commandment number one.
That’s where Amos is headed as he draws to the end of the 5th chapter of his prophecy. Yahweh is warning this generation of Israel that their end is near. It arrives about 40 years later with the Assyrian invasion of 722 BC. God had tried less catastrophic methods to call Israel to repentance, like withholding rain from some but not others, sending plagues, etc.
At Amos 4:6–11, the prophet wrote of the nation of Israel, five different times, “‘…but yet you did not return to me,’ declares the Lord.” In chapter 5 it’s as if the future has exploded into the present & the ones who used to be God’s people are seeing joy turned to sorrow, gladness to mourning & life to death.
The people of Israel are celebrating every Sabbath, feast & festival, but they’ve removed Yahweh from the very first commandment & put themselves into His place. Their worship services ring with thunderous songs, but their hearts are not with their heavenly Father. Their wants, their needs & their desires always come first. Instead of the first fruits, all they bring to their Creator are the leftovers. Yahweh, this is what’s left after the car payment, the house payment, the Direct TV payment. They long for Yahweh to come & settle matters of right & wrong, yet they themselves are the chief architects of the injustice & the unrighteousness.
Jesus Christ is the gospel that has been given to remove all of our sins, for any of us who have faith in Jesus. However, a humble & repentant heart is what faith in Jesus creates in the place of our sin. How committed are you to the work of humility & repentance that God’s Holy Spirit is doing in you? Is your soul alive, or is it just going through the motions?
As we see the unbelief within us, do we challenge it with the power of God’s Word or Baptism or Holy Communion? Those are the means by which Yahweh sends justice rolling down like waters into the lives of the people around us. Those are the means by which our Lord sends righteousness, like an ever-flowing stream, into the hearts of the people we meet.
If Yahweh is not at the heart & center of our soul, then He cannot send justice & righteousness through us into the lives of our neighbor. The 1st commandment is all about keeping our heavenly Father at the heart & center of our soul. It’s what the Holy Spirit is continually about as He challenges us with the Law & reinvigorates us with the Gospel.
The Lord has Amos write, “Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.” Yahweh’s point is that no matter how much people may enjoy celebrating with their sons, if their heart is rejecting the Holy Spirit’s work, then Yahweh does not celebrate with them.
Because of our sinful nature, the Spirit cannot simply spend His time working happy things in our lives. The Old Adam, & sinful nature, in us needs daily to be drowned & die. Life is also about singing sad songs, hymns of repentance & remorse. When the Law has done its work, then times of refreshing & joy can arrive honestly & with true conviction. So a man had nephew who was a brave, rambunctious preschooler. They visited the zoo together one day. The lion enclosure, with its floor-to-ceiling window of thick glass was a fascinating place. The king of the pride was lying majestically just beyond that glass.
The nephew, knowing the lion could not possibly get through the window, began dancing in front of the king, just on the cusp of teasing him. After a few seconds, the king was displeased; he roared & took a swipe at the young lad. The man’s nephew slowly backed away from the window, eyes wide & mouth agog, awed by the teeth, the claws, & the roar of the king.
The nephew was a different little boy for the rest of the day at the zoo. Our heart & soul also need to see Yahweh as more than just a toothless old lion behind an impenetrable glass. He is a God to be feared in the sense of majestic power & dominion. He is, at the same time, a God to be adored in the sense of a baby laid in a manger, Immanuel – God with us.
The fall into sin caused all mankind to lose its balance, so Law & Gospel have been given to prop us up, if you will. Our heavenly Father holds us up in that tension between Law & Gospel. He chastens us with the Law & daily will resurrect us with the good news of the Gospel. Yes, our sins are forgiven. We also have tremendous need to be forgiven.
Our sins do bring injustice & unrighteousness to our neighbor. Yet, as the Holy Spirit works through us, justice & righteousness also flow out like the river of life. All that because Jesus came to be the righteous Israel that the people of Amos’ day could not. All that because Jesus came to be the righteous Israel that you & I could not.
Only in Christ, as we live, move & have our being in Him, do we have light instead of darkness. At the time of Amos, the people of the northern kingdom (Israel) had been on the path of apostasy & syncretism for nearly 200 years. About a dozen unfaithful kings had led them away from faithful worship at the temple in Jerusalem. The Israelites believe that if they mimic true worship through various feasts, grain offerings & burnt offerings, that God will be pleased & continue to bless them. But the songs of their worship will not be heard. They are nothing more than a reprehensible noise to their Creator because they’ve rejected His 1st commandment.
Yahweh is Lord. There is no other. He wants them to continue receiving his grace, but they won’t have it. We too have a tendency to want a tame, safe, comfortable God. We need constant reminders that this gracious, loving God is also awe inspiring & to be feared when we stray. Thus St. Paul in this text commonly used for weddings, reminds us of Jesus’ love for us:
“If I speak in the tongues of men & of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, & understand all mysteries & all knowledge, & if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, & if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient & kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:1-8a ESV)
Jesus kept the first commandment for us all the days of His life here on earth. He sings the perfect love song as calls to us to return home. Sometimes, it takes His discipline to open our ears so that we listen. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet