Holy Thursday Sermon

Amos 8:11 (Holy Thursday)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

March 28, 2013

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is Amos 8:11:

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “I will send a famine in the land. Not hunger for bread and not thirst for water. But rather for the hearing of the words of the Lord.”

“You’ve got to taste this!”  Our mothers said this as they thrust brussels sprouts into our face. “You’ve got to taste this!”  Wives say this to husbands as they test their latest concoction of a casserole or the fabled dish my mom made for my dad, creole wieners.  But all this pales in comparison to the taste test conducted by a gourmet cook as she thrust dog food upon unsuspecting guests.

It all happened at an elegant reception near Denver.  The dog food was served on delicate little crackers with a wedge of imported cheese, bacon chips, an olive, and a sliver of pimento on top. You’ve got it: it was hors d’oeuvres a la Alpo.  The hostess had just graduated from a gourmet cooking course and decided it was time to put her skills to the ultimate test.  After doctoring up those miserable morsels and putting them on a couple of silver trays, with a sly grin she watched them all disappear. One man just couldn’t get enough.  In all likelihood, he was famished for real food.

Amos also knows about people hungering for real food and finding none.  In Amos 8:11 the prophet announces that no longer will the people experience famine and drought brought about by destruction of the natural world, rather, they will undergo an even harsher judgment.  Hunger and thirst will arise because of a famine in hearing God’s words.  Without access to divine words, Israel will be lost.

In their deepest moment of need the people of Israel will finally turn to the Lord, but at that point God will offer no word.  The divine silence will be deafening and destroying.  Israel rejected God’s words.  Now the punishment will fit the crime.  God will offer them no word. 

In Scripture, God’s anger is sometimes demonstrated by His silence.  Micah 3:4 says: “Then they will cry out to the Lord and He will not answer them; and He will hide His face from them.”  In the Book of Judges we hear that “Israel had no king.”  We learn that “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  The result was that “the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there were not many visions” (1 Samuel 3:1).  In like manner, Israelites who would not listen to the Lord’s word through Amos or through the disasters the Lord sent will be completely cut off from divine communication.  The conversation was over; words don’t work.  Actions will now deliver God’s just judgment.

In the New Testament, Jesus gives this same warning to the church in Ephesus, “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Revelation 2:5).  In this case the “lampstand” indicates Christ’s presence.  Divine absence means silence and death for God’s people.

The Reformer Martin Luther writes:

Let us remember our former misery, and the darkness in which we dwelt.  Germany, I am sure, has never before heard so much of God’s word as it is hearing today; certainly we read nothing of it in history.  If we let it just slip by without thanks and honor, I fear we shall suffer a still more dreadful darkness and plague.  O my beloved Germans, buy while the market is at your door; gather in the harvest while there is sunshine and fair weather; make use of God’s grace and word while it is there!  For you should know that God’s word and grace is like a passing shower of rain which does not return where it has once been.  It has been with the Jews, but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have nothing.  Paul brought it to the Greeks; but again when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have the Turk.  Rome and the Latins also had it; but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have the pope.  And you Germans need not think that you will have it forever, for ingratitude and contempt will not make it stay.  Therefore, seize it and hold it fast, whoever can.[1]

A question for us to consider: Do you and I ever experience a famine of God’s Word?  Are there times when He is silent and seems so distant from us?

We try to stick to a diet of thanksgiving, kindness, and humility.  All too often, though, our diet goes something like this: For breakfast, one-half grapefruit, one piece of whole wheat toast (no butter), eight ounces of skim milk, coffee black.  For lunch, four ounces of lean broiled chicken breast, skin removed, one cup of steamed zucchini, herb tea (no sugar), one cookie.  For our snack we consume the rest of the package of cookies, one quart of chocolate almond ice cream, and one jar of hot fudge.  For dinner, two loaves of garlic bread (heavy on the butter), one large sausage and pepperoni pizza (extra cheese), and a large milk shake with whipped cream.  And for desert, three candy bars and an entire frozen cheesecake!

Oh, we try, don’t we?  We try to stay on a spiritual diet of God’s Word that brings vigor and victory, strength and power.  We try to be faithful in attending services at God’s House where His Word is proclaimed and Sacraments are administered.  We try to keep up with daily Bible readings and a devotional life.  But then we slip, one cookie of missing worship here and there, one crumb of coveting, one piece of pornography, one slice of slander, one sip of sarcasm, and then the rest of the package of cookies.  We just can’t get enough.  The enemy—the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh—continues to thrust junk food before us on silver trays and with a sly grin, watches it all disappear.  Filled to the brim with his miserable morsels our desire to regularly study, memorize, learn, defend, trust, believe, love, and live out God’s Word becomes a chore, a bore, a snore; and so we ignore. The result is a famine in the hearing of God’s Word.

This is why God decided to serve up one more Word.  As a man His appetite is defined in Hebrews 2:9, “So that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.”

Talk about a taste test.  This was it for all time!  Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, tasted the demonic delight called death, the soldiers’ spit, their cheap wine, sweat running down His cheeks along with His own blood.  But there was more.  He tasted our sins, our evil, the devil’s junk food that we speak, do, and think.  Then Jesus drank the cup of the Father’s wrath poured out in punishment against the sins of the world that Jesus assumed as His own.  Christ drank every last drop of the punishment and wrath of God.  And it killed Him.

Yet Jesus not only tasted death, He swallowed death, chewed him up, and spit him out!  In 1 Corinthians 15:54 Paul announces, “Death has been swallowed up in victory!”—the victory of Jesus’ resurrection!  Jesus’ resurrection victory over death and the grave mans that His sacrifice on the cross was indeed full payment for our sins.  Jesus’ resurrection means that we will rise again from the dead in a resurrection like His on the Last Day. 

Jesus death and resurrection also means that our famine and hunger is over.  The feast is here, the very feast Jesus Himself instituted on the night in which He was betrayed, when He “took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.’  In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’” (1Co 11:24-25)  At the city of Marburg, in debate with another reformer named Ulrich Zwingli over what Jesus really meant here, it was Luther who pounded the table speaking the Latin words, “hoc est corpum meam,” “This is My body.”  

By the power of the Word, the forgiveness and love, mercy and salvation accomplished at Calvary is now received in the bread and wine of Holy Communion because Jesus’ true Body and Blood is present, along with the bread and wine, for us to eat and to drink.  The Bible does not teach real absence, but real presence in this feast.  Christ’s true body and blood are here with the bread and wine to completely forgive of all your sins and wipe them out forever.

Thanks be to God!  The famine is ended.  The feast of God’s Word and Sacrament is here for you!  Come again this day / night to the banquet table of Christ and receive from Him His true Body given into death and His precious Blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  Be filled and be satisfied as you taste and see that the Lord is good.  Amen.

[1] Walther I. Brandt, ed. “The Christian in Society,” vol. 45 of Luther’s Works (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1962), 352–53.

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