Pentecost 18
October 4, 1998
Amos 8:4-7
"The Filthy Rich"

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Introduction:  Today, all across our Synod congregations are celebrating L.W.M.L. Sunday as we remember the blessings which come from one of the "official" auxiliary or support arms of our national church body. They are to support and encouraging mission endeavors on the local, state and national levels.  Along with the "Lutheran Layman's League" they help us to keep the message straight and to get the message out. No one can argue with the need to spread the Gospel to every creature. That is a mandate, which the Savior has given to us.  However, there is one minor catch. In our effort to share the faith, could we give the wrong impression, and, in fact, do damage to the Gospel but living a hypocritical or a disingenuous life?  That happens when our words and our actions are miles and miles apart; when they are at odds with each other. 

How can we guard our lives so that our witness and our actions remain in harmony? This morning's Old Testament lesson gives us so very specific and practical ways in which we can live our lives which are faithful to Scriptures so that we may, by God's grace, always give a good report.  Today's lesson deals with the way in which we use our money in a God pleasing manner.

Today's lesson suggests a number of questions for us to consider. For example; does it matter how we get our money? Should a Christian be glad for his money and not ask questions as to how it was made?  Can a Christian, in good conscience, accept money that may have been derived from illegal sources? In recent years, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America staged a church wide debate whether it was proper to have investments in countries where civil rights were being denied.

In Amos' day, the people were rich but for all the wrong reasons. Today, people are still getting rich by similar methods.

The temptation is to either turn a blind eye to such methods or to ignore it all together.  As we live in a world in which the rich can get richer while the poor get poorer how are we to respond?  What is the answer to all this?  Can anything be done?   Does the Church have anything to say?  Our text for this morning is the answer, which we need to hear. As we listen to the condemnations, which the Lord gives us, may we incline our hearts to follow rightful financial practices so that the Gospel message, which we proclaim, would be received by our neighbor without any doubt as to the integrity of our hearts.  This morning let's consider the kind of wealth that God condemns.

[1]   First, I would suggest to you that the Lord condemns Greed.   Listen to verse 5 of our text for this morning:

"(they say) When will the New Moon be over  that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?"

The people were impatient to seek after more money. True, they went to the temple. They were great on the keeping of the festivals and the rituals of worship. But they chafed at the restrictions against trade on the Sabbath. The monthly religious festival of the new moon and the weekly Sabbath required a holy celebration and the stoppage of daily employment. In their quest to make a buck they reluctantly kept the holy days but as soon as the Sabbath was over they hurried to cheat their customers. They could not wait for the holy days to be over so that they could make more money. 

Today, we can see the commercialization of certain holy days such as Christmas and Easter. Do these days exist to bring us closer to God and the reality of our faith, or do they merely exist for some to make a significant profit?

[2]   God also condemns dishonesty. Listen to verse 6 of our text for today.

Amos tells us that the people were: "...Skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with wheat."

Look around you and what do you see?  These "short weights" are the false advertising that has saturated and permeated our world. From late night paid programming promising us millions with nothing down to phone solicitors who call at all hours of the day and night promising us goods and services which we simply do not need.

We hear of a countless stream of people who have been scammed by merchants who were only looking to line their own pockets. When we are dishonest in our dealings with others to the end that we gain a financial advantage over them, this is the sort of wealth, which God condemns.  The reason that God condemns such practices is that it places others at an extreme disadvantage. There are two particular ways in which people can be handicapped and taken advantage of. This happens when...

[3]   Our neighbor becomes enslaved.  Listen to the first part of verse 6 where Amos reminds us that the merchants of his day were "skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales" (v. 6a)

How can people become enslaved? This happens when they are made slaves to debt by over purchasing. I have some fears for my generation and the one coming up from the simple standpoint that we have never had it so good. Those of you who experienced the great depression know from first hand knowledge what it means to go without, and to scrimp and scrape and save.  I can remember my grandmother telling the story of one Christmas in the midst of the depression when just days before the holiday my grandfather managed to obtain some sugar, flour and molasses for her to make Christmas cookies. Today, if I go to a restaurant and don't particularly like the way they fixed my steak I can simply tell them to order me another.

Our society has been raised on instant access and instant gratification.  If I want something now I order it, and if, by chance, I do not have sufficient funds I simply pull out the plastic credit card and charge it. Yet the interest which comes to bear can quickly strip people of any savings that they might have.

Yet another enslavement which we have today is legalized gambling. This past year King's Island became the second most attended site in the state of Ohio. 3.5 million are estimated to have gone through the gates this year. What is now the number one attraction in the state just a few miles to the east?  It is the Articy casino riverboat outside of Cincinnati where over 4 million have visited this year.  Gambling becomes a "regressive tax" because the people who can least afford to pay are the one's who play. In the parish I served in South Chicago before coming here I saw grown men, who would spend upwards to $300 per week on lottery tickets only to come asking for assistance because they could not afford groceries to feed their families.  Yet the promise of instant wealth and a quick fix to personal woes is what drives people to think that with the next purchase their ship will come in and their troubles will vanish. Do the math! The odds of getting struck by lightning on a clear blue day and 100K x 1 while striking it rich on the power ball is over a million x 1.

This enslavement is what we simply call covetousness. It is the excessive desire for more then one needs or desires. We enslave people when, in a lust for a profit we cheat people with inflated charges, or if we are motivated with a lust for more things we reach out and obtain those things, regardless of whether we can afford them or not.

[4]   The kind of wealth God condemns comes from selling inferior products.  Amos gives the example of "selling even the sweepings with the wheat" (v. 6b) They would mix the stubble with the kernels of grain with the hope that the scales, now weighing heavier would turn for them a profit. We can recall

The scandal which occurred when an overseas' shipment of dirty wheat was discovered. None of us likes to be on the receiving end of an inferior product. I can vividly remember as a child my father requesting a pair of black shoes at the shoe store but the sale's man was determined to sell him a brown pair. "No", said my father, I don't need a brown pair of shoes, I need a black pair" A few days later my dad was informed that a new shipment of black shoes had arrived at the store. He proudly wore his new pair of black shoes until, at the end of the day, in a rainstorm, the black dye washed off, and there they were, a new pair of brown shoes!  The point is clear when we gain the advantage by selling an inferior product we deceive our neighbor and gain wealth, which God condemns.

Conclusion: "Where is the Gospel imperative?" you ask. Simply put, if we claim freedom from the Savior over sin, death, and the enemy we must also walk in newness of life. Our witness is made genuine by the way, in which we treat our neighbor either with respect or with contempt. When we try to deceive our neighbor either by fraud or dishonest trade we receive the kind of wealth, which God condemned. May the Lord so help us to act kindly toward our neighbor in our witness and in our commerce, to the end that there might be truth and honest industry in our land. 

           +  Soli Deo Gloria  +