Walking near Thoreau's cabin at Walden pond
There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve.” -Henry David Thoreau Photo (This photo was taken at Walden Pond near Thoreau’s Cabin!)

 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Scripture:  Amos 5.6-15

Key Verses: ” Seek good and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
just as you have said. 
15 Hate evil and love good,
and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph (Amos 5.14-15).”

When I preach, I rarely write out the entire manuscript. I have low vision and therefore my eyes have trouble tracking from line to line when I read. Even if I were to print my sermon in large font, I would be concerned that my eyes would lose focus and that I would become distracted. Therefore, I memorize my sermons.

In order to help me to memorize, I put together a sermon outline from notes such as these. Then, I keep the outline in the pulpit or in the pocket of my robe so that I can cheat and refer to it as necessary. Although I rarely refer to it, it’s comforting to know that it is there if I should need it!

Here are some of the notes that I used in preparing for my sermon on this selection from Amos. Hopefully, these notes will be helpful for you in your own research and sermon preparation!

Heart of the Sermon: 

Ask yourself, “What is the heart of this message?” If you were going to sum this message up in a simple sentence, what would you tell the people?

For this particular sermon, my key message was: “We do not always know what is good and what is evil, therefore, we must seek God. instead of putting our faith in material things. God alone is good!” I will structure my entire message around this “heart,” of my sermon. If no one remembers anything else, I will hope that they at least walk away with that message remembering only one thing that God alone is good and we must seek God. 

Narrative/ New Testament Connection: 

Amos doesn’t really offer a linear story or narrative that can be easily preached in a single sermon. In the future, I would like to preach a sermon series surrounding the gospels. In the meantime, I will focus on drawing connections to this week’s lectionary text from Mark, particularly the following verses:

“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good – except God alone. You know the commandments: Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ ‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’ Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ At this, the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth (Mark 10.17-22).”

Personal Illustration: 

What person illustration can you use in order to help to bring this message to life? How can you testify (even briefly) why this message is important to you in your own life? I have a sermon illustration I can use about a friend who won the lottery (my friends all know that they are in danger of showing up in a sermon on Sunday morning!) but if you put your mind to it, I’m certain that you can think of an illustration from your own life.

What are my initial thoughts when reading through this passage? What are my thoughts as I pray and meditate on this passage for at least a week (I prefer two weeks for proper sermon prep)? 

Amos is a challenging text to preach. There is not a clear “story” or “narrative” to this text. Therefore, it will be important for me to either A.) Connect this text with the other Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) for this week-The one about Jesus, the rich man, the camel, and the eye of the needle), B.) Find a gripping illustration that will help the people connect with the text or C.) All of the above

I believe that it is important to preach from the prophets for two key reasons: 1.) We are called to preach prophetically. In today’s world, preachers need to be a “voice crying out in the wilderness.”  2.) People do not normally hear the prophets preached. Usually, unless we are doing a sermon series just on the prophets, the only prophet which the average person in the pews gets to hear on a regular basis is Isaiah at Christmas.

In my initial reading of this scripture the verses 12-13 particularly convicted me. “For I know how many are your transgressions,
and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
and push aside the needy in the gate.
13 Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time;
for it is an evil time (Amos 5.12-13).”

That verse hit me like a punch in the gut. Why? What is God saying to me through those words? Is there an evil in the world the Holy Spirit is calling me to name specifically?

Key Verse:

After praying and meditating on this scripture, the verse that struck me as the key verse for this sermon was: Seek good and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
just as you have said.
15 Hate evil and love good (Amos 5.14-15),”

Specifically, the words, “Seek good and not evil… Hate evil and love good,” keep circling in my mind. I love the parallelism of that line. As my professor from seminary would say, “That will preach.”  I will purposely weave this line in and out of my sermon in order to connect the different key points through the use of repetition.

Key Words:

“Good,” and “Evil” are the key concepts in this text. Amos was preaching against the evil that he saw in the world around him. Just like the other prophets, he was calling for repentance. People today are uncomfortable with the idea of repentance. We do not like to be told that we are sinners. How can I lovingly let my listeners know that we are ALL sinners without offending someone so deeply that they might stop listening to the rest of my message?

Key Questions:

How do we define evil?

How do we define good?

Do we always know what is evil? Do we always know what is good? In our limited world view, we tend to think that “good,” is what benefits us and gives us pleasure and that “bad,” is anything that gives us pain. Consider a little child: A small child doesn’t want to eat his vegetables, but they include necessary nutrients that are important to his growth. We are all as tiny children before our Almighty Parent. While God does not cause bad things to happen, we as human beings are not always equipped to judge what is “good,” and what is “bad,” in the cosmic scheme of things.

The film The Shack has an excellent official clip from YouTube that illustrates this point quite eloquently. We read the book The Shack last winter as a small group at my church and people really seemed to respond to it. Also, people tend to enjoy the use of multimedia in worship. Some estimates conclude that as high as 80% or more of people are visual learners. I’ve seen this to be true. My congregation seems to appreciate the use of video clips and images. I can see their interest spike when we dim the lights and put on a video for a few moments on Sunday morning.

Public Speaking Techniques/ Tools of the Trade:  

I will show the above clip from The Shack at the beginning of my sermon as an “attention getter,” before my introduction. The clip is a bit longer than I would like clocking in at 4:35. It is just under 5 minutes, which is my personal absolute limit for a video clip that I include in a sermon. I will also tie this in to our upcoming Bible Study during my closing announcement (I often sneak one announcement that I want people to remember in right before the final hymn), “If you enjoyed reading The Shack, you will definitely enjoy our next small group study, Pursuing God, which starts on October 29th at 6:30PM!”

I will also use the rhetorical device of repetition in my sermon. “Seek good and not evil… Hate evil and love good.” I will commit that shortened verse to memory and use it to link the different sections. That repetition will add a rhythm to my sermon, but it will also hopefully help people to remember this very important line of scripture. I have  selected, “Seek Good and Not Evil,” as my sermon title. It is printed on the front of the bulletin along with this verse.

Whether you are a fellow preacher or simply a fellow Jesus follower, I hope that these notes and thoughts were helpful to you!

Peace Be With You,

-Rev. Rebecca

P.S. What thoughts do you have regarding this lectionary text? Do you have any other useful sermon illustrations or preaching tips? Let me know in the comments below! Have more to say? Chat with me on Twitter @BeckieWrites !