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Life Isn’t Fair / Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Amos 5:18-27

19as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him.

An old Irishman was critically ill. The family called the priest. The priest, in preparation for the last rites, asked the obvious and expected question, O’Riley, do you desire to renounce the devil and all his works? O’Riley, who was fully conscious, thought for a moment and said, frankly Father, considering the condition I’m in, I’d rather not antagonize anyone right now.

The children of Israel were having a tough time and given the conditions they were in, they couldn’t afford to antagonize anyone, especially God, but they did. Amos, the prophet, pleaded with them to return to God with their whole heart. He reminded them that they had abandoned God and forsaken his covenant. They performed religious rituals at the holy shrines and bragged about how righteous they were. They lived in luxury, took bribes and cheated the poor. In ignorant arrogance they “longed for the day of the Lord (Amos 5:18).” Amos warned them “that day will be darkness not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear. Let justice roll on like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream. The people thought that because they were God’s people they were favored and privileged and no harm would come to them. When famine, drought, locusts and the ravages of war came they grumbled and protested. They complained that life wasn’t fair, that God speaks of justice but there’s no justice for them. We are His people, they thought, and yet He rains sorrow on our heads.

Life isn’t fair. They are, of course, right, life isn’t fair. It never is. Don’t expect it to be. Don’t plan on it, don’t count on it, because life isn’t fair. Life doesn’t care who you are, doesn’t care whether you’re good or bad, right or wrong, faithful or unfaithful. Life isn’t fair! Life will knock you down, step on you, kick you in the side, and then run over you for good measure, there’s nothing fair about life.

Was life fair to the young mother who drove up to the stoplight to wait for the traffic to move and a man walked up, jerked open the door of her car, snatched her purse and shot her to death? Was life fair for her? Was life fair to the school teacher who was waiting at the train station for his wife to come from her job and a gang of teenagers beat him and shot him to death? The tragedy was only increased by the realization that the man was a teacher who gave his time and energy for teenagers in his church and his school. Was life fair for him or his family? Was life fair for the world-class Olympic athlete who suffered an injury while playing on a trampoline that left him a quadriplegic? Was life fair for him? Was life fair to the brilliant young surgeon who had the God-given talent to save people’s lives who suffered a rare illness and was left totally blind? Was life fair for him?

Was life fair to the man who worked 45 years on the same job and finally retired so he could have some time to do all the things he wanted to do only to suffer a stroke one week later that left him paralyzed? Was life fair to him? Was life fair to the lovely young girl who was in an automobile accident and suffered a head injury and has been in a coma for months? Was life fair to her? No, life isn’t fair. Don’t count on it, don’t expect it, life isn’t fair. Life is a reflection of us, of what we are, of our sinful nature and our broken world. There’s nothing in this broken world that is fair. God is fair. Life isn’t fair, but God is fair. God is more than fair; God goes beyond what’s fair. God heals, helps, loves, guides, directs, strengthens, comforts, forgives and when everything else fails and we still stray from Him and disobey Him, God has mercy.

The people of Israel turned away from God, broke every commandment and made a mockery of worship. The fair thing would’ve been for God to turn away from them forever and to abandon them in their misery but God is more than fair, He is merciful. Over and over again He said to the people, Seek Me and live. The days are coming, declares the Lord when I will bring back my exiled people, Israel. They will rebuild their own cities and live in them; they will plant vineyards and drink their wine. They will make gardens and eat their food.

God is fair, He’s more than fair. He goes from what’s fair to what’s good, to what’s gracious, to what’s loving. Remember that when you’re struggling in the darkness of life, when you cry out in the night hours of your grief, when you face the hardships of the day, remember, life isn’t fair, but God is.

How do we know that God is fair? Because He sent His son, Jesus Christ, to tell us, to be with us, to share the journey and to sustain and strengthen us. The signs of God’s presence have always been with His people. Did He not make a covenant with Abraham? Did He not send His angel to wrestle with Jacob? Did He not send Moses to lead them out of bondage in Egypt? Did He not give them manna when they were hungry and springs of water when they were thirsty? Did He not give them the Ten Commandments as an expression of His covenant? Did He not send His prophet Amos to call the people to repent? The signs of His presence were everywhere.

The same signs are here today. They’re here when we pray for each other, when we support and encourage each other, when we reach out a hand to the lonely or offer food to the hungry. The signs of God’s presence are with us telling us we don’t journey alone. God is fair, more than fair. God goes beyond what’s fair to what’s good.

Even though it was difficult for the people of Israel, they had to learn that God is good to everyone. His love isn’t limited to an exclusive few. There isn’t a certain group of people who are our kind of people. All people are our kind of people. Jesus said so in the Gospel of John. For God so loved the world that He gave His only son that if anyone believes in Him, they will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). The New English translates the text, “… that everyone who has faith in Him may not die.” The Revised Standard version translates, the text “… whoever believes in Him shall not perish.” The King James version reads, “… whosoever believeth in Him…” Normally I prefer a more contemporary version but for this text, but I really do love the King James and that wonderful, beautiful, powerful word “whosoever.” It has substance to it, there aren’t any limits to it. It reaches the height and depth and breadth of the whole world. It includes everyone, no one is excluded!

Whosoever believes. It doesn’t say whosoever likes the old hymnal, or whosoever likes the new hymnal, or whosoever believes in infant baptism, or whosoever believes in adult baptism or whosoever serves grape juice with communion or whosoever serves wine with communion or whosoever has red doors on their church or whosoever has clergy who wear robes. The passage says simply “whosoever believes.”

Who are the whosoevers? Are they Scandinavian, Oriental, European, Hispanic? Yes, by all means. Are they rich? Yes. Are they poor, middle class? By all means. Are they young; are they old; are they the baby boomers? Certainly. Are they the happy, the sad, the miserable, the glad, the hurting, the suffering sinners? Yes, of course. Are they single, married, divorced, widowed? Yes. The Word is clear in its breadth and in its power, “whosoever believes in Him.”

How is that possible? It’s possible because there aren’t any barriers. There aren’t any barriers at the cross. There’s no wall, there’s no fence to keep certain ones away. “Whosoever” may go there, kneel, repent and discover the freedom that’s in that cross. “Whosoever” may go to the empty tomb; there’s no barrier there; the stone has been rolled away. “Whosoever” may enter and see that Christ has risen. The wonderful word “whosoever” includes you and me. We can go to the cross, kneel, confess and discover again the love and grace of God. We’re shocked every day by some new and painful reminder that life isn’t fair. Our hope isn’t in life but in God for we know and believe that God is fair, He is more than fair, He is good. His goodness is for all, and it endures forever. Amen.