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Start Over!
July 11 and 12, 1998

AMOS 7:7-15

Start over! Have there been times in your life when you have been faced with starting over? The alternatives are: quit or continue doing what is either failing or not working. What do you do when the job runs out, your health requires a change of lifestyle, there's a crisis in relationship with spouse or children or boss, when what you are doing and how you are doing it is not working? Start over. Perhaps you sigh, "Oh, I just can't. I don't have the energy or the motivation." Whatever you do, don't say, "Well, I'll try." Try is a negative word, a passive word which implies the possibility of failure. Banish the word "try" from your vocabulary. It's wimpy, wishy-washy, futile. Let your "yes" be "yes" or your "no" be "no"! Don't say, "I'll try;" say, "I'll start over."

Cheer up! Starting over is at the heart of the gospel. Starting over is at the core of life. Even God starts over, and God helps you start over. The Bible is a casebook of "Start Overs", beginning with the flood. It is interesting how the Hebrews interpreted the ancient myth of the flood as an occasion of God's frustration with the human race, and God's decision to start over! The trouble was that God had to start over by using human beings, and humans were the cause of the trouble to begin with!

Then God sent Abraham to start a new people. Then God sent Moses when the people ended up as slaves in Egypt. Then God sent Joshua, then a series of judges, then Samuel, etc. God starts over. Very patient is our God. The lesson today is an account of God's starting over.

After the civil war, the kingdom of Solomon divided into two: the northern kingdom called Samaria with Bethel as its capital; the southern kingdom called Judah with Jerusalem as its capital. The northern kingdom, Samaria, was headed for disaster. It's enemy Assyria was making signs of takeover. Samaria was weakened by shallow worship, just going through the motions. It's loyalty to God was a sham. Samaria was weakened by moral decay. The rich were getting richer and lazier; the poor were getting poorer. Amos 8:4, "Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land." The gulf between the haves and have nots was widening, and God knew that something had to be done.

Rather than give up on Samaria, rather than let them decline into oblivion, God started over. God called a man of God, a farmer from Judah, to leave his farm and go to Bethel and preach, to warn them about the imminent disaster. Perhaps it wasn't too hot an idea to send a southerner to preach to northerners; perhaps it wasn't too good an idea to send a hick farmer to preach to city folks up north; but perhaps Amos was all God had. Using what resources there were, going with the team God had, God dispatched Amos to Bethel.

"Start over," was Amos' message. The Lord God used a plumb line, measuring the nation to see how straight it is, and what God is found was, "You're out of line; you're out of plumb." Get straight, Amos cried, start over. "Seek the Lord and live," Amos preached. 5:14, "Seek good and not evil, that you may live."

In his own life, Amos demonstrated how one starts over. In the lesson read today, Amaziah told Amos to go home. But, Amos told Amaziah how he had been called by God. Amos told him how he started over. 7:14-15, "I am no prophet, nor a prophet's son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, 'Go, prophesy to my people Israel.'" Amos left his home, left his familiar surroundings, left his sheep and his sycamore trees, left his family, went to Bethel and started over.

Starting over for Amos was not necessarily easy, pleasant or successful. Starting over, which we also call "conversion", may be painful, challenging, frightening, but God calls, God heals, the Holy Spirit powers.

When our son, Jack, graduated from Manteca High School, as valedictorian, he gave a speech at the graduation ceremony. His theme was persistence. His title was, "Failing Successfully."
He gave examples of heroes who refused to give up when faced with setbacks. Then he asked, "Do you remember Matthew W. Peterson? No? That's because he quit!" The stadium rocked with laughter and applause. For several days, Matthew W. Peterson was the talk of the town. Don't quit! Start over!

My wife, Eleanor's, grandmother had thirteen children, two of whom died as infants. When her oldest daughter, Millie, died in 1923, grandma took in her two young boys, ages three and four, which happened to be the same age as her two youngest girls. Having a house full of children, four of them of preschool age, got to be too much for her, and she couldn't get out of bed. They called it a nervous breakdown then; today we call it depression. Her husband, who had to go to work early, asked a neighbor to come in and get the children off to school. One morning, Millie, the daughter who had died, appeared at the end of the bed, and said, "Get up, Momma. You've got too much to live for." She got up. With new resolve, with new energy, she started over!

It was the day after the infamous Oklahoma City bombing when the pastor of the First United Methodist Church inspected the ruined church sanctuary. He was escorted by an FBI agent as the building had been declared off-limits while they investigated. He looked out through a broken window, and his eye fell on dead bodies. The pastor felt depressed like the disciples walking to Emmaus after Jesus had died. Even though Jesus was walking beside them and talking to them, the disciples didn't recognize him. The pastor too had difficulty that morning believing that Jesus was still with them. He prayed an angry prayer to God, bawling out God for allowing such a thing to happen to people. "Has the whole world gone crazy?" he asked.

Then, he begged God for a sign that God still cared, a sign that Jesus was still with them. At that very moment, the FBI agent spoke up and said, "Look at those flowers!" There in the midst of the rubble stood a full row of Easter lilies. Not one of them was broken or turned over, even though they stood in the midst of unimaginable rubble. When the pastor saw the flowers, he recognized Jesus! He immediately saw a new church building rising up from the rubble. He had a sign made, "GOD REIGNS, AND WE SHALL REMAIN." That sign hung on the old building facing the bombed Federal office ruins. It stood as a witness to the thousands of hushed visitors who came to the site. It proclaimed to the world, it proclaimed to the bombers: We will start over! You can't stop us. Satan can't defeat us. We will start over.

The church did. While other congregations flee the inner city, First United Methodist Church decided to start over right where they were. They have now built a new sanctuary next to the bombed out one. It is the first new church building to be built in downtown Oklahoma City in 80 years. They plan to replace the bombed out building with a Family Life Center. When the complex is completed, it will cost $ 9 1/2 million, and all but $ 2 1/2 million has already been raised.

Start over! Don't quit! Don't be discouraged! Start over! Listen to Paul's experience as he described it to the church in Corinth.

(2 Corinthians 4:1, 5, 7-9, 16) "Therefore, since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart...For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord...But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed...So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day."

To the Philippians, Paul testified, (Philippians 4:13) "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

Start over!

© 1998 Douglas I. Norris