"The MIGHTY Lord is with us; the God of Jacob is our FORTRESS." Psalm 46:7
 
 

8th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Amos 7:10-15 Sermon 
July 30, 2006

Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
131 "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty"
392 "More Love To Thee, O Christ"
516 "Faith Of Our Fathers"
541 "Rise Up, O Men Of God"

THE MARK OF A COWBOY

TEXT (vs. 14-15): “Then Amos answered Amaziah, ‘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.’’”

This morning, I’m going to ask you if you know three rather famous men by name. Those three names are: Wayne McLaren, David McLean, and Darrell Winfield. Do they ring a bell at all?

Most likely, they don’t. So, I’m going relate a short story about them, and how their faces became icons recognized by almost everybody in the United States, as well as in numerous foreign countries.

In 1924, the Philip Morris Tobacco Company decided to introduce a premium cigarette targeted directly at women. It was supposed to be a much milder counterpart to the cigarettes targeted at men, such as Camels, Lucky Strikes, and Chesterfields. The advertising slogan was that these cigarettes were “As Mild as May.” These cigarettes were never a big success at all, but sales were steady enough, and there was enough profit for Philip Morris to continue producing them.

Then in the 1950’s, Readers’ Digest printed the first story about the connection between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. What followed was a lot of media attention about the subject. And of course, this sent the tobacco companies into a sort of frenzy as to how to cope with this.

What emerged was the development of a filter cigarette, which was supposed to be a type of “safe cigarette” for consumers who were becoming concerned over the health risks associated with cigarette smoking.

Up until that time Philip Morris didn’t manufacture a filter cigarette at all, so they decided to take their 1924 women’s cigarette, add a filter, and try to give it a new image.

Philip Morris engaged the services of a Chicago advertising executive by the name of Leo Burnett to help them with their task. Mr. Burnett worked long and hard to develop a new marketing idea. One of the problems that had to be overcome, was the stigma that filtered cigarettes were for wimps and sissies, and that REAL men only smoked real, unfiltered cigarettes.

One day, Mr. Burnett spotted an article in a 1949 issue of Life Magazine. As he read through it, the article told the story about a ranch foreman in the Texas panhandle. The article was about a 39 year-old man by the name of Clarence Hailey Long. Once a week, he would make the long trip into town for a barber shave and a store-bought milk shake. Maybe he’d see a movie, if a western was playing. He was famous for saying, “If it weren’t for a good horse, a woman would be the sweetest thing in the world.”

Accompanying the article was a bust shot photo of Mr. Long. In the photo, he is wearing a denim jacket with a rather tattered bandana around his neck. He is wearing a typical Stetson cowboy hat. His face has whisker stubble and character lines from spending most of his time outdoors. And perched in his mouth is a hand-rolled cigarette.

When Mr. Burnett saw this, lights went on and bells rang in his head. Here was the perfect image for his new advertising campaign. And so in 1955, Philip Morris launched their new campaign to market their cigarette. And if you haven’t guessed it by now, this was the birth of the famous cigarette icon we all know as “The Marlboro Man.” And the three men I mentioned in the beginning of my sermon were actors who all portrayed the Marlboro Man.

The picture we have of the Marlboro Man is the typical, macho, he-man type of cowboy. He works hard all day with his herd, doing such things as roping and branding cattle. Then as his day ends, he is found sitting at his campfire after his evening meal, drinking coffee out of a tin cup. He picks up a twig, sticks it in the fire, and lights up a Marlboro. Then he relaxes, drinking his coffee and smoking his cigarette as he enjoys the hues of a glorious sunset. What a picture, huh?

Let’s leave our Marlboro cowboy by his campfire for awhile, as we look at our text for today. Today we are introduced to one of God’s prophets, a man by the name of Amos. Amos is a prophet like none other in the Bible; in fact Amos isn’t mentioned anywhere else in the Bible except in the book which he authored and which bears his name.

Our text for today includes Amos’s own description of himself. He says in verse 14, “I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees…” I have heard Amos described as “The Cowboy Prophet” because of this self-description, and of course it definitely fits who he was. So I guess that if you want to get sort of a modern-day picture of Amos, you could probably picture someone the likes of the Marlboro Man.

Amos lived sometime approximately 800 years before Christ. He took care of his livestock and tended sycamore-fig trees in a place known as Tekoa, approximately 12 or so miles to the southwest of Jerusalem. This was the area of what was known as the southern kingdom of Judah, the two southern tribes of the original twelve tribes of Israel. The prophets Isaiah and Micah would have also been in the kingdom of Judah about the same time.

Amos was a hard worker; and even though he was not a man of substantial wealth, yet he would have made a fairly comfortable living doing what he did. I believe he enjoyed his life as a cowboy and a farmer, and he really wasn’t anticipating God using him the way that he did. He was going to be sent as a prophet to the northern kingdom, the remaining ten tribes of Israel.

So what was going on in the northern kingdom? There were lots of bad things happening, things the Lord found detestable. If we go back to about 930 BC, Jereboam the first had rebelled against Rehoboam, the son of Solomon. He tried to prevent the Israelites from returning to the temple at Jerusalem for worship. Instead, he erected golden calf images both in the north and south sides of the kingdom and said, as recorded in I Kings 12, 28: “Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” Even though he still claimed to be worshipping Jehovah, the one true God, he was violating the very first commandment given by God by worshipping graven images. Right along with this, he set up idol shrines at other places, and commanded the people to worship there as well.

But it didn’t stop here. Jeroboam appointed priests who were not part of the tribe of Levi, even though the Lord had given special designation to the Levites that they should be the only ones to serve him in the temple. He also instituted his own set of festivals and sacrifices, and abandoned those which had been established by the Law of Moses.

To make matters worse, they worshipped the Canaanite goddess Asherah. This was the heathen goddess of fertility. To promote fertility of their flocks and fields, the people engaged in various types of sexual intercourse with prostitutes devoted to this goddess. The people were told that Asherah was “God’s wife”—of course nothing could have been further from the truth.

They would also erect “Asherah Poles” as shrines to her. These poles were made of wood, and most likely adorned in a variety of ways. These poles were reported to have borne the image of Asherah, and polite people compare them to the totem poles used by some tribes of American Indians. Others however report that these poles were more like giant phallic symbols.

Whatever they were, they were detestable to God. Deuteronomy 16, 21 states the command of God: “Do not set up any Asherah pole beside the altar you build to the Lord your God.” God’s people were not to defile themselves by setting up these poles, nor were they to engage in the heathen practice of worshipping Asherah.

Now the time is 150 years later, and along comes Amos. Jeroboam the second was now in charge of things. II Kings 14, 24 tells us: “[Jeroboam II] did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn away from any of the sins of Jeroboam [I], son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit.”

It is understandable that Amos would have been rather reluctant to tackle this assignment that the Lord had for him. He was commanded to give God’s message of judgment to the Northern Kingdom, and he was a southerner and therefore a foreigner. So there was a credibility problem.

Secondly, he was preaching words of judgment and condemnation to an audience who were not particularly interested in hearing what he had to say. Why should they be worried about God’s judgment? Israel was fairly prosperous at that time. They had taken over the kingdom of Syria, and were otherwise getting along splendidly—at least in their minds they were. They had new avenues for foreign trade, considerable wealth was flowing, and people were living in mansions. Who was this foreigner to tell them that they were doing wrong?

And finally Amos was finding himself in conflict with the government. Amaziah who was the king’s priest reported to him the words Amos had spoken. Verse 11 of our text says, “Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile.”

Then Amaziah goes to Amos and tells him in verse 12 of our text, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”

Amos was being a nuisance to them. They wanted him out of there. They let it be known that they had no use for him or the message he was proclaiming.

Amos was making no false claims as to who he was. He says that he is not a prophet, or a prophet’s son. He didn’t have the credentials like other prophets who were trained to work in the king’s court. Rather, he gives the account of being directly called by God to go to the northern kingdom of Israel while he was peacefully enjoying his life in Judah as a cowboy and a farmer. He was God’s servant, and was obediently doing his will.

Imagine for a moment someone the likes of John Wayne, galloping up to the Premier’s palace in North Korea and greeting him with the phrase, “All right pilgrim, let’s get this nuclear disarmament business taken care of.”

The lesson here for us today is simple. The Word of God and the message of God has to be preached to the world. The message of sin and grace, of law and gospel need to be continually presented, regardless of whether or not people take kindly to it.

God also uses some very unlikely people to be his messengers. Amos, the cowboy prophet is a good example. But what about the rest of us? Might we see ourselves as unlikely messengers too?

We’re sinful human beings. Our purpose is often clouded by other things. Prosperity and wealth might lead us to believe that we’re doing quite all right by ourselves. We can lull ourselves into a sense of false security and convince ourselves that we can pretty much do whatever we want without any retribution at all. At times we might be tempted to completely forget about God and what he means in our lives.

But Jesus calls sinners to repentance. Jesus came to bear the sins of all sinful mankind, and bring us back into God’s family. God loved these wayward Israelites so much that he sent the prophet Amos from his homeland into their midst to try to bring them back again. He warned them that their sinful actions would mean their eventual ruin. And that’s exactly what happened. The kingdom would eventually be annihilated and the people would be scattered.

God sent his son Jesus from his home in heaven to this earth. He was seen by many as an outsider and his message was refused by many. Some saw him as just a simple carpenter’s son without any credibility at all.

We see him as our Saviour, the promised Christ. He came and suffered rejection by many. He was subject to bitter and cruel punishment. Then he was crucified as a common criminal, to pay for our sins and the sins of the whole world.

But he rose again from the dead, victorious over all that Satan could throw at him. He was victorious in his ministry, securing life and salvation for all who believe in him. We, who were once dead in our sins and transgressions have now received all of the promises and blessings God has to offer through faith in Christ our Saviour. This is a most glorious message, and it is the message we proclaim as a congregation Sunday after Sunday.

At the beginning of this sermon, I told the story of how an advertising executive by the name of Leo Burnett transformed a tobacco company. He took a cigarette by the name of Marlboro, which was originally marketed as a woman’s cigarette with the slogan “Fresh as May,” and turned it into the number one selling cigarette in not only the United States, but in the world. He did this with the introduction of the image of a fictional cowboy in a fictional place called “Marlboro Country.” In the very first year of this promotion, which was 1955, the sales of Marlboro cigarettes netted over 5 billion dollars. Even by today’s standards, that’s a huge sum of money. That figure represents a 3,241% increase over their sales from the previous year, 1954. And all of that happened because Philip Morris decided to introduce a cowboy into the picture.

But this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Both Wayne McLaren and David McLean died from lung cancer due to smoking. McLaren waged a huge anti-smoking campaign which included pictures of him in his Stetson alongside pictures of him as a withered and sick man in his hospital bed just before his death.

David McLean’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Philip Morris. They charge that when making the commercials, he had to smoke up to five packs of cigarettes per take in order to get the “right look.”

This goes to show that Marlboro country isn’t a very friendly or healthy place to be.

In our text today, we see how God used a cowboy—not as an icon to sell cigarettes, but to give people life and salvation. God used Amos to speak his Word to the wayward Israelites, to bring them back into fellowship with him so they would have a glorious future.

Today, God uses our congregation and each of us to do the same thing. We are to faithfully proclaim his Word, both law and gospel to a world dying in sin. Even though we might see ourselves as unlikely messengers, somewhat like a cowboy before a king, yet we have a God-given task at hand. We have the message of Jesus Christ and him crucified which will give new life for all who confess him as their Lord and Saviour.

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