Sunday November 9
I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,
I will not accept them;and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
I often wonder what in the world am I doing, seeking God’s will in my life. Verses like this make me stop and wonder. Make me stop in wonder.
We lose ourselves in the thought that all will be well…we are trying to be good little humans. We go to church on Sundays. We give our tithes. We volunteer our time. And if all else fails, we have Jesus to fall back on. After all, he died for our sins…he died that we might have eternal everlasting forever and ever life. So, we are ok, right?
Sunday’s lectionary includes Amos telling the people of Israel that what they are doing is not enough. In fact, since they are not doing the one thing that God wants them to do, those things which might be considered good are basically despised according to God.
The gospel is no better. The author of Matthew tells the story of the bridesmaids who ran out of oil for their lamps and didn’t think to bring more. (25: 1-13) They left to go get what they needed and while they were gone, the bridegroom came, locking the door behind him. The bridesmaids were willing but too late. Good intentions meant nothing. Desire meant nothing. None of it was enough. They simply were not ready.
In the couple of verses prior to the reading in Amos, the prophet tells the people of Israel to “Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate” and that if they do that they might have a chance that God would be gracious to the “remnant of Joseph.”
Giving them orders, though, is not enough. He goes on to tell them the reality of what it is they will find if they do not change. The day of the Lord will not be a day of rejoicing; rather, it will be a day of “darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake.” The Israelites, who have come so far, are seeking a resting place; a safe place where they can relax and believe that all is well. They want to know they have escaped from the lion or that they can lean upon the wall. They want to believe that they have done enough to be in God’s good graces forever. Yet the burnt offerings, grain and fatted calf offerings – these things that the Israelites had always offered to the Lord as a way of seeking God’s favor, these things are just not enough to save them from future harm. Nor is the music enough – these have become the “noise of your songs”. None of these things make up for the lack of justice and righteousness within the community.
But what is justice? What is righteousness?
According to the Law, that is, Deuteronomy, justice is the establishment of what is right and of that person which is in the right. Righteousness is “that quality of life in relationship with others in the community that gives rise to justice.” [i]
Amos rants at the community that makes offerings to Yahweh as though Yahweh was a lesser god to be appeased by small material things. More than any festivals or solemn assemblies, music or offerings, God wants a just and right community of followers. God wants the people to love one another and actually act as though they do. No offering is good enough if the members of the community are not willing to live in right relationship with one another.
It would be grand to think that we were smarter, wiser than the Israelites…more prepared than the bridesmaids. It is a nice thought to think that simply believing in Jesus will save us…regardless of what we have done or left undone.
But that is not what the authors of Amos or Matthew are telling us. Both of these scriptures are telling us that we have to be ready…we can’t wait for a later date to do those things that we need to do. We have to be ready…today.
Regardless of our good intentions or our desire to live our lives according to God’s will for us, it is not a matter of want…it is a matter of action. If we are not willing to act, we are subject to the outrageous statements of “I hate, I despise your festivals.” “I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” “Take away from me the noise of your song.” Regardless of how much we want to be a part of that glory, if we are not ready, the door may be locked. For what good are these festivals, these solemn assemblies, even our music if we do not reach out to love our neighbor? What good is it that we come into this House if we are not willing to love that person across the aisle? What good are our lamps is we don’t light them?
Amos tells us that justice will roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream…regardless. Regardless of our offerings, regardless of our ceremonies and music. Regardless if we work for it or not. Justice will come regardless of whether or not we are ready.
Justice and righteousness will prevail…eventually. We can either be a part of that movement towards a just and right society…or we can be washed away as it rolls down upon us.
This past week, the people of the United States voted for Change. It was a majority consensus that change was needed. But we can’t do it on the coattails of any one person – not even on the coattails of the first African American president elect…we do it one on one, one with another…individually and collectively. Individually responsible in community with one another.
“Yes we can!” means nothing unless we are willing to join in as individual instruments of change. And change means getting out of our comfort zones into areas where we would not normally go. It means doing things that are more difficult or tackling those things which take more time. Change means being an active part of a community working for the good of the individual members within that community.
Justice and righteousness will prevail sooner or later and not only must we be ready, but we must be an active part of it. Then when justice rolls down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream, rather than being broken or crushed by the velocity of the water, we can ride the waves, in balance with the nature of it all.
[i] Harper Collins Study Bible, New Revised Standard Version, 1993. Footnote for 5:24. P. 1364.