Monday, February 27, 2017

Like an Everflowing Stream

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 everflowing stream.
Amos 5:21-24

These verses from the prophet Amos will provide our worship theme for Lent at The United Methodist Church in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. Together we will look for the ways in which we can be God’s agents for change in our world. The Hebrew prophets were clear that working for justice in the world was central to their faith. Without justice God would not “listen to the melody” of their harps. Without justice their songs were just noise. We cannot worship God without working for justice in the world.

Historically, Amos has often been labeled as one of the twelve “Lesser Prophets” of the Hebrew Bible. But that “Lesser” label was about length rather than importance.

Writing and teaching nearly eight centuries before the birth of Jesus, Amos was the first prophet to speak as the nation’s conscience. In a time of relative prosperity, he speaks God’s word of condemnation for the national leaders and for the nation because they have oppressed the poor and needy. They wonder why God does not hear their songs of prayer and praise, or respond to their burnt offerings. But Amos tells them that without justice their rituals of piety and sacrifice mean nothing.

In the passage that provides our Lenten theme, Amos pronounces God’s blistering condemnation for the system of cultic sacrifice and the festivals that celebrate it. He declares that the rituals are meaningless as long as the people who keep them are morally polluted.

This call to moral accountability was as difficult to hear in ancient Israel as it is today in modern America. But condemnation is never the last word. And we must remember that Amos was critical of what he saw in Israel because he knew that the nation could do better. Ultimately, it was his hope for the future that resulted in his criticism of the present.

Lent is the perfect time for us to look forward and remind ourselves of the people we are called to be, and the nation we are called to be. If we will “let justice roll down,” then the future can be better than the past. “Like an Everflowing Stream,” God’s justice calls us into a future filled with hope and possibility.

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