by Ray Gentry
Amos 1:1-2; 5:14- 15, 21-24
10 They hate the one who reproves in the gate,
and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.
11 Therefore, because you trample on the poor
and take from them levies of grain,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not live in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine.
12 For I know how many are your transgressions,
and how great are your sins--
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
and push aside the needy in the gate.
13 Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time;
for it is an evil time.
I couldn’t even start thinking about the reading for the week without reading through the first five chapters or Amos. Amos rattles off a litany of transgressions committed by Israel’s neighbors followed by those of Israel. God has no problem calling out the Israel - they are God’s chosen nation, but they are certainly not blameless.
It’s hard not to see how this very easily applies to us today. The moral failing of Israel (and the other nations) is largely focused on issues of justice. The reading ends reminding us what’s important to God. God wants none of our offerings of worship, song, and observance if we are not a people of Justice.
The prophets speak the Word. The poor are to be cared for. Be people of truth and honesty. Don’t seek power, strive for the benefit of all. This is a text that cuts to the core of what pisses God off - putting on the trappings of religion but using them for our own gain. Following God is more than just putting no the trappings, it’s about ensuring the safety and security of all her children.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
The proclamation of Amos reminds us that God’s vision is to be acted out now; we are not hearing the promise of what God will do in the future. The “Lament for Israel’s Sins” is account of what God wants to change now. God outright rejects offerings of "thoughts and prayers” in lieu of concrete action. Who are we to think that God’s judgment is upon us any less than it was upon Israel?
When black and brown bodies are beaten and discriminated against do we hear “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies”?
When families lose their livelihood and security because they can’t afford medical bills, do we hear “Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings, I will not accept them”?
When women fear for their safety in a pervasive system of patriarchy do we hear “and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon”?
When our GLBTQI+ siblings fear losing their housing, job, or life simply for existing do we hear “Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps”?
When we see our government favor the rich and powerful at the expense of all others do we hear God’s call to “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”?
Our Sunday morning gatherings, youth programs, and music festivals should not be the primary expression of our faith. They should be the celebrations of God’s work that’s happening in the world and the classrooms where we teach and learn to hear God’s calls for justice.
Amos isn’t a eulogy of a people who are too lost to be found. Eulogies are for the dead; we’re just sleeping. It’s a wake up call to stand up as the church against the empires we’ve built that trample the poor, weak, burdened, and oppressed.