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Friday, January 12, 2018

“God’s Ever Flowing Stream”

Amos 5:14-24

This passage demonstrates the sharp difference between religion and faith. The Israel of Amos’ time was focused on observing their traditional worship going back to God’s law given to them in the Exodus. This included their worship gatherings, burnt offerings, music and song. Far from being wrong these worship practices were not only good but they had also been commanded by the Lord himself (Ex. 23:14-30:38).  Yet as the law itself made clear, these practices were secondary to the call for justice (Ex. 23:1-9).

Religious practices have no value if they are not accompanied by acts of justice. God’s word is clear. People are to “hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate.”  The people longed for God’s coming to establish his reign. This was referred to as the “Day of the Lord” in both the Old and New Testaments (Acts 5:18-20; I Thess. 5:2; II Thess. 2:2; II Peter 3:10). Amos though makes it explicit that the coming of that Day will offer no hope for those who neglected, or worse violated, the demands of justice. Amos has already made it abundantly clear that justice requires the care of the poor and the needy and their protection from exploitation (Amos 2:6-7; 5:12). Without this worship and indeed religion in all its expressions is useless.

In one of the most stirring passages in scripture God tells Amos that he hates Israel’s religious practices. What God insists on is to let “justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” This is a text that Martin Luther King quoted on numerous occasions.  ts meaning is echoed clearly again in the sermon on the mount (Matt. 5:6, 10, 20).

Following Christ is not a purely individual or private matter. It demands our commitment to the demands of “justice and righteousness” outlined here and throughout the scriptures. John the Baptist carried out this mandate and it ended up costing him his life. The same of course is true of Dr. Martin Luther King. Jesus said that those in the kingdom are greater than John (Matt. 11:11). This is because we have the strength and authority of Jesus Christ leading and directing us. In him we will hunger and thirst for righteousness. Fulfilling the task of justice will often seem overwhelming. Yet in trusting the Lord we will not only be guided in living out this challenge. We will also, as he promised, “be filled,” filled with him and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11).

Loving and faithful God, in your name may I ‘hate evil and love good.”  Keep me from the sins of complacency and self-righteousness.  Show me the opportunities you have for me to demonstrate justice rolling down like waters.  I thank you for examples like Dr. Martin Luther King.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.