Wednesday, April 9, 2014

An Unending Flood

(This post is my article for this Saturday's Shawnee News Star)

 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.
Amos 5:21-24, New Revised Standard Version

            The downtown location of our church means that we are often a place where people come for help.  Our neighborhood has its share of low-income residents and many of God’s children who are homeless.  The porch off the south side of our sanctuary has been used as a shelter.  I have lost count of the number of times that I have looked out to see sleeping bags and shopping bags, food, and clothing; the total of a person’s possessions.  On weekdays I have answered the door to folks who need money, rides, food, and clothing.  There aren’t too many days when the church phone doesn’t ring with someone wondering if we help with utilities or car seats.  The needs of my neighbors stretch on endlessly. 

            But I am not confronted with that need only Monday through Friday.  People will see the cars in the parking lot on Sunday mornings, and come into church looking for help.  Our worship is never very far away from the least of these.  Even if no one wanders into the Sunday service, I still leave worship and walk into a world that is poor.  I am acutely aware of this.  I also know that I have the luxury of being able to get into a car and drive away from it.  But my conscience and my heart can’t leave or let go that easily. 

            These words from God, spoken through the prophet Amos, condemn the people of Israel.  At first glance it might seem that God is denouncing their form of worship.  Maybe they are just doing it wrong.  Yet God is not judging them for incorrect ritual or practices.  God is calling them to accountability for thinking that worship is the only thing that counts in their relationship with Him.  The people do not disregard their obligation to worship God; but they have turned a blind eye to the poor and the oppressed in their midst.  Their solemn assemblies and their offerings are given without fail, but the widows and the orphans starve. 

            The translation above does not fully capture the sensory power of God’s words to the people.  God will not look at their rites and rituals.  God will not smell the burnt offerings.  God will not listen to their music.  The people do not yet understand that worship is not worship if it does not also include justice.  Justice and righteousness must spring out of worship and out of their love for God.  The community should be flooded with justice.  Biblical scholar Terence Fretheim comments that “Righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” is too mild for what the Hebrew is trying to convey.  It should be an ocean.  These flooding waters of justice and righteousness should never end.  When justice and righteousness rain down like this, then and only then, are the people truly worshiping God. 

            It is impossible for me to read these words without a pang of conscience, because I know that I do not fully worship God in this way.  I know that there is much more that can and should be done – more that I can do – to open the floodgates of justice and righteousness in our neighborhood and our community.  I don’t have answers as to how to make this happen.  The need of those around is greater than I or my church can completely address.  But that does not mean that we don’t have a responsibility to take our call to do works of justice and live lives of righteousness seriously.  I try to.  I know my congregation strives to.  I know that all of Shawnee’s congregations, regardless of denomination or theology, do as well.  But more can be done.  What joyful good news it is for us to be able, in large or small ways, to answer God’s call to love and care for the least of these.  In these days leading to Easter and beyond, my hope and prayer is that our worship, however we worship, will move us to flood Shawnee with unending justice and righteousness for all of God’s children. 


No comments:

Post a Comment