Date: December 10, 2017
Texts: Amos 5:23-24; Jeremiah 9:23-24
Rev. Marvin Robinson, M.Div.
Purpose: Justice results when the people of God actually practice worship inSpirit and in Truth.
Frederick Douglass gave a speech on July 5, 1852 entitled, “The Meaning of July 4 for the Negro”. In that speech he praised the work of the founders of this government but he eventually began to speak concerning its hypocrisy concerning its attitudes towards slavery. As far as the slave was concerned, Douglass said, “Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us [blacks]…this Fourth of July is yours, not mine”. He added, “(to the slave) your 4th of July is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license [for enslaving blacks] . . . your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery.”
In this message I will talk about Israel’s worship and the role God had for Amos; I will talk about the nature of justice and what is going on in our nation today, looking not at “they” but “we”; and, finally, a discussion of how we can begin to practice God’s justice on an individual level.
In our text this morning we read how Israel’s worship and practices were hypocritical, done only for show, having a form of religion but denying its power in their lives.Though outwardly displaying worship of God, inwardly their hearts were in opposition to Him. How? Look at the previous verses such as: v22, “Even though you bring me burnt offeringsand grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.“
A burnt offering symbolized a person’s complete consecration and devotion to God; yet God rejected Israel’s offering. The grain offering symbolized the fruit of one’s labor offered to God and yet this offering was also rejected (this is reminiscent of Cain’s offering that God rejected and the reason is because what was in Cain’s heart did not match the outward expression of his offering (Genesis 4:7). Through the prophet Amos God was commanding His people to repent and turn back to Him.
But let justice well up like water, righteousness like an unfailing stream” (Tanakh).The image that comes to mind is an ongoing, widening and flowing stream that sweeps along everything it comes into contact with. Someone once described justice as truth in action.Justice is a characteristic of God and justice results when the people of God actually worship in spirit and in truth because they truly know God. “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight, declares the Lord.”(Jeremiah 9:23-24).
Our country professes to be a Christian nation (and there is much good in this country), but by what standards are we living? It’s not to be found in the wisdom of the establishment of this country, it’s not found in the riches and might that God has blessed this country with; nor is it found in what we may call “bootleg Christianity”; it professes to worship God outwardly but only when it is convenient. It preaches “God is love” yet Sundays are the most segregated time in America in some places of worship no matter the race.Such Christianity is not good news but fake news. God would condemn us as He did Israel through Amos and calls upon us to repent as a nation. God’s prophets spoke to the times they lived in and now we must proclaim God’s words and speak to the times in which we find ourselves living in.
What are we to do? Let’s begin with practicing justice. Justice (mishpat) is an attribute of God and anyone who claims to worship God must practice it as He does. In Jeremiah 22:3God speaks to Israel and says through the prophet, “This is what the LORD says: Do what is justand right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow,and do not shed innocent bloodin this place.”And again, we are told, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And whatdoestheLORDrequireofyou? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
These times, saints, call out for justice. We do wrong as a nation when we create laws to punish innocent immigrants (did not God say to Israel in the wilderness, “You shall show kindness to the alien in your midst, for you were aliens in Egypt” ?-Exodus 22:21). God’s word and justice has not changed because He does not change. And the shedding of innocent blood such as that in abortions causes our nation to be held accountable to God. Nor is it a question of pointing fingers: individual responsibility is what matters to God (“All have sinned…there is no one righteous…we will all give an account to God”).
And what about mercy and compassion?Is it compassion or mercy to tell people who protest against what is wrong in our country to,“Get over it, it’s in the past”? Tell the Jews to get over the Holocaust– because it’s in the past. Tell the American Indians to get over the genocide of their people and the taking of their landand broken treaties –because it’s in the past. Tell African-Americans to get over slavery and tell America to get over Pearl Harbor and 9/11 because it’s all in the past. Get over it? We cannot “get over it” because it’s the past that has shaped our present times. Reconciliation means that we accept the truth, no matter how painful it is (and it is). We have been reconciled to God because we accepted the painful truth of our sinful condition; but healing came as a result.If we would truly seek to practice God’s justice we would also seek reconciliation, first of all with God and then with our neighbor.
Finally, God told Israel, “Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you”(Deut. 16:20). As we consider what is going on in our nation today can we honestly say that we worship God? Do we demonstrate God’s love to those we see or do we deny Him whom we cannot see? Let us not get comfortable and ignore what is going on around us, saints. We willbe judged as individuals and as a nation. Thomas Jefferson put it this way: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just”.