Pushing into Amos

I hate, I despise your feasts,
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 peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
— Amos 5:21-24
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I’ve been convicted recently of the ways I tend to apologize, and in reflecting, specifically the way I apologize to my husband. Intermingled with the “I’m sorry,” winds up being a spattering of why I had done what I did or said what I said, of course with a solid reason as to how his actions or words were the creator and founder of my wrongdoing, and with plenty of guilt that tends to leave a wake of shame on the hurting party for even bringing it up. Sounds rough, right? Try saying that to a girl with snot and tears streaming down her face when she was truly the one in the wrong.

In these past few years, my eyes have been opened to the many ways in which others have also adopted this kind of apology. Most often, there’s never a true owning of the responsibility that comes with the wake of devastation in not loving your neighbor. When I think of repentance, the only hope in moving forward, it entails also acknowledging there are a plethora of ways the sin has become normalized through thought patterns, misbeliefs, and flat out lies. Weeding those out tends to take too much work and a whole lot of sacrifice.

Most times we read the verses above and quickly point the finger, like the many times we sit and listen to the sermon thinking of someone particular in mind, wishing they were there to learn the lesson, hoping they would change. As we keep in mind the context of this passage, specifically, the audience that would have heard this prophecy, we find ourselves doing the same thing that we do on those Sunday mornings: shifting the blame and regarding ourselves as blameless. Sure, we can make excuses like many I’ve been privy to hearing in these past years, like, “well, just consider their generation,” or, “they just don’t know,” yet time and time again, we are uncomfortable with true and hard repentance. We are uncomfortable with prophetic witness. We slap these verses on to social justice movements, and not on our churches, not on ourselves.

But to whom was Amos speaking? Even the most casual reading of his book reveals his hearers as a church which had confused assurance with complacency. They not only professed salvation but also an unworried certainty of salvation (5:14, 18). As Amos looked at them, however, he saw a people who not only professed salvation, but who exhibited a total lack of the sort of evidence which would make their profession credible. Theirs was a groundless confidence which would not bear the weight of the divine majesty in the day of the Lord’s coming.
— J. A. Motyer

Although my definition of a “stream,” as a born and raised Michigander, is calm and peaceful, a friend shared with me that a wadi just recently killed several teenagers in Israel. The better word for ever-flowing stream is a torrent, a wadi, flushing out all found within it.

In stepping in further to more of a semantic game, we also tend to see the words justice and righteousness as separate, instead of entirely dependent upon one another, distinctly linked. Charlie Dates preached at MLK50 on the interplay of these words and the silence of those in power, the parallelism between the rich and powerful audience of Amos’ day quite damning for us who have the privilege to not think about most injustice because, “it doesn’t affect us.” As we think about the beautiful gospel that has clothed us with new righteousness, Jesus’ righteousness, we ought to think of what the Church was called to emulate, Christ as described in Philippians 2:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
— Philippians 2:1-8

Christ, having all privileges, strips himself of them in order that we might know and have them. This piece of righteousness, this glorious gospel we have been brought into, is found in this God who is fully just, with this deeper meaning that you bring disadvantage to oneself in order to bring advantage to someone else. Is this not the Cross? In a culture where you look out for number one, mainly, yourself, the Church should be the one rising up to show with hands open and feet on the move that this is the way of life; after all, aren’t we the bride, the “little Christs?”

As in communities today, the good churchgoing middle classes were not themselves murderers, and did not have blood on their hands in any direct or literal sense, but the indictment is relentless nonetheless, and the call to repentance and reform unequivocal.
— Fleming Rutledge

When we are called to take on and conform to His image, it always involves repentance, and it will definitely require death of what we have deemed normal. In living truly cruciform, pursuing a true gospel-centered life, our fruit will show that justice will always come with it, with not our perfection on display, but our contrition, and Jesus’ robes. Let justice roll.