Lectionary 32 – November 8, 2020

Faith Lutheran Church

Isanti, MN

In middle school, I had the opportunity to go on a Boy Scout trip to the Grand Canyon. For most of a week, we camped at the Havasupai Indian Reservation, and explored the surrounding canyons. The geography of the Grand Canyon is magnificent to beholdThe waterfalls, the ways the canyons branch off like limbs on a scraggy tree all of which are the result of the Colorado river. Over millions of years the running water of the river slowly has worn away the stone to result in the canyon as we experience it today.

Water has the ability to make straight the crooked path and can confuse the straight path. Water is a powerful force in our lives and on our earth.

In the words from the prophet Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Thinking of the power of the Colorado river, where might the waters of justice and righteousness lead? Where will they take us and which paths might we follow?

Amos is known as one of the “minor” prophets in the Hebrew Bible, a title that can be a little misleading. In the Hebrew Bible, we have both “major” and “minor” prophets, and they got those titles because some are longer and some are shorter. Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah–>major, Amos, Micah, Zepheniah–>minor. But Amos’ impact as a prophet is anything but minor.

Amos’ message, a message we got but a glimpse of in our first reading, is direct and uncompromising. As a prophet, his place, his role was to hold the people to account as participants in covenant promise with God. And as a people living in covenant with God, there was a future they looked forward to. The “Day of the Lord” was a coming time when God would put things right between all people and all of creation. This coming time was eagerly anticipated by the Israelite people because they knew what it meant to be oppressed and subjugated by foreign powers, and desired freedom and liberation from that.

Part of the way the people demionstrated their desire for the “Day of the Lord” was through their rituals and worship life.

How shocking for them then to hear from the prophet that the Lord seemingly rejects the worship they had been engaging in. Amos declares in six different variations that “I hate…I take no delight…I will not accept…I will not look upon…Take away from me…I will not listen.”

Amos names that worship is desired by God, but that what the people have been doing is not the desired manner of worship. Because worship shouldn’t only be done for the sake of a beautiful experience, but rather should reflect and reinforce an active faith life of doing justice.

And it is not only the worship life of people Amos rejects, but he rejects the places where people have worshipped since early in their history. Earlier in this chapter, Amos rejects worship at:

  • Bethel-The site of Abram’s altar and Jacob’s ladder
  • Gilgal-Where Joshua parted the Jordan river
  • Beer-Sheba-where Hagar encountered God.

Amos seems to point out that the people were placing more emphasis on where and how they were worshipping rather than on the God they we called to praise.

In this season of worshipping in a new and different manner, Amos’ words mean something new for those of us who are gathering together to worship. As with most other faith communities, we are no longer able to gether together in-person to worship. Our experience of what it means to gather and worship presently doesn’t include meeting in-person with our church family, but has us gathering virtually.

In this time of worshipping from a distance, I wonder if it becomes even easier for us to spend our time thinking about not being able to share our space together, rather than giving thanks to and praising God that we can still worship? In conversations with other pastors, I have heard countless stories of people being sad, disappointed, frustrated and even mad that our experience of church is different right now. And those feelings are all natural responses to the change in how we are living out our faith in this time.

As human beings with bodies and all of our senses, we know that there is something special, something unique, something holy about being able to worship in a sacred space. That through the physical actions we make during worship–sitting, standing, kneeling at the communion rail–there is a deep, embodied way we connect with our faith.

Yet, do we ever seem to hold close to these motions for the sake of these motions, rather than for what they should draw us into? Do we follow along with second nature, rather than being open to that which might be new and challenging on our journey of faith? I know that in my worship life, I like being able to experience the same, repeatable worship service over and over. Could it be better for me to have changes brought in that remind me for the reason of the service?

Amos’ words may be speaking to us in this time of increased attention toward how we worship. Maybe they are calling us to have a renewed focus on the object of our worship–a God who desires justice and righteousness that flow from our worship life.

For those receiving Amos’ words, it must have been a hard word. To hear that all the planning and time and preparation for the beautiful services of worship were not welcomed by the one they desired to worship.

But as disappointing as that word would be, there was still a word of Hope from Amos. For the Israelite people , a dedicated group who desired the “Day of the Lord”, they needed to keep their priorities aligned with God’s priorities. And God’s priorities were to let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

It is not that the worship of God was to be halted. No, we know that in Psalm 150, the psalmist wrote “Let everything that breathes praise the lord.” It is not that one can either live a life of worship OR a life of righteousness and justice, but that their lives were supposed to be lives of worship AND righteousness and Justice.

Through living lives of Worship AND righteousness and justice, the people could understand that the Day of the lord would be a day when the status quo would be upended, and God’s desires made manifest. They might acknowledge that their call to attend to the widow, orphan and resident alien among them meant not only caring for those folks, but inviting them into joint worship and praise of God within their community.

In these times when we are learning about new ways to worship, new ways that people of faith can worship their God, there is opportunity for us. There is the opportunity for us to assess how we can ensure that our lives are filled with Worship AND that we seek Justice and Righteousness in the world.

I will be the first person to say that in this time, it doesn’t mean that we will get there immediately. Just as  moving to online worship will not automatically lead us to worshipping rightly, returning to worship in the sanctuary with covid guidelines wont either.  The justice and righteousness of God is so much bigger than we could ever imagine.

But in this time, when the seemingly straight paths of our lives have been confused and our winding paths straightened, maybe it is in this space–in these new opportunities for experience that we can begin to envision the waters of justice and righteousness flowing in our lives.

So in addition to our thanking God for the beauty of creation during worship, we can advocate for policies that protect all of creation. Alongside praying for an end to systemic racism in our country, we can work toward being an antiracist people. And as we join in the meal of communion with those gathered among us, we can be energized to share our food and resources with any who are in need.

As followers of Christ, like those in the church in Thessalonica, we await the arrival of Jesus. We hope for the coming day when we will meet our risen Lord, and we can worship with all the saints who have gone before us. Yet, as we yearn for that day, we also continue to worship the living God who calls us to “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with” our God throughout our lives.

While the Grand Canyon might seem far from here, as Minnesotans, we have the claim to the Headwaters of the Mississippi River, another natural wonder. A few years ago, I had the joy of visiting Itsaca State Park, where the mighty Mississippi is but a small stream that can be easily crossed. If a person didn’t know better, it could appear as just that–a small stream that meanders between some of our thousands of lakes. But we know that is not the case. The small stream that begins so humbly winds its way south through Minnesota, along Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. At its end, after flowing 2300 miles, it empties into the Mississippi Delta that is over 4700 square miles in area.

Like the waters of the Mississippi, for many of us, especially as Lutherans, we begin our journey with just a little water, not more that a few drops sometimes. Yet throughout our lives, those baptismal waters lead us to pursue the justice and righteousness of God.

The path that we follow, may not be straightforward, and it may even twist and turn, seeming to head in unexpected directions. But as followers of the crucified and Risen One, we trust that God is leading us onward. That Justice and righteousness would be the sign of how we are recognized to be worshipping God.  That as we continue to learn and grow in faith, that we never stop proclaiming the words of our Psalm for today, “God is great!…God is great!”

That the few drops from our baptism might grow to be a river that has the power to change the landscape around us, bringing with it the justice and righteousness of God. Amen.