We cannot sing songs in God’s house about bringing about the Kingdom of God here on Earth without being moved to action on behalf of the oppressed in our daily lives.
May 2, 2021
Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters
Pastor Heather McColl
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 fattened 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.
This Sunday, we are beginning a new worship series titled, “Roll Down, Justice”. I cannot take credit for this series. It was developed by the same group which invited us on a Lenten journey of healing. The basic premise of this series is a reminder that God calls us to let “justice roll down like waters.” This phrase comes from the prophet Amos. He shared it with the people of Israel, to remind them, to remind us that we cannot sing songs in God’s house about bringing about the Kingdom of God here on Earth without being moved to action on behalf of the oppressed in our daily lives. Amos used this phrase of justice rolling down like waters to remind the people of Israel, to remind us that it is not enough to simply say the words which seek justice, which seek equity for all in our worship services. Rather as people of God, our lives, our actions, our very character, as ones who are made in the image of God are called to reflect the vision of God’s Shalom come to fruition here and now for all of God’s people.
I have to share with you that I am approaching this series with a sense of dread and with a sense of hope. It is my hope that over the next several weeks, we as a community of faith will not let this time of reflection, this time of healing, that we will not let this call for justice simply be a feel good moment for us, that we will really take this time to name some uncomfortable truths about who we have been in the past and who we are now as a predominately, white, well to do community of faith in what is becoming a financially gated community. It is my hope that we take this time to really explore what it means for us to be people of WELCOME, what it means to love God, to love another by entering into full communion at God’s Table with all, all nations, all races, all languages. As we begin the series with Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters Amos 5-21-24, it is my hope that we begin the process of becoming the people of justice that God created and calls us to be.
Yet at the same time, this is what also fills me with a sense of dread as well. I know that our privilege as an affluent congregation, our privilege as white people has blanketed us for far too long from seeing, from owning the uncomfortable truths about who we have been in the past and who we are now. As we begin this series, I worry that all the isms, racism, sexism, classism, gender-ism, sexuality-ism are so ingrained in how we operate, how we function as a community of faith, as a society, as a culture that it will be too difficult, that it will be too painful for us to actually do the hard work of changing the narrative.
What I dread about this series is that we will give into the temptation of barely scratching the surface, that we will reduce this difficult work of justice making for all of God’s children to a checklist, that we will say “we have read this book or that we have listened to this podcast, or that we follow this person on social media, so we get it.” (Tarana Burke) What I dread about this series is that it will be much easier, much more pleasant, much less painful for us to continue holding on to our privilege rather than doing the hard work of dismantling the systems which support it.
Because what Amos understood and what we tend to ignore when we call for God’s justice to roll down like waters is that the work of justice-making is not “transactional. Rather it is relational.” It is messy. It strips us bare. It challenges us to see, to acknowledge, to fully embrace the humanity of each other.
You see, when Amos shared this phrase of justice rolling down like waters, he was not just speaking of reform. He was looking for an end to what was considered “normal” behavior in his community, behaviors like ignoring the poor, the orphan, the widow, the stranger in the land, behaviors like only the rich and the ones with the best connections receiving fair and timely access to the legal system, behaviors like the powers that be approving measures which continued to widen the gap between the haves and the have nots. Amos was looking for an end to systems which denied the very humanity of so many of God’s Beloved children.
Amos recognized the injustices found within his community. So he brings God’s complaint before the people: I hate, I reject your festivals; I don’t enjoy your joyous assemblies. If you bring me your entirely burned offerings and gifts of food—I won’t be pleased; I won’t even look at your offerings of well-fed animals. Take away the noise of your songs; I won’t listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
In this complaint, Amos is not critiquing the people’s act of worship. Rather, Amos is critiquing the worshipers themselves. Amos wants them to know that “God does not accept the worship of those who show no interest in justice making in their daily lives.”
It is not enough to say the words. Rather because of who God is, because of who we are as ones who are named and claimed as God’s Beloveds, we are called to put our money where our mouth is. We are called to expose the failures of the systems which only work for a select few. We are called to protest when the powers that be desecrate the values of justice, liberty and equity. As people of faith, we are called to put aside our privilege and do the hard work of justice making, even if it makes us uncomfortable, even if it is painful, even if we have to name, to own some uncomfortable truths about who we have been and who we continue to be as a predominately white, affluent congregation.
Amos knew that the work of justice making was too important for us as the people of God to give it anything less than our all. The realization of the Kingdom of God here on Earth depends on it. The fulfillment of God’s Shalom for all of God’s people depends on it. And if we approach justice-making with anything less than open hearts and open minds, with anything less than a willingness to engage the full humanity of others, if we approach justice making with anything less than a commitment to love God and to love others as ourselves, then everything we do in this space, in this time of worship is meaningless. It simply becomes empty words and hollow actions. It simply becomes us continuing to prop up a false narrative which betrays the very essence of the Kingdom of God.
Now, please don’t hear me say that this series will solve everything. At the end of these next six weeks, we are not going to have all the answers nor are we going to have it all figured out. What this series is…is a beginning, a process of transformation. It is an invitation for us to embrace our call to make justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God. What this series is…is a beginning of a long journey, a needed journey so that we can truly become a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. What this series…is a reminder that justice, just like water is essential to life. And without it, communities cannot survive. Without, people die. Without it, healing and wholeness cannot happen.
Or let me say it this way…A couple of weeks ago, our country waited with baited breath, waiting to see if a white police officer would be found guilty of the death of a black man. People gathered around the courthouse, waiting for the verdict to be read. For many gathered there that day, they had seen this scenario played out a hundred times. It always ended with the same verdict of not guilty.
When the verdict was finally read, it was guilty on all three counts. Upon hearing this, a reporter interviewed an African American man gathered there at the courthouse about his thoughts on the verdict. The man simply said, “This can’t be real. I must be dreaming. I had hoped for this but I had prepared myself for a completely different situation because justice never comes for people who look like me.”
Weeks later, this man’s words have stayed with me. They broke my heart then and they continue to break my heart as I share them with you nhow. This man’s words have shown me the distrust and the disbelief that our systems of legal justice really does work for all, and not just a select few. This man’s words have shown me how naive, how privileged my viewpoint really is.
Again I don’t pretend to have all the answers but I can’t help hearing Amos cry for justice to roll down like waters echoed in this man’s words. As we conclude with Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters Amos 5-21-24, I can’t help but hear Amos’ critique, not of our worship but of us who continue to have a disconnect between what we say in this space and how we live out our cries for justice in our daily lives. In this man’s words, I can’t help but wonder what can I give, what can we give in order to embrace anew the work of justice.
It is my answers, it is our answers to this question which brings me a sense of hope and dread. Yet I know for a time such as this, we are called to take to heart these words of the prophet Amos and fully enter into this radically new stage of God’s saving work which is about to begin. May it be so.