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Written by Jim Jordal   
Thursday, 04 August 2016

WORSHIP WITHOUT JUSTICE OFFENDS GOD

By Jim Jordal

 I hate, I despise your feasts, And I can't stand your solemn assemblies. Yes, though you offer me your burnt offerings and meal offerings, I will not accept them; Neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat animals. Take away from me the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.  But let justice roll on like rivers, And righteousness like a mighty stream.

Amos 5:21-24 WEB

We don’t like to hear that something we do offends God, but here it is in Amos’ inspired words. He says that under some conditions God despises our feasts and can’t stand our religious assemblies. He also considers our songs nothing but noise, and our offerings of produce or money not to be meaningful. All this because we can’t seem to grasp and obey some relatively simple concepts.

So what’s wrong? It’s not so much what we’re doing, but what we’re not doing that offends God. There’s nothing inherently wrong with worship, sacrifice, and songs or feasting. But what’s wrong is the absence of obedience to God’s clearly revealed demands for justice, truth, mercy and righteousness as valued and practiced by his people.

God sets high standards for his people. He expects us to let justice roll on like rivers and righteousness as a mighty stream. We might ask why Amos uses rushing water as a metaphor for the coming of righteousness and justice. Perhaps it’s because he had experienced powerful floods, or perhaps he knew something of the mighty flood experienced by Noah.  In any event the mental picture of rushing torrents flooding into the land introduces the concept of irresistible power and a penetrating presence as moving water seeks to fill every void and subdue any resistance.

The sort of justice Amos is asking for would penetrate even the smallest crevices of human society. It would sweep away all our excuses and lies as to why we don’t have justice now. It would identify those whose financial power arises from manipulation, oppression, ecological desecration and the destruction of vulnerable peoples everywhere on earth in the name of empire and profit. And it would subdue the contentious babble of politicians as they seek to justify their previous sins by blaming the other party or candidates.

Why are we as a nation failing so completely in bringing this type of righteousness and justice into our halls and boardrooms of government, finance, industry, and yes, religion? If you think that what now passes for justice is pleasing to God, go back and read what the prophets say about its absence, both in Ancient Israel and in our nation today.

If you consider the church to be a sort of microcosm of the Kingdom of God on Earth, with the mission not only to preach and teach the will of God, but also to model that Divine will in our institutional and personal behaviors, then you’ll be making progress. Amos was saying that God rejects our worship and our pompous attempts at evangelism unless they include the base-line of Scriptural righteousness and justice.

It is the mission of the Christian church not only to preach Christ and him crucified as the source of personal salvation, but also to “speak truth to power” as Sojourner’s Jim Wallis so eloquently says. This nation has gotten “off the track” in large part because the generic church seems to minimize its mandate to preach all of the Scripture---not just personal salvation and clean living, but also the commands of God concerning the welfare of nations.

Along with the personal message of the Bible there is a national message to the nation. Most of the Old Testament is about this message, although it gets short shrift in most pulpits today. We need a national turning to God. This means not only the personal call to salvation and decency, but the national call for righteousness and justice to finally carry out the several forms of deliverance mentioned by Jesus in his first sermon in Luke 4. Things will continue to get worse until we get the message.