What God Thinks of Our Worship: Nov. 12 2023

November 16, 2023

 Year A,
Pentecost 24

God is
awfully grouchy today…at least in our Old Testament reading. None of the
readings are warm and fuzzy, but today I want to talk about the most grouchy of
them all, Amos.  Not much is known of the
prophet Amos.  He lived about 700 years
before the birth of Jesus and seemed intent on calling out the Hebrew people on
hypocrisy and exploitation of the poor. 
He was preaching in a period of relative calm which might have led
people to be a little more complacent than they should have been. Apparently
this period of calm enabled some people to do quite well for themselves….which
created more space in the chasm between the very poor and the very rich

            He starts by talking about the day
of the Lord.  By itself, “the day of the
Lord” can mean a lot of different things. 
Here, it probably means the final judgment.  Amos talked a lot about judgment which few
Episcopalians like to hear.   Yet God’s
role as a judge is all over the scriptures. Most people have a lot of negative
associations about judgment.  I think if
we were to drill down into our negative feelings about, we will find most of
the negative associations come from people judging one another, often unfairly.
That was and is not the kind of judging God does.  God’s judgment is fair and merciful.

Amos said
that day of the Lord was not a time to be anticipating with joy.  It was a day of darkness.  Why? Because the people Amos was talking to
were not following God’s commandments. 
According to other parts of Book of Amos, the rights of the poor and
marginalized were being trampled. There were human judges who were accepting
bribes, which meant the ones who were judged harshly were not those who were
the bad operators but those who had no resources.  It would seem that the people who were
participating and enabling this corrupt system were supposed to be the
followers of the one true God.  They
should have known better.  Amos wasn’t
the first prophet to tell them they had veered way off course. But they had
gotten far too comfortable.

            Then Amos provided a list of the
things God detests–their festivals, their solemn assemblies, their animal
sacrifices, their feasts, and even their music. 
Everything, God was hating every form of worship that they were
providing.  Now, I get it that God was
angry, but why take it out on worship? It’s not like they were worshipping a golden
calf or erecting altars to false gods. This was all the kind of worship that
God had asked for.  These were traditions
they had been following for years.   It
would be like God coming down and saying: I hate Christmas and Easter. I detest
your candles and your bells. I really loathe those little hosts you call
bread.  And the preaching…please just
stop.  I think a few of us would take
that personally.  Of all the things to
complain about, why would God complain about worship?

            The problem wasn’t the worship
itself.  I am sure God didn’t have a
problem with harp music.  It seemed that
participating in worship and seeking holy places had become and end unto
itself.  Earlier is the chapter God said,
“Seek me and live, but do not seek Bethel, and do not cross Gilgal or cross
over to Beer-sheba.”  It had become too
much about the place and the presentation and not enough about just being in
God’s presence.  People were isolating
their worship to a certain time and place, rather than a state of being.  

Amos was
talking to the Hebrew people, but I am sure that Christians have been accused
of the same thing.  We occasionally use
Sunday worship as a box to check off rather than a place to encounter the
holy.  And we’ve seen politicians over
the years use their church attendance as proof that they are good and moral, even
when their behavior is anything but Christian. 
And most of us, have our moments of hypocrisy.  It’s important to acknowledge that. Because
if we can acknowledge that and be honest about our own failures, then we can move
past them and even improve.  Some people
have told me that they are uncomfortable in worship because they are not sure
how much they believe and isn’t that hypocrisy? No.  Hypocrisy is when we use worship as a cover
or an excuse rather than an attempt to connect with God’s presence. It’s not
the same as doubt.

            So fine, God wants more than
  What is it?  The very last line is one of the most famous
verses of the Bible because it was often quoted by Martin Luther King.
  “But let justice roll down like waters, and
righteousness like an
ever flowing stream.”
I have heard that so often and you know, I have never really thought
about what it means.
  Why the analogy to
  Consider the symbol we use for
justice in America.
  It’s a blindfolded
woman holding a set of balances.
  It is
supposed to indicate impartiality and fairness.
It’s a static symbol.  But the
image that Amos depicts is a powerful and cleansing stream.
[1]  Water brings life. It also cleanses us. It’s
chaotic at times, but when channeled it can do so much good.
  God didn’t want justice to be confined to
places like courts that administer justice.
God wants us all to be conduits for this life giving water. 

            What about righteousness? That is
part of this too.  It’s another word we
don’t like because we associate it with self-righteousness.  In the Bible righteousness is more about the
relationship between the person and God, or the person and others.  It’s right relationship.  And that makes sense, we can’t be conduits of
God’s mercy, love and justice if we aren’t in right relationship with one
another, and with ourselves.

            That brings me back to worship.  It’s true that worship should not be the end
goal.  We can’t just build and maintain
lovely buildings and let God worry about the rest.  Worship is an opportunity to build ourselves
up, to be fed and nourished with all we need to face what the world is throwing
at us.  I feel like so much of what
happens in the world sucks us dry.  It
leaves us withered and exhausted.  Yet
when I hear the bells, the organ, your beautiful singing.  When I drink from the cup and share the bread
with you all, I feel like my parched soul is getting the water it needs.  How can we be conduits for justice and
righteousness if we don’t have the water ourselves? The church is also the
place where we form relationships, often with people who are different from
us.  And maybe each one of us only has a
few drops of water to spare….but together we can form that ever flowing stream
that Amos prophesied thousands of years ago and the world desperately needs

[1] Interpretation
Commentary: Hosea-Micah. Limburg. Pp. 105-109