AMOS: rivers of justice

Amos was good at getting attention. You can tell by the way he begins his book. It’s kind of like telling an Englishman, Irishman and Scottish man joke and saving the Englishman for last whilst revelling in the illogical things that the others are doing. Amos calls out the familiar enemies of the Jewish nation “Hey Damascus – because of all your sin, I’m not going to relent”, “Hey Syria, I’m going to sort you out”, “Oi! Moab – you’re not getting away with it”.

Amos is the thirtieth book in the Old Testament, eighth book of Prophecy, and can be found between Joel and Obadiah. Written by Amos a shepherd from Tekoa it was penned around 750 B.C. One of the shorter books of the Bible it’s well worth reading all the way through in a modern translation or paraphrase such as the CEV or The Message.

At this point I’m pretty sure he’s got his audiences’ attention. They’d be clapping, and cheering this popular message, this prophetical ear candy. “God dislikes our enemies – this shepherd businessman turned prophet has done good!”

You see, things were going pretty well for Israel, the land wasn’t under attack, the nation was reasonably wealthy and the people of God had become complacent. They actually felt that this period of peace was down to them. Their enemies were still as hated but no longer as strong.

And then, comes the smackdown.”Hey Israel – your sins – I’m not putting up with it any longer, as the people of God, you should be a higher standard, you should know better”.

Amos is a fantastic writer, the literature darling of the Bible, with beautiful similes and metaphors strewn throughout the book. His writing is peppered with satire – he’s the Have I got News For You of Old Testament prophets. There are moments like in verse 7-10 of chapter 5 where he almost seems to zone out of the message and just get stuck on how awesome God is.

Do you realize where you are? You’re in a cosmos
star-flung with constellations by God,
A world God wakes up each morning
and puts to bed each night.
God dips water from the ocean
and gives the land a drink.
God, God-revealed, does all this.
And he can destroy it as easily as make it.
He can turn this vast wonder into total waste.

And then we get on to the main theme for Amos – Justice.

I WANT BUCKET LOADS OF IT…

A pastor called Jim Wallis talks of an exercise he did at Bible college where they were asked to cut out the verses of the Bible that were to do with Justice. Just so you know there are around 2000 of them. He took this falling apart, ragged, Bible out with him when preaching and would say “This is the Bible of the West – full of holes from not paying attention to this theme of Justice”.

The word justice (misphat) in this passage is not just the punishment of wrong doing, it also means giving people their rights, and acting justly. To give an example of this kind of justice I can turn back to my childhood when, my younger brother having just stolen some of my chocolate, I demanded justice (though not in those terms) for his action. My dad, a wonderfully wise man, told me “I will punish your brother for what he did wrong, but wouldn’t it have been better for you to share with him in the first place. I’m punishing him for something that you could have prevented”..

In Jewish times widows, orphans, immigrants and the poor, were the lowest caste of society. They had no social power, and lived in the moment, always a day or so away from starvation in the event of a famine, disaster, social unrest or invasion. Who would we identify as being the same? The refugee, migrant workers, homeless, the single parent, the elderly, prisoners, slaves the sick.

Every day I hear statistics that make me feel ill. 1 in 8 people in the world today won’t eat. Where is the justice? How about the UK itself, where we have so much and yet we are robbing children & young people of childhood in an increasingly sexualised context, where we have the highest rates of self-harm and eating disorders in Europe, because of the diet of rubbish that are young people are fed every day. Where is justice? How about that within half an hour of where you are sat a girl will be sold tonight, and every night. Where is the justice? How about the fact there are hundreds meeting in churches with thousands around them who do not know and need to know the love of Christ? Where is the justice?

God is justice. God is just. We don’t do justice because it is another activity. We do it because it is the heart of God, and if we have God living inside us, then justice should be welling up ready to burst out! If our hearts beat for what God’s heart beats for, justice is going to be the product.

Do you know what? We will see a day when the hungry are fed. We will see a day when those who are hurting will be healed, when every tear is wiped from their eye. We will see a day when the earth is restored, when God and man come together. But as Amos says the birthing of that is going to be painful and it’s going to be dark, like a man fleeing from a lion, who meets a bear, then gets into his house rests on a wall and is bitten by a snake.

IT’S NOT RELEVANT…

My concern is that we look at this and say – It’s in the Old Testament. It’s a nice story, but we’ve got Jesus so Justice has been sorted. We can sit back and wait for heaven. We can work on “what matters”, on having a church which is focused on great worship, quality teaching, and a great atmosphere. And that is why the end of chapter 5 scares me.

I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

The thing was even in Jesus’ time the Pharisee’s had great musical worship, they had a huge focus of scriptural teaching (in fact they were obsessive about it) the meetings even had a good atmosphere. But when Jesus visits he turns around and says – “all this, all this stuff you have created, it’s got in the way”. God doesn’t want religious behaviour, he wants total devotion shown through the way we live every single bit of our lives – and that is relevant today and forever.

What does God want our church to be like? “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27 NIV)

MAKING EXCUSES…

But that’s become one of the great excuses we give – hasn’t it – not wanting to be polluted by the world… So how do we achieve the balance of serving in the world without being polluted by it?

Actually it’s quite simple – we realise nowhere is off limits with Christ, but everywhere is off limits without him. With Christ and with God’s justice we take a well paid job (and if you have a job in the UK you are well paid) and we distribute our finances to those 1 in 8 who need food today.

With Christ and with God’s justice we fight for our children, campaigning against the sexualised world that is being force on them, and shout out a message out that God loves them, that they are not alone and that they are valued.

With Christ and with God’s justice we become aware of things that are going on around us, in our community, including issues of modern day slavery and trafficking which are taking place so nearby.

With Christ and with God’s justice we refuse to hold selfishly onto God’s message of love. Taking it to the streets and communities around us, because we’ve realised that instead of saying someone needs to do it, that we are God’s someone.

We realise that nowhere is off limits with Christ, but everywhere is off limits without Him.

Another excuse often given is being overwhelmed. There are always two ways to look at big problems – I call it the David and Goliath principle. People looked at Goliath and went “ahhh! This problem is too big.” David looked at Goliath and went “grrrr!! With God, this problem is too big to miss”.

Poverty, loss of innocence, trafficking, violence, community decay—these are no small problems. A guy called Wigg-Stevenson said, “Our actions are significant, but we’re part of a story which ends aren’t ours to bring about. As we orient ourselves toward God’s Kingdom, we will do our part—but it will be activism out of a spirit of service.”

Sometimes we feel insignificant, that our actions won;t make a difference. – pastor and author Frederick Buechner famously wrote, “The place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” We’re each uniquely gifted and impassioned. We can each discern God’s calling as we respond to global injustice.

We can and we are doing something. Look at the fair trade movement. It’s getting bigger because there is demand. Write, change the products you buy. Think about what you wear. Did you see the factory that collapsed in Bangladesh? Our demand for cheaper and cheaper goods has led to others being forced into dangerous surroundings. Check the labels, be a good consumer, because injustice doesn’t look good on anyone.

Why not sponsor a child with Compassion? Stand up for a child who might otherwise get trafficked. It isn’t just about the financial giving either, it’s about them hearing that God loves and cares for them so much that some person in some country is paying for their education. That they value them. It’s bringing that one out of poverty. Save a child for the cost of Sky television, or your weekly Starbucks visit.

Why not put back the expensive apple juice and grab a pack of cheaper cartons donating the extras to a food bank or breakfast club?

Amos - Rivers of JusticeThere are so many small things each of us can do, and there are also bigger things that God is calling us to do. But Maybe today is simply about one thing. It’s God wanting your attention. It’s getting the conversation going, the ball rolling. It’s God saying

I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.

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