Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;
Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? “I hate, I despise your feasts, 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 peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:18–24, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
In the book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, author CS Lewis writes a conversation between the characters about the Christ figure.
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?” Who said anything about being safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
YHWH is certainly not safe. That’s what Amos is trying to remind God’s people. They were thinking that God’s promised judgment was going to be a good thing. The problem was they were ignoring their own sin. They weren’t acting with justice and righteousness. They had mixed the truth of God with falsehood. They were worshipping other gods along with YHWH. God is dangerous to sinful people. He is also good and gracious to those who love him and keep his commandments. We memorize it every year in Catechism class.
What does God say about all these commandments?
He says, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.” (Exodus 20: 5–6)
What does this mean? God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Therefore, we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them. But He promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments. Therefore, we should also love and trust in Him and gladly do what He commands.
The problem with God’s people in Israel, the thing that Amos is telling them, is not to assume that they are safe because they are going through the motions of worship. They were unjust. They were taking advantage of the poor. They were mixing false teaching in with the truth of God’s Word, mixing the worship of false gods into the worship of the only true God. But they thought they were safe because, after all, they were God’s people, and they were attending church.
Amos makes it clear when he speaks for God. When the Day of Judgment comes, there is no escape for those who are not living according to faith. You might be running from the lion, right into the claws of a bear, escape the bear to be bitten by a poisonous snake in your own home. When God judges sin it isn’t a day of light and brightness, but a day of darkness and gloom. Prophets don’t always get to tell the good news. Sometimes they have to tell the people the way things are. Amos is doing that. He must dissuade the people of their false impression that they are safe, because they are not. And it is worse than they think.
YWHW / God isn’t even happy with their worship. He actually despises their empty repetition, their feasts, their festivals and their sacrifices. What makes them empty? Well, they are not living in their faith. God intends to have a righteous people. That is no “Sunday morning Christians”. Faith is lived out in action. The Ten Commandments describe it perfectly. A relationship with God, Commandments one through three, results in a relationship with other people, Commandments four through ten.
And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37–39, ESV)
Amos tells them what God wants.
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24, ESV)
What he means by “justice” is not what we think of, that is social justice, but right living that flows from faith. He means living your life according to the 10 Commandments. Living in a right relationship with God and a right relationship with other people. Its parallel is righteousness. That means to do what is right and good for others.
So that means, when you take advantage of your neighbor; when you speak poorly about people not putting the best construction on what they do and say; when you are jealous of what other people have and not satisfied with what God is giving you; when you manipulate people to get what you want; when you tell the little white lie that makes you look better in your friend’s eyes; when you disobey God ordained authority and push your foot on the gas pedal a little harder than you should because you are running late; when you say that all religions are the same and lead to the same place; when you don’t defend life in the womb; and then you come to church and pretend that these things don’t matter; that you have a right relationship with God; then you are in danger of God’s judgment, and you cannot escape. The lion, the bear or the snake will get you. YHWH isn’t safe when you disobey. God demands to have a just and righteous people.
The day of the Lord is coming…
Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?” (Amos 5:20, ESV)
Judgment is darkness. And God’s judgment must come about. It is time to repent! It is time to…
…let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (5:24)
Our lives are full of sin. We are dehydrated, dry and dead deserving of God’s wrath and punishment. But justice and righteousness can only flow from people through faith in the one who justifies sinners, the one who forgives sin. And forgiveness refreshes like an ever-flowing stream of water. Forgiveness flows from worship and Word and Sacrament through God’s people into the world. God’s children love and forgive in the world prompted by God’s love and forgiveness for them.
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.” (Titus 3:4–8, ESV)
God’s love and forgiveness comes to those who are in relationship to him through faith. Jesus death on the cross and his resurrection brings forgiveness to Christians soaked in the ever flowing stream of Holy Baptism.
Only Christian life begun in Baptism enables justice and righteousness to cascade is a river of life and mercy. (Rev. Reed Lessing, Concordia Commentary, Amos, p. 376, CPH, 2009)
This is the message of Amos to God’s people. It’s not a message of, do good works to make yourself right with God. But it is a message of, do good works because forgiveness that God has given to you. It all flows from forgiveness. It flows from Jesus Christ at work through the Holy Spirit in you.
Our churches teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruit [Galatians 5:22–23]. It is necessary to do good works commanded by God [Ephesians 2:10], because of God’s will. We should not rely on those works to merit justification before God. The forgiveness of sins and justification is received through faith. The voice of Christ testifies, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’ ” (Luke 17:10). (AC IV 1-2; Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (pp. 33–34). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.)
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.