Amos 5.18-24; Psalm 70; 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18; Matthew 25.1-13
But it is not good news for the hearers of Amos’s words. The Israelites who were hearing these words were being called to task. God is disgusted with what the people have become, and your can hear it in the verses leading up to this moment. This is not a course correction, it’s not a gentle nudge in the right direction. The Israelites at this point have completely given up the ethical standards of their faith. They are the oppressors. The courts are deeply corrupt, they are hoarding, the imbalance of power and wealth is extreme.
God’s word, spoken through Amos, is emotional. The problem, of course, is not with the songs or worship itself but with the people who are singing, the people who worship with one breath, and then leave with no intention of caring for neighbor or doing what is right. This community is so unhealthy, so sick, that it cannot survive for much longer. Israel is going to crumble.
We can find crumbling humanity throughout the world and history. We can point to genocide and apartheid and oppression. We need not look far to be able to find hate and abuse and cruelty. It can be downright overwhelming at times, especially today in a world of instantaneous news. It seems that as soon as we pick ourselves up from the latest disaster that knocks us down, another quickly follows.
In the midst of this, God says justice will roll down like water, an ever flowing stream. The word-choice here is interesting, because lots of riverbeds in Israel are dry most of the year, except for a few times they are gushing with water after heavy rains - basically a flash flood. The ‘streams’ that the Israelites were used to were sporadic. God is instead talking of streams that never stop flowing, perhaps as dramatic as those flash floods. Not so much a picturesque babbling brook - more a torrent of water.
This image of justice as water is powerful. Because no matter the
amount or speed, water changes the world. Given enough time, a slow drip of water can bore a hole in a rock. Water and time is what created the rock formation you see on the front of your bulletin. Steadiness and consistency oftentimes have more power than the dramatic.
Steady, consistent water changes the world. It is what we are baptized with. The ever-flowing stream of God’s justice is part of who we are and we are a part of it. We are called to be water people who make up the stream of justice. To do justice in the world, we don’t have to do dramatic things, we do steady, consistent things. Sometimes they all together swell to a larger moment, but most days we are just a seemingly unassuming stream. We are water people in every single day of our lives in how we choose to respond to the everyday moments.
I’ve seen it, and I’m sure you have too. I was in the office of an elementary school after a day of substitute teaching. There was a flurry of activity because a parent called in and their child had not gotten off the bus as expected. In the scramble to find this little one, the love and care from the staff overflowed. Turns out, he got off at dad’s instead of mom’s stop, but a neighbor picking up their kids from the bus noticed he was alone and made sure to take him home with them and connect with the school and family. Water people care for all children, they notice and step up.
Outside the McDonald’s on Borgen Boulevard, I once saw a woman chatting with a person looking for help and holding a sign at the roundabout. This woman had her child in her lap and was engaged in conversation as if she was at a coffee shop with a dear friend. Water people give dignity to all.
I had to wait at the ballot drop off box last Tuesday because there was already someone there. Water people vote.
Every January, here at ADLC, the wall of toilet paper for the FISH food bank gets higher and higher. Water people share what they have.
Water people speak up when someone tells a racist, homophobic, or sexist joke. Water people lend cups of flour to neighbors, they write to their representatives, buy fair trade products, reduce reuse and recycle. Water people point out water moments to their children. Water people listen - to others and to God - as they discern the small but so incredibly important ways they can live wet.
Water people take what they do in worship and live it out every single day. Sharing a table. Passing the peace. Proclaiming the good news of hope and love. Because that is the purpose of worship - it is practice for how we live every day. We take these amazing things like forgiveness and equality and welcome out with us, into a world that is so much better when it is shaped by the flowing streams of God’s justice and love.
We may look to history and credit the victories of love and justice to a few people - public leaders of important movements, those who sacrificed their lives for a cause. But the reality is that the work that dismantles hate and violence is far more than one march, one speech or one moment. It is an ever flowing stream of God’s beloved children, choosing in moment after moment in their lives to live for God’s purpose, not their own.
This is the hope and warning of Amos. God’s justice will flow, despite what we do. But it matters to God that what we do in worship is connected with what we do every day. It matters to God how we treat others, whether they are like us or not. And as families, communities, and nations, there are consequences when we become unhealthy, when we ignore the call of our faith to love and care for one another.
We live in a world where God has come and where our salvation is assured because it belongs to Christ. We also live in a world that needs the steady stream of justice. And the gift of our watery baptism is that we live in both of these realities, where the free gift of grace is what frees us to let ourselves flow as living water.