For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that who ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life
Amos 5:7-15, 21-24
There are those who turn justice into bitterness
and cast righteousness to the ground.
8 He who made the Pleiades and Orion,
who turns midnight into dawn
and darkens day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea
and pours them out over the face of the land—
the Lord is his name.
9 With a blinding flash he destroys the stronghold
and brings the fortified city to ruin.
10 There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth. 11 You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. 12 For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. 13 Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil. 14 Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. 15 Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph. 21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. 22 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. 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. 24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
Let us pray:
Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen
A nation established, firmly and completely, by God. A nation with actual divine rights whose words and wisdoms were gifts from God specifically for them…a nation that watched dishonest people gain, that watched the oppressed become more oppressed. A nation that waited in their self-righteous white washed castles and denounced the devastation while doing nothing about it – a nation that knew God was going to come and punish the bad ones and give the good ones blessing and they couldn’t WAIT because they were sure it would be them blessed and everyone they didn’t like, didn’t accept – they would see.
God has nothing but harsh words for this attitude. These are people who refused to see that God did not love them exclusively and did not love them to the point of desiring evil to their neighbors or others. Instead, these are people who are in for a rude awakening as to just how much they have missed the point about who God is and what God expects. Amos writes it out pretty clearly – God is not interested in your religious festivals and whatnot. GOD is interested in your sincere efforts to bring justice now, to promote righteousness now, to hate evil, love good, and maintain justice.
Let justice roll on like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream – these are the beautiful sounds in God’s kingdom.
God has asked us to stop being self-righteous, sure of our positions and our rightness. God tells the Israelites here and all of us today – are you sure you are in a Godly nation? Are you SURE? Because what I see is the continued evil of those who hate justice. Because what I see is the oppression of the poor who can’t eat because you tax them. You say you are righteous but you take every opportunity to get yours from those who have less.
God does not approve of this behavior.
God does not like it when babies are separated from their mamas at the border.
God does not like it when families are ripped apart because we’re afraid.
God does not like it when people are treated poorly because of the color of their skin, the country they come from, or the language they speak. God expects and demands that our love for God become love for those around us who look different, who didn’t come here the way we insist they come here, who don’t have the privilege we do.
You might say “Pastor, I don’t have any privilege. I’m poor myself” and you are right you don’t have the same privilege as someone who is wealthy, but you do have privilege – even if you can’t see it. If you were born with a different color skin, sometimes you get mistaken for a thief even if you aren’t one, just because you walk into a store. If you don’t worry about being arrested or accused of some crime every time you leave your house – you do have privilege – the privilege of not having to worry about something you can’t control changing how other people react to you. I understand this isn’t always a popular opinion, and I get that we may not agree, but the reality is that when one group of people is treated differently for the color of their skin or their language or where they come from or even their religion, it doesn’t matter what we think about it – it matters how we behave. It matters how we speak and act on someone else’s behalf simply because we see them being mistreated or treated differently.
The bottom line is this: if we don’t stand up for those who are being oppressed, we are no different than these children of Israel all those years ago, who let justice slide because they were convinced that they had the right of it with God’s blessing.
Because at the end of the day, God had called the children of Israel to live differently so they could show others God’s love. And they missed the mark over and over. In this case, they were so certain they were righteous, they were actually making it seem that God’s love was not a positive to be sought after, but a detriment to kindness and grace.
And when Jesus came and showed us all how to live lives of kindness and grace and generosity and mercy, we still divided the world into categories of us vs. them and spent a lot of time congratulating ourselves on being the usses who were on the good side and not the thems who were on the bad side. And meanwhile Jesus keeps saying “hey, love them. Love them. Love everyone.” Because God loves. Because Jesus loves.
Listen to Jesus again, as we read in Luke today, as he tells us how to love:
Luke 6:27-38 New International Version (NIV)
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
I heard an old Brad Paisley song yesterday called bigger fish to fry. In it he talks about us vs. them, too (there is other bad theology in the lyrics, but today I read them just to point out this ONE theological error):
I said a bad word when I was a kid
Mama said that I’d be sorry for the sin that I did
My daddy whooped me and the preacher said shame
And I tried like hell to change
I cuss, I smoke
I laugh at dirty jokes
Minor vices man I know ’em well
I’ve closed down bars
And I’ve lusted in my heart
My exes think I oughta burn in hell
But the devil, he won’t notice when I die
Don’t you figure
He’s got bigger fish to fry
Politicians taking corporate bribes
Crooked CEOs are getting off with no time
Christmas eve burglars stealin’ good children’s toys
(Can’t say Christmas)
Holiday burglars stealin’ good children’s toys
I cuss, I smoke
I laugh at dirty jokes
The minor vices, man I know I’m well
I’ve closed down bars
I’ve lusted in my heart
I’m not as bad as the REALLY bad people, so obviously they are the ones who need to be worried.
But the reality is that God has said we are all sinners. We all need the grace and mercy of Jesus. We all need the redemption and freedom offered. And we all need to stop thinking the other guy is worse and recognize that our own mistakes and errors and sins are compounded by the fact that we know better and ought to be more easily convinced to love first, because we have been loved. It is our repeated mantra – God loved us enough, so we can love others. It is the simplest way to frame the gospel and it is GOOD news – we don’t have to wallow in an us vs them mindset and keep trying to build bigger walls to keep everyone else out. Instead we can welcome everyone to the table, loving them no matter what they’ve done or how much we’re different, because the very same God who loved us enough loves THEM enough too.
As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:
What does it mean to say God loves?
God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.
God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.
God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.
God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption
God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing
God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.
God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.
God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.
God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.
God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.
God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.
God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.
For God so loved the world…
God loves you.
God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.
God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.
God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.
So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.
God loves you. Go, love the world with him.