Letting Justice Roll

“Clogging, Sleeping, or Rolling” Amos 5:18-24, Matthew 25:1-13
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, November 8, 2020 Rev. Dr. John Henson

In these unusual times, what do you turn to as a help for making sense of things? What helps you interpret what we are going through in a pandemic, chaos in our nation, and all the disruptions that are in our lives right now? Some people turn to music, art, or exercise. Others find help in reading books, Scripture, or maybe even the comics. With whatever we turn to, we do so out of a desire to not only help us understand what’s happening to or around us; but to make it through to a better place. Sound familiar?

What we have today in our lectionary readings are words that can help us make some sense of where we are right now, and to guide us to where we need to be. Our first reading, from Amos, certainly can help with that. It is the prophecy of a farmer-shepherd named Amos to the people of Israel in 700’s BCE. He had a God-placed fire in his belly about the injustice he was seeing all around him. In the verses we heard this morning, he makes his point: God wasn’t having any of their worship and that their day of judgment was coming like a lion. God was not impressed with their elaborate worship services and offerings, as it was as empty as their hearts for their neighbors. Genuine worship results in justice and righteousness, which should flow immediately and abundantly to the poor and needy people in their nation. Amos says to them, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” (NRSV)

Do we hear the prophet of old in our current setting? He would have quite a time with us today if he were to address Christians in this nation. Just think of what he would say to white evangelical Protestants! And what words he would send to all of us who give allegiance to God and God’s kingdom in our nation as we are so caught up in delighting in our worship services, our institutions, our plans, and our power (or the pursuit of power we want to have in this nation). As he surveyed the status of the poor and neglected in our community, what would he say to us about it? Would it be apparent that we were working with God to let justice roll down like a river; that we are doing righteous things for people in need?

He Qi, The Clever Bridesmaids

The parable we heard from Jesus in Matthew 25:1-13 is one I’m sure Amos would have loved. It fits right in with the message he was giving to Israel: the day of the Lord is coming and you should be ready for it. Like a bridegroom showing up for the wedding at any time, so God would arrive at any moment. Israel, like the bridesmaids, was to be ready. What Jesus could see is that it wasn’t ready, being too preoccupied with agendas other than God’s just like during Amos’ time. Jesus wanted them to know that God was arriving in their midst but many of them were asleep and unprepared. Matthew includes this parable for his recipients, decades later, as they too needed to shake from their slumber and be ready in their time for God’s movement.

What are we to do with this parable? In what way is it to connect with us in our time, right now with all that is going on in our nation? Surely it calls us to be alert to where God is around us and to what God is doing. One commentator on this parable mentioned how it addresses “missed moments” we have when it comes to God’s arrival in our midst. I like that description, as we know this; we too are apt to miss moments when God shows up because we are not alert and ready to what God is doing in the moment. It happens for us individually but it also happens with churches. A look at the election results and the reality that around 70 million Americans–most of them white Evangelical Christians–voted for a candidate with four years of racist words and actions, and with policies that separated children from parents, downplayed COVID-19, banned Muslims, harmed the earth, oppressed the poor, and downplayed a deadly virus shows that there is much justice work for us to do in our nation. It is troubling to see what really has been obvious throughout American history–that white Christians have missed many a moment to address and correct the sins of our nation, especially slavery and racism. Are we missing what God is doing right now in this moment? Will white evangelical Christians miss this moment to reckon with all forms of racism in the church and nation? Will churches seize this moment to work toward being inclusive of all people and be vessels of change for that in cities and states all across our nation? Our church still has a long way to go, but I believe we can be a model for justice and inclusion.

Realizing that we miss moments of God’s activity can be painful. Rev. David Grant Smith writes about the good news we find in missed moments,

even though there are some missed opportunities (a true reality for every creature that draws breath), that doesn’t mitigate God’s presence and interaction in our lives; the initial aim is always targeted to our next moment of possibility. . . we are always able to refocus our efforts when we miss the “bridegroom” of particular moments, and know that God’s lure toward creative transformation will be with us in the next moment, the next interpersonal encounter, the next opportunity.

Rev. David Grant Smith, https://processandfaith.org/resources/lectionary-commentary/yeara/2014-11-09/proper-27

Yes, it’s good news of God’s grace that we get another opportunity to awaken to God’s activity. Could this be our moment? Could it be your moment to greet and join in with God? Amos says yes and Jesus tells us the bridegroom has arrived.

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