The Day of the Lord a Dark Day
18 Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!
Why do you want the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, not light;
19 as if someone fled from a lion,
and was met by a bear;
or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,
and was bitten by a snake.
20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?
21 I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
It’s been a long time since I have visited Niagara Falls, but I still remember the deep sense of wonder and awe I felt at the sheer force and power of the falls crashing down the cliff into the rocks below. Much less spectacular were all of the souvenir shops and tourist attractions that have sprung up all around the falls. Now imagine that you planned a trip to see the falls and when you got there, the falls were completely dried up. No water crashing down the cliff. No roaring sound of rushing water. No wall of mist rising up from the rocks below. All that is left are the multitude of cheap souvenir shops, postcard stands, and wax museums lining the streets luring tourists in to spend a few bucks. Imagine how angry and disappointed you would be!
The imagined scenario described above pales in comparison to the anger and disappointment God feels towards God’s people in today’s reading from Amos. God expected from God’s people Israel justice rolling down like waters and righteousness rushing like an everflowing stream (5:24). Instead, all God finds are meaningless festivals, insincere worship, heartless offerings, and noisy, superfluous songs (5:21-23). God wants none of Israel’s cheap souvenirs of faith. God wants justice. God wants righteousness. God wants true and sincere hearts.
It is not difficult in today’s world to imagine God’s anger and disappointment directed at us Christians when we become obsessed with internal struggles all the while failing to speak up against the injustices that surround us, when we worship week after week but fail to address the needs of our neighbors, when we stress over the minor details of church life and fail to hold our state and national leaders accountable for their words and actions. I can imagine God saying to us Christians, “Stop playing church and start being the church!” Certainly, God’s forgiveness is for all, including us, and God continues to give us new chances day after day to get it right. But God’s promised gift of forgiveness does not take away all moral and ethical responsibility on our part. Indeed, the forgiveness we have in Christ frees us to be bolder than ever in seeking justice and righteousness for all.
Lord, make your church more than a souvenir shop. Amen.