I hope you all voted, regardless of whom you wanted to see in office. For many of us it seems to have been one of the most consequential elections in our memory.
Now here we are in the aftermath, with a little over half the nation in a wildly festive mood. But almost as many are feeling cheated. It seems that, instead of resolving anything, we have simply moved our conflicts into a different phase, but they’re still there.
Don’t you wish the day would come when all this mess would be settled—in our favor of course? Don’t you maybe secretly wish for a day when all the people who vex us most would get put in their place once and for all?
That’s what people were longing for in the time of the prophet Amos. They called it “The Day of the Lord”—the day when, they believed, God would show up and vanquish all their enemies.
Amos wasn’t buying the idea, so he sneakily decided to preach a long sermon where he got everybody worked up over what God would do on that day to the surrounding nations that especially vexed the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. For example: “For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment” (1:3). And so he goes on about one nation after another. You can practically hear everybody cheering as he works them up into a self-righteous frenzy. Those other nations, they’re gonna get theirs.
But then he turns to the kingdoms of Judah and Israel and says God will do worse to them than to their neighbors (2:4, 6). Why? Because they claim to be God’s people and still trample on the poor and push the needy aside. They think it’s OK for the rich to get richer while the poor get poorer (4:2-8). Amos makes Bernie Sanders sound like a moderate.
And eventually, in today’s reading, Amos has God say, “You want The Day of the Lord? Think twice before you ask for it. When I show up, you’re not going to like it. So stop jazzing up your worship services. I don’t care if you’ve got smells and bells or guitars and drums, not until you let justice roll down like waters.”
Needless to say, the book of Amos is not a place to go if you’re looking for consolation or encouragement. There are other places to go for that in the Bible. And I, at least, need some encouragement this week.
But I also need to be totally honest about facing the problems that beset all of us. I can’t afford to live in an imaginary harmony that’s bound to shatter when I open my eyes.
So if we’re going to find any encouragement that lasts, we’re going to need to let go of our dreams for an updated version of The Day of the Lord. And the first thing I’m going to have to do is stop dividing the world into us and them. I’m going to have to stop imagining that everything would go so much better in the world if certain people just were not in it. I’m going to have to stop conveniently forgetting that the conflicts and the gridlock I see throughout our national life are a perverse kind of reverse sacrament—“an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual” condition that infects all of us. I need to recognize that, as far as God’s vision of what life could be is concerned, the professed lofty goals of my favorite—or less unfavorite—political party are just about as compromised by self-serving interests as others’.
That was Amos’ message to his own people, and it’s his message to us today. Stop longing for that decisive put-down. You’re not that different from your opponents. If you got that put-down, you’d be put down with them.
OK, I get that. We get that. But we still need a word of encouragement here, especially this week. And Amos actually hints at such a word right here in the middle of his stinging rebuke: “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”
Maybe that sounds like an impossible demand. And that would NOT be encouraging. But let’s focus on one word: “let.” LET justice and righteousness roll down. Open yourself to the justice and righteousness that’s flowing from God—even in this mess we’ve made. Let it do its work on you. Let another Day of the Lord, Sunday, today, fill you with God’s passion for a world without these divisions that beset now, a world where nobody‘s needs are forgotten.
We don’t have to sit back and wait for a day when we’ll be proved right. We don’t have to set ourselves up for disappointment when that day never arrives. We can trust instead that God is filling us, yes, even us, with the power to open ways toward reconciliation even when we can’t shirk taking an unpopular stand.
Our days of unrest are not going away. But foolish as it may sound, we are promised that unrest will not be the last word. That’s the encouragement I find not just in Amos but in the whole Bible.
There’s one prayer in our prayer book that’s been especially helpful for me this week. It’s the Collect for Social Justice on p. 823. (Amos would have liked that title.)
“Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, and especially the hearts of the people of this land, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
I am somewhat encouraged to notice how prescient this pre-1979 prayer was about what we are facing today. We keep saying that everything happening these days is unprecedented. But maybe it’s not as unprecedented as we think.
And even though nothing ever gets settled once and for all, with clear winners and losers, we are still going to see moments when at least some barriers which divide us crumble, at least some suspicions disappear, at least some hatreds cease, so that in Christ we may at least live into justice and peace, no matter how often we have to start over.
LET justice and righteousness roll down.