I read this quote today…
“Through the Bible, God heals with reassuring words of forgiveness, kindness and welcome. Also through the Bible, God pierces with warnings meant to stir us toward repentance, restoration and peace.
Jesus, the centre of the biblical story, comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable; he gives grace to the humble and opposes the proud; he is kind to shame-filled prostitutes and fierce with self-filled Pharisees; he gives special attention to the poor and denounces those who ignore the poor.”
In that quote, author Scott Sauls, so eloquently captures the power and breadth and beauty and truth of God and His Word – both His written word, and the Word made flesh.
Well, on Sunday, we heard some of those words which are like warnings meant to stir us toward repentance, restoration and peace.
Hear them again…
“God says, ‘Can’t stand your religion – it turns my stomach. I detest your meetings. Yeah, fine, you bring me offerings by the book, but I’ll throw them back in your smug faces. You bring me your peace offerings, but they mean nothing; so I’ll ignore them. Oh, and your songs: just shut up; they’re doing my head in! If I hear one more tambourine, I’m going to scream’.” (Amos 5:21-23, The Street Bible)
God wasn’t mincing His words…wasn’t holding back, was He?!
Why the anger?!
Because the faith of God’s people was a sham.
They brought the sacrifices. They did the festivals. They made the offerings.
But at the same time they cheated the poor, they oppressed the vulnerable and they trampled all over those on the margins of society.
Their outward display of religious respectability masked the inner bankruptness of their hearts.
It was exactly the same as Jesus declared of the Pharisees…
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. (Matthew 23:27-28)
What was it that God wanted from them? What did God want to characterise the lives of His people?
Well, let God, through Amos, continue…
“What I want to hear is the roaring river of justice sweeping through your towns. What I want is for the right things you do to wash away the dry, hard, crusted build-up of evil.” (Amos 5:24)
God’s people are to be marked by justice. By the pursuit of righteousness. By seeking what is right and fair and loving for all people. By exposing what is wrong, and by being committed to working towards what is right.
But the danger is that we hear those words and think they were meant only for Amos’ original audience. The danger is that we forget that the God who spoke those words also spoke others too…
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:15-17).
You might need to read that again to allow it to sink in.
I think, if I’m hearing James right, he says that a lack of practical action for the poor is a sign that our faith is dead.
Earlier in his letter, James had already said,
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress… (James 1:27)
Is that not Amos 5:24 said in a different way?
A faith that God has brought to life is a faith that will overflow in a justice-inspired, loving and kind generosity directed towards the poor and the vulnerable.
God’s Word is loving and grace-filled, speaking truth and comfort into the hearts and minds of people ready to hear. But that same Word also confronts us with a call to examine our hearts, to repent of our sin, to receive His forgiveness and cleansing, and to commit ourselves afresh to being made new as we follow Jesus.
Folks, there is no other way.