God has a Dream
Sunday, November 14, 2021
Pastor Deb Kielsmeier
Lesson: Amos 1:1-2; 5:14-15, 21-24
Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream!
Those words chiseled into black granite at the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery Alabama. If you visit you can see and touch a never-ending flow of water cascading over the names of 41 Civil Rights martyrs. The quote is ascribed to Martin Luther King, but he was quoting Amos 5:24 in his famous I have a dream speech in 1963.
Martin Luther King is considered a modern-day prophet. A prophet isn’t someone with a crystal ball who predicts the future. Rather, a prophet a mouthpiece for God, usually with a warning and calling for change on behalf of the weak, the poor, the oppressed. Like King, prophets “have a dream” for those to whom they speak.
We have romped through the Old Testament this fall. When Amos came on the scene, it was about 750 B.C. and the kingdom, which was united under David and Solomon has been divided in two. The Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah.
Amos was an ordinary shepherd from the southern kingdom of Judah. Yet God called him to prophesy to the northern kingdom of Israel. There was not a lot of warmth between the two kingdoms, mind you. Yet here comes Amos, a nobody from the south with words of Judgment for the northern kingdom.
Harsh words. Words that clang and grate in our ears as well.
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!
What in the world was going on?
For the Northern Kingdom, it was the best of times, and the worst of times. It was a time of great economic prosperity and wealth. But corruption was rampant, judges were bribed, and the poor treated unfairly. The whole system favored wealthy and powerful men. Amos 5:11 says that the poor were “trampled” by the taxes laid on them. Taxes which then went into the pockets of those in power. The poor were getting poorer, and the rich were getting richer.
And so, Amos proclaims, “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream!” Those two words- “Justice and righteousness” are used together many times in the prophets and in the psalms. Justice AND righteousness.
When we use the word “justice,” we often think of it as the punishment that a perpetrator deserves. We might say, “I just want to see that justice is done.” However, The Hebrew word for justice, mishpat, has a root meaning fairness and equity. Fairness and Equity. For example, in a criminal case, justice is done when the judge refuses to take bribes or favor rich over the poor.
In the Bible, mishpat most often involves justice for most vulnerable in Israel’s culture who were the widows, orphans, immigrants, and the poor. These folks had no power, often living day to day. When a crisis such as a famine or pandemic or invasion occurred, they suffered first and the most.
God makes it clear throughout scripture, that letting these people suffer with “benign neglect” is not just a lack of love or mercy; it is injustice. If we let the poor suffer and do nothing about it, we are failing to do justice.
Deuteronomy 10:17-18 says, “Yahweh your God defends the justice of the orphan and widow, and loves the immigrant, giving him food and clothing.”
And listen how Psalm 146 (7-9) describes the God of Israel:
God upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but God frustrates the ways of the wicked.
Amos reminded the people that God abhorred when the rich and powerful forgot or abused the poor and vulnerable.
The other word pair with justice is “righteousness.”
Often think of righteousness as personal morality or worse, self-righteousness as someone who is smug about their own rightness. But the Hebrew word tzadeqah is something very different. Tzadeqah means living in a right relationship, treating everyone with fairness, generosity, and equity
Justice is making things right that are unfair in society such as legal and systemic issues; righteousness is living and doing right by others, especially the most vulnerable. Let me repeat that. Justice is making things right. Righteousness is doing right by others.
There was a huge difference between the worship that went on inside the temple, and what went on outside those walls. There was a huge divide between what they proclaimed in worship and what was in their hearts. They may have brought offerings and made sacrifices to God, but they robbed those in need. And so, their worship – no matter how beautiful – did not honor God.
The people continued to abuse justice and ignore righteousness…and just as Amos warned, the Northern Kingdom was destroyed. Conquered by the Assyrians in 722 B.C., they were torn from their land and were lost – assimilated into foreign nations and pagan cultures. They became known as the lost ten tribes of Israel.
I wonder. What is God saying to us today through this ancient prophet’s words? Where does our faith meet life as we gather to sing, pray, and praise our Lord and God?
Augustana, I believe that God has a dream. God has a dream today. For you and for me. For Augustana and for our world.
Like Martin Luther King’s dream, God has a dream that all children will live in a world where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
God has a dream today.
That at Augustana, the least, the lost and the left out will be welcomed. The poor and vulnerable will be cared for. And injustice will be set right.
God has a dream. That our worship would extend beyond the walls of this sanctuary and cascade like a mighty stream into the streets, the schools, and the workplaces in the world around us.
God has a dream for you and for me and for this place.
And so, let us pray that our worship would not leave our hearts unchanged. But that they would break with the things that break the heart of God.
Let us pray that our worship would move beyond our walls, and into the world.
Let us pray that our worship will show the world God’s heart through acts of caring for our neighbor in need.
When we do that – the world will be blessed. We will be the very hands and feet of Christ – and the world will see God’s promises will come to life..
And not only that, God is truly praised. Truly worshipped. And we are set free. To live into the dream God has for us. A life that blesses the very heart of our God.
So, Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream!