18 Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!
Why would you have the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, and not light,
19 as if a man fled from a lion,
and a bear met him,
or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall,
and a serpent bit him.
20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?
21 “I hate, I despise your feasts,
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 peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
When I was an adolescent my parish was convulsed by a controversy over worship. The 1941 hymnal (TLH) was being replaced by the 1981 hymnal (LW.) This issue of a new hymnal had become a rhetorical stand-in for other issues which revolved around the still-simmering synodical controversies of the prior decade. On the parish level in my hometown, it played out with venom. Harsh words were spoken on all sides. Some of it was simply silly. One woman had to be reminded in a voters meeting, after tearfully pleading that her children be taught about Jesus in the original language, that neither Jesus nor Luther had in fact worshiped out of TLH or spoke King James English. My father did offer to teach her son catechism class in Greek. Some of it was frightening. The parsonage was positioned so we could see through the windows on the side of the church building. One Sunday night, after one party had stacked a voter’s meeting and won the result they had sought, I saw through those windows the silhouettes of men and women running through the church hastily pulling the now-banned books off the racks. They were restored after the next voters’ meeting. I remember the sadness of my father walking up the steps to our home in those days.
What must God have thought?
Amos spoke to the worshipping community of Israel’s north in the 8th Century BC. Their rituals were ever so correct and beautiful, but their hearts were closed to the Lord’s message of mercy, love, justice, and forgiveness. They piously prayed that God would visit his people. In this passage Amos turns their words against them. They really did not want God to come. His judgment would be inescapable for them, like a man who flees a lion only to run into a bear. God has no patience for their finely wrought worship, their musically accurate chorales, their beautifully played pipe organs, or the soulful bridge in their praise song. The angels sing better than we do anyway.
God is not after the content of our worship; he is after the heart that worships. Amos saw people attending to worship but not to the needs of their fellow human beings, the widows, orphans, and resident aliens for whom God had commanded them specifically to care. Their callousness gave evidence of a problem which no worshipful rectitude could solve. Amos utters his own prayer: Let Justice roll down like a river. It is easy enough to pray that prayer when we imagine God’s justice visiting another. But what about when that flood overwhelms my life with my petty selfishness and self-wrought ways? Amos was pleading with his people to repent. If 2023 has a message for us, this could be it: time to repent.