Sunday’s sermon: If Water is Essential, Then …

Text used – Amos 1:1-2; 5:14-15, 21-24

  • Water is essential.
    • Essential to our planet
      • Supports cell structure for every living thing
      • Polarity of water molecules necessary for all sorts of other chemical reactions that are happening all the time
      • Required for photosynthesis
      • We’ve seen just how crucial water is as we’ve experienced drought conditions in so many parts of the country. → according to the National Integrated Drought Information System: 40.25% of the U.S. and 48% of the lower 48 states are in drought this week (Nov. 3-9) which puts 30 states in the “moderate drought” category and affects nearly 80 million people[1]
    • Essential to our bodies
      • Helps regulate temperature
      • Protects tissues, spinal cord, and joints
      • Hugely elemental part of our blood
        • Plasma = 90% water
      • Human body can survive more than a month without food but can’t even make it 3 days without water
    • Essential to our faith
      • God created water in the very beginning first light, then water
      • People of Israel’s deliverance through water
        • First in infant Moses being plucked from water of the Nile
        • Then in their final escape from Pharaoh’s army across at the Red Sea
      • Life-giving and welcoming water of baptism that brings us into the family of faith usher us into the promise of life eternal
      • Jesus calls himself and the salvation he brings the Living Water
        • Water that quenches all thirst forevermore
        • Water that cannot and will not run dry
    • I don’t think anyone would argue that water is not Water is such an essential element to life that, in its quest for extraterrestrial life, NASA’s motto is “follow the water.” Water is essentiual. Water is essential. Keep that in mind as we talk about Amos and our Scripture passage this morning.
  • Background for Amos
    • Scholars in unanimous agreement that Amos is the chronologically the earliest of the prophetic books of the First Testament – Rev. Dr. Donald Gowan (biblical scholar and prof. emeritus of Old Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary): As such, it marks the beginning of a unique tradition in the history of religion: prophecies of the approaching end of the existence of God’s people based upon God’s judgment of them for failing to live according to the divine standards.[2]
    • Not part of our particular reading today, but Amos is also the only one of the prophets to include prophecies against foreign nations as well (chs. 1-2): Damascus, Gaza and the Philistines, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab in addition to his prophecies against both Israel and Judah
    • Historical and cultural setting of the book itself
      • Directly from Amos’ own words
        • Amos = a shepherd: one of the shepherds of Tekoa (near Bethlehem)
        • Text: He perceived these things concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, in the days of Judah’s King Uzziah and in the days of Israel’s King Jeroboam, Joash’s son.[3] dates the book of Amos around 760-750 B.C.E.
          • Earthquake that Amos refers to (from Donald Gowan’s work): The earthquake must have been severe, since [Zechariah] 14:5, written several hundred years later, refers to it. Evidence for substantial earthquake damage at Hazor [the largest archaeological mound in Israel], which excavators have dated to 760 B.C.E., correlates well with other evidence for the dates of Amos.[4]
    • And really, that’s all we know about the history behind the book of Amos. As far as we can tell from the text of the book itself, the nations of Israel and Judah are experiencing a period of relative peace and prosperity, though from the witness of history, we know that time won’t last much longer. But that presumed context allows us to also guess that Amos’ words of what is to come – the coming judgment and fall of the nations – was a less-than-popular message.
      • From the introduction to Amos in the Common English Bible study Bible: The basic message is that Israel (the northern kingdom) will come to an end as a nation, even though it has had a favored place in God’s plan. Amos was a stern advocate for justice and righteousness, but he found Israel full of injustice and oppression.[5]
  • Justice and righteousness … injustice and oppression. And so we come to the crux of the matter. – wholly and fully the point of today’s text
    • First portion of ch. 5 = Amos’ call to the people to justice and righteousness – his reminder to them that that is what God desires: Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of heavenly forces, will be with you just as you have said. Hate evil, love good, and establish justice at the city gate. Perhaps the Lord God of heavenly forces will be gracious to what is left of Joseph.[6]  Good … not evil. Good … not evil. Amos is pretty clear, right? Seek good, not evil. Hate evil, love good.
      • Really important element in the Heb. here that we can’t miss: Heb. “seek” = more than just simply finding something but also includes this element of caring for what you’re seeking – of remaining involved with and invested in what you’re seeking
        • Not the kind of seeking that my 3yo does when she’s looking for a toy, finds it, plays with it for 2 mins., then decides she wants to find something else to play with or something else to do
        • Heb. word used specially to mean “worship” This is a seeking and finding and treasuring. Seeking and finding and entrusting. Seeking and finding and enduring. This is the way Amos tells the people to pursue good. This is the way Amos tells us to pursue good.
      • Interestingly, as pointed and specific as the word for “seek” is, the Hebrew word for “good” is oppositely broad and all-encompassing. – Heb. “good” = all kinds of good: welfare, joy, kindness, sweetness, graciousness, ethically good and enjoyably good There are many ways to “seek good.” There are many forms that that “good” can take. But it’s clear what God desires from us. We are to seek after and dedicate ourselves to what is blessed and kind and good.
    • Second portion of ch. 5 = Amos calling out the people In this time of relative peace and prosperity, the people’s worship has become extravagantly empty. It is lavish and grandiose but for the benefit of the opinions of others, not God. Clearly, this must be the case because even while the people continue to frequent the sanctuaries and offer the sacrifices, they also continue to fail to seek good and not evil. To put it colloquially, they are talking the talk, but they are not walking the walk. And through Amos, God makes it clear that this sort of empty worship is unacceptable. – text: I hate, I reject your festivals; I don’t enjoy your joyous assemblies. If you bring me your entirely burned offerings and gifts of food – I won’t be pleased; I won’t even look at your offerings of well-fed animals. Take away the noise of your songs; I won’t listen to the melody of your harps.[7]
      • Dr. Charles L. Aaron, Jr. (Assoc. Professor of Supervised Ministry at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas): [This passage] presents a devastating critique of the worship of the people of Israel. The critique does not comment on the form of worship, but rather that worship had no connection to the treatment of people within the society. The people who come to worship allow/commit the injustices condemned [earlier in the text]. The worship itself may have followed the proper procedure … Nevertheless, the oracle proclaims that the Lord will not respond to or accept the worship. … The injustices of society have repulsed the divinity, who will not engage in what should be the mutual joy of worship.[8]
  • And then, in the face of this rebuke, we hear the words of Amos that are probably the most well-known – text: But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.[9]  Remember what we affirmed at the beginning of the sermon: Water is essential. Essential to the function and continuation of life on our planet. Essential to the function and continuation of life within our bodies. Essential to the function and continuation of our life of faith. Water is essential. And here’s God, through Amos, calling for justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Justice like waters. Justice like waters. Justice like waters. So if water is essential … then so is justice.
    • Amos makes this point abundantly clear
    • God makes this point abundantly clear
    • But in society – in our country and our world and even in our faith today – these waters have been muddied beyond recognition.
      • More than 37 million people in the U.S. lived below the poverty line in 2020[10] wealth gap between the wealthy and the impoverished has been steadily growing for years
        • All of the other essential parts of living that are affected by poverty: nutrition, adequate housing/homelessness, education, medical care/insurance, child care … the list goes on and on.
        • Also encompasses the economic injustice of the wage gap
          • Men paid more than women
          • White people paid more than people of color
          • Citizens paid more than immigrants
          • the list goes on.
      • Environmental injustice
        • Despite all the talk that happens in places like Washington, D.C. and at conferences like the one happening in Scotland right now, carbon emissions are far from “in check,” causing the global temperature to continue rising to catastrophic levels
        • Plastic in our oceans = growing problem
          • 5.25 trillion macro and micro pieces of plastic in our oceans today 46,000 pieces in every square mile 269,000 tons
          • Great Pacific Garbage Patch (giant floating mass of plastic in the middle of the ocean) = 1.6 million square kilometers (bigger than the state of Texas)
          • U.S. alone contributes 38 million tons of plastic to the oceans every year
          • More than 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals are killed by plastic pollution every year
      • Injustice against our neighbors We live in a time when violence against non-white people, against non-Christian people, against non-straight and non-gender-conforming people is distressingly high. The amount of hate and anger and prejudice expressed openly in society – accepted openly in society – is appalling.
    • And friends, clearly all of this injustice is not the way of God. There is nothing good about it. There is nothing loving about it. There is nothing kind about it. There is nothing hopeful about it. There is nothing of God in it. “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” If water is essential, then so is justice. Amen.

[1] https://www.drought.gov/current-conditions.

[2] Donald E. Gowan. “The Book of Amos: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 7. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 339.

[3] Amos 1:1.

[4] Gowan, 352.

[5] J. Andrew Dearman. “Amos: Introduction” from The CEB Study Bible. (Nashville: Common English Bible, 2013), 1454 OT.

[6] Amos 5:14-15.

[7] Amos 5:21-23.

[8] Charles L. Aaron, Jr. “Commentary on Amos 1:1-2; 5:14-15, 21-24” from Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/amos-justice-rolls-down/commentary-on-amos-11-2-514-15-21-24-3.

[9] Amos 5:24.

[10] https://www.statista.com/statistics/233138/number-of-people-living-below-the-poverty-in-the-us/.

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