Rev. Katherine Todd
Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!
Why do you want the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, not light;
as if someone fled from a lion,
and was met by a bear;
or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,
and was bitten by a snake.
Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?
I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
This Psalm is like a breath of fresh air because it speaks the angst and anger in our souls. It speaks to the pain and sorrows we bear. It speaks to our lament and loss.
I have wanted to relate to this Psalm much less than I do.
But in fact, this Psalm has more often than not felt right in line with the prayers and cries of my heart. So many times I’ve needed to cry out honestly to God, “How long, O Lord!? How long?”
But the turning point in this Psalm comes when the Psalmist writes, “But I trusted in your steadfast love. My heart shall rejoice in your salvation.” Even while he is in the midst of pain and sorrow… Even while he feels God’s face has turned away from him… Even before God answers his cries… The Psalmist returns to truth and praise.
I cannot tell you how many times this re-framing of life has in fact saved my life. I don’t know about you, but there are caverns of my mind and heart in which I can lose myself. As a minister, I choose to walk alongside others, in deepest valleys and highest mountaintops. As an empathetic person, I feel the pain and suffering of those around me. And in times like these, when the whole world is lamenting the needless and tragic loss of unarmed black men and women in particular, I feel the heaviness of hearts around me.
And I believe we are called to walk with one another in these heights and depths. As Presbyterians in particular, we affirm the “priesthood of all believers.” This means that we believe each one of us has a calling to minister to one another. And though each of us does it in a different way, we are all filled with God’s Spirit, and we are all given this heavenly calling of ministering, one to another.
But as we walk alongside one another, as we journey through the heights and the depths, we need to remain grounded in God’s word, in God’s truth.
For me, this has meant an intentional returning to scripture, an intentional remembering of scripture, an intentional choice to believe God’s word over my own feelings, over my own fears, over my own despair or anxieties. God’s word has been grounding.
And so when I am tempted to think God has forsaken me, I remember Psalm 139 – in which the Psalmist proclaims that there is no where he can go, where God will not be!
And when I am tempted to believe that God does not regard me, I remember Jesus’ teaching of the lilies of the valley and the birds of the air – how they do not reap or sow but how God clothes and feeds them, and how we are of more worth to God than many sparrows. I remember God’s words through Psalm 63, “For you are precious in my sight, and I love you.”
When I am tempted to despair that the future will be brighter than the past, I recall Jeremiah 29:11 – ‘”For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a future of hope.”’
Story after story in the Bible, Psalm after Psalm, God’s Word through prophet and all creation continues to speak into my life and the lives of those around me – grounding and re-framing our experiences. And at this particular moment of our national history, I am moved by the verses we read from Amos. In Amos, God is rebuking the people for their evil ways. God goes so far as to say God despises their festivals, will not accept their sacrifices, and will not listen to their songs.
Now you would think God was talking to a pagan people or something – people who were singing falsehood or worshiping an idol, but in fact God is speaking to God’s own chosen people. Their sacrifices, their solemn assemblies, their praise are all worthless,… without justice.
Read Amos 5:18-24 again.
Can you hear God speaking to us here and now, through this Old Testament prophet?
We as a church body ask that God’s will may be done. We pray that God’s Kingdom will come. We sing aloud. We offer tithes and offerings. We celebrate special holy days and seasons. But none of this is pleasing to God and God will in fact no accept these offerings and songs, UNLESS they are accompanied with justice.
And this is not a token act of justice. God says, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Our worship, our words, our proclamations, our giving,…none of it amounts to anything, without justice. For our actions matter more. How we treat one another matters more. And justice is not a one-time event. We are to let justice roll down like waters. Waters that roll down are unstoppable. They cannot be contained. We are to let righteousness be an ever flowing stream -ever flowing! These waters of righteousness and goodness, justice and truth, are to flow like waters, on and on and on! THAT is what is pleasing to God. THAT is an offering God accepts. THAT is true worship – worship with our lives, worship with our actions, worship with our policies, our politics, our votes, our civic responsibility.
So as we come before God this day…
As we stand before one another this day…
As we cry out to God, “How long, O Lord!?”…
As we walk alongside those for whom tears have been their food night and day…
May WE do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
May WE labor and love that justice might roll down like the waters.
May WE invite God into the sacred and the secular, the personal and the political, because the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it; there is no place where we can go that God will not be. And our God calls us to be people of justice.
So BEFORE we see the fruit of our love and labors…
BEFORE we see righteousness cover our communities…
BEFORE justice rolls down like the waters…
BEFORE we see God’s deliverance…
We will remember God’s steadfast love. We give God our thanks and praise, for our God has dealt bountifully with us. We rejoice in God’s deliverance. For though we do not yet see that for which we hope and cry out, we trust that our God is faithful, our God is able, our God is just, and our God is loving. And so we hang our heads in the hands of the One who loves us better than we can even love ourselves.
“Holy Spirit, move within us, stir us and send us like the wind, that we might will and work for your good pleasure – that justice may indeed cover the earth, rolling down like the mighty waters. Amen.”
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE (St. Francis)
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.