Amos 1:1-2; 5:14-15, 21-24
(watch here: https://youtu.be/AQlNU3PWQe4)
The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of King Uzziah of Judah and in the days of King Jeroboam son of Joash of Israel, two years before the earthquake.
2 And he said:
The Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds wither,
and the top of Carmel dries up. 14 Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said. 15 Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. 21 I hate, I despise your festivals, 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 offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
In just a couple weeks, many of us will be gathering with friends and family to give thanks for all the blessings God has bestowed on us in the last year. Some of us received more than others. Some of us lost more than others. But all of us received some type of blessing if only another year of life itself. If you’re alive this Thanksgiving, you’ve been blessed. And before we can give God our thanks, we must reflect on what exactly it is we are giving God our thanks. How has God blessed us this last year? How has He allowed us to survive another year? How has He blessed our shared ministry? How has He strengthened and enriched it? How has He helped us to discern how to be the body of Christ for a world that desperately needs the love of God? A lot has changed in our world since last November, either globally, nationally, or locally. What gifts has God blessed us with to be able to adapt to all the changes? What gifts have brought joy into our lives? I could go on but I think you get the idea. Before we can give adequate thanks on the 23rd of this month, we must first reflect on all of God’s blessings over the last year.
Once we’ve counted all our blessings, we can go to God with grateful hearts and eager to give him our thanks and praise. How we give our thanks varies from family to family, person to person. Some of us like to give God thanks by lifting a blessing or two during the prayer before the Thanksgiving feast. Some of us like to sit in silent prayer, allowing our hearts to speak to God. Some of us like to simply bask in all the frivolity of the day, whether in the parades or football games or food or games or conversations or whatever it is that enriches the day. Some of us like to give to our neighbors by donating items or helping at the local soup kitchen. Some of us like to give God thanks by getting a head start on the Black Friday shopping. Perhaps that is a little stretch but I suppose spending money and putting it to use pleases God to some degree. Some of us like to attend a worship service where we gather with others to give our thanks through word and song. There are a variety of ways to give God thanks, neither one more effective than the other.
That is not to say that they all actually give God the thanks He deserves. None of those ways of giving thanks mean anything without a thankful heart. None of those ways mean anything unless we first realize that all that we have is a gift from God. Without God’s boundless grace and mercy, we would have nothing. We wouldn’t have that feast without money and we would have money without the ability to work or know people with money, both of which are gifts of God. We wouldn’t have time for prayer or worship without God. We wouldn’t have family and friends without God. We wouldn’t have neighbors without God. We wouldn’t even have Black Friday without God, believe it or not! We must give thanks with a thankful heart. We must give thanks with an aware heart. We must give thanks with a selfless heart.
The prophet Amos condemned the people of Israel for thinking they can get away with giving God thanks without thankful hearts. They had become a wicked people. Whenever they came to God with their thanksgiving, they came with selfish hearts. They came looking to get something out of it. They came thinking that it was their duty and responsibility to worship God and give him their thanks. They didn’t worship with glad hearts. They worshipped with grudging hearts. They worshipped because they were told they had to worship, not because they wanted to worship. They worshipped with empty hearts. Of course this greatly displeased God. He could see into their hearts and saw they were wicked. He had Amos proclaim, “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 them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.” God was angry, God was furious. Why? Because the Israelites were faking their worship. They weren’t thankful. They were fearful. They were spiteful. They were clever. They were a people not able to give God adequate thanks and praise. And God saw right through it. God saw right into their hearts and saw nothing good. Our God is a God of truth. Our God is a God of righteousness. Our God is a God justice. Our God is not easily fooled. Indeed, our God is never fooled. We are fools to believe we can pull a fast one on God. God couldn’t care less about what we do. He’s more concerned with why we do what we do. He’s more interested in what motivates us to act the way we act.
Amos goes on to proclaim his most recognizable judgment: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” The imagery is powerful, unique among all of God’s judgments through the prophets. As we discussed in our Bible study earlier in the week, Amos’ use of waters and streams is particularly effective because they suggest a relentlessness. God examines our hearts relentlessly. God is relentless in helping our hearts pursue what is right and good. God wants us to act righteous and justly and He knows we can only act this way with righteous and just hearts. So He sets about working on our hearts first and foremost. Our acts reflect our hearts anyway. Our God is nothing if not efficient. He finds the quickest way to get the results He wants.
As we enter this season of Thanksgiving, let us heed the wisdom of Amos and work to nurture grateful, thankful hearts. God is pleased by our thanks and praise but only if we have the right hearts. Let us “seek good and not evil…love good and hate evil” as Amos advised earlier in our passage. It is when we seek and love what is good that God blesses us. Let us go to God having counted our blessings. God knows how He has blessed us and He wants us to know too. It’s the only way we can give him sufficient praise and thanksgiving. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.