Emmanuel Baptist Church
275 State St. Albany, NY 12210
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|A Welcoming and Affirming Congregation||
Minister: Rev. Kathy J. Donley
Practicing Peace and Justice
Rev. Lois Wolff
Scripture Lesson: Amos 5:14-15, 24
1 John 2:7-17
Amos was a sheep farmer, not a priest.
Yet God called him to prophesy.
And although we don’t know a whole lot about him –
certainly not enough to write a factual biography –
we do know that he was called to prophesy to the southern kingdom
though he was from the northern kingdom.
So he was foreign, a rural called to prophesy to the city,
and used to rough living, not the relative luxury
of those he was called to prophesy to.
Biblical prophecy isn’t concerned with predicting the future;
it’s much more concerned with how God’s people live in the present.
“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”
This is a rolling down of waters, a veritable waterfall of justice!
This isn’t a “trickle down” at all!
We do know that Amos’s time was one in which there were just a few
in Israel that were fabulously wealthy,
and most were poor.
And Amos came with a message of woe to the rich, because
what is paramount about society in Israel is injustice.
Martin Luther King, Jr., whom we remember this weekend, wrote
in his letter from a Birmingham jail that
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
I can’t imagine justice trickling down from on high
to bless those beneath.
It’s not a soft spring shower,
but a torrent of living water flowing on forever.
Where does injustice come from,
and what are the dynamics that cause it?
According to Amos, there are three major dynamics involved:
Those with power and wealth treat others as things, objects.
They aren’t seen as human beings,
brothers and sisters, children of God.
It’s much easier to dismiss people whom we don’t see as people
than those for whom we have empathy and compassion.
This is what led even our own countrypeople
to look on slaves – male slaves anyway –
as equal to only 2/3 a human being.
Although I don’t think they ever quantified it,
they also managed to look on non-slave women as less than
It is what allows people anywhere to torture other human beings.
Once we look on another human as a brother or sister,
as a child of God as we are,
it’s much harder to mistreat them.
The second dynamic is exploitation.
If we depersonalize the other, the next thing we do
is use them for our advantage.
Perhaps the two most common forms of exploitation
are economic and sexual:
exploitation of the poor, and of women by men,
homosexuals by heterosexuals.
And the third dynamic, Amos tells us, is religiosity.
Those with power and wealth not only hurt the poor,
but they assume that God blesses them
(and only them – certainly not the poor!).
Their very wealth, after all, signals God’s blessings.
Religiosity isn’t religion or spirituality,
but the conviction that we and only we are blessed,
that we and only we have God’s full truth.
It’s useless for Israel – or for us -- to turn to religious practices
in the face of injustice in the land.
Instead, the people need to turn away from acts of injustice:
“Seek the Lord and live … Hate evil and love good …
establish justice in the gate.”
“Let justice roll down like water …”
Water is LIFE.
Especially for a desert people, an “everflowing stream” is rather a miracle!
And since it “rolls down”, not “trickles down”,
this life-giving water is for all,
not only for the rich and powerful.
Dr. King had words for those who seek justice:
The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until
the bright day of justice emerges … But there is something that I must say to my
people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In
the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds.
Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of
bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of
dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into
physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of
meeting physical force with soul force.
What sometimes gets lost in our national celebration of Dr. King’s legacy
is his unwavering commitment to nonviolent activism and to global peace,
which grew out of his lifelong commitment to Jesus Christ,
Prince of Peace and bearer of overwhelming grace.
In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. King expressed it this way:
I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.
Unarmed truth and unconditional love.
Just as without justice there is no peace,
and without peace there is no justice,
so also there is no peace without love.
Jesus gave his command to his disciples to love one another
the night before he died:
A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you so you must
love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you
love one another. [John 13:34-35]
And the author of the first letter of John reminds us of Jesus’ commandment.
Listen to his words, from 1 John 2:7-17:
[Read 1 John 2:7-17]
Where love reigns, depersonalization, exploitation, and religiosity are impossible.
Where love reigns, peace is possible.
Peace isn’t a negative, the absence of armed conflict.
As Dr. King said,
Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by
which we arrive at that goal.
Peace is not easy – peace is not for wimps!
LOVE is not for wimps!
But this is what we are called to:
justice, peace, love.
Justice, peace, and love demand practice, every day, all day.
The call comes with our baptism,
and with the call comes promise:
“Behold, I am with you always … to the end of the age.”