Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"Let Justice Roll Down"

Amos 5: 18-24;  9:13-15

Psalm 99: 1-5

On this Independence Day weekend, we celebrate our liberties as Americans, and remember the

battles fought to achieve and preserve those liberties we all hold dear.  We honor and give thanks

for the vision of our forebears who codified a form of government; a part of its role being to protect

our rights and allow us to live as free people in a free and sovereign nation.  And not to live only as

free people, but to live as equal people; pursuit of happiness and opportunity, fairness and justice

applied equally to all; whatever their skin color; whatever their ethnicity; whatever their religious  

faith, or not; whatever their gender or sexual identity; whatever their age or worldly condition. 

These we have believed and held dear for 244 years are not simply governing principles, but God-

inspired principles, their character no less than sacred and eternal.

       On this Independence Day weekend, like most all of us, I’m thinking a lot about freedom, and  

what it means to us of dual citizenship; as citizens of the United States of America; as citizens of the

Kingdom of God.  Over the past three months, so many of our day-to-day freedoms as American

citizens have been limited or curtailed by threat of COVID19.  We’ve not been free to assemble,

including for public worship.  We’ve not been as free to travel about.  We’ve not been free to visit

loved ones in hospitals and nursing homes.  Teachers and students haven’t been free to enter their

classrooms.  Millions have not been free to enter their workplaces and earn a living. In some places,

folks weren’t free to leave their homes or communities.   

      And on this Independence Day weekend, many of us are thinking a lot about freedom beyond

the day-to-day to the larger threats to and infringements on freedom and liberty which are institutional

and ingrained in our very culture.  With the senseless murder of George Floyd – yet another in a long string

of such gross injustice and inhumanity – our nation has been reawakened to the bigger picture; to injustices,

inequalities and inhumanities we’ve struggled with as a nation for pretty much every one of these 244 years

of this grand and glorious national experiment.  Along much of the way, we’ve conveniently shut our eyes and

stopped our ears, pretending everything was just fine.  The prophet Jeremiah cried out against the oppressive

authorities of his day:  “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly; saying ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”

  Over twenty-five centuries later, Robert Lamm of the pop music group Chicago expressed similar frustration

in a song called “Dialogue,” He reflected on the blind eye turned by our nation - including by our rank and file  citizens --

toward the racial and social injustices of the 60’s and 70’s.  He and Peter Cetera dialogue: “Are you optimistic ‘bout the way

things are going?  No, I never ever think of it at all.  Don’t you ever worry when you see what’s going down? 

Well, I try to mind my business, that is no business at all.” 

      If we’ve learned anything so far in this year 2020 [a year which will go down in history, and which

is only halfway over], it’s that we can’t keep saying peace, peace, when there is no peace.  We can try

to mind our business, and ignore the unjust and inequitable systems we’re all a part of.  But I think

we’re coming to a point of realization, and I pray serious national reckoning, on what it means to be

free and equal; as citizens of the United States; as citizens of the Kingdom God; as members of faith

communities which are called in this age to bring a prophetic word of conviction and a vision of hope. 

       Such a word is available to us in the book of Amos.  Amos was himself rank and file; a citizen of

Judea from a southern town called Tekoa where he was a sheep herder and fig farmer.  Unlike Jeremiah

who wrote centuries later, Amos prophesied during a time of relative peace, even prosperity.  Yet beneath

a thin veneer of nationalism, religiosity, and collective pride, Amos witnessed daily the oppression of the poor

and the inhumane treatment of the most vulnerable of society.  He saw in both the Northern Kingdom of Israel

and in his own Southern Kingdom of Judah growing economic and social injustice.  All the while, the political

and religious leadership of the time heaped praise upon themselves for their rituals and practices, giving the

appearance of righteousness; even as they figuratively knelt on the necks of those who cried out for help and relief.

  And the people walked by with their eyes shut and ears stopped, joining the leaders declaring peace when there was none;

in effect trying to mind their business, which was no business at all.

      Amos’ warning to the people of his time was that the Lord was about to break out against this

inequality, injustice, inhumanity.  One could argue how or even if the Lord breaks out against such

things.  In Amos’ mind, there was no question.  He warned that there would be enemies, domestic

and foreign, who would possess then destroy the land; its inhabitants carried off and forced to live in

exile.  There would be blight and famine; plague and pestilence.  Even the songs of the temple would

become “wailings in that day,” and the ritual sacrifices of the priests would be as nothing before the

Lord.  In short, those who held the people in bondage – those who denied the basic human freedoms

of what we in these United States call life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – would themselves be

possessed and held in bondage. 

      The passage we read at the top of this message from chapter 5 of Amos is directed to those who

held religious and political offices.  Their sin was, in part, their semblance of holiness and righteousness

expressed through their religious rituals, and their alleged desire for God’s appearance in the long-awaited Messiah.

  In reality, they were abusing those whom they were charged to care for, and held them in bondage through

religious rule and regulation; enriching themselves while the struggles of the poor and those without voice were

suppressed or ignored.  Centuries later, Jesus – that promised Messiah -- made this observation about these

types of leaders right to their faces:  “For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look

beautiful, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”  Amos warns that the last thing these

leaders want to encounter is the coming day of the Lord, for it would be a day of judgment.  They would not be

commended for their devotion, but condemned for their dastardly behavior.  They could stand in front the temple all

day long with a scroll of God’s word held aloft, but such shows of piety would be of no benefit, for

God looks upon the heart. 

      Then Amos offers an end game and a remedy:  “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness

like an ever flowing stream.”  We need to appreciate the power of these words.  Amos is not saying permit or

allow justice to roll down, as if it would be the leaders’ choice to do so or not. In the Hebrew syntax, we’re given the

sense that justice will roll down by God’s decree, not by the decree of human agency.  And when it does, it will be as

unstoppable as any washout, any flood, any tsunami.  When water is flowing downward, it cannot be dammed or held back.

  Think of Niagara Falls as that overflowing stream.  Such will be the justice and righteousness of the Almighty;

an unrelenting and unwavering force which will wash away all in its path.

      In these days leading up to this Independence Day weekend, I think we’re seeing this force at

work in America in ways we’ve not witnessed since the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.  Perhaps

we’re experiencing a perfect stormlong-simmering political unrest and division; the COVID crisis

and its effect on our freedoms; the killing of George Floyd by someone whose job it was to serve and

protect.  When freedom, justice, equality, fairness, righteousness are violated over and over again,

then met with indifference, cynical skepticism, just a generally meh attitude, the levee will break.   

Under the pressure of that perfect storm, the levee has broken, and the urgent demand for justice

and righteousness are rolling down on the streets of every major city in America, and many smaller

cities too.  And that ever flowing stream will not stop until the pain of those in bondage is not only

heard and acknowledged, but dealt with according to the very Constitution upon which this nation

and its freedoms and liberties were founded, for all of us, from the least to the greatest. For if any

one of us is a victim of injustice, we all are.  If any one of us is a victim of inequality, we all are.  If

any one of us is held in captivity, we all are.  This is why we are compelled to speak out in support of

and stand with the least and last, as citizens of the United States; as citizens of the Kingdom of God. 

For in both, they are us, and we are them.

      The ultimate outcome of the outpouring of God’s justice and righteousness – and let us be part

of that ever flowing stream – is restoration, after an overturning of the order of things in our broken

world.  We’ll close on this God-inspired vision of Amos as He sees the other side of that “day of the

Lord,” when light finally and forever dispels the darkness, and brightness overcomes gloom.  While

Amos’ historical context was the restoration of Israel, may it be for us a prophetic word for America.

It’s a vision of both restoration and liberation.  “The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when the

one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps, and the treader of grapes the one who sows the

seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.  I will restore the fortunes

of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant

vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.  I will plant them

upon their land, and they shall never again be plucked up out of the land that I have given them,

says the Lord your God.”  Amen.