Let Justice Roll Down

Amos 5:18-24

I write this on election day and there are a number of judges on the ballot. There’s a whole book about judges in the Bible. Justice is important to God. It is fair to say that we don’t think about it until we need it. Going to court is a scary thing — I feel fortunate in never having to appear in court for anything that concerned me personally. I have been to court to testify for a parent wanting custody of their child. I have been to court to support friends charged with minor crimes. I have even taken notes for bankruptcy and property title proceedings. I have observed, as you have, a wide variety of court proceedings on TV. As scary as it is to go to court, it is even scarier to be denied the right to go to court and be fairly judged.

In the bible we read about widows who were not allowed to appear in court and receive the inheritance that they needed. Even today, there are those in our society that are denied economic justice.

There are many places in the world where persons can be jailed and/or executed without a trial before a jury of their peers. We should be concerned when our president blusters about denying infamous suspects their day in court. If justice is denied to the those we read about in the newspapers, how long will it be before justice is denied to the rest of us?

Many people of color have a personal story of when our justice system failed them. Our country is not a level playing field. We as a people are engaged in a long march towards a time when gender, race, age, or who you fall in love with, will not effect ones freedom, opportunities, or respect in the eyes of the law.

Finally, in many states, including Pennsylvania, judges are being asked to step in and undo the mess that has been created by our partisan politics, especially as it relates to gerrymandering, campaign contributions, and the trolling of our social media. If these judges lack courage, or are swayed by their political backers, our whole democracy may be lost.

Justice matters. Not only to us, but to God. God inspired Amos to write:
“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

The context is Amos 5:18-24, where God is criticizing the way his people practice religion. He says they fill the offering plate with their tithes and they have great church festivals, but they don’t do justice. They don’t go out into the street and try to make their country a better place. They don’t get involved with the real politics of making our society more just for everyone.

Amos is irretrievably political. Even though Amos presents himself as a mere fig farmer, his message concerns the great political and economic forces of his day. He presents himself as an example of how God can use insignificant people to speak a word to the rich and powerful. He would be appalled at the way church today avoids discussing hot topics: LGBT rights, Black Lives Matter, universal healthcare, criminal justice reform, gun control, climate change, refugee resettlement, immigration, etc. Strip away social justice concerns from Amos, and you are left with a couple good one liners that carry none of the fire that inspired a simple dresser of vines to step out into the public arena. Strip away from the Bible the urgent call to work to transform our community for good, to do justice, to stand with the poor, and to be a bulwark against oppression, and you are left with the fuzzy impression that shepherds are nice people, and in America, all good boys do fine.

Martin Luther King memorial reminds us that the long march goes on.
Pentecost 27