Open Your Bible
Amos 5:18-27, Micah 6:1-8, Mark 12:28-34, 2 Peter 3:8-13
Over the Christmas holiday last year, my husband, kids, and I all had the flu. Instead of festive gatherings with family, we spent the week in our beds coughing, sneezing, and aching down to the marrow of our bones.
When I finally felt well enough to leave the house, I ran into a friend who told me I looked great.
“New exercise program?” she asked. She attributed my gaunt face to cardio when it was really a sign of the illness my body had endured.
In our reading today from the book of Amos, God speaks strongly against the fancy religious festivals and hollow burnt offerings of His people. Concerned with appearance rather than substance, they sought to appease God through rote religious practices, all while oppressing the innocent, taking bribes, and defrauding the poor (Amos 5:12). Things looked good. In practice, they were nothing but a smokescreen for disobedience. God calls this what it is: idolatry.
“You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god—which you made for yourselves”
—Amos 5:26 (NIV)
The gods of self, money, power, sex, and influence lead only to destruction. They may look alluring for a while or from a distance, but in the end, they will devour us. And God is not fooled by pretense, polish, or pretending: He sees all that truly is. As God reminds the prophet, Samuel, “The LORD sees the heart” (1Samuel 16:7).
Gardeners waste no time on weeds, instead simply pulling them up and throwing them away. They focus their attention on the plants they wish to see flourish. Similarly, the prophets remind us that God will prune us out of love, removing that which hinders our spiritual health and growth as well as impedes the flourishing of our neighbors. This pruning can—and will—be painful. We may sometimes wonder if it has gone too far.
Yet God’s love is a force indeed. “But let justice flow like water,” writes Amos, “and righteousness, like an unfailing stream!” (Amos 5:24). Amos reminds us that God can be trusted—and that within His divine will is the only true place of peace for us and our world.