Figuring Out the Plumbing
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” – Amos 5:21-24
When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. turned to the Bible to find God’s word for his tumultuous time, he often turned to Amos, one of Israel’s 12 “Minor Prophets.” Israel’s prophets weren’t soothsayers, predicting the future in some 8th–century National Enquirer. Instead they provided the ethical framework for their nation, calling the people back to God’s way.
Amos set the standard. When God’s word came to the farmer of Tekoa, it was a good time for many. But prosperity and peace were just a veneer over the abyss between rich and poor, as the righteous were “sold for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals.” The prophet railed against those who “trampled the head of the poor into the dust and pushed the afflicted out of the way.”
Amos does not make for easy reading, because he did not live in an easy time. But he also offered his people a vision of what God truly wanted from them. “Let justice roll down like waters,” he proclaimed, “and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Israel needed this “minor” prophet in Amos’ time. We needed Amos in Rev. King’s time, and our nation needs him now. The specifics may have changed from 3000 years ago, or even 50. In the words of Rev. William Sloane Coffin, “The prophet’s job is to proclaim ‘Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. Our job is to figure out the plumbing.'”
That’s still our job–as people of faith and as citizens of this nation. May we, too, envision Amos’ mighty stream of justice and righteousness, and may we have the courage and commitment to figure out the plumbing.
Thank you, Lord, for Amos’ mighty vision. Help us to make it real.
Talitha Arnold is Senior Minister of the United Church of Santa Fe (UCC), Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is the author of Mark Part 1 and Mark Part 2 of the Listen Up! Bible Study series and Worship for Vital Congregations.