“But let justice flow like water, and righteousness, like an unfailing stream.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Karl Marx is infamous (or perhaps famous depending on your perspective) for his observation that “religion is the opium of the people.” As you can perhaps guess, he wasn’t a fan of it. That disdain lives on in our culture today in a variety of places including the church on occasion. It is trendy for some churches to talk about how religion is bad, but a relationship with Jesus is good. In this passage from Amos, God seems to agree. Let’s talk about why and what’s really going on here.
“He also said in his teaching, ‘Beware of the scribes, who want to go around in long robes and who want greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and say long prayers just for show. These will receive harsher judgment.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Last night I finished watching the first (and likely only) season of the Netflix series, Cursed. It is a retelling of the legend of King Arthur focused in the first season on the character of the Lady of the Lake. It was fun seeing a new backstory of the characters I’ve read about and watched in more iterations than I can count, but one thing about the series bothered me. The writers had a pretty clear axe to grind against the church. Throughout the series, while there are several villains, the church is the chief, led by the Red Paladins whose singular mission is to ruthlessly stamp the fey people out of existence. One scene from early on in the series featured a close up of the leader of the Red Paladins talking to small child about the love of God, and then zoomed out to a scene of chaos and destruction and mutilated bodies all brought by his shock troops to an innocent fey village. The clear charge of rank hypocrisy was glaring. The attack throughout was unfair, inaccurate, and unfortunately too often entirely justified by purveyors of religion since the dawn of time. While Jesus wouldn’t have appreciated the depiction of His church in Cursed, He offers His own warning against similar excesses here that we do well not to miss.
“‘Abandoning the command of God, you hold on to human tradition.’ He also said to them, ‘You have a fine way of invalidating God’s command in order to set up your tradition!'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
We have an innate sense that we’re not enough on our own. We constantly seek out the authority of someone we deem higher than ourselves in order to give cover and justification to what we are doing. Today people tend to seek out the authority of a politician or a political movement to gain the justification they seek. In the past, God was the more likely target for such reaching. At the same time, however, we have an innate desire to be our own authority. We want to do what we want, when we want, how we want, and so on. What we want, though, doesn’t always accord with what we or the culture around us feels like we should do. We need that layer of external authority to give us cover. So, we take that authority, throw it over ourselves like a blanket, and keep doing what we want. The Pharisees were doing this and Jesus didn’t like it.
“If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, his religion is useless and he deceives himself. Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
One of the trends over the last few years when it comes to self-identifying religious preference is for folks to say they are spiritual, but not religious. This has in some ways been a partner to the rise of the “nones.” Many folks from this media darling social group don’t want to identify themselves as associated with any particular religious group, but at the same time, they don’t want to give the impression that they are claiming to be atheists. So they’ll say, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” How should Jesus followers respond to this?
“Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Religious sin is disgusting. Are you with me? There’s something about seeing people use religion as a means of committing some kind of sin that is particularly repulsive. We may not be able to give precise wording to it, but something inside of us recoils with especial revulsion when we see it. There’s just something rotten about it. Do you know what? God feels the same way. Read the rest…