“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.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward with your Father in heaven.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
This past Friday we talked about righteousness. I shared some of the thoughts I had first shared with our Bible study group here a couple of days before. The conclusion then was that righteousness is a status that is given to us by Christ when we place our faith in Him. We cannot achieve it on our own, and there is nothing we can do toward that end – and especially no religious deeds – that will change that. Well, if religious deeds can’t move us in the direction of righteousness, why bother doing them? More than that, why bother with religion in the first place? Who needs the Christian religion or any other religion when what we really need is just a relationship with Jesus? This morning, let me share a few more thoughts on the purpose and value of religion in light of the truth about righteousness.
“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.
“Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. People came and asked him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the Pharisees’ disciples fast, but your disciples do not fast?'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Why do you do the things you do? While there very well may be an intentionality to some of them, can I suggest that the reason you do most of the things you do is that they are the things you do? That may sound like I’m talking in circles (I’ll chalk it up to my head still spinning from last night’s presidential debacle…I mean debate), but let me explain. You and I do most of the things we do because we are accustomed to doing them. Again, there are obvious exceptions to this, but most of our lives run on autopilot. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When we autopilot through the little things, it frees up our attention for the big ones. But if we’re not careful, we can put things in the wrong category. Let’s talk about how.