“The Day of the Lord”
One of the classes I took in seminary was called ‘Book of the Twelve,’ which is
another name for the section of the Bible that includes Amos, as well as Jonah, Micah,
and all the other prophetic books that aren’t big enough to hit someone with. And so we
worked our way through all twelve of the prophetic books in the Book of the Twelve, and
concluded the class by writing a paper and doing a project based on one passage from one
of the books.
Our passage from Amos this morning was my passage. I read about it; I had a
whole stack of books in my room all on Amos, and a folder on my computer of articles
I’d downloaded. I took copious notes, because that’s how I research, and wrote a paper,
and wrote a short story about the passage and it was a really great experience–so great, in
fact, that I had all these wonderful memories about this passage, and so I came back to it
this week and was totally shocked by how not-happy and not-hopeful it is: for Amos
himself calls the day of the Lord “darkness” and “gloom,” and that’s really all this
Amos starts by talking about the day of the Lord–in Jewish thought, this was a
similar idea to a Christian conception of Judgment Day, when Christ will return to earth
to judge and save humanity and the earth will be made new at last. Jews imagined a day
when God would return and defeat their enemies, both human and those found in natural
forces. Life would be glorious and free.
We do that too, don’t we? I have absolutely been guilty of that–everything will be
better when God comes again. And that’s not wrong or incorrect. The world will
absolutely be a better place, and I believe in that. But–Amos compares the day of the
Lord to someone who is running so hard from a chasing lion, but then they are instead
mauled by a bear–and it’s unclear whether this person was fleeing so desperately from
the lion that they didn’t see the bear, or if they had finally relaxed because they thought
they had escaped and so were taken unawares, but either way–there was this unexpected,
gut-wrenchingly deadly danger. And the day of the Lord is, too, like someone who goes
into the refuge of their home, a place of rest and safety, leans against the wall, and is
bitten by a snake.
And the theme of these stories of the day of the Lord is the unexpected danger,
relief plunged into despair and death–for “Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?”
Why does Amos describe the day of the Lord as a day of darkness and gloom, when
everyone else expected it to be a day of freedom and joy?
Amos goes on to say, speaking the word of the Lord that was given to him:
“I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24)
They had gotten God all wrong. They thought that if they said the right words, went
to the right festivals and made the right sacrifices on the right days, than they would be
good to go–the day of the Lord would be a day of reckoning for their enemies, but not for
them, because they did everything right and they understood God perfectly and they did
every single thing they were supposed to do.
We all know how that went–within a hundred years the people had been scattered
across the Near East, their nation had been shattered and the Temple destroyed. They
were not good to go–this was a time when the prophets cried out for the sake of the
workers who were being cheated, the people who were being unjustly enslaved, the
tenants who were being evicted or charged untenable rents.
The people cannot divorce their lives from their worship–we cannot worship God
well when our lives are full of cruelty and lies and willful forgetfulness–they cannot say
that their down-to-the-letter perfect worship wipes out every terrible thing they did before
they came to worship, not when their hearts remain the same and they do not change.
They try–they are convinced that they have done it–but, if they do not change, they are
This is a hard thing to preach. Where is the line between grace and judgment? I
don’t know how to distinguish between them here, because we all come to worship
having sinned. We have all lied and cheated and just sinned this past week. We were not
perfect before we came to worship. And God’s grace reaches out to us in the midst of
that. We are forgiven.
But still we are called to be better than we were–to let our worship bleed into our
lives, to let the words we say together as our liturgy and the hymns we sing and the truths
we confess influence how we live between Sunday and Sunday. We are called to love one
another, to let God’s love be visible to others through us.
And maybe the difference isn’t that we worship better, or even live better–the
difference is what we have faith in. The Israelites had faith in their worship, that if they
just followed the rules and did worship just right then they would be saved. We are called
to believe in more than worship; we are called to believe in Jesus Christ our Savior, and
then let that belief wash through the rest of our lives, into every nook and cranny so that
we reflect God’s love into the world.
And so let us be the people we are called to be–people who trust in God our
Savior, and people who love the Lord our God with all our hearts and all our minds and
all our strength, and people who therefore love those around them.
“The Day of the Lord”