Here is today's message from worship at Good Shepherd, based on Amos 5:18-24

I don’t know if any of you remember this commercial that was on years ago,….
a woman is complimented by a friend on the new watch she received as a gift. 
But then the woman whispers to her friend the truth: “I was hoping for a Longines”.
Longines was an expensive watch and one of the best gifts you could give

What she said in response to what seemed like a very nice gift always struck me.
It struck me as someone who was ungrateful and unappreciative for what she got.
The poor guy who gave her the watch maybe did his best to give her a good watch.
Or,….maybe he cut corners and didn’t really bother to giver her what she wanted.

Did you ever have that experience - getting something other than what you wanted?
The person who gave you the gift may have been well intentioned, but what also could be the case is that the other person’s gift was not really sincere.
They maybe made a half hearted effort that made you feel disappointed or even hurt.

There is in our reading from the prophet Amos this morning, that kind of situation.
Amos, as a recognized and accepted Old Testament prophet, speaks on behalf of God.
So what Amos says to the people is actually God himself speaking to the people.
And God says some pretty blunt things in this passage and doesn’t mince words at all.

The issue concerns God’s people who have regularly and dutifully offered gifts to God. 
Unlike the woman in the commercial who only whispered to a friend (and not the giver himself) that she was not really happy with the gift,….
in this instance God bluntly tells the people outright what he thinks of their gift.

Starting at Amos 5; verse 21, listen to what God says to them about their gifts -
“I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.  
Even though you offer me 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.”

The gifts that the people offered God were celebrations (festivals) and solemn assemblies, offerings of all sorts, songs of praise accompanied by beautiful music.
They all sound like pretty good tributes that the people are giving to God.
In fact, in other parts of the bible, God has asked for and enjoyed these kinds of things.

So what’s the big problem here?
That is implied in the following verse where God says what he wants from his people.
Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

The problem was that the people were not listening to what God said and wanted.
They did not bother to follow his wishes and to live the way that He asked them to.
And, Amos more than any prophet, reminds them of how God wants care for the poor.
So while God cares very much about the least in society, the people couldn’t care less.

So by “justice”, God means he wants what is good and what is right to happen.
Justice is all about God’s will and goodness prevailing over wrong.
And by “righteousness”, God means he wants his people to make that good happen.
What Amos and God saw was that the people were not doing good at all.

So it’d kind of be like if the woman in the commercial who received the gift of a watch,
had a man who ignored her and never listened to or paid attention to what she wanted.
Worse yet, he didn’t do things she asked of him and just did what he wanted instead.
In that case, she too might have said ‘I despise this watch and will not even look at it!’

That’s how angry God is and that is why the people’s otherwise nice gifts, are rejected.
Normally their worship festivals, songs of praise, and offerings would be appreciated.
If they were listening to and living in line with what God wanted they’d be accepted.
What God really wanted was not religious rites, but righteous actions.
What God wanted more than their joyous songs was justice in the land.
But their gifts were empty because they weren’t serious about God or what he wanted.

The point of this is that God takes very seriously his love for his people (us included).
But in that relationship he wants them (us) to love him back by doing what he wants.
Its all well and good to have a wonderful worship service and sing songs of praise.
But if His people do no more than that……then God says ‘no thanks’.
More so, God says I despise your empty gestures and pomp if you won’t do good.

Thinking of how much God loves us, let’s remember what a love relationship entails.
It’s where both parties sincerely listen to and try to do for the other.
If one ignores the other and does not do what is asked but gives gifts to mask that truth,…then we cannot blame the one being ignored to be pretty ticked off.
So ticked off that they might say ‘take this gift and……’.
No,….I’m not gonna quote a Johnny Paycheck song, but you get the idea.

God loves us, but he wants love back in the form of gifts of justice and righteousness.
True love of God is reflected in how we live and help make good happen in the world.  
That kind of love of God is really one of the best gifts we can give.
Amen.