What images come to mind when you think of worship? Do you think of churches and pews or perhaps singing and prayers? Do you associate dancing or eating with worship? How about building or playing? There was a time when some Christians sought to worship God through self-flagellation and in the earliest days of Christianity, Romans believed Christians practiced cannibalism as a form of worship (it was Holy Communion). In the 1990’s a church in Canada gained notoriety for their belief that God blessed their worship service by giving members uncontrollable laughter.
How does one worship? And are all forms of worship equal?
The prophet Amos wades into these waters as he fixes his gaze on Israel. Amos was a contemporary of Hosea but lived further south. At this time the people of God were split into two nations, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Amos lived in Judah but was so distraught by what he saw in Israel that he crossed traveled to Israel to proclaim the message he had been given by God.
The people of Israel (the north) worshipped several gods in addition to, or instead of, Yahweh (written as the LORD in your Bible). There was El, Asherah, Anat, and Baal just to name a few. Idol worship in Israel (the north) flourished because of how people worshipped. The temple for Yahweh (the LORD) was located in Judah (the south) and the King of Israel didn’t want his people constantly traveling into Judah for worship. So, he built new temples for Yahweh in Israel. This wasn’t exactly kosher and started the king on a slippery slope. It wasn’t long before temples to other gods began popping up. If you can build a temple for Yahweh anywhere you want, why not temples to other gods too?
This became a big problem.
The worship of other gods is a direct violation of the covenant and the methods for worshipping Anat and Baal were immoral. The worship of Yahweh became unmoored from its heart and devolved into empty ritual. The people of Israel were, at best, just going through the motions, and at worst, their worship actively broke their covenantal relationship with God and with one another.
Amos had had enough.
In chapter five, Amos calls out the people of Israel saying:
- You no longer care about helping the marginalized and you’ve abandoned right relationships,
- You no longer speak truth and lies permeate your courts,
- You oppress the vulnerable with poverty and deprive the poor of their voice,
- Your worship with its offerings and music is devoid of me, if you wanted
Amos reframes worship by saying, if you want to worship me then, “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” For Amos, acting justly and pursuing right relationships with others is how we worship. Seeking justice is not part of a political agenda. Seeking justice and righteousness is to follow the ways of God. Throughout the scriptures, justice and righteousness are clear representations of God’s character and signs of God’s presence. Amos teaches us that pursuing justice for others and righteousness in our interactions is how we restore the true heart of worship.
May you worship God today in the ways you speak, share, and serve.
To learn more about Amos check out: https://bibleproject.com/explore/amos/