There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in
“I hate, I despise your feasts, 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 peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” - God, Amos 5:21-24
On the holiday commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr., I have chosen to quote his famous speech – along with another famous speech which he references, the speech of the prophet Amos.
God is saying through Amos that he has come to hate and despise the way he is worshiped. Very strong language – language we would not want to hear! It is important to remember that God himself instituted the very feasts and sacrifices he now abhorred. Why could he could no longer bear them? Because they were done as a mere ritual, and not from the heart.
But the sign that our religion issues from the heart, according to this passage and others, is not simply that we feel emotional about our worship. I’m sure those of Amos’ day could feel pretty emotional about their worship – with all the food, smoke, blood, and songs, it would seem hard not to. Religion from the heart is marked, instead, by whether “justice” and “righteousness” flow from our lives like “an ever-flowing stream.” Based on Amos, this involves our treatment of others in many ethical areas, including economics, sexuality, and treatment of the underprivileged.
This thought is expressed succinctly by the Apostle John:
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20-21)
Amos is an important reminder that love is more than a feeling. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech remains an important reminder that there are plenty of people who need our love, if we are willing to open our eyes to their needs.