Amos 5:11-15, 21-24

“I despise your festivals and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.”

Is that really possible – our worship, our singing, and even our prayers can be a sin? The prophet Isaiah raises the same questions when he pictures God as saying, “I will hide my eyes from you, even though you make many prayers, I will not listen” (Isaiah 1:15). The practice of religious ritual and the appearance of religion do not come off well in scripture. Remember Christ himself criticized those who prayed publicly for show and the book of James condemns those whose supposed faith was unrelated to their everyday life.

What Amos criticizes is a religious life disconnected from one’s responsibility to care for those in need. We cannot worship God, while ignoring others in need. We cannot pray to God in truth, while living a life filled with lies. We cannot praise God with our hymns of love, while living a life filled with prejudice and hate. “Take away from me the noise of your songs,” says Amos, “but let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”

In Matthew 25 Jesus tells the parable of the last judgment where persons are separated not according to the length of their prayers, the beauty of their singing, or the amount of time they spent in worship, but rather, the sheep and the goats are separated according to how they cared for the “least of these.”

During this Lenten season let us learn the lesson of Amos: we cannot come before God without holding our brother and sister by the hand.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us when our worship speaks of devotion to you, while our lives fail to demonstrate your love for all humankind.

Tom Graves