The Landscape of Liturgy: The Prophet Amos, Fury and Haikus


Pilgrims is following the Narrative Lectionary right now and one of the texts in the fall was Amos 1:1-2, 5:14-15, 21-24. In my sermon, I focused on Amos' fury about the people disconnecting righteousness with their liturgy. Amos, speaking on behalf of God, hates the hypocrisy he sees with the people's liturgy and ritual actions. 

In our service, I invited people to write their own haikus based on what makes them furious when they look out into the world. 

Here's how I set it up: 

Excerpt from my sermon: 

Amos walked into Bethel and stood in the Tradition—and awakened people from their religious coma using God-talk, unmasking their use of worship and ritual.

Amos proclaimed “Remember not the former things nor consider the things of old. Behold I am doing a new thing.”

This was the new things of old.

Throughout the Book of Amos, the prophet asked in-your-face questions to God’s people, turning their assumptions Upside Down:

What if Israel is just like the other nations? What is Israel, the nation, isn’t alive at all, but dead?What if Passover happened again but Israel is the first-born of Egypt? What if the Day of Yahweh turns out to be the night of Yahweh?

Amos had to disrupt that familiar God language with the heavy reminder of their vocation as God’s people--Seek good, not evil that you may live. Hate evil, love good, and establish justice at the city gate.

Amos connected the ancient purpose of God’s people with a radical critique of their worship and rituals:

I hate, I reject your festivals;
    I don’t enjoy your joyous assemblies.
 If you bring me your entirely burned offerings and gifts of food—
        I won’t be pleased;
    I won’t even look at your offerings of well-fed animals.
Take away the noise of your songs;
        I won’t listen to the melody of your harps.

As Amos’ saw things, the people had been gathering for liturgy that had nothing to do with God’s covenant of liberation. Amos proclaimed that Israel’s worship was a sham.

True worship, said Amos, shows a real relationship with God that will transform a community’s relationship with Creation, the land and its people, a transformation towards liberation.

Worship must guide Israel in the constant work of doing good, building right relationships, doing justice, fulfilling obligations to care for self and Creation and God, loving God, loving self, loving neighbor.

Worship, Amos unleashed, must proclaim righteousness and justice; righteousness being right and equitable relationships no matter the social differences. Justice being concrete actions that a community takes to correct injustice and create righteousness.

Since justice and righteousness must permeate all of life, justice and righteousness must be at the center of Israel’s worship.

Worship and justice must be in harmony with each other Amos prophetically declares, in order that the work of justice be part of the people, like a heartbeat, like the rhythm of our collective breath, like water of a rushing river filling a dry riverbed in the desert.

Amos was fed up, he couldn’t take the kingship of Jeroboam II and the kingdom’s religious elite anymore. With poetic, liturgical language, Amos turned Israel’s God-talk, assumptions, religious structures upside down to cut through the crap and restore Israel to their task of loving neighbor, loving God, loving self.  

What can’t you take anymore?

Amos was a shepherd and a farmer whose vocation called him to observe the landscape around him.

When you look around, what  you are furious about? What injustices make your lifeblood boil?

What structures around you are a total sham, violate the call to love self, Creation, and neighbor?

What needs turned upside down? Is it that someone can have a history of violence, buy a gun, walk into a church and kill almost 30 people?

Is it that the weather is below freezing and we have neighbors in our city who are sleeping outside? Is it because we live in a city that is full of noise and people and stimulation and we can still feel lonely?

Is it that we have young people who are Dreamers and now fear deportation?

Is it that every day we can read the news and a man in power is accused of assault and people are bewildered that he must be held accountable?

Here’s your chance to cut through the crap using poetic liturgical language like Amos.

Here’s an invitation to connect our liturgical life with the prophetic act of calling for justice.

Invitation to Respond: 

I invited to folks to write haikus based on their own fury. 

We were still in the same set-up as we were in the week prior---all sitting up front in our two pew sections that face each other. 

We've invited people to write haikus in worship before. This wasn't a new thing.

One thing that was new was playing a djembe in between haikus. 

I gave people a few minutes to write while Rachel drummed on her djembe. 

                    Haiku on the prompt--what makes you furious. 

                    Haiku on the prompt--what makes you furious. 

I invited anyone to come up and share their haiku. 

After that first person shared, Rachel started up on the djembe with a simple beat. Rinse and repeat.

Several new people came up and shared which is always thrilling that at a first time at Pilgrims, people felt comfortable to stand in front of a new community and share their just created haiku. 

In our reflection, we thought the djembe made a big difference. Rachel's drumming filled the space in-between and kept the energy of the ritual action going rather than hearing haiku and silence/dead-space/wait for next person. Rachel's drumming created a thread--and the drumming always sounds like a heartbeat.