The great prophet Amos taught it to us best when he said “I am not appeased by your solemn assemblies... says God… I pay no heed to your gifts. Spare me the sound of your hymns. Let me not hear the music of your lutes, but let justice well up like water, righteousness as a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:22-24)
As long as 2800 years ago Amos recognized that many of us who call ourselves people of faith just don’t get it. We think that constant prayer and offering of ritual will ease the burdens of the most impoverished and oppressed in our midst. Even as we pray to God to right the wrongs of our society, you can bet that God is praying with even greater sincerity for us to get our own act together.
The great prophet Amos knew that God wants us to pray with our feet. And our hands. And our pocketbook. With our righteousness.
The Jewish people have an annual feast called Sukkot. This is the holiday in which we are commanded to construct brittle perishable huts alongside our warm secure homes so as to acknowledge the frailty of human existence that has ever been our lot. And to appreciate the preciousness of affordable dwelling places that has not always been our privilege, and is still denied to so many in the richest most privileged nation in the world.
The ancient rabbis taught that there is nothing in the world more grievous than poverty. That it is the most terrible of sufferings – because not only is it physically intolerable, sadly unjust, but also because it rips at the spirit of men women and children created in the divine image.
One such sage instructed us – take care of your own soul and another person’s body, not of your own body and another person’s soul.
The ancient rabbis argued as to whether the nation follows after the leader or the leader after the nation. And guess what? The prevailing view was: As goes the nation, so goes the leader. We are in the drivers’ seats on this one, friends. It is we who will make the change in the attitude this state and indeed this nation takes towards its most needy citizens.
The prophet Isaiah implored us: “It is you who have ravaged the vineyard. That which has been taken from the poor is in your houses. How dare you crush my people and grind the faces of the poor, says God the Eternal.” (Isaiah 3:14-15)
And yet we know in our hearts, we are not evil people. We are not uncaring. Not one of us really feels comfortable living in security and prosperity when it is at the expense of another. But we need to send the message clearly and strongly that no one of us is free if we live in a society that acknowledges overwhelming poverty and still allows for it. We are culpable. If we have been participants in ravaging the vineyard, now it’s time to plant new seeds of opportunity.
Our common scripture teaches that when it comes time to reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, but leave a portion of it for the poor and the stranger.
Judaism calls upon people to continue to work for a messianic age. Whether you are waiting for the messiah – first or second round… We know that no Messiah is going to be celebrated in a land that does not set an adequate place at the table for all its inhabitants.
Remember, as goes the nation, so goes the leader. Don’t sit and wait for your favorite candidate to do the work for you. Let us ask them to partner with us in making our state the most socially conscious in the nation. And most importantly, let us say to one another: I am ready to do what is necessary – how about you?
Let us go forward, and continue to pray with our feet, and with our hands, and with our hearts. Amen.
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