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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Tuesday, November 10, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Amos 5:18–24

Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?

I hate, I despise your festivals, 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 offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream. (NRSV)

When Fidel Castro was in power in Cuba from 1959 to 2008, the churches were still technically open, but Pastor Hector Mendez at First Presbyterian Church in Havana told us—on our music mission trip there in 2013—that there were government monitors at the entrance of every church on Sunday mornings, and if they saw anyone entering, then that person would lose their job Monday morning. The only people that dared to enter a church on a Sunday morning were the very elderly. Hector recalled that many Sunday mornings his large church in downtown Havana would have only one elderly woman for Sunday morning worship.

Fidel Castro was very effective at keeping people away from church without technically closing the churches. He was also very effective at improving the country’s schools. Literacy rates soared under his leadership, with music as an important element of the curriculum. During the Castro years everyone in Cuba learned to read music, sing, and play instruments, such that when Fidel Castro was finally out of power and people could again safely go to churches, they were great musicians. Hector Mendez said that the singing in church was incredible thanks to those musical education programs. It was a long time to wait, but eventually justice slowly started to “roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” in Cuba. People came back to churches, and there was joyful Spirit-filled music. It may take a long time for justice to roll down, but it most certainly will.

“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Martin Luther King Jr. used these words by Amos to turn the subject to justice in his 1963 letter from the Birmingham City Jail. In that letter he wrote, ”I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects us all indirectly.” Those words were true in 1963; they are still true today; and they will be true tomorrow. We are all connected, no matter our skin color, creed, gender, whom we choose to love, or anything else: we are all God’s children. What binds us together is stronger than what separates us, and that bond is love and justice for all.

Help me strive for justice and work with courage to build your kingdom on earth so that all people may know and feel your love. Amen. 

Written by John W. W. Sherer, Organist and Director of Music

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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