Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lenten Midweek Sermon from 3-21-12: God's Call to Justice

God’s Call to Justice

During our Wednesday Lenten services, we’re exploring the theme, “Listen, God is Calling!” Each week we’re exploring a different aspect of that call, through the lens of Scripture and in conversation with a pop song from the last 40 years. Last week we looked at God’s call to unity through the lens of U2’s song One. Today, we listen for God’s call to justice in conversation with Bruce Hornsby and the Range's "The Way It Is."

What does God’s call to justice look like? How does it affect us? Where does it hit us?

Our reading from Isaiah is one of my favorite passages of Scripture, yet at the same time it is an absolutely blistering indictment of a people whose main focus had become how religious they were. They kept the feasts and the fasts, made sure to observe all the high holy days and said the right things and sang the right songs and followed all of the religious rules and regulations and thought that therefore everything was just fine between them and God. Instead, God tells Isaiah to “announce to the people their rebellion.” Their rebellion, their sin, was not about neglecting to go to church, or following other religions, or questioning their faith, what we’d normally think of as “moral issues,” or any of the other reasons that might jump to our mind as to what God would consider rebellion. God’s problem with the people was that while on the one hand they were claiming to worship, on the other hand they were oppressing their workers, they weren't taking care of the poor and needy, and in fact were trampling on them to serve their own interests. For God, justice is the ultimate moral issue.

So then, what is justice in God’s eyes? When we hear the word “justice,” we often think of fairness—making things fair, equal. The Biblical idea of justice goes beyond that, though. Justice isn’t about making things fair as much as it’s about setting things right. God’s justice is rooted in love, and love isn’t fair. Love throws a party for the prodigal son who’s squandered the inheritance when he comes home, love leaves the 99 sheep to search for the one who is lost. Love speaks out, acts, pursues, in order to repair what is broken, restore what is lost, make right what has gone wrong.

God’s justice, a justice that is rooted in love, leads to the cross. It leads to the death of our old sin, and to the resurrection through baptism into the new life of the empty tomb.

The problem we often run into is that we set up this false divide between theology, worship, Scripture, “churchy stuff” on the one side, and “social justice” on the other side. The argument goes that you can be a faithful, Bible believing Christian who worships God, OR you can focus on matters of social justice and turn that into your gospel, losing sight of the cross. Isaiah 58 and many other passages of Scripture argue otherwise. Our faith is important to God. How we approach God, our relationship with God, how we read Scripture, how we worship, how we trust in God’s love and forgiveness and grace—all of that is important. But all of that serves to inform how we understand our relationships with each other, and forces us to ask the hard questions of whose voices aren’t being heard, where are we seeing oppression or discrimination or treatment that is less than what a fellow child of God deserves? When Jesus was asked about the most important commandment, his response in a nutshell was that there was not one, but two: love God and love people. And so we have Bible believing Christians, and we have Social Justice Christians, and where those two groups intersect…that’s where we find Jesus, doing God’s work through their hands and their feet and their hearts.

Our song today speaks of racial injustice, then in the chorus quotes an imaginary person just throwing in the towel on it all. “That’s just the way it is, some things will never change. That’s just the way it is.” But then the singer tells us, “Oh, but don’t you believe it.”

It is true that some things will never change. Human beings will always be sinners. We will always naturally be curved in on ourselves. We will always be in need of forgiveness and grace. We will always need the cross. But these sinful systems, these sinful structures, these ways of dealing with those who are different or less powerful than us, these things that we have constructed, these can change. And our call from God is to keep our eyes open, to keep our ears open, to keep our hearts open so that we can see where people are being oppressed, where people are being denied their rights, where the fact that we were all created in God’s image is not being honored and valued and celebrated.

And that doesn’t just happen on the other side of the world. It doesn't just happen in other parts of the country. It happens right here, in Nebraska, in Lincoln, in our own backyard. Our brothers and sisters who are gay or lesbian. Our brothers and sisters who are illegal or undocumented immigrants. Our brothers and sisters whose skin is a different color than us. Our brothers and sisters who are of a different religion than us, or of no religion at all. Our brothers and sisters who are unemployed or homeless. Our brothers and sisters who are sex offenders or convicted criminals. Our brothers and sisters who are addicted to alcohol or other drugs.

Yes, some of these things people were born with and they can’t do anything about it, and other things are the result of choices, but in God’s eyes is there really a difference? Does it really matter? In Isaiah, are we told to bring justice only for those who deserve it in our eyes? No. God’s call to us, flat out, is “for goodness sakes people, just take care of each other.”

These are some pretty hot-button issues I brought up, and I recognize that. It’s not my place to tell you what conclusions are the right ones—goodness knows that faithful Christians come down on different sides of all sorts of issues. What IS important to hear, however, is that God cares about HOW we’re coming to those conclusions. Do we approach these kinds of questions in faithfulness, or in fear? Do we look at each other with openness or with prejudice? Do we use our religious systems and structures, its rules and norms, as an excuse for justifying our own injustices, or are they spiritual practices and tools to draw us closer to God and to one another?

These big systems, these big institutions, these ways that society has constructed itself to marginalize and oppress certain groups CAN change. It begins with us, with our own attitudes, with our own small day to day decisions. It continues when those of us who were dealt the random card of privilege choose to use our voices to speak out for those whose voice is not heard, and continues further when we begin to work to allow those voices to be heard. It’s not about being embarrassed or ashamed for what we have, but rather about making a conscious choice to use those resources—whether they be money, power, voice, time, energy, skills, or anything else—for the sake of those who do not have them.

God’s justice, rooted in love, active in our lives.

Matt Schur
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church
Lincoln, NE

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