Rev. Michael F. Bailey
May 22, 2016
Micah 6:6-8 ‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Well folks, here we are, two days after the end of the United Methodist General Conference, and we’re still the same loving, caring, accepting of all, serving congregation we were before it began! The Conference was streamed on the internet and was, at various times, fascinating, boring, heart-warming or infuriating to watch! Delegates from all over the world were there and it made me feel like I was watching the United Nations as delegates would stand up and speak in Russian or Korean or a number of other languages, and the delegates would put on headphones and we would hear the translation into English as the delegates heard it.
Let me share a couple of things with you, one close to Christ Church and another about a commission the bishop’s will be forming. For Christ Church, our own Ken Carter, now the bishop of Florida, fell the first day of the conference and had to have pretty extensive surgery on a knee. He’s written of his disappointment in not being able to help the conference and the slowness of recovery but that his wife, Pam, is by his side. (On a side note: he has been elected as the president-elect of the Council of Bishops, at a time when they’ll really need his leadership.) The commission I mention is one that will be formed by the Council of Bishops to study and recommend any changes to our UM Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality. They have the option to “call” a General Conference special session in 2 or 3 years for the General Conference to vote on their recommendations. I feel very hopeful about their leadership because it was obvious to me the conference couldn’t agree. In the meantime, we will be the same loving, caring, accepting of all, serving congregation we are today!
Almost ironically, following General Conference, today is Peace with Justice Sunday throughout United Methodism. It’s a time where you may wish to pick up a special offering envelop at the Connection Point desk. The offering helps with things like police chaplains, reconciliation work in war torn countries, and the like. Now, we’ve just had a sermon on “peace” a couple of weeks ago. As Christians, we understand that peace is more than the absence of conflict; rather, it is the wholeness brought to the individual through relationship with Christ. It is the wholeness brought to the world through His Kingdom. With that in mind, let’s look today at the meaning of “justice” for Christians.
What is justice in terms of our faith? Each of us could give all kinds of answers; some similar, some not. One way to arrive at an understanding is to ask a different question: what is injustice? Is it injustice when someone in the 20-item line in front of you at Harris Teeter has 26 items? Is it injustice when someone cuts you off on the Joseph Bryan freeway? I think you know injustice in the Bible is something more than these annoying acts. According to scripture, injustice is really a particular way of sin being set forth in the world and life. Injustice, according to scripture, boils down to the powerful abusing their power; hurting and being unfair to the weak, poor and defenseless people of the world. The Hebrew scriptures often uses the descriptions: widow, orphan and foreigner to describe those subject to injustice. Jesus’ ministry expanded on this adding: the hungry, the homeless, the captives, those physically and emotionally broken, the poor and societal outcasts. Psalm 10, one of the many passages describing injustice is a great description of the powerful hurting the powerless through injustice. Here is some of it:
In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor—
let them be caught in the schemes they have devised.
For the wicked boast of the desires of their heart,
those greedy for gain curse and renounce the Lord.
In the pride of their countenance the wicked say, ‘God will not seek it out’;
all their thoughts are, ‘There is no God.’
Their ways prosper at all times;
your judgments are on high, out of their sight;
as for their foes, they scoff at them.
They think in their heart, ‘We shall not be moved;
throughout all generations we shall not meet adversity.’
Their mouths are filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;
under their tongues are mischief and iniquity.
They sit in ambush in the villages;
in hiding-places they murder the innocent.
Their eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
they lurk in secret like a lion in its covert;
they lurk that they may seize the poor;
they seize the poor and drag them off in their net.
They stoop, they crouch,
and the helpless fall by their might.
They think in their heart, ‘God has forgotten,
he has hidden his face, he will never see it.’
What a description of the evil powerful ones, misusing power to hurt the poor and weak. And we know how real it is. We know there are so many, many ways injustice takes form in our world. Without spending all of our time listing all here’s a few: 25,000 children die each day of hunger or hunger-related causes (U.N.). Nearly 2 million children are exploited in the global sex trade (UNICEF). There are 27 million slaves in the world today (National Geographic).
Here’s the question: Do you think God cares? And the answer is, naturally, of course God does. Since God cares, what is our loving God’s plan for justice? We are! God through Christ in Matthew 5:14 said, “you are the light of the world!” Not could be, not should be, but “you are” the light of the world. So how do we approach all of the injustices in the world?
I have a friend who used to say when I asked him how he was doing: “I’m just living the good life?” I think our passage is asking Christians to say, “I’m good; living the just life!”
Micah in our passage expressed what God wants from us:
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?”
I think we get the being humble with God and the kindness part, but living and doing justice seems just so overwhelming.
So, in the face of all of the massive problems of the world, here’s how I think the Bible suggests we begin: find one problem or issue of injustice that particularly breaks your heart. I really believe that God designed you with this “soft spot” and dreams you’ll turn it into action for righting wrongs. And even if it’s huge (and most injustice issues are) start with the loaves and fishes approach. Jesus asked the disciples what they had and they gave him the little boy’s loaves and fishes. And just look what he did with that small gift. And your small “loaves and fishes” effort; prayer, joining an organization, giving a special offering, shopping for fair trade items, writing a letter to civil leaders can make all of the difference in the world in Jesus’ hands.
“Tell me the weight of a snowflake,” a coal-mouse asked a wild dove.
“Nothing more than nothing,” was the answer.
“In that case, I must tell you a marvelous story,” the coal-mouse said.
“I sat on the branch of a fir, close to its trunk, when it began to snow-not heavily, not in a raging blizzard-no, just like a dream, without a sound and without any violence. Since I did not have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,952. When the 3,741,953rd dropped onto the branch, nothing more than nothing, as you say-the branch broke off.”
Here’s the point: Your one voice may be the one to make all of the difference. You may be the one who’s snowflake action breaks a branch of injustice. (Source: Kurt Kauter, New Fables – Thus Spoke The Carabou).
And as Christians we believe the difference and change for justice is coming. The Word of God teaches of the day when the Kingdom fully flowers and every tear shall be wiped away as Jesus reign on earth is the same as in heaven. And we are called to proclaim that truth and work toward that day. The world may proclaim it’s hopeless; the world may tout that the way of “just living the good life” of the rich and famous is what life is all about. But we know better. We know that “living the just life” is what God wants and we work toward the glorious day the prophet Amos foretold when “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” That truth is reality and that day is coming. One last story to close:
In 2004 Victor Yushchenko stood for the presidency of the Ukraine. Vehemently opposed by the ruling party, Yushchenko’s face was disfigured and he almost lost his life when he was mysteriously poisoned. This was not enough to deter him from standing for the presidency.
On the day of the election, Yushchenko was comfortably in the lead. The ruling party, not to be denied, tampered with the results. The state-run television station reported “ladies and gentlemen, we announce that the challenger Victor Yushchenko has been decisively defeated.”
In the lower right-hand corner of the screen a woman by the name of Natalia Dmitruk was providing a translation service for the deaf community. As the news presenter regurgitated the lies of the regime, Natalia Dmitruk refused to translate them. “I’m addressing all the deaf citizens of Ukraine” she signed. “They are lying and I’m ashamed to translate those lies. Yushchenko is our president.”
The deaf community sprang into gear. They text messaged their friends about the fraudulent result and as news spread of Dmitruk’s act of defiance increasing numbers of journalists were inspired to likewise tell the truth. Over the coming weeks the “Orange Revolution” occurred as a million people wearing orange made their way to the capital city of Kiev demanding a new election. The government was forced to meet their demands, a new election was held, and Victor Yushchenko became president.
Theologian Philip Yancey writes: “When I heard the story behind the orange revolution, the image of a small screen of truth in the corner of the big screen became for me an ideal picture of the church. You see, we as the church do not control the big screen. (When we do, we usually mess it up.) Go to any magazine rack or turn on the television and you’ll see a consistent message that matters is how beautiful you are, how much money or power you have. Though there are many poor people in the world we focus on the superrich, names like Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey.… Our society is hardly unique. Throughout history nations have always glorified winners, not losers. Then, like the sign language translator in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, along comes a person named Jesus who says in effect, Don’t believe the big screen – they’re lying. It’s the poor who were blessed, not the rich. Mourners are blessed too, as well as those who hunger and thirst, and the persecuted. (Philip Yancey, What Good Is God, pages 184-186)
Friends, let us go forth as translators in our lives of one in the corner of the screen, Jesus. Let us go forth, by His Spirit and grace, “doing good and living the just life”. Let us go forth offering our “loaves and fishes” efforts to Jesus, working for the in-breaking of his kingdom of justice, both today and forever.
Share with your group if you have a particular “heart” for persons experiencing injustice.
Share with your group one small act you are willing to take to end injustice.
Share with your group the hope you find in knowing that one day “justice will roll down like the waters and righteousness like and ever flowing stream”.