September 9, 2018: Let Justice Roll

Pastor Steve Mechem

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Amos 5:24 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.


The prophet declares,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.

People conclude their pledge to the flag with the words, “with liberty and justice for all.”

Dr. King is quoted as saying, “The long arc of the moral universe bends toward Justice.”

Statues of justice are characterized by a sword, scales and a blindfold.

Nobel Peace Prize recipient Jane Addams wrote, “True Peace is the presence of justice.”

The Torah declares, “Dont delay Justice, don’t show favoritism.”

Malcolm X said, “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who its for or against.”

John McCain wrote, “the longing for liberty and justice is our reality.”

Alexander Hamilton opined, “I think the first duty of society is justice.”

The prophet asks and answers, “What does the lord require of you?”
To do justice,
To love mercy,
To walk humbly with God.

Justice,
its a biblical word
its a political word
its a cultural word
its a law and order word
its a mercy and love word
its karma
its grace

When you hear the word justice, what does it mean to you? (take responses)

The Hebrew word “mishpat” is the word translated justice more than 200 times in the hebrew bible.

It carries within it a law and order definition, “acquitting or punishing people based on deeds, and not based on who they may be.” Justice, the bible says, is to be impartial. And it should be noted, that justice, carefully applied, takes both the action and the circumstances surrounding those actions into account.

And also within the meaning of the word “Justice” is fairness, equity, equality and the giving to people their God given rights.

Justice means giving people their due, and built into that definition is special attention to securing rights for those who have been set aside by society.

Justice, by biblical definition is always about caring for the poor, the widow, the children, the stranger, the left behind.

Because in ancient Hebrew society, these folks were on the underside and were left on the outside looking in. Fairness and equality were not within their grasp, so justice meant looking out for them.

Biblical Justice, it seems, takes into account the struggles of the poor and dispossessed precisely because those who control the society’s purse strings tend to look out for their personal interests making the have nots disproportionately vulnerable to injustice.

Justice reflects the character of God, and God seems to press for justice (fairness) in regard to those on the edges of society. You can say it isn’t so, but even a casual reading of the bible reveals God’s great concern for justice (especially for the poor).

So much so that there is a desire that “justice will roll like a never ending river.”

Justice, as it appears to stream from the heart of God becomes a force within the people who recognize themselves to be the people of God.

As you read about justice in the bible, you quickly become aware that God expects God’s people to do justice, to work for justice, to advocate for justice and make God’s demand for justice known.

There are three amazing prophetic passages, from Micah, Isaiah, and Amos that address the need to do justice by chastising and criticizing the people of God for substituting their call to do justice with performa religion.

Isaiah quotes God (as our youth read earlier),
“I’m fed up with your worthless offerings
… seek justice.”

Micah asks the question,
“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 ten thousands of rivers of oil?

the Answer, What the Lord requires is that you do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.

Amos quotes God,
“I hate, I reject your festivals, I don’t enjoy your joyous assemblies. Take away the noise of your songs. Rather, let justice roll down like an ever flowing river.

Of all the stuff you do in my name, God appears to be saying, the thing that matters is justice. Do it. Seek it. Let it flow.

Built into the biblical idea of justice is the ideal of right relationships. We are created to be in relationship with God and in relationship to each other.

Shared relationships beget justice.

When we refuse to be in relationship with others based on race, or sexual identity or social status, the door to injustice flies wide open. We are much more likely to fear people we don’t know and don’t understand. That fear often breeds injustice.

And, as we are captive within our own groups, we miss out on the beauty of the diverse tapestry of our world.

I wish that people who fear brown and black people would get to know more brown and black people- their fears would melt away as they recognize and embrace commonality.

I wish my family and friends who are homophobic would get to know some gay folks and interact with them. They would discover that there is nothing to fear and so much joy of life to be experienced.

I wish my xenophobic friends would step outside themselves and get to know people who are culturally different than them. they would discover a brand new world of shared experiences.

We are meant to be in relationship with one another. And that relationship is meant to be diverse, inclusive, and engaging. And that breeds justice.

As Timothy Keller writes, “If I threw 1000 threads onto the table they wouldn’t be a fabric. They'd be threads laying on top of each other. Threads become fabric when each one has been woven over, under, around, and through every other one. The more inter-dependent they are the more beautiful they are. The more interwoven they are, the stronger and warmer they are. God made the world with billions of entities, but He didn’t make them to be in aggregation. Rather, He made them to be in a beautiful, harmonious, knitted, web, interdependent relationship with each other.

Jesus tells a parable.

The parable is actually depicted in this window.

A man is wounded by robbers, his body broken and left for dead. He is a bloody mess, and from a distance he looks dead.

A priest comes by the man. He is likely to be on his way to the temple to serve and realizes that if the man is dead, or bloodied and he touches him, he will immediately become disqualified for service in the temple. And since there are so many priests and their rotations are set, there was every reason to believe that this might be the only time in his whole life that he would be called on to serve his two week term in the temple. It is a big deal, a badge of honor, and so he chooses religious duty over mercy.

Next comes a religious teacher. No doubt he is heading to the temple to engage with the other religious teachers in great theological debate. But if he is ceremonially unclean, he won't be allowed in. His ideas wont be heard, people wont be persuaded by his great insight. So he sees the hurt man, and fearing contamination, walks right on by.

A third person comes by. He is not identified by religion but by nationality. He is a despised Samaritan, the bad guys in every first century story, and listeners to Jesus’ story probably expect that he will approach the wounded man only to strip him of any remaining possessions.

The Samaritan approaches the wounded one, looks him over, is deeply moved, and cares for him, binds his wounds, puts him on his donkey and walks beside him to a hostel.

He leaves the man in the hostel keepers care leaving him money for his care and promising to pay any additional costs on his return.

Jesus looks at his listeners, at all of us really, and declares, “Go and do likewise.”

The prophet declares that God grows weary of worship and religious performance when the needs of the hurting are ignored.

So, we pursue justice.

We pursue justice by marching, and serving on committees, and by being engaged and by voting in ways that bring justice to people.

We pursue justice by learning the truth about people and their struggles.

And,
We pursue justice by recognizing that our strength as justice doers is in the doing of it.

When we see a need, we work to find a solution.

When we see a person bullied, we stand beside them.

When we see someone hurting, we offer comfort and grace,

We speak the in love, even when our voice quivers.

We Pray, we work, we walk alongside.

We touch, we speak, we listen, we embrace.

Justice. We just do it, whenever, wherever we can.

Let Justice roll like an ever-flowing river and let it begin in us.

Amen.