Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Sermon on Justice


          As we reach this, the third and final question from the pews, the end of this summer sermon series, we reach a question heavy with history and packed with political import even today.
          The question is: “What is God’s justice? Is God concerned with Justice? How should we act to be in accord with God’s justice?”
          The short answer is, God’s justice is about making all things right. God is deeply concerned with Justice, in fact, it is mentioned explicitly in scripture 173 times and words related to it are mentioned nearly 2,000 times! Finally, we ought to act with justice.
          In order to get a sense of what justice might mean to God, and to us, it is worth looking at the broad scope of scripture and how justice is expressed therein. So, take a peek at what Justice looks like in the Torah, Prophets, and Writings of the Old Testament and how Justice is found in Jesus. Then we’ll think for a moment what that means for God, and for human beings.

          In the first five books of the Old Testament, the Torah, we find God’s people newly freed from slavery
—one of the ultimate acts of injustice,
and shaping their society with an eye toward justice. Making right that which is wrong.
But what does that look like?
1. Impartiality,
2. fair distribution of land and forgiveness of debt,
3. and all of this is done in an expansive way.

          Justice looked like impartiality on the part of those in power. Courts and kings and everyone else was to govern fairly, treating everyone equally,
especially those who had the least power,
widows, orphans, and the like.
Now, you could rightly say, “hold up there Pastor” Equally and especially, don’t go together
—either you treat everyone the same, or not… ...but as we read in our first lesson today, the author of Exodus was well aware that
the least of these are least likely to get a fair shake,
most likely to loose a lawsuit because the deck is stacked against them,
most likely to bear the brunt of bribery and corruption.
So, justice involves the rules of society to be fair for all, but especially for the least of us.

          One of the most radical aspects of Israelite society, one that some scholars think was so impractical that it was never actually practiced, was the idea of a Jubilee year. A year when everything, especially land, reverted back to its original owner…
          This is a strange proposition when you think of it, simultaneously leftist and reactionary!
The idea is every 49 years everyone returns to the land that their tribe received from God as laid out in the Torah and the book of Joshua.
          Think of it!
You’re from the tribe of Dan in the north, but you’ve lived down south in Judah your whole life and prospered well, you’ve accrued a bunch of land and wealth, and then year 49 hits. All of a sudden you’ve got to take your family and move north to Dan, and live on a tiny plot of land there, giving up all you own to the members of the tribe of Judah who have ancestral right to it.
          Think if this was the case today, where did your family originally settle? Imagine having to leave everything you have and trek back there with your family and start over again.
          The Jubilee year recognized that over time power and wealth accrue to some families more than to others,
and if you’re one of the others,
dug into a hole,
digging out becomes harder the longer you are down there…
and so, every 49 years there was a reset button—like the one for the router of your wireless, you poke a pen tip into it and boom,
debts forgiven,
slaves freed,
land restored.

          Finally, we see in the Torah that the promise of justice is not solely for citizens of the Land, but also for those passing through the land or immigrating to the land.
Justice, for sojourners and immigrants,
resident aliens and even enemies!
Justice, for all!
          In the Torah the community that came out of slavery in Egypt is encouraged to be just by being fair, especially to the least of these,
by resetting social standing every generation,
and expanding out this sense of justice beyond those within its immediate borders.
          This understanding of Justice swells in the books of the Prophets.
Prophets look around at their society and recognize that so often the ideals of the Exodus have been abandoned,
that Justice is for just us,
that debts have been accrued so much that the poor go without footwear and coats on cold nights,
that simple ideas of equal treatment aren’t practiced anywhere.
If all that wasn’t bad enough, the people try to cover up all of their societal sins with religious ritual
look, I made a burnt offering, I even did it in a big way
our country is so very religious!
          To which the prophets of every age reply, “do justice! Love kindness! Walk humbly with your God!”
          As for the Writings, the focus is on how a Just society creates individual good, they explored how Justice created what Philosophers might call the good life.
If you act unjustly it is unwise and leads to death.
If you act Justly you also act wisely, in a life giving way.

          As for the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, listen to Jesus’ mission statement:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
          Jesus embodies God’s justice. His presence among us is good news, especially for the poor, captive, blind, oppressed, he is proclaiming a Jubilee year for them all
—a new start for them,
for all of us!
          Yes, God showing up in Jesus is an example of justice
—that same type of Justice God has been about since the exodus.
Justice for all, but especially for the least of these.
A leveling—think of Mary’s Song in which thrones are thrown down and the lowly are lifted up.
An expansion of those who fall under the Reign of God—the citizenship among the saints is expanded, most noticeably in Paul’s mission to the Gentiles.

          So, what does this all mean for God and for us humans?
          Judging from the descriptions of God’s concerns found in scripture, we can be assured God is concerned about Justice and that part of God making all things right involves the 3-fold pattern of justices I’ve described.
          How should we act…there is the rub, right?
          We cling to the Just and Merciful acts of God, and then act as if we don’t just believe them in our head and heart, but with our hands and our whole self as well.
Working in our own selves to make it true, and among our whole society to make it so.
          It is a right and Christian thing to call for fairness and focus on those who bear the brunt of injustice.
          There was a Christian movement back in the year 2000 to make it a Jubilee year in which the richest countries in the world forgave the debts of the poorest countries in the world—you might remember the musician Bono of U2 heading it up this effort—this was faithful to the original intent of the Jubilee year.
          Christianity ought to always be peeking through the cracks that our culture creates so that we might see those left out, and invite them in and act in such a way that their full dignity might be upheld.