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Can One Have Faith without Justice? (October 16, 2016)

justiceLuke 18:1-8

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

I was talking to a teacher at an elementary school in Jeffco School District last week. She told me that the air conditioning and the heat don’t work in her classroom. The room got up to about 90 degrees early in the school year, and although the temperature in the room is OK right now, soon the children in her room will be freezing. Some have no coats.

She has spoken to the school administrators, who have been in contact with the Jeffco School Board, but as of now there is no money to have the heating system fixed.

At the same time, she told me about another elementary school in the district whose A/C went out earlier in the year. That administration also called the School Board and by the end of the day it was fixed.

One school’s student population is brown, speaks a lot of Spanish, and comes from poor families. The other school’s population is mostly white and comes from upper middle class families. Guess which is which?

This is an example of injustice in our culture, which includes our schools, businesses, government, and more. Injustice is when those who have more power use it to their advantage even as it harms those with less power.

And injustice is one of those things that the Bible speaks out against. A lot. Injustice is something that those who’ve been followers of God have always stood in opposition to. Always. Injustice is one of the things Jesus gets most angry about. Continually. Injustice is one aspect of this world that the followers of Jesus have consistently recognized as evil. Consistently.

And that’s what this parable is about.

A widow seeks justice in the courts of her day. Widows were those who were lowest on the social ladder. They had no power, no voice, no resources, and if they had no other family, no support. She has been wronged somehow and goes to a judge in order to attain justice. Her judge, however, is a man who readily admits he has no respect for God or other people. Yet this woman continues to seek justice from him.

Eventually, even this corrupt judge in a corrupt system grants her justice. If he does this just to keep a persistent woman from bothering him, imagine, Jesus says, how willing God is to grant justice to those who persistently seek it.

We are in a long line of God-people who have been called to stand up in the face of injustice. It is at the very heart of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. It’s the DNA of our baptism. We stand with the victims of injustice and use whatever voice, power, resources, support we have to bring justice. The people who seek God always end up dealing with injustice because it is so opposite of God, God’s will, and God’s kingdom.

And sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it is frightening. Sometimes it really makes us uncomfortable. We stand in a long line of people who were frightened and uncomfortable when called upon to stand with those who are victims of injustice.

That’s why we are listening to those who are part of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. And that’s why we need this partnership with Zion Baptist Church. They are the voices of our Black sisters and brothers who are victims of injustice. We need to listen. We need to understand. We need to persistently seek justice with them.

That’s why we are listening to the LGBT community. And why we will soon be considering how we can have a congregational conversation about becoming a “Reconciling in Christ” congregation—one that openly welcomes and supports our sisters and brothers who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender. We need to listen. We need to understand. We need to persistently seek justice with them.

That’s why our council is proposing we use some of our resources in 2017 to find more effective ways to stand with our children and grow them as disciples of Jesus. Not only do our children need us as advocates now, but the world needs them as fellow followers of Jesus who will also stand against injustice into the future. We need to show them. We need to be an example for them. We need to persistently seek justice on their behalf.

That’s why we give away 11% of our congregational income, most of which goes to the work of our own Rocky Mountain Synod. When all 163 congregations of this synod pool our resources, we are much louder in our voice for justice. We are much stronger advocates for those who are victims of injustice. We need to persistently seek justice together on their behalf.

“And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.”

Then comes the question we answer with a resounding “YES!” When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

YES! Lord! YES. We stand in this time and in this place as part of the great cloud of witnesses who persist in seeking justice to your people. Forgive us where we are complicit in injustice. Encourage us where we seek justice. Empower us where we stand for justice. Amen.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Good News! (for other people) — January 24, 2016

Luke 4:14-21

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

This is Jesus’ first public act of ministry recorded in Luke. So this is the action that sets the bar, names the priorities, establishes the direction in this gospel.

In his home synagogue one Sabbath, Jesus was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He looked through it deliberately until he found this particular passage. This is the text he chose to read. And this is the teaching Jesus starts with.

So we ought to pay careful attention to what Jesus does here. He is anointed by God to bring–and to fulfill–God’s good news, “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 . . . Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

But notice that this good news isn’t general–it’s rather specific. He is anointed for the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. What about everyone else? Is Jesus bringing good news to those who don’t fall under these categories? We have a tendency want to make this about us, claiming to be oppressed, captive, blind, poor. But we’re not the primary audience here.

I was talking with someone a few years ago who was very proud of the new clothing bank their church had started. “It’s the only one in this area,” he said. Imagine how unhappy he was when I pointed out there was a reason it was the only one–it was because there was no one in their wealthy area who needed used clothing. “Oh,” he said, “maybe that’s why no one is using it.” That church closed not long after that. Not for lack of effort, but because their good news of clothing wasn’t good news to any of the people in their neighborhood.

The good news Jesus brings–while he’s filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, remember–is aimed at a particular audience. The poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. Those who, in that day, were pushed to the edges of their culture or ignored. Those who no one wanted around. Those who were helpless or targets for those with wealth and status. Those who were scapegoated and blamed.

So what about the rest of us? Although many of us experience those things sometimes, it’s not everyday for us. So what about those of us who most of our lives fall outside of Jesus’ categories? Those in this country who are white, who have pensions and savings accounts, who are (at least in name) Christian, who have no significant disabilities? Isn’t there any good news for us? Doesn’t Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, have anything good to say to us?

Sure. Of course. The reign of God, the kingdom of God, the dream of God is for all people–that all will be loved, saved, redeemed, cared for.

It’s just that most of us who are here this morning already have some experience of that good news now. We have opportunities, income, access to healthcare. We have a voice in our culture.

Others don’t. Jesus reads the text from Isaiah that says God also has good news for them.

David Lose, president of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, compares it to the #BlackLivesMatter movement and he writes: “A colleague of mine [who is an African American pastor] put it this way: ‘When you see a house on fire and direct the firefighters to that house, you’re not saying that all the other houses in the neighborhood don’t matter; you’re saying this one especially matters because it’s on fire.'” Jesus is saying that there are some people whose house is on fire. And God’s priority for compassion and grace needs to go to them.

Here’s why we need to hear this text even if we may not always be the primary audience, if it isn’t always directly aimed at us: This is where Jesus goes when filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Right to the poor, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, the powerless. That’s apparently what it looks like when people are empowered by the Holy Spirit. God’s priority is to first lift up those who are low. Sometimes we are the recipients of God’s priority compassion. But most of the time, most of us here today are therefore called to be part of fulfilling God’s compassion.

If we’re not poor, captive, blind, or oppressed today, then praise be to God! We’re already experiencing good news. But as the church, the community whose very existence is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, we make those who are on the outside, who are powerless, who are victims, who are helpless our priority too.

That’s what being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit looks like. That’s the good news–whether we are receiving it or helping to fulfill it. This is God’s good news for the world: we too are anointed to proclaim release, to give sight, and let the oppressed go free. This is the year of the Lord’s favor, and we get to be part of it! That is good news.

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2016 in Sermon

 

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