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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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Entering the Divine Conversation

Acts 10:1-8

 I want you to listen again to the description of Cornelius. In addition to being Roman military, which means a foreigner and a Gentile, Cornelius was “a devout man who feared God . . . Gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.”

Do you know anyone like that? Anyone that you’d describe as devout, generous, and a constant pray-er?

And yet, when this devout, prayerful, and generous man of God sees a messenger from God, he is terrified. That makes me think it didn’t happen to him very often. I guess angels appearing to him wasn’t an everyday occurrence and hearing the voice of God wasn’t really common in his life.

Now here’s where it gets pretty funky. Cornelius actually answers. Terrified, worried, and uncertain, he still answers what he believes is the voice of God, saying, “What is it, Lord?” And he does this with an apparent willingness to follow through, since he actually does what God asks of him.

What’s your first reaction to someone who’s claimed to hear the voice of God telling them to do something? Especially something that makes no sense, like, “Go into the next town and knock on a door asking for a guy names Simon”? More of us have had some kind of experience like this than we will admit, so it still seems pretty bizarre.

So here’s my question for us: How did Cornelius know this was the voice of God; that this angel was a messenger of God? How did he recognize it?

The answer lies in the description of who Cornelius is. He is devout, he is generous, he is prayerful. Because he’s been listening for God’s voice for years, because he knew God well through his religious practices, he was able to recognize God’s voice and God’s presence when it came specificially to him.

And do you know what happened as a result? This was the first step toward Gentiles being recognizec, included, and baptized as people God loves. Cornelius, because he recognized God’s voice, was able to accept an invitation by God to be part of God’s work of including all people in love and forgiveness.

Because of his spiritual life, his devotional habits, his religious practices, Cornelius could serve the world with God. He was part of God’s vision taking shape in the world. So now, when we talk about the story of Cornelius, we are also talking about the story of God.

It seems that a spiritual life is important if we are going to be part of God’s vision becoming real in the world. It seems that devotional habits canbe developed. Religious practices actually are helpful if we are to be about God’s work in the world! Even the Greek Stoics and Epicurians from Acts 17 (our first reading), because of their religious practices, recognize something worth hearing in Paul’s message.

So here, in the safety of this place and this community of faith, we are going to practice a spiritual discipline, a devotional practice to help us be able to recognize God’s voice when it comes to us.

We’ll do this in several steps. First, I’m going to read the first four verses of Acts 10 again, somewhat slowly, and I want you to just listen. See if there is a word or a phrase that sticks out or stays with you or confuses you or moves you. Don’t force this, just listen and see what word or phrase seems to stick with you. Whatever pops up for you is right . . .

Next, ponder that word or phrase. Consider this to be from God, spoken just for you at this point in your life. Take a minute and get used to that idea, that the word you’re pondering is actually from God to you. . .

Now, spend a couple of minutes asking God why this word or phrase is God’s word to you today. What is God getting at? What’s going on in your life that may be related? Where is there pain or joy, anxiety or celebration? Consider how this word from God connects to your life. . .

Finally, rest. You don’t have to do anything or make goals or plan anything out. Just take this minute to be in God’s presence. Relax, knowing that whatever is happening in your life, God is delighted to there with you in deep love. Rest with God for a time now . . .

 

Well done! If this was helpful for you, I encourage you to practice with any passage of scripture. It’s officially called “Lectio Divina,” or divine reading. The name doesn’t matter, but the time with God does.

We’ll learn more of these kinds of things during Lent. Not for our personal piety, but so that when God invites us to be part of God’s vision in the world, we can — with Cornelius — answer, “What is it, Lord?”

 

A Version of Lectio Divina

1. Read a small passage of scripture slowly, listening deeply. What word or phrase stands out for you?

2. Consider this word or phrase to be God’s word for you today. Be ready for God to speak to you.

3. Ponder what’s happening in your life, and what God is saying through this word or phrase. Why would God call your attention to this word at this time?

4. Rest in the loving presence of God. Relax, enfolded in the loving arms of God in this time.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2014 in Sermon

 

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