Summary: The call to justice goes hand in hand with the call to love God and our neighbor.
August 18, 2019
Hope Lutheran Church
Rev. Mary Erickson
The Song on the Flip Side
Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.
“I came to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it were already kindled! – Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”
This sure doesn’t sound like the Jesus we’ve come to know and love! This isn’t like the soothing messages we’re accustomed to hearing from him. There’s no “blessed are the poor in spirit” today! It’s a far cry from “come to me, all you who are weak and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”
But the one who is the advocate for the poor must also speak out against the systems bringing about that poverty. The champion of the weak and heavy-laden needs to stand up for their rights when the deck has been stacked against them.
Jesus’ strong message today is the song on the flip side of the good news record. His message addresses compassion and concern for the vulnerable and so that must also include prophetic criticism of injustice.
His parables play both sides of the album, too. On the one hand, Jesus tells beautiful parables of consolation. He tells us about the Good Shepherd who searches for the lost sheep and carries him home on his shoulders. He recounts a parable about a loving father who waits and waits for his wayward son to return home.
But Jesus also shares parables of judgement. He says it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. He tells the parable of a shepherd who separates the sheep from the goats. To the goats he says, “I was hungry and you did not feed me; I was naked and you didn’t clothe me, in prison and you didn’t visit me.” Jesus’ parables play both sides of the gospel record.
Jesus cherishes God’s good justice. And to love justice is to condemn instances when it’s ignored and denied. As the writer of Ecclesiastes said, there is “a time to keep silence and a time to speak.” There is a time to speak as advocates for the victims of injustice.
The Bible has a long and consistent tradition recognizing God’s call to justice. It begins with the law of Moses. The commandments direct us to love our neighbor as our self. And the prophets then call Israel to accountability.
Because they spoke out on behalf of justice, the prophets frequently received criticism. The prophet Amos was literally told to keep his mouth shut and “go back to where you came from” (Amos 7:12).
Amos and the other prophets were accused of despising Israel. But they didn’t speak prophetically out of hated for Israel. They spoke out because they loved God’s justice. They spoke out because they loved their nation, their people. And they spoke out because they knew that their country’s unjust ways would lead to their own undoing.
Jeremiah stands in the company of the Hebrew prophets. We heard a passage from that book today. Jeremiah lived during a time of great turmoil and transition in Israel’s history. He began his ministry in the waning days of the kingdom of Judah. He saw the corruption of the leadership. Israel’s leadership disregarded the welfare of their people. Instead they served the best interests of themselves and their associates. The country had devolved into a state where it was every man for himself. The social fabrics had broken down. Jeremiah states that their all-out disregard for God’s law will bring calamity upon the nation.
He warns that unless they change their ways, the nation will fall:
“If you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place.” (Jer. 7:5-7)
But people didn’t want to change. They didn’t want to hear Jeremiah’s words of prophecy. His message was unpopular, EXTREMELY unpopular. Jeremiah was criticized and persecuted. His opponents even cooked up schemes to kill him. Jeremiah was despised and victimized for speaking God’s truth to the power brokers of his day.
But Jeremiah persisted in announcing his message. In the excerpt we hear today, he conveys a message from God. “Am I a God near by and not a God far off? Do you think you can sneak off to a place that I can’t see? Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to! I see everything! I can see your so-called “prophets.” They claim to receive visions from me. They claim to speak my word. But they only speak lies in my name, not the truth!”