Isaiah 58:1-9a | Luke 4:16-19 This time last year we were just kicking off a five week series on “Justice, the public face of love”. Over those weeks we explored freedom from slavery, gender justice, environmental justice, economic justice, and racial justice. Having spent five weeks on the topic, I realised it was going to be a little hard to only give it a single slot in our series this year on faith in real life.
But we couldn’t leave it out. Because living lives of justice, lives that make real the justice of God in the world, is a core part of our faith. It is perhaps the single most dominant theme running through the whole of the scriptures: as the prophet Micah has it, and as we sang just now, what the Lord requires of us is this: act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.
For God is love, and justice is what love looks like in the public domain.
So I wanted today to reflect on one of the reasons that the cry for justice rings so powerfully through the scriptures. And it is part of what makes the Bible, and in particular, makes Biblical history, so unusual.
It’s a truism that history is written by the winners. But the Biblical narrative broadly bucks that trend. Although some sections – the exodus and the invasion of the land – are written from the perspective of a conquering nation, the larger bulk of Biblical history, both in the so-called history books of Kings and Chronicles, and in the works of the prophets, are written by the losing side, by the defeated, by the exiles. Even much of the triumphant writings of Exodus and Joshua were probably actually first written down in exile, after the brief triumph of the nation under David and Solomon.
The narrative was written, for the most part, by the defeated, by the oppressed.
And it is the defeated, the oppressed, who talk about justice.
The powerful do not cry out for justice. They don’t need it. What they want, they have, or they can get. Justice, on the contrary, is a danger to power, to privilege, to those who are favoured by inequality. It is the powerful who benefit from the inequalities of our global trade system, who can get things made more cheaply by taking advantage of those who have no power in negotiations, who can arrange the rules of the game to suit their needs, who can use the earth’s resources as if they were unlimited and just move on to another place leaving the damage they have done behind.
The powerful don’t cry out for justice. They buy the best lawyers, lobby for laws to be changed in their favour, bribe those who have the responsibility of holding them to account. When they don’t like the direction a country is going in, they don’t cry out against injustice, they use their influence, their newspapers, their economic clout to force a change.
The powerful don’t cry out for justice. They don’t need to.
It is the poor, the dispossessed, the oppressed; those are the ones who cry for justice. Those are the voices that echo through the scriptures. Because that is what, for most of Biblical history, the people of God were. The underdogs.
Not without reason was it that the Church grew first, most rapidly, amongst those who were on the outside of society, those who did not have a position of power in their culture. Amongst the slaves, amongst the women, amongst those who were of the occupied nations. The ones for whom Jesus’ words: God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, freedom to the oppressed didn’t need to be spiritualised, didn’t need to be carefully exegeted, didn’t need to mean anything other than what they clearly meant.
It is those who lack power and influence and wealth and authority who cry out for justice.
It’s the children on Nauru, imprisoned without hope because their parents fled persecution and sought the help of a supposedly civilised nation, who cry out for justice.
It’s the woman suffering in an abusive relationship because she can see no economic alternative, or because she fears for her safety or that of her children if she leaves, who cries for justice.
It’s the gay or transgender child contemplating suicide because they are told again and again that they cannot be the person that know they are, who cries out for justice.
It’s the modern day slave, forced to work in unsafe and inhumane situations with no hope of freedom, who cries out for justice.
It’s the indigenous owner of land, denied their traditional rights and yet treated as less human; torn from ancient culture but denied a voice in the modern world, who cries out for justice.
It’s the child abused in an institution that was more concerned about protecting the reputation of important adults than providing safety to the most vulnerable, who cries out for justice.
And it is God’s people who are supposed to hear those cries: for God most surely hears them.
The story is told of a medieval castle in which, due to some quirk of the architecture, those who gathered in the chapel could hear the cries of those imprisoned in the dungeons.
As they gathered for worship, they would hear the victims of their feudal Lord’s “justice” crying out for mercy, for true justice. And while no doubt many of those imprisoned were guilty of their crimes, others, surely, were innocent victims of the arbitrary judgement of the Lord of the castle.
And when they were bothered by the cries, the priest gave them this advice: “sing more loudly, pray more loudly, and we will drown out their cries with our worship”.
We don’t have to sing more loudly, we just have to change the channel, read a different story, think about something else.
But it’s the same invitation. To focus on the worship of God, and not on the cries of the disempowered, the victims, the hurting.
But can we do that and still claim to follow the one who declared at the start of his public ministry 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 favour. ?
You cannot claim faith in Jesus Christ, and have no concern for justice. That’s not to say, of course, that all people of faith are going to agree on what ought to be done: we can most certainly differ on the right way to bring greater justice to the world, the right priorities, the workable solutions. The world is a complicated place, and the problems we face defy simplistic solutions. But, as James, Jesus’ brother, wrote to the early Church, faith which doesn’t do anything isn’t faith at all. As the prophet wrote, the worship God desires is to loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free, to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house;
And as Jesus said “whatever you did not do, for the least of these, you did not do for me”.
No one of us can do everything – but faith demands that we do something in the name of Justice.
What we cannot do is just sing more loudly and try not to hear the cries of those in need.
1 John 4:13-21 Faith and real life. Two weeks ago we looked at how our faith might influence the way we look at that most basic of human institutions, the family, and then last week we explored how our faith might inform our decision making
Proverbs 1:1-7 So today is the second in our series on Faith in real life, questions about how our faith in Jesus Christ, our reading of the scriptures, our membership together in the Kingdom of God, touches matters of day to day living.
Genesis 1:18-22 | Ephesians 1:3-6 | Mark 3:31-35 Today we start a new series of Sundays in which we’re going to be looking at faith in real life
John 6:56-69 While we’ve been looking at the letter to the Church in Ephesus, the gospel readings in the lectionary have been going through a chunk of John’s gospel that is all built around the imagery of bread
Ephesians 6:10-20 So we come to the final chapter of the book of Ephesians, and to this well known piece of imagery, the armour of God.
Ephesians 5:15-27 You have no idea how tempting it is, when you have committed yourself to preaching one week on each chapter of the book of Ephesians, to choose the first half of chapter 5 instead of the second.
Over the past three weeks we’ve been reflecting on the first half of Paul’s letter to the early Church in Ephesus, and what it has to say to us about who we, the modern day Church in Roseville, are.
Ephesians 3:7-21 Today’s reading from Ephesians brings us to the end of the first half of the letter. Literally, given that it’s the third chapter out of six, but more importantly, in terms of the structure, the layout, of the book.
Ephesians 2:11-22 Having had just over a week now to reflect upon the decisions – and especially, the decision on same sex marriage – taken by the Uniting Church National Assembly in Melbourne, I have to say that I’m really proud to be part of the Uniting Church right now.
Ephesians 1:15-23 So today we begin a series of six weeks during which we’re going to be looking at Pauls letter to the Church in Ephesus, one of the many Churches that he founded during his great missionary journeys around the ancient world.
Isaiah 65:1-12 | Revelation 21:1-4 And so we come to the end of our series on the book of Isaiah, with one of the closing passages of the book; one not directly quoted by the New Testament authors, but clearly influential in their thinking.
Isaiah 56:1-8 | Acts 8:26-38 Now eunuchs are something that we don’t often talk about in Church.
Isaiah 42:1-9 | Matthew 12:9-21 The second section of Isaiah, deutero-Isaiah, contains some of what must be the best known passages in the book – starting, of course, with Isaiah 40, that Dan shared with us last week: “comfort, comfort my people”, and “prepare the way of the Lord”.
Isaiah 29:13-19 | Mark 7:1-13 This week we take our second look at the book of Isaiah, and in particular, at what’s known as ‘Proto-Isaiah’, the first thirty-nine chapters of the book, that are essentially a collection prophecies to the people of God before they were taken into exile by the Assyrians and Babylonians.
Isaiah 6:1-12 | Matthew 13:10-17 When, earlier in the year, we invited everyone to write down the one thing that they would love to hear a sermon on, there were a few suggestions that sort of clustered together. In particular, quite a few people wanted to talk about the Bible; not just what it says, but what it is, and how we use it, how it speaks to us in such a different age to the one in which it was written. There were requests to think more about what meaning the Old Testament has for us, as Christians, and a couple of people specifically mentioned the book of Isaiah.
Genesis 11:1-9 | Acts 2:1-21 About ten thousand years ago, in the Tigris valley, Mesopotamia, humanity made one of those inventions that changed the direction of history. The brick. Blocks of clay or mud, dried in the sun until they were strong enough to use.
Ephesians 1:15-23 | Luke 24:44-53 Over the weeks of the season of Easter, we’ve been exploring different aspects of the theme “Jesus is…”
John 15:1-8 A few years ago we were in England on holiday, and staying with my parents. One of the many memorable moments of that trip, came when a few of us, including my mum, had just started to play a board game, when my dad slipped out into the garden, muttering something about “going to prune those bushes”.
Psalm 23 | John 10:11-18 I’ve always found the sheep stories in the Bible a bit hard to take.
1 John 1:1 – 2:2 One of the first things that I do when I come to speak on a familiar passage of scripture is to look back through my index of all the sermons I’ve ever preached, to find previous reflections on the same text.
John 20:19-31 So today we begin a series of sermons, which will be picking up – tangentially, in some cases – on some of the questions asked in our “one thing I’d like to hear someone preach on…” survey, and taking as our theme, for the six Sundays before Pentecost, this simple phrase: “Jesus is…”.
At the heart of the Christian faith lie three great mysteries.
The Passover festival was approaching. This was the high point of the Jewish year, the one time that every Jew who possibly could, would come into the city, and come to the Temple. As a result, Jerusalem was packed
John 12:20-33 So Jesus and his friends at ‘the festival’, the Passover, and amongst those who have come to Jerusalem as part of the celebration, part of the worship of God, are some Greeks;
John 3:14-21 Surely the best known reference in the Bible, John 3:16 has been used over and again as a one sentence summary of the gospel: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
John 2:13-22/strong> The cleansing of the Temple, we normally call it, and even the name comes laden with overtones of meaning – cleansing, making clean; the imagery of scrubbing away that layer of black gunk stuck onto the frying pan after a particularly unsuccessful fry-up (or that just me?) – making something clean again.
Mark 9:2-9 If you thought there was something more than usually familiar about today’s gospel reading, then you are completely correct – a strange twist in the lectionary gives us the same passage twice in the space of a couple of weeks.
For the past few weeks we’ve been looking at the stories around the very start of Jesus’ ministry; this week, as we prepare for the start of Lent, we move to a story that marks the beginning of the end.
The transfiguration, the archetypal mountaintop experience. A story strange to our ears, alien; figures from the distant past, dazzling lights, a voice from a cloud.