Monday, March 03, 2014

Seeing that Justice is Done

Seeing that Justice is Done
Ps 99; Mt. 17:1-9[1]
  There are so many voices competing for our attention these days.  That’s especially true whenever we’re coming up to an election.  It seems that everybody who’s running for just about any office has a commercial on TV these days.  And pardon me for saying so, but it’s my impression that many of them are engaged in a competition to outdo each other in promoting the very opposite of what we’ve been hearing from the Scripture lessons.  Instead of the generosity, kindness, and compassion that the Bible calls us to practice toward all people, we hear things that seem to reflect indifference toward others, and even at times outright hostility. 
  But that is not the way of life we’ve been learning about.  We’ve heard that what God desires of us is to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8).[2]  We’re to “let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke” (Isa. 58:6) and so live as light for the world.  We’re called to “loving the LORD your God,” which means “walking in his ways, and observing his commandments” (Deut. 30:16).  And Jesus took those commandments and made them about what goes on in our hearts, not just our outward actions.  And as we learned last week that when it comes to “loving our neighbors” the Scriptures are very specific and all-inclusive.  They measure the quality of our faith by how we treat the weakest members of society.
  And so we have come full circle during the Season of Epiphany.  We began with Jesus’ Baptism, which demonstrated his commitment to carry out the role of the “servant of the Lord.” He was intent on “fulfilling all righteousness,” which means that he was going to set about God’s work of righting the wrongs and lifting the burdens from the oppressed.  In a word, he was going to see that God’s justice is done.  And as we pointed out then, God’s justice means that the hungry are fed, the prisoners are set free, the blind receive their sight, those who are bowed down are lifted up, and the widows and orphans and the immigrants have someone to watch over them.[3]
  In a very real sense, I think we could look at all of Jesus’ life in the light of that commitment to God’s justice.  Our Scripture lesson from Psalm 99 for today tells us that the kind of justice we’ve been talking about, the fairness that makes it possible for all people to thrive equally, is something that God has “established” (Ps. 99:4).[4]  And so it should come as no surprise that Jesus set about establishing God’s justice.  Seeing that God’s justice is done could very well have been a “mission statement” for Jesus. Except that in Jesus’ case, it would seem that he was one who determined to “see that justice is done everywhere.” [5] And the way he “established” this justice was not simply by his own life.  He called those of us who would follow him to see that justice done for everyone, everywhere.[6]
  As at Jesus’ baptism, so at his Transfiguration, there is a heavenly voice that confirms his commitment to carry out this role.[7]  I believe this is one of the important outcomes the Transfiguration was intended to accomplish: to convey to Jesus’ closest disciples that he was indeed carrying out God’s justice, and that they were to “hear him” (Mt. 17:5).  I think the point of this went beyond simple hearing.  It seems to me that the point was that they pay attention to what Jesus was teaching them about justice, fairness, and compassion.  And paying attention meant putting Jesus’ teachings into practice when then came down from the mountain.[8]
  That’s where it gets complicated for us. When we do that, we have to change the way we actually live.  But most of us resist change.  As one contemporary prophet puts it, “we try to engineer our own transformation by our own rules and by our own power.”[9]  But when we try to become the masters of our own conversion, we tend to miss the “log” in our own eyes, in all of our eyes, and obsess about the “speck” in others’ eyes.[10]  And so we stroll blandly through our lives, never really “hearing” what Jesus was saying at all.  We’d much rather let it go in one ear and out the other so we can avoid the changes Jesus demanded of those who said they wanted to follow him.[11]
  It’s only when we actually let the challenging and sometimes incredibly difficult demands of Jesus really sink in, that we can begin to change.  It’s only when we really hear his call to see that justice is done, that we can begin to experience the new life he offers us all.  But that means that in order to really hear him, we have to have to start with ourselves first.  We have to take the logs out of our own eyes.  That’s where real justice begins--with a change in our own hearts that translates into a different way of living. That’s when we begin following Jesus’ call to see that God’s justice is done by doing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.

[1] © 2014 Alan Brehm.  A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 3/2/2014 at First Presbyterian Church of Dickinon, TX.
[2] Cf. Daniel J. Simundson, “The Book of Micah,” New Interpreters Bible VII:582-83, where he points out that “what God expects of us is a dedication of our whole lives, not just outward and occasional acts of piety.”
[3] Cf. H.-J. Kraus, A Continental Commentary: Theology of the Psalms, 43: Justice is “first of all, as its ‘proper work,’ the bringing of assistance, deliverance, and loyalty to those who are victims of injustice, persecution, and false accusations.”
[4] Cf. James L. Mays, Psalms, 311: “The LORD’s reign is power devoted to righteousness and justice.  Righteousness is the rightness that makes for life and shalom; justice is found in decisions and actions according to righteousness.”  Cf. also Kraus, Theology of the Psalms, 42: “The holiness of Israel’s God is the power that makes justice and righteousness prevail.”
[5] Cf. H.-J. Kraus, A Continental Commentary: Psalms 60–150, 272: “the holy God who is glorified in Israel is the God of the nations (v. 2*). His justice and judgment, manifest in the chosen people has universal validity and power.”
[6] Cf. J. Clinton McCann, Jr., “The Book of Psalms,” New Interpreters Bible IV: 1076: “Because the Holy One is committed to being with us and enacting justice and righteousness among us, it is fitting that Jesus taught us to pray, ‘hallowed be thy name, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Cf. also Mays, Psalms, 315, where he says that God’s exercise of justice in Israel “was prophetic of his coming rule over the world.”
[7] Cf. Douglas R. A. Hare, Matthew, 199-200.
[8] Cf. Hare, Matthew, 200: “Seeing Jesus transfigured has value only if it leads the disciples to listen obediently to his divinely authorized teaching.”  Cf. also Ulrich Luz, Matthew: A Commentary, 399: “In the narrative the ‘listen to him’ ... of the divine voice is, as it were, God’s finger pointing down from the mountain. Below, on the level of everyday life, the Son of God will proclaim to his disciples the will of the Father and the gospel of the kingdom.”
[9] Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, 4.
[10] Cf. Rohr, Breathing Under Water, 4: “many Christians whittle down the great Gospel to some moral issue over which they can feel totally triumphant and superior, and which usually asks nothing of them personally.”
[11] Cf. Rohr, Breathing Under Water, 4: “Christians are usually sincere and well-intentioned people until you get to any real issues of ego, control, power, money, pleasure, and security.  Then they tend to be pretty much like everybody else

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