justice, Shekinah, practicing presence, glory of the Lord, glory of God, light, shining

A river of justice

Readings:

  • Joshua 24: 1-3; 14-25
  • Amos 5: 18-24

5:24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.

As you walk out of Church today, what will have changed? What difference will it have made to come to church this morning and worshiped God?  What does choosing God, rather other gods, mean today? How does worshiping God change our lives?

Noris read for us this morning Amos, chapter 5, verses 18 to 24. I want to re-read those to you now, from the version “The Message”:

18-20 Woe to all of you who want God’s Judgment Day!
    Why would you want to see God, want him to come?
When God comes, it will be bad news before it’s good news,
    the worst of times, not the best of times.
Here’s what it’s like: A man runs from a lion
    right into the jaws of a bear. …
At God’s coming we face hard reality, not fantasy—
    a black cloud with no silver lining.

21-24 “I can’t stand your religious meetings.
    I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
    your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
    your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
    When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
    I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
    That’s what I want.
That’s. All. I. Want.

God’s anger in Amos was because the religious festivals were not followed up by just actions. God gave the means to reverse the people’s systems of injustice, to end inequity and oppression. But the river of people who were supposed to flow out of the temple (like when we all leave this Church this morning) to fulfill God’s promises walked out of the temple and did nothing.

You were given arms that can reach out to those who suffer: who are those arms wrapped around? Yourself? You were given feet to take the first steps towards those who feel alone, afraid, oppressed: where are your feet planted? In your comfortable life? You were given ears to hear the stories of justice denied: are you listening? You were given a mouth to speak Truth: but words are used to harm and tear down, rather than to build, and certainly not to speak Truth!**

Thursday, November 9th many Panamanians waited expectantly for a reveal of names and details regarding the Obredecht corruption cases. A nation waiting and hoping for justice to prevail and corruption to set a food on the proverbial banana skin and the other foot in the grave. It wasn’t enough.

This brings to mind, for me, Proverbs 24: 24

Whoever says to the guilty “You are innocent” will be cursed by peoples and denounced by nations.

All I read on Twitter & Facebook is frustrations and cursing of the lack of action and lack of justice. What more can and should be done? Panama needs to restart and rethink fighting corruption from a grassroots level. It needs to start in the home. Social justice and righteousness are needed from each person and member of society. And for us, it starts as we walk out of Church today. Worshiping God is not just about what we do for one hour on Sunday morning. Worshiping God is in each thought, each word & each deed.

1 John 4: 20 through 5:3  remind us:

20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. …

How do we love our brother and sister? Well, let me warn you, it’s not sentimental. It’s not that “feeling” of love. It’s about your actions -and they speak much louder than any words. John warns us about this: “we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fat, this is love for God: to keep his commands.”

Let’s take a quick walk through the Bible and discover the ways we show love to our neighbours – children of God – all created, like you and me, in the image and likeness of God:

Leviticus 19: 9-18 

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.
You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. …
… The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. …
… You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people. …
You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor… ou shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD”

Proverbs 29: 7 

The righteous care about justice for the poor…

Isaiah 1: 17 

Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

Isaiah 58: 6-7 

… this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.  Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

Jeremiah 22: 3 

… Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.

Matthew 6: 14-15 

For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 25: 35-36

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Romans 14: 13

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.

Galatians 6:2 

Carry each other’s burdens…

1 Thessalonians 5: 11

… encourage one another and build each other up…

1 Peter 3: 8

be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.

I want us to imagine, just for a moment, a world in which all Christians lived according to all these rules and fulfilled these commands. In Joshua 24 we read how the people of Israel chose to follow God and follow his commandments. What would this look like for Christians? Let’s take a moment, just to imagine this:

  • no sexual harassment
  • no hunger
  • everyone paid a fair wage
  • no slander
  • no hate, no vengeance, no grudges
  • justice for the poor
  • oppressed people who are defended vigorously, fatherless children who are protected, widows who have someone standing up for them
  • no one wrongly imprisoned
  • no human trafficking or slavery
  • the homeless living in proper shelters, the hungry given food
  • relatives receiving hep from their families
  • no wrong or violence against the immigrant
  • no innocent blood shed
  • forgiving others graciously when they make mistakes, even if they intentionally act wrongly
  • strangers invited in
  • sick cared for
  • those in prison visited and encouraged
  • no one passing judgement on you

This is justice rolling down like waters. This is an ever-flowing stream of righteousness! This is loving your neighbor and loving God.

As we go out today, let us remember this promise from Psalm 106: 3

Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right.

Always. It’s such a big word.

So, as we leave this Church this morning, may we be a small stream of water, a trickle in the giant ocean of injustice… going against the tide and shining our light in this world of darkness.

 

 

 

 

 

**https://www.reformedworship.org/article/june-2014/just-amos

 

Sermon: Prayer & Fasting

This morning we are looking at Isaiah once again, but now a chapter towards the end.  You may recall that as a whole book, I explained that it can be viewed as 2 parts, chapters 1 to 39, and then from chapter 40 to the end.

As a whole, Isaiah addresses the Babylonian exile of the Israelites over about 50 years (more than 1 generation), and how this exile fulfilled God’s plan of judgment, but more importantly:  restoration.  The Israelites are now busy rebuilding their homeland, and yet they still don’t quite get it (does that resound with any of you?).

It seems like they’ve fallen back into the pits that the Pharisees continued suffering with over 500 years later! The tragedy is that they believe they are doing all the right things and that it’s God who is letting them down!

Let’s read verses 2 and 3 again:
Yet they seek me daily,
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
‘Why have we fasted, and thou seest it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and thou takest no knowledge of it?’

So, they are praying every day and reading their Bible “as if they were righteous and were obeying God’s rules” and they ask God for righteous judgments and delight to draw near to God.

But they’re confused.

They are even fasting, not just praying.

Fasting is good, right?

It shows how serious your prayers are!  And the Israelites are convinced that they will please God and bring favor. In fact, so much so, that they made this into an ancient practice and instructed it as a pious act – fast and humble yourself before God.

So, why is God rebuking them?  How could God possibly not be pleased?

Well, there may be one or 2 small issues that they need to review in their lives.  Small things like social injustice, failing to share what they have with those who have not, failing to bring the homeless into one’s house, or give clothing and shelter to the naked… maybe reconciliation issues pending with family or loved ones, and failing to help the afflicated.

God doesn’t have a little book in which there’s a checklist:

  • So… check – Reynaldo has fed the hungry one – so, he doesn’t need to do that again for 5 years.
  • Ah yes, Connie has given clothes to the poor – so she’s good now for 3 years.
  • Look, how sweet, Betsy has brought a homeless person into a restaurant and bought them a meal – she won’t need to do that every again in her entire lifetime.

It doesn’t work like that, does it?

These are more than one-time actions:  they are a way of life.  Behaviours with broad social consequences – actions that will restructure our relationship.

God couldn’t care less for singular, pious acts – he is looking at the Church to dismantle the entire structure of injustice!

And the Church doesn’t refer to this building.  The building isn’t called in Matthew to be the Salt of the Earth, and give flavor to everyone around it.

The Church is made up simply of the people that are in it!

Isaiah 58, verses 3 to 6 remind us:

Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to hit with wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a rush,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the Lord?

There’s no point in going through the motions of a Christian life, if you are not becoming each day more like Christ.

Out of curiosity, have any of you EVER been accused of being too Christ-like?

Sometimes, being called a “Christian” can be more of an insult (referring to being sanctimonious rather than filled with the Spirit), but have you ever heard of someone saying about another Christian – “What I really can’t stand about him/her is that they are just too much like Christ?”

Traditions and systems are not all bad – but when they become rituals that are void of meaning, they lose their effectiveness.

Isaiah calls the people of Israel to a new way of life:  “the fast that God has chosen”.  It’s no longer a periodic fast day that is set aside to punctuate ongoing life – but it’s a new relationship with life and with all that it in it!

58:6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
58:7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Instead of stopping eating food for a day, or doing the fast of Daniel for 3 weeks, or giving up red meat for Lent, God calls the people of Israel to stop the daily practices which block their relationship with God and their fellowman:

  • Stop domination and taking advantage of others
  • Stop blaming others
  • Stop talking behind someone’s back
  • Stop complaining
  • Stop being so self-centered and focused on self-satisfaction
  • Stop your feeling of entitlement
  • Stop your blindness to your privilege

The fast that God is looking for in our lives is the one that calls for vigilance for justice and generosity- each and every day!

Verses 8 to 12 remind us that we work (actions) on our relationships with our fellow man, and THEN it follows that our relationship with God grows deeper.  The barriers that we build between ourselves and our fellow man and the very same barriers that block our relationship with God! It’s impossible to have a relationship with God without having a full relationship with each other!  Your piety or righteousness is not disconnected from everyday life.

The way that you treat the waiter, the security guard, the beggar is just as important as your prayers or reading the Bible.

58:8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
58:9a Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
58:9b If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
58:10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.
58:11 The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
58:12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

We say to God “Lord, give me patience” and then are upset when he responds with, okay – this is the way that I teach patience.  “Here, have a 5 year old!”.

We say to God “Lord, give me abundance” and then you don’t understand when God asks you to be generous.

We say to God “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace”, and then fail to mediate a discussion in the office, or ask for forgiveness when another feels offended.

Prayer is so much more than just making our requests known to God – it’s going out into the World and LIVING the lessons each day.

The Ultimate Sacrifice

Lectionary Readings:

  1. Acts 10: 34-43
  2. Psalms 118:1-2, 14-24
  3. 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11
  4. Mark 16: 1-8

Let’s pray:
Lord of life,
From the beginning of time, You knew the final outcome and watched as the jigsaw pieces were slotted into place.
While Your blood was poured out and on Your head was placed a crown of thorns, even to the darkness of the grave, You saw the triumph that would be won over the power and fear of death.
You walked from the empty tomb, opening wide the gates of life. You defeated death to show us that we can rise from all that binds us to the world: pride, envy, anger, fear and the debt of sin that holds us here.
Lord of life, You defeated death to demonstrate a love that is beyond our understanding.
On this day we pray, Lord of love and Lord of peace, Lord of resurrection – be known through our lives and through Your power. Amen.

How many men in history can claim to have had such a radical effect on the world as that man Jesus of Nazareth?  While many may doubt the historical accuracy of the Bible, it’s impossible to ignore the striking effect of Jesus on those who witnessed his life, his death and his resurrection.

In our day and age, with the internet, television & radio, news travels in a moment.  But 2,000 years ago, there were no mass means of communication.  There was word of mouth, the news was passed on from village to village… And yet, we find in Acts we find Peter in Caesarea, speaking in Cornelius’ household, where he said:

“you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power.  He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”[1]

In the first Century after Christ, we find that the Emperor Domitian (in the second great persecution – not the first one under Nero), some 40,000 Christians were martyred. If forty thousand died in just this second phase of persecution, how far had Christianity spread in those first 100 years?  It has been said that there may have been as many as five hundred thousand or a million Christians by the end of the first century.  All of this, by word of mouth.

Try, for a moment, to put yourself in the shoes of those early Christians, living 100 years after Christ. The apostles were all dead.  There was no one living that had been a personal witness to his life and death. There were no history books to refer to, cataloguing the life of Christ as a historical fact.  There was actually no New Testament either.

So, why would they slip out at night, away from their masters and hiding from the Romans, to meet in caves and catacombs and darkened rooms?  What did they expect to happen that was so different, so important, that it would attract them to risk their lives to hear of the gospel?  What kind of church meeting would bring them out at night, against the threat of a government that was trying to kill them?  If today it’s hard to fill a church when it rains, what would it be like if you thought you might be killed for coming on Sundays?

Forget about the paraphernalia, comforts and trappings that we have inherited from nineteen hundred years of church councils, traditions, theologians, translators & interpreters.  Forget the creeds, the prescribed order of worship, the special church language, the hymnal, scholarly commentaries, or anything else that we may use to structure our services.   What was so special about the events of Easter that it was worth dying for?

What is it that we celebrate today?

Today we celebrate the ultimate sacrifice of that man Jesus, who taught us:

Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.[2]

His crucifixion was indeed the greatest act of sacrifice, perfectly demonstrating his teaching.  But his death is not where it ends.

We are taught that there is no fear in death, because Jesus was resurrected from the dead.  This celebration is not about Jesus hanging on a cross; we celebrate because we believe he is the Lord of life, that there is life after death, and that there is victory over death.

Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians emphasises the importance of the resurrection:

“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.  … For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. … If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.[3]

As followers of Jesus, we are to live in hope – not just a hope for a better world or life in this lifetime, but a hope for all eternity.

But I want to take this day not only to reflect on that ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made, believing until death that his sacrifice would be enough; I want us today to reflect also on the sacrifices of his life.

His daily walk was an example of the Golden Rule: doing unto others as we would have them do for us.  He exhausted himself in giving to others: preaching the Kingdom of Heaven, healing, casting out demons, and comforting those who came to Him for help.

His life has been exalted as the perfect pattern for our lives.

But let’s be honest: sacrifice is not a concept that any of us truly enjoys.  Yet the man we know as Jesus, sacrificed those things that we prize as “good” and “worthy”:

  • Family, with all the joys and comforts that come with it;
  • Ambition, wealth, prestige & popularity
  • Position and other elements of success

How do we embrace being a follower of Jesus more seriously and focus on its core: the life of Christ?  When considering how to live our lives and how best to demonstrate the love of Jesus and that we, are truly his followers, we should ask ourselves daily “What would Jesus do?”

Right now the phrase “What would Jesus do?” is being used by the Occupy Movement.  It has been used by anti-war protestors in the question “Who would Jesus bomb?”, and even gone so far as to be the subject of the “What would Jesus eat?” biblical diet plan.

Many of us may be confused about how to imitate the life of Christ, when He lived in such a different culture, society and age as we live today.  Some may argue that the Bible offers little detail about Jesus’ daily life when he wasn’t preaching or performing miracles; and others will mischievously point out that when he wasn’t doing that, he was hanging out in bars, with prostitutes and tax collectors or trashing the temple.  (Perhaps that’s not quite the answer we’re looking for.)

Jesus’ purpose on this earth was to show us the way to establish a relationship with the Creator God, with the Divine.  To open the way for us to be anointed by the Spirit, to do bigger and greater things.  Jesus didn’t tell us to do what He did, He told us to do even greater things.

In the spirit of asking how we can better follow His example, it may be helpful to ask “What did Jesus do?”?

  1. He was humble and served others – no matter how much power and glory he had or was entitled to, this is the man who washed the feet of his disciples.  Is your life characterised by a servant’s heart?
  2. He glorified God – In all of Jesus’ teachings, he doesn’t speak of Himself, so much as of God and God’s Kingdom.  His purpose on this earth was to re-establish our relationship with the Creator God.
  3. He lived a life of prayer, meditation and constant communion with God.  As if points one and two weren’t hard enough, I truly struggle to take the time to stop everything and just be still.  Many of you know me as “the Prayer Lady” – but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier.  I’m not talking about those prayers were you have a list of petitions that you put before God, those ones where we try to convince God that we want Him to uphold our agenda, and bless our ambitions (I’m quite good at those ones! They fit into my way of working and thinking).  I’m talking about that prayer and meditation where you have a private two-way conversation with the Spirit.  That time where you stop everything else and get quiet, open your heart and mind, elevate your spirit, care for another and become one with the Universe, reaching out for God, where you bow Yourself humbly before the supernatural and inquire of the Creator, stop thinking, analysing and planning and just listen; and then make sure that you test the spirit & nature of anything that pops into your mind.
  4. And lastly, Jesus lived a life of sacrifice – He gave of his time to others, He gave of his energy to others, He laid his hands on the sick and worked till He was exhausted.  And his final sacrifice completely changed the world’s religions in a way none of us could ever have imagined.

For me, the following phrase sums up the life and example of Jesus “Not my will but Thine be done”.[4]

It’s that life that relinquishes and unclasps our grubby little fingers that are tightly grasping our possessions, money, hopes & expectations, and then demanding that God uphold our plans.  It’s understanding that our wants don’t come first, and understanding that it’s the Divine Way, not “my way”.

Today, we remember Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  We give thanks to God for his gentle mercy and untiring love.  We give thanks to Jesus for His ultimate sacrifice and for his pattern of how to live our lives: saying “yes” to the Divine, and “no” to our own selfishness.  We learn today the meaning of sacrifice and surrender.  We learn today that we are given enough grace to do what our Creator has planned for us to do – whether that be serving a meal to a homeless person, buying uniforms for needy children, taking a meal over to widows and those without families to support them, or contributing to our society in any other way.

The pattern of the Christian life we are to follow, demonstrated by Jesus, provides us with unadulterated peace in our relationship with the Creator God. It’s one in which we may have to learn obedience through suffering, and submit to the will of the Divine.  Heaven is waiting for those who have gone through Gethsemane, who have finally handed over the reins of their lives, and let go.  No longer stubbornly refusing to submit, hoisting clenched fists defiantly in the air… but humbly saying to the Spirit: “not my will, but Thine be done.”

That will be the moment in which we begin to do greater things than even Jesus did, as we were put on this earth to do by our Creator.

Let us pray:

Grant us the strength, Lord God, of body and of spirit, to offer you the sacrifice of our lives.
So often we find ourselves apologising to you for our abbreviated prayer life; and yet you draw us into your presence, as you did the disciples at Gethsemane.  You ask us to share in your life and to play our part.   You ask us to watch and pray, so that we might not fall into temptation.  And yet, so often in prayer our thoughts are distracted by sounds or circumstances, or diverted by trivial concerns.  We carry our baggage with us, rather than leaving it at your feet.
Come Holy Spirit: dispel the darkness from our minds and open our eyes.  Revive our drooping faith, our doubts and fears.  Kindle in our hearts the flame of everlasting love.
Grant us each the strength to be still and know that you are God.   Speak to us through the grass of the meadows, through the trees of the forest, through the valleys and the hills.   Speak to us through the rain, thunder and lightning, through the waves of the sea, through the dew of the morning and the peace of the evening.
God of gods, in Thy mercy, in Thy love, be with us now.  We know and we speak of Your love and ask that you help us to put away, for this hour, the cares of this life; so that we may know in truth your presence.
Let us each find that place of the inner vision and through Your Spirit let us hear the wondrous secret.  Through Your mystic insight, cause a spring of knowledge to well up inside us, a fountain of power, pouring forth living waters, a flood of love and of all-embracing wisdom, like the splendour of your eternal Light.
Creator, open our hearts to peace and healing between all people; open our hearts to provide and protect the children of this earth; open our hearts to respect for the earth of which we are guardians and the gifts that it grants; open our hearts to do greater things than those done by Jesus in his brief 33 years on this earth.
God who sees all things, in our consciousness, let us find happiness in the love of Thee.  Fill us with love towards our fellowman. Make us worthy to serve our fellow men throughout the world, especially those who live and die in poverty & huger.  Let our life, our words, our deeds, bring the joy and happiness of Jesus to each person that we meet, day by day.  Give to our fellow man, through our hands, this day their daily bread and by our understanding, give them love, peace & joy.
Amen.


[1] Acts 10: 37-38
[2] John 15: 13
[3] 1 Corinthians 15: 13-19
[4] Luke 22:42