A digital version of this week’s worship bulletin and sermon.

Gathering

PRELUDE

CONGREGATIONAL WELCOME

CONFESSION & FORGIVENESS

Gathering Song                   “We Praise You, O God”               red book # 870

GREETING

KYRIE                                                                                                red book # 157

CANTICLE OF PRAISE                                                                   red book # 167

PRAYER of the DAY

Word

EXODUS 23:1-9

MICAH 6:6-8

LUKE 4:16-21

SERMON                                                                           Pastor Chris Halverson

Justice?

 

As we reach this, the third and final question from the pews, the end of this summer sermon series, we reach a question heavy with history and also packed with political import even today.

The question is: “What is God’s justice? Is God concerned with Justice? How should we act to be in accord with God’s justice?”

The short answer is, God’s justice is about making all things right. God is deeply concerned with Justice, in fact it is mentioned explicitly in scripture 173 and words related to it are mentioned nearly 2,000 times! And we ought to act with justice.

In order to get a sense of what justice might mean to God, and to us, it is worth looking at the broad scope of scripture and how justice is expressed therein. So, we’ll briefly look at what Justice looks like in the Torah, Prophets, and Writings of the Old Testament and how Justice is found in Jesus. Then we’ll dig a little deeper into what that means for God, and for human beings.

Prayer

 

In the first five books of the Old Testament, the Torah, we find God’s people newly freed from slavery—one of the ultimate acts of injustice, and shaping their society with an eye toward justice.

But what does that look like? Impartiality, fair distribution of land, and it was expansive.

 

It looked like impartiality on the part of those in power. Courts and kings and everyone else was to govern fairly, treating everyone equally, especially those who had the least power, widows, orphans, and the like.

Now, rather quickly, if you’re paying attention, you’ll say “hold up there Pastor” Equally and especially, don’t go together—either you treat everyone the same, or not…

but as we read in our first lesson today, the author of Exodus was well aware that

the least of these are least likely to get a fair shake,

most likely to loose a lawsuit because the deck is stacked against them,

most likely to bear the brunt of bribery and corruption.

So, justice involves the rules of society to be fair for all, but especially for the least of us.

 

One of the most radical aspects of Israelite society, one that some scholars think was so radical it was never actually practiced, was the idea of a Jubilee year. A year when everything, but especially land, reverted back to its original owner…

To our modern ears this might sound very liberal, almost communist, right… but in some ways the Jubilee year is downright reactionary. The idea is every 49 years everyone returns to the land that their tribe received from God as laid out in the Torah and the book of Joshua.

Think of it, you’re from the tribe of Dan living down south in Judah your whole life, you’ve accrued a bunch of land and wealth, and then year 49 hits. All of a sudden you’ve got to take your family and move north to Dan, and live on a tiny plot of land there, giving up all you’ve had to the members of the tribe of Judah that lived there before.

Think of if this was the case today, where did your family originally settle? Imagine having to leave everything you have and trek back there with your family and start over again.

The Jubilee year recognized that over time power and wealth accrue to some families more than to others, and if you’re one of the others, dug into a hole, digging out becomes harder the longer you are down there… and so, every 49 years there was a reset button, debts forgiven, slaves freed, land restored.

 

Finally, in the Torah the promise of justice we see is not solely for citizens of the Land, but also for those passing through or immigrating to, the land. Justice, for sojourners and immigrants, resident aliens and even enemies! Justice, for all!

 

In the Torah the community that came out of slavery in Egypt is encouraged to be just by being fair, especially to the least of these, by resetting social standing every generation, and expanding out this sense of justice beyond those within its immediate borders.

This understanding of Justice is expanded in the books of the Prophets. They look around at their society and recognize that so often the ideals of the Exodus have been abandoned,

that Justice is for just us,

that debts have been accrued so much that the poor go without footwear and coats on a cold night,

that simple ideas of equal treatment aren’t practiced anywhere.

If all that wasn’t bad enough, the people try to cover up all of their societal sins with religious ritual

—look, I made a burnt offering, I even did it in a big way

—our country is so very religious!

To which the prophets of every age reply, “do justice! Love kindness! Walk humbly with your God!”

 

The Prophets’ calls are to return to the ideals of the exodus, to reform Israel and Judah into the Justice of God!

 

As for the Writings, those wise sages were focused on how a Just society created individual good, they explored how Justice created what Philosophers might call the good life. If you act unjustly it is unwise and leads to death. If you act Justly you also act wisely, in a life giving way.

 

As for the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, listen to Jesus’ mission statement:

‘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 favor.’

Jesus embodies God’s justice. His presence among us is good news, especially for the poor, captive, blind, oppressed, he is proclaiming a Jubilee year for them all—a new start for them, for all of us!

Yes, God showing up in Jesus is an example of justice—that same type of Justice God has been about since the exodus.

Justice for all, but especially for the least of these.

A leveling—think of Mary’s Song in which thrones are thrown down and the lowly are lifted up.

An expansion of those who fall under the Kingdom of God—the citizenship among the saints is expanded, most noticeably in Paul’s mission to the Gentiles.

 

So, what does this all mean for God and for us humans?

Judging from the descriptions of God’s concerns found in scripture, we can be assured God is concerned about Justice and that God’s justice fits into a pattern at least similar to the 3 fold one I’ve described.

How should we act—there is the rub, right?

We cling to the Just and Merciful acts of God, and then act as if we don’t just believe them in our head and heart, but with our hands and our whole self as well. Working in our own selves to make it true, and among our whole society to make it so.

Fairness for all, especially the least, encouraging forgiveness of debts, expanding those who get to experience justice.

 

HYMN of the DAY              “O Day of Rest and Gladness”          red book # 521

APOSTLES CREED

PRAYERS of INTERCESSION

PEACE

Meal

OFFERING

OFFERTORY              “As the Grains of Wheat”

GREAT THANKSGIVING

A MOMENT OF THANKFUL REFLECTION

LORD’S PRAYER        

COMMUNION SONGS                           “Lamb of God”

 Also, “Let There Be Peace on Earth”, red book # 614, red book # 623

 Sending

BLESSING

ANNOUNCEMENTS

SENDING SONG                     “Thanks Be To You”

DISMISSAL

POSTLUDE                 “Hymn Improvisation”                by Tom Baker

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