Sunday, January 12, 2014

Called to do Justice

Isaiah 42: 1- 9: Called to do Justice
North Decatur Presbyterian Church, Decatur, GA
January 12, 2014

Would you mind repeating this phrase? Here is your servant.

Let’s say it together: Here is your servant.  

I’m going to have us say this together several times in this sermon.  And as you say it, put one hand on your heart. and extending another hand outward toward others.

Let’s try it,(hands): Here is your servant.
On this day in which we remember the baptism of Jesus, and are called to renew our own baptismal promises:
My hope, through this liturgy, the sermon, the music, is that we leave here with a renewed sense that we are called to serve boldly in this world.

I love this Isaiah passage: Strong statements, speaking of God’s Servant.

God’s servant will bring forth Justice to the nations”
God’s servant will faithfully bring forth justice”
God’s servant will not grow faint or be crushed until Justice has been established”
The task of the servant is clear: To bring about Justice on earth. on earth.
Let’s say our phrase again: “Here is your servant”

Undeniably, again and again, scripture attests to a God who loves Justice.  
Let justice roll down like waters  

What does the Lord require, but to do justice!

Isaiah says: The task of the God’s servant is to bring forth justice.

Say it with me: Here is your servant..

Now, Isaiah said this about God’s servant thousands of years ago.  Here we are in the 21st century.  Certainly, most of the issues of injustice have been resolved, right?

Of course i’m kidding.  

What are some of the issues of injustice we concern ourselves with?


Now I’d like to do two things.
First, speak to some of the ways in which we may be hindered to fulfil our role as God’s servants:
our own blindness, and our our sense of feeling helpless or weary in the face of injustices.

And then, share stories about ways in which people have overcome some of these conditions in order to fight for justice.  

Isaiah says one of the foremost tasks of the the servant of God’s is to give sight to the blind

A servant must be able to see the injustices in the world…
The challenge is that so often we do not see:
...In many ways we are simply blind!

psychologists may call this denial.
Instead of being open to the way things actually are, we are convinced things are a certain way and it is very hard to convince us otherwise.  

Take for example economic inequality.
Most of us would agree this is a justice issue, right?
And it’s amazing how our society can continue to perpetuate or even exacerbate the so called wealth gap.
Social programs are being action is being taken on living wage issues
while at the same time
The biggest firms on wall street set aside $91 Billion in bonuses at the end of 2013, to add to the already incredibly high salaries.
Impoverished communities are easily demonized as dangerous places filled with bad people who are unwilling to work, or who work low wage jobs because they dropped out of school... why should social programs be funded to help them, why should wages be raised?

Contrast this with images in which the wealthy are lauded as being of reputable and upstanding character, and hard working.
Wealthy people are publicized all over as people to emulate.

And so programs are cut, working class wages remain flat, and bonuses are doled out.  

Public sentiment remains neutral, So often we fail to see the connections.

Regardless of where we fall on the issue we can all agree that we don’t want children going hungry, we don’t want people to live in poverty, Can we ask God for vision to see how to bring justice to these issues that so often divide?

Another more literal example of not seeing: the reality of climate change.
A huge justice issue because the poorest populations who are contributing the least to global warming will be the ones who suffer most as a result of global warming.  

One of my favorite podcasts is Living on Earth.
A recent show featured an interview with Bill Ruckelshaus--the first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency who oversaw the initial implementation of the Clean Water Act. The EPA was formed in the early 70s because there was a public outcry about all the environmental degradation: “rivers caught fire and fish washed up dead by the thousands; cities were so fogged by pollution people had trouble seeing one another.”

When asked about the environmental problems of today, problems Mr. Ruckelshaus says are much more severe, Ruckelshaus admits that there is not as much public concern as there was then.  
His explanation:  
We don't see the same kinds of visible pollution problems today that we did.
We don't have flammable rivers anymore and we don't have smog that’s so awful that you can’t even see one another.
Problems today; they tend to be more invisible.

So often We don’t see.

Isaiah says: God’s servant is to bring sight to the blind

Can you say it again: Here is your servant.

God’s servant is also one who brings out prisoners from the dungeon…

One of my biggest problems with being the servant I think I am called to be is my own sense of complacency: feeling okay about where I am, what I’m doing, and what’s going on.  

This complacency comes from two major factors:
First, what psychology calls role theory…
where we tend to act in a way other people expect.

I’m the son of Jim and Anne Topple, I’m a Presbyterian minister, I’m a father, I’m a white male…. I’m supposed to act a certain way; and in ways more powerful than I can understand I am imprisoned by these expectations...

to further illustrate role theory:
Some of you may have heard of the so-called prison experiment conducted at Stanford by professor Zimbardo.  
regular students were divided  into two sets: some were the guards and the
others were the prisoners; they started acting out roles as people expected.
The planned two-week investigation had to be ended after only six days because the guards became sadistic and the prisoners became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress.

Each student, as he acted as a guard or a prisoner, the action itself was pounding in the idea.

IN other words:
What you think may change what you do,
but perhaps even more important, what you do will change what you think.
We are both set free and imprisoned by our actions and our inaction.  
God’s servant is called to bring for the prisoner from the dungeon.

The second factor leading to my sense of complacency or inaction comes from my own sense of inadequacy...who am I to do something?  
I get trapped into thinking my efforts wouldn’t really matter, or overwhelmed by a sense that I can’t do enough, paralyzed by anger, fear, or frustration.  
So I’ll sometimes pass the buck, saying it’s someone else’s job,
or make up excuses as to why I can’t engage.  
When really, more likely I feel powerless in the face of so many challenges.

the late Nobel Price laureate, Wangiri Maathi nobel 2004,
Told a story to help one overcome any sense of inadequacy or what she calls a sense of awkwardness.
It’s the the story of a hummingbird:  
Maathi said:

We are constantly being bombarded by problems that we face
and sometimes we can get completely awkward.
The story of the hummingbird is about this huge forest being consumed by a fire.
All the animals in the forest come out
and they are transfixed as they watch their forest burning
and they feel very awkward, very powerless, except this little hummingbird.
It says ‘I’m going to do something about the fire.’
So it flies to the nearest stream, takes a drop of water and puts it on the fire.
It goes up and down, up and down, picking up water and putting it on the fire as fast as it can.
In the meantime all the other animals, much bigger animals,
like the elephant, with the big trunk, who could bring much more water.
They are standing there helpless, and they are saying to the hummingbird,
‘what do you think you can do? You’re too little. This fire is too big.
Your wings are too little, and you’re beak so small,
you can only bring a small drop of water at a time.’
But as they continue to discourage it,
it turns to them without wasting any time and tells them,
‘I’m doing the best I can.’
And that to me is what all of us should do.

We should always feel like a hummingbird, concludes Maathi.                         
I like to think the story ends with the other animals finally joining the hummingbird in the struggle to put out the fire.    

So often, we find that justice workers begin their efforts surrounded by just a few or even alone, but in time, many people join in the struggle.  

One fighting hummingbird is another nobel laureate, Liberian Leymah Gbowee:

Ms. Gbowee, a trauma specialist, was caught in the raging fires of war in her country, Liberia...but, she grew weary of treating war victims, so she decided she was going to work to bring an end to war.  
Gbowee used the anger, frustration and sadness she had experienced and transformed it into energy for peace.

In 2002, she mobilized a network of over 2,000 women in 15 provinces, from different religious and ethnic backgrounds, to protest against the war and the violence in the region.

Gbowee's work inspired many women to engage in a non-violent struggle against war and violence and for women's rights.” (Nobel Prize Website)

When asked where she got her strength to stand up and make a difference....
Gbowee pointed to her faith:    

“I didn't get there by myself... or anything I did as an individual,
but it was by the grace and mercy of God....
He has held my hands.
In the most difficult of times, he has been there.
They have this song, she says:
"Order my steps in your ways, dear Lord,"
and every day as I wake up, that is my prayer, because there's no way that anyone can take this journey as a peacebuilder, as an agent of change in your community,
without having a sense of faith....
As I continue this journey in this life, I remind myself:
All that I am, all that I hope to be, is because of God.” (as quoted in Wikipedia article)

When thinking about being God’s servant, I’m reminded of the words of Archbishop Romero,  
It helps to take the long view.
fighting for justice takes time, effort; despite its urgency, it cannot be hurried.
Bringing about justice comes through organizing and community movements - we’re not in it alone, others are with us, we are with others.
Working in community requires patience and can be so very tiring.
Isaiah says:  God’s servant will not grow faint or be crushed…
Say it with me: here is your servant.  
we must lift one another up in this vital work.  

A friend of mine, Andrew Black, is an aid to US Senator Martin Heinrich.
After I’d been working with my small congregation for a few years in Santa Fe, I was surprised how easy it was for me to get justice workers to come to the church to give talks:
social workers addressing domestic violence, immigrant rights activist, worker justice advocates.
We were such a small group of people.
Why would they so readily come and speak to our small group, for no pay, on a Sunday morning?  I asked my friend Andrew this question.  
He said because church is one of the few places where communities who seek to do justice in this world consistently gather.
Churches are where people are called by a god who loves justice.
Churches are where communities are formed,
and through baptism, transformed and empowered to live into God’s vision for justice by fighting that good fight!  
Yet, We live in a time when it is hard to have faith in the power of a small community of believers. Has there been a time in history when ordinary Americans have felt more powerless, more disillusioned with government, or less capable of slamming the brakes on [fill in the blank] injustice in the world?" The problems are’s a long hard road

But you know what: If it’s not us, then who?
If not here, where? If not now, When?

It's high time for us to take matters into our own hands.
It’s high time for us to take matters into our own hands!  

(adapted from Madelin Ostrander’s article "The YES! Breakthrough 15", Yes! Magazine, p. 17 ff, Winter 2012).   

Our own hands...

One Saturday morning, a kids show on a christian channel turns up on our tv screen.  
There, a smiling woman sings enthusiastically with green furry puppets:
“What’s in your hands…what’s in your hands
Use it for God! Use it for God
What’s in your hands…what’s in your hands,
Use it for Good!   Use it for Good”

What are the gifts God has given you?  
If we made a list of all the gifts found in this room, it would cover the sanctuary walls.

Author Margaret Wheatley in Turning to One Another,
a book on hope and community, writes
"In a crisis, the space is wide open for contribution...People have a deep desire to help, so they perform miracles. We discover capacities we didn't know we had.
Children of God, as we remember the gift of our own baptisms, and our calling to use the gifts we’ve been given to make of this old world, a brand new world.

Let us say it one more time: God’s servant brings justice to the world.
“here is your servant.”Thanks be to God.  Amen.