The poem read by Mike this morning has great relevance in today’s adversarial climate. Remember when we were taught to keep things civil, just talk about the weather. Well, we can’t do that any longer because there is such disagreement about why our weather is a bit erratic and too warm. From what we read at the library to going through the grocery line, we hear and see many more conflicts than ever before, as there is a surge in lack of civility and lack of concern for one another. It can seem hopeless to make any relevant or longterm changes in this kind of climate, unless we concentrate on using what we have for the greater good of the world, or this meeting, but mainly the greater good for all people. We have many blessings that we can use for making this a better world, even if it means getting healthier or patching up a friendship, avoiding polluting the environment, or helping equality and peace in some fashion. We are blessed with our bodies including our eyes, our ears, our hands and our feet that most of us have use of some or all of. We are blessed with our homes, heat, food, companionship, and for those of us who make a point to seek the Divine in everything we have grace, mercy, and patience we are working on in order to seek the good in all people and in all situations. These are blessings. These blessings can all be used for the greater good of this world, one act of kindness, one act of peace, one sincere apology, or one act of equality and equity that we bring into this world.
Each deed, each change of thought to something loving and kind, each action of gentleness or respect is one step, one rung on the ladder higher as we all climb toward the peaceable kingdom.
Tomorrow marks the birthday date of Martin Luther King Jr. I grew up in the Deep South where the fighting over integration was a part of my life. I appreciated the words of Dr. King. I like how he inspired and promoted nonviolent interactions. I was only two when he gave the “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington. But the words from that speech have echoed in my head. If you haven’t already read or heard this speech, I encourage you to find it tomorrow on youtube and listen. And when he gets to the part where he says:
We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. Know that mighty stream of justice is a reference to Amos 5.
Amos 5 teaches us a lot about justice and how to create a more just world. How to get us to the point the justice rolls down like an unfailing stream.
In a manuscript of a sermon preached November 12th, 2017, Jeremy Marshall wrote about the word justice. “We typically think of this word in terms of retribution. The bad guy gets what’s coming to him. That’s part of what the Bible means when it talks about justice, but only part. Justice isn’t something you do to clean up after the bad thing has happened. It’s actively working to correct situations that hurt and humiliate people, and to promote situations where people aren’t hurt and humiliated. It’s making sure that anyone who’s been mistreated is made whole. And it’s leveling the playing field of life.”
When we look at the scripture, especially in the Old Testament, we think of a retributive God. But God, being love, is about wholeness and healing, compassion and fortitude. If you listen to the prophet Isaiah, we are to seek justice by helping the oppressed, defending the orphan and pleading for the widow. In Ezekiel the reason that the leaders of Israel were denied justice was because they had oppressed the poor and mistreated the immigrants. But it also warns against using religion to think we are good people. Instead, we are encouraged to help true justice that heals from the inside out, gives places and environments for healing, and refuses to do things that harm others or the planet in any way.
Helping people to make these changes can only be done in a permanent way if we do so lovingly and with compassion for all, patiently and with grace as they mistake after mistake, and after we make mistake after mistake even when we are trying to do good. It makes no sense if we say, “Hurt people hurt,” and then hurt the people who hurt others. We keep creating voids of lack-of-love in the fabric of humanity that is already full of holes from its inception. Instead, we must learn to darn and weave, patch and create, quilt and construct until the tapestry is whole again, until the whole fabric is a gorgeous testament to Love itself. Instead of putting the heavy load of judging on people, encourage and enliven all for whom this life has become burdensome. Justice then isn’t about vengeance or the threat of harm or loss of power. If we are to be people of love, Friends to the world, seekers of Truth, we will be out in the world actively promoting good and helping the needy and vulnerable. There will be around each of us a circle of love in which seeds of goodness and grace grow. You will see it spring into reality when you are mindful of how you treat people, how you forgive, how you offer compassion, how you lead through servitude, and the demeanor you bring to a situation. What does your presence say to the world? Does it encourage compassion and healing?
I have a fiery temper. This is not an excuse, it is a fact. It takes hard work not to return evil for evil by me, but to serve goodness instead. I know what it means to struggle to bite your tongue or to love and forgive those who have used and persecuted you. I can relate, but it means I can bring even more compassion, even more strength if I dig more deeply, set my boundaries in a healthy way, and go about sowing love, sowing goodness, sowing grace in the garden around myself, watering from a deeper well that God’s love can flow into my heart.
Jeremy Marshall concluded in his sermon, “The kingdom of God is what God is doing through us—through you and me as individuals, and through the church as a group—to bring healing and hope and peace to the world. When our first desire is God’s kingdom, our hearts want the same things God’s heart desires: to see the wandering find their way home, to see the neglected taken care of, and to see broken hearts healed. We will open our hearts and lives and maybe even our tables and our wallets to let God do those things through us.”
I’d like to conclude with a verse from Hosea ‘Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love and mercy. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the LORD, with love in your hearts, with a sense of joy even in tough situations, with the peace that passes all understanding.