Tag Archives: Justice

Awakening

Living in the Spirit
August 28, 2017

Scripture Reading: Exodus 3:1-15

Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’ –Exodus 3:7-12

The above scripture is preceded by the story of Moses’ encounter with the burning bush, what I consider to be an awakening experience. How long had Moses chewed on his earlier life and what was happening to his people before the dawn broke and he felt the call to make a difference? Do we all experience moments in our lives when we too understand an issue but ask the question “Who and I to go and address this problem?” The answer in Moses case was self-evident. He knew well the workings of the Egyptian government; he knew well the oppression of his people. No one had greater motivation or was better prepared than he. God did not answer his question with this sort of logic. God said I will be with you and furthermore when you complete the task and are worshiping me back here on this mountain hindsight will tell you that it was I who sent you.

How many of us are feeling the tug of God to get on with the business of being the Body of Christ in the world today and not be distracted by principalities and powers tossing our way of being about like rag dolls? Who are we to go and address the problems of our world?  We serve a risen Savior who is in the world today working in and through us as God worked in and through Moses and Miriam and Peter and Mary Magdalene, and Paul and Pheobe and all of God’s other children who share God’s vision of a world ruled by love. If not us who?

What life experiences do we bring to the table? Are we retired teachers; can we tutor? Are we working in health care; what solutions do we see to cut costs and continue to provide quality care? Are we scientist; can we find ways to curb global warming? Are we citizens; can we remind our elected officials that they work for us, not the lobbyist?

Prayer: Lord, if our backs are to the burning bush, turn us around. Awaken us to your call for oneness and justice throughout our lands. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Taking Sides

Living in the Spirit
August 23, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 124

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
   —let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
   when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
   when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
   the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
   the raging waters.

 Our help is in the name of the Lord,
   who made heaven and earth. –Psalm 124:1-5, 8

Rabbi Harold Kushner explores well the issue of faith in the midst of tragedy in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. We are called to pray for all kinds of disasters and illness, and we do. As much as we try to grapple with God’s presence in the face of tragedy, it remains a mystery cloaked in our very human reactions.

I believe that God is love and is present with us in all of life’s challenges. I also believe that God does not favor any of God’s children over any of God’s other children. I do not remember who said it, but someone was reported to say something to the effect that God was the first one to cry following the Oklahoma City bombing. I believe that to be true.

Matthew quotes Jesus as saying

 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45)

The last phrase of this scripture is the most familiar. I think it important that we read the full saying. The Lord is always present and is always on the side of love no matter what. Our faith in that plays out in our worldview and our response to others. As part of the Body of Christ we are called to be instrumental in refocusing our world toward the rule of love.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for your patient love. Let it flow through each of us to all of us. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Being a Good Follower

Living in the Spirit
August 22, 2017

Scripture Reading: Exodus 1:8-2:10

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him for three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him. –Exodus 2:1-4

God provides leaders when people are ready to follow. I may be the only person in the world that loves the first chapter of the book of Acts. It tells the story of the Disciples recovering from the shock of Jesus’ death and resurrection, deciding it is time to do the work Jesus taught them, called them to do. Acts 1 is the report of a board meeting where a replacement member is selected and other mundane administrative tasks completed. Acts 2 reports the arrival of the Holy Spirit and Peter, yes the one who denied Christ, stepping up to the plate and saying let’s go. Exodus 2 is the story of a mother’s frantic attempt to save the life of her newborn son and what she saw happen over time with the realization of a leader for the ages, a man called Moses.

Every small, what might seem futile or insignificant advocacy work we do, primes the pump for greater things to come. Courageous leaders need steadfast, loyal followers. Politicians, particularly who go against the gerrymandered grain, need to know they have support. I, probably like you, grow weary of all the emails and texts that I receive every day that often are written in chicken-little language usually asking for money. We do need to pick our battles. If we can afford it, we need to provide financial support as we deem wise. We cannot just sit back, wring our hands and say, “What a shame.”

Living in such a time as these demands a closer more intimate relationship with Christ. We must not give in to bullies who challenge us to respond in the same way they act. We defeat our purpose when we do. When Jesus said to love one another, he meant it regarding all God’s children. We may make mistakes along the way, but with a commitment to following Jesus’ way and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can set an example of love that is stronger than any hate.

Prayer: God grant me the ability to love like Jesus in such a time as these. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Oppression 101

Living in the Spirit
August 21, 2017

Scripture Reading: Exodus 1:8-2:10

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’ Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labour. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them. –Exodus 1:8-14

Follow the money is the phrase often included in crime investigation stories. It is also good advice when trying to weed out oppression. Oppression happened in Egypt in antiquity; it is happening in the USA today.  Immigration laws need to be crisp, efficient and based on areas of the economy where there are not enough workers to meet demand. Such laws also must recognize that workers who come into our country and seek to stay, just like those already here, function best within a supportive family structure.

The reason we do not have that crisps, efficient system is the reality that undocumented workers stream into our country to escape all different kinds of hell and because of that are willing to work for less than would be required if they come in legally. It also means undocumented workers can be hired for jobs for which there is no shortage of local workers. Both sets of people, the undocumented and the locally unemployed or underemployed, are being oppressed by those whose only desire is to see their profits increase. The situation is further exacerbated by the principalities and powers turning these two groups against each other resulting in the legislative and administrative stalemate that makes it all possible.

When God created the world and all that is in it, God called it good. Humans created borders. As humans, we certainly are called to use prudently the resources God provides for the good of all. Borders and governments are neither good nor bad unless we make them so. When greed overcomes the love of our neighbor, we fail our calling.

Prayer: God of All, forgive us when we allow greed to overpower our ability to love our neighbors whether we are the direct benefactors of the greed or complacent by ignoring its existence. Open avenues of advocacy for us as we work toward the good of all. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Knowing What Matters

Living in the Spirit
August 10, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 10:5-15

because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ –Romans 10:9-13

When I was a child, we had a massive blow up at my little hometown church over whether the new chairs at the communion table should be upholstered or not. Christians get all bent out of shape over many things about which Jesus never even spoke. I cannot help but think that if Jesus thought something was important, he shared it.  Paul tells us in our scripture today accepting Jesus as Lord of our lives is what matters. Such acceptance is not just an intellectual act; it is a life transforming process that helps us get our priorities straight and gain productive focus for our lives. Jesus got impatient with religious leaders who argued over what Jesus probably considered trivia.

He did advise us that his way is not burdensome as some like to make it. Matthew 11:28-30, Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ He also told us not to worry about judging other people; he would take care of that. John 5:22, The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son.

We need to hear carefully and understand Paul’s words, the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. All to Jesus meant everyone. He seemed to have a special place in his heart for those we denigrate. There is a lesson in his role modeling.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us when we see others through the eyes of the world and fail to see your image in each of them. Help us lighten burdens, not heap on more. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Justice is God’s Purpose

Living in the Spirit
August 9, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b

O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
   make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
   tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name;
   let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength;
   seek his presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works he has done,
   his miracles, and the judgments he has uttered,
O offspring of his servant Abraham,
   children of Jacob, his chosen ones. –Psalm 105:1-6

I am a great creature of habits. I automatically move through my morning routine. While still in bed I pray and do a yoga routine. Once up, I eat breakfast while listening to a morning news show and scanning three newspapers. I blame my father for my addiction to news. I wonder how he would deal with a phone pinging the latest catastrophe while it is still happening. By 9:00 am, I am not only ready for some scripture but need to be reminded that God is working [God’s] purpose out*. Psalm 105 reminds us of that. There is a lot right with the world, and there remains much to make right. It helps to know that God is working to make all things right. We call it justice.

How do we recognize God’s justice in a world filled with bigotry and hate? Looking back through the history of God where do we see justice unfolding? From that beginning, humans demanded the knowledge of good and evil. In so doing we gained the ability to know the difference between right and wrong. (Genesis 3) Such knowledge results in facing the consequences of our just and unjust actions. God dealt with our ancestors where they were in understand as he deals with us today. I do not know when I learned that the scripture an eye for an eye (Exodus 21:24) actually reduced punishment. Previously, gouging out an eye would have cost the perpetrator their life rather than letting the punishment fit the crime. Jesus cautioned us not to retaliate at all (Matthew 5) setting the stage for the restorative justice we pursue today.

Through all time, God sends us messengers one after another to save us from ourselves. We still learn much from the ancients and also from those speaking still today like the Reverend Doctor William Barber. It is important that we recognize the voice of God calling to us guiding us to choose the right.

Prayer: God of Justice, show us the right and empower our work toward justice for all. Amen.

*From hymn God is Working His Purpose Out by Arthur Campbell Ainger see at https://hymnary.org/text/god_is_working_his_purpose_out

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Refugees Named Joseph

Living in the Spirit
August 8, 2017

Scripture Reading: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

[Joseph’s brothers] saw [Joseph] from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, ‘Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him. . . But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, ‘Let us not take his life.’. . . and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.’ And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
–Genesis 37:18-20a-21, 24-28

How do we turn bad life experiences into good? I watch at least once a week news stories about refugees fleeing oppression in some instances certain death. These are human beings just like you and me with families they love. Some caught in the chaos of war, teach their children how to take shelter from bombs while trying to teach them to read because all the schools are gone. In Syria, a group of people* have formed to save as many of their neighbors as they can following a bombing. Some of these brave souls have lost their lives in the process, but they hold on to the sacredness of humanity in a world turned upside down.

I remember the shame I felt several years ago when I learned the United States turned away from our ports shiploads of Jewish refugees escaping Hitler’s regime. I feel the same shame as we turn away refugees or watch then die from the futility of escaping certain death if they stay in their homeland.

Joseph was a refugee sold into slavery who proved his worth to Egypt by saving them from famine. Jesus, Mary, and another Joseph also were refugees in Egypt. Jesus became our Savior who commanded us to follow the long tradition of the Israelites and welcome the stranger. When we have, we have most often been blessed. Yet, we hunker down in fear of terrorist while we watch refugees die. Whether we like it or not, ours is a country of immigrants and Native Americans, and we thrive not in spite of but because of our diversity.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”**

Prayer: Lord, when we turn away refugees, we turn you away too. Forgive us; strengthen us O Lord to follow the example of The White Helmets and save those who flee oppression. Amen.

*See The White Helmets on Netflix or http://www.newsweek.com/white-helmets-new-netflix-documentary-follows-syrias-heroes-training-rescue-496633

**Words on the Statue of Liberty from The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

All scriptures are quoted from the new Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Justice is a Systemic Issue

Living in the Spirit
August 6, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 14:13-21

They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. –Matthew 14:17-21

J.B. Phillips wrote a book many years ago where the title said it all; Your God is too Small. Now, do not get me wrong, the book itself is a worthy read and explores well its subject; I can readily commend it to you. Think about that title for a moment. It is not talking as much about the size of God as it is describing our trust in God. We live in a world where more and more we do not trust anything. How does one discern fake news from real news? In Oklahoma this year we lost at least two legislators to malfeasance. Both proud of their piety. Are we projecting the cynicism such situations have caused onto God?

God is a God of hope. The prophets never gave up but chastised the leaders and the people for giving in and giving up telling them to turn around and change their ways of being the people of God.

I believe we do justice right when we see firsthand the results of doing it wrong. So a first step we might take is to follow Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 25:35-40.

for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

 When we try to fix individual problems of poverty, sickness, prison, and meeting the need of strangers, we begin to see the world through Jesus’ eyes and understand the problems are systemic issues of justice for people who have little or no voice. Standing with them and speaking on their behalf is doing justice too.

Prayer: Christ, open our hearts to see you in the least of these. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Feeding the Hungry by Doing Justice

Living in the Spirit
August 5, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 14:13-21

When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ –Matthew 14:15-16

Not having enough food to eat is not a resource issue in most instances; it is a justice issue. I support through my local church a food pantry at a sister congregation; the Regional Food Bank, a not for profit; a backpack weekend food program for our local inner-city school; the City Rescue Mission, a not for profit; and a sister congregation that primarily serves the homeless. While desperately needed these are bandages on infected sores.

  • Everyone who works should have the resources to feed his or her family. About 70% of food stamp recipients work. In some of these households, more than one person works, or one person may have more than one job. In some instances, people work at the convenience of their employer. Thus their hours of work vary from week to week. I find it shameful with the amount of money we spend on the military industrial complex every year, we have soldiers whose families qualify for food stamps. The ceiling for food stamps is 133% of poverty. Food stamps are wage supplement for big business including the US government paying inadequate wages.
  • Our mental health services system is broken. People with mental health issues who get the right supervision, treatment, and medication can become self-supportive. The opioid problem in our country is extreme and growing. Many with mental health issues live on the street with routine stops at the local jail for minor offenses. The jail may be the only place they have a safe bed and routine food. Crime records are often not welcomed by employers.
  • The poverty level serves as the base for computing the amount of Social Security received by people who have a disability or are aged. Raising the base for Social Security to 133% of poverty would provide a higher level of income for these people and reduce the cost of administering the food stamp program for them. Of course, 133% of poverty is a bare necessities income. The base could be increased even more if we raised income for the program by eliminating the cap on income taxed for Social Security. For earnings in 2017, this base is $127,200. Why was the cap created in the first place? No one knows.

While we do our good works, we must remember to seek justice also.

Prayer: God of the Harvest, grant us the wisdom to provide from your bounty the food that all need to sustain life in fulfilling your call to do justice. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Rights not Privilege

Living in the Spirit
August 4, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 14:13-21

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. –Mathew 14:13-14

I believe that affordable, accessible health care is a right, not a privilege and I think Jesus believed that too. He spread wholeness wherever he went both physical and mental to rich and poor and everyone in between. The provision of affordable, accessible health care in the USA is a major public policy debate today that began seriously with the Great Depression. What is government’s responsibility regarding the health and well-being of its people? Fifty-eight countries have some form of universal health care*; the USA does not.

The United States of America is a representative democracy that portends to be of the people, by the people, for the people according to Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address. The phrase, initially coined by John Wycliffe, is in the prolog of his 1384 translation of the Bible where he stated, “The Bible is for the Government of the People, by the People, and for the People”** I did not know that until recently. I knew Lincoln said it; I did not know its origin. I think what Wycliffe means is that the Bible’s support of the love of neighbor can best find expression in a government of the People, by the People, and for the People. Some of our founders might have also made that connection.

I like Martin Luther King Jr. do not believe we can legislate morality, and that is not the purpose of a government designed by its citizens. The purpose of such government is to provide for the Common Good of all. Such government protects rights not privileges and allows its citizenry the right to free expression of religion.

Prayer: Lord, show us the way we can love our neighbors as we love ourselves through the mutuality of a government of the People, by the People, and for the people.Amen.

*Data from 2009 see at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_with_universal_health_care
**https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/who-coined-government-of-the-people-by-the-people-for-the-people/2017/03/31/12fc465a-0fd5-11e7-aa57-2ca1b05c41b8_story.html?utm_term=.aa50cc91249f

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.