Saturday, May 1, 2010

God's Dream of Justice

Mary Clair Lowrance is Minister of Spiritual Formation at Northaven United Methodist Church. She is a graduate of Brite Divinity School at TCU and served as an ordained elder for over ten years in the Central Texas Conference in churches such as First United Methodist in Arlington and First United Methodist Church Fort Worth. This sermon was delivered during Lent 2010.

Without seeing you we love you. Without touching you we embrace. Without knowing you we follow. Without seeing you we believe.

We return to you deep within, leave the past to the dust. Turn to you with tears and fasting you are ready to forgive.

Without seeing you we love you. Without touching you we embrace. Without knowing you we follow. Without seeing you we believe.

Have you ever had a Jacob moment? You know Jacob don't you...that scoundrel who cheated his brother Esau out of his rightful inheritance and has fled to the mountain to hide. With nothing but a stone for a pillow he sleeps and experiences this amazing dream where God speaks to him and promises that God will be with Jacob and all his descendants and declares that all peoples on earth will be blessed through Jacob and his offspring...Jacob wakes up and declares: Surely the presence of God is in this place and I did not know it. How awesome is this place. This is none other than the house of God. This is the gate of heaven.

Jacob woke up with this moment of clarity where he realized that God loved him God was present with him and that God would always be with him...and lead him to greater opportunities as a precious child of God; it was this moment of clarity where Jacob began to understand that the things of God are bigger and grander than the eye can see or the mind can imagine...

So I ask you again, have you ever had a Jacob moment?

My most recent Jacob moment came last May on our trip to El Salvador. I was amazed and awed by the faith and determination of the people of Maria Madre de los Pobres and the Huisisilapa cooperative. I listened to stories of torture people endured on behalf of the poor and I observed how the church there today is attempting to erase the memory of Bishop Romero. You see, Romero would not allow the church to be fixed up and made all pretty when there were so many who had nothing. His passion was the inclusion and recognition of the least of these. When he was assassinated his beautiful monument, casket, was place in prominent place within the sanctuary; it was a place of pilgrimage for his followers. Plaques of sentiment were sent from all over the world. Over the years, his message has endured and the hierarchy of the church ordered his monument to be moved to a basement. The plaques have been removed and adorn his garage at his modest parsonage which is kept the way it was when he went to evening mass on the night of his murder. When we tried to see it on two different occasions...there was only a small amount of time and even then it was locked up...Ron asked if we could just go down there and we did, but no one was going to turn on the lights...

And now we come to the infamous second son of the prodigal child story. He is in the field and hears all the commotion and he looks into the situation. He soon finds out that his wayward brother has returned home and Dad is having a party. You heard Ron read it. He gets mad and his Dad pleads with him to join the celebration. But aren't you intrigued. I am because after the Dad shares with him, Son you are always with me...all that I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found. The son says nothing. I would like to believe that he experienced

And what does the second son say? Did he experience that moment of clarity where the mystery of God is bigger and greater than the eye can see and the mind can imagine...

As we journey through Lent, we come to today where we are invited to claim God's dream of justice. Justice for all. Distributive justice that guarantees everyone a place at the table of grace. The idea of God's distributive justice is bigger and greater than the eye can see and mind can imagine. But it is so worth our effort as Disciples of Christ. You see it is not a is the outcome. Distributive justice is an ideal that is closely linked to the common good and human dignity. It is an ethical principle that implies that society has a duty to an individual in need and the all individuals have a duty to others in serious need. Specifically, we must take care of each other; everyone must be treated fairly especially the least of these...

The parable of the prodigal son comes at a time when Jesus is really stirring things up. Not only is he acknowledging people who are the dregs of society, he is eating with the tax collectors and sinners...I mean to share a meal with someone in Jesus time is a big deal. It's not a chance meeting of being at the same place at the same time, sharing a meal is an intentional act of unconditional love, radical hospitality and extravagant grace. In its telling and teachings most of the focus is on the Dad's forgiving the prodigal son. Or the focus is on the bitterness and selfishness of the elder son. But the focus of the story today is centered on the encounter of the Dad and the elder son and the teaching regarding what is fair and what is just. And what is fair and what is just? That the son who was lost is welcomed home with a celebration and the elder son will receive everything he has been promised. And maybe, just maybe, as this Dad has shown that there is no line where mercy ends, his elder son will have a change of heart toward his brother who is in serious need.

This indeed is an unexpected lesson on justice, and during this season of lent it is a lesson we must consider seriously and intentionally.

Remember it is not just the process, it is the outcome.

In the book the Last Week, it is discussed at great length about how God views worship and justice. God does not want regular attendance in the Temple rather than equitable distribution of God's land. Under the oppressive domination system in play with collaboration with Rome, people lost their land and therefore their way of taking care of their families. There is an ancient prophetic tradition in which God insisted not just on justice and worship, but on justice over worship. Throughout the Old Testament God reminds the people in Amos: take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Or this familiar text: God has told you o mortal what is good and what does God require of you but do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.

In God's eyes being a people who simply want to worship God is not enough. God is just and the world belongs to God and worship cannot be separated from justice because worship or union with a God of justice empowers the worshipper for a life of justice.

Northaven gets it. But remember, distributive justice is not as concerned about the process as much as it is with the outcome. Think about it. Northaven became a reconciling congregation meaning it was not enough to get the word out that everyone is welcome...but a vote was taken. A stand was made...

We don't just send financial support to our ministries in Guatemala and El Salvador, we go and engage in conversation and do what we can to affect positive outcome whether it's building a clinic or making sure children have god parents willing to invest in their present and their future...

Every Christmas for the past several years, we send presents to the children of the Bethlehem center so that they know someone cares...

Why do we bother? Perhaps we have had a Jacob moment where there is clarity in the scope of God's dream. It is bigger and grander than the eye can see or the mind can imagine, but it is worth every ounce of our effort because we are worshippers who have been empowered to live a life of justice. Bishop Romero did not waver in his message that the poor must be acknowledged and deserve their rightful place at the table of grace and it was a message of justice that ultimately cost him his life.

We bother because we are disciples of Jesus Christ and in the life and teachings of Jesus we discover that God's dream of justice will require all that we have and all that we are.

Without seeing you we love you. Without touching you we embrace. Without knowing you we follow. Without seeing you we believe.