by Craig Webber, CEO, Scripture Union
Today I will be continuing the theme of justice which this church has been studying over the past weeks, and applying it to the practical work undertaken by agencies which work with children in need, such as Galilee and SU Chaplaincy. We will explore the relationship between justice and assisting those in need, which may not always be obvious.
And where is God’s justice best displayed? Through the person and life of Jesus Christ.
Jesus: Justice Role Model
Jesus provides us with the definitive role model for the pursuit of justice. He was the embodiment of the concept ‘just’. We often use the term ‘God incarnate’, which literally means, God in the flesh, with reference to Jesus. Recalling definitions of justice (‘righteousness’ and ‘according to true principles’ are two of the key defining words/ phrases from the Dictionary)and applying this to Jesus: Jesus was righteousness; everything that he did was in accordance with true principles.
Here then is the answer to how justice is achieved. It comes not through the application of man made law, not even the law of the Old Testament. Justice is given by God through his Son Jesus. Just as Jesus is God’s gift to mankind, so Justice is a Kingdom gift.
And we can see how Jesus picked up the flavour of Isaiah’s statement (Ch 58; 6-11) when he proclaimed the purpose of his ministry on earth. Luke Ch 4 has Jesus proclaiming his ministry (vs 16-19).
16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
> 18″The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
The conclusion which we must draw is that: God wants justice in His Kingdom. Jesus’ whole ministry was about claiming and modeling a justice approach.
So, what then of his followers?
It follows that those who are working for the extension of God’s Kingdom must also be striving for justice, in one sense or another. Even if justice is not being dispensed by the world, we are called to ‘turn the other cheek’ and seek justice for others. Which is basically pretty hard isn’t it?
Jesus followers are called to act against injustice. It is an integral part of the Kingdom’s call. The Kingdom is not a cosy club where we can be closeted away from the world’s woes. God’s Kingdom exists only as far as it exists in the lives of His followers, empowered by His Spirit. Where they are, where they go, so does the Kingdom.
We are the minds, hearts, hands, the soul of justice.
How do we take action to achieve justice? I think we start small. As ordinary people, we work in our own small ways: sometimes together, often alone. Although never really alone, because we are assured that whenever we are working towards justice, then God’s spirit is right in their pitching for us.
So, how do we know that God honours our small actions? Let’s consider the following passage from Matthew 25: 34-40:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'”
How many was that again? One!
Where is the living Christ? Well from this parable we would have to conclude that he is out there with the people who are in need. Not only that, but that he is in those people.
So when we, as followers, take the good news of the gospel outside the walls of the church, are we taking Christ with us, or are we going to meet him where he already is?
And what sort of message are we taking? Are we merely taking our idea of what contemporary Christian culture is; or are we going out to be with ‘them’ and find out more about Jesus together?
We are concerned that in our modern world, including Australia, people are rejecting the church and God at the same time. Indeed many people may be rejecting the western Christian church, but I put it to you that it is its culture which is being rejected, not Jesus.
I believe that one of our dilemmas in taking the good news outside the walls of the church is that we tend to take the familiar (to us) church culture with us, rather than Jesus. We are nice middle class people; nothing wrong with that necessarily, but we need to be careful that we are not imposing those cultural expectations on others. It is a barrier, because many people in our community don’t relate to this culture, or see it as unattainable. It is ours, not theirs; and it never will be.]
An example of moving outside the traditional walls is provided to us by the Liberation Theology movement from Brazil. I was fortunate enough to meet a leader and writer on this movement, and would like to spend a few moments focusing on this. Walter de Oliveira visited Canberra to speak with youth workers and agencies, mainly ‘secular’, and bought a message with a strong Christian flavour.
On the streets of Brazil there are millions of street children living in poverty. How was the gospel going to be brought into their lives? The Brazilian Church has struggled with this question, from which has emerged the concept and practice of Liberation Theology. Walter de Oliveira, says (p82):
‘Liberation theology proposed nothing less than a ‘rebirth’ of the Church. From now on, the Church was to reach out, through the pastoral movement, to meet the poor in their communities, in their homes, and in the open spaces outside the temple. The Deity was now worshipped where the worshipper was….’
For the Brazilian church (83):
‘The Church’s new social role was ‘being with’ the oppressed where they were- geographically and existentially.’
Most significantly, this movement changed the way in which (Christian) streetworkers viewed their task completely. De Oliveira again says (p84/85):
‘The street had been traditionally viewed as a symbol of peril, corruption, and perverted human existence. But… the street became in the workers’ eyes a place where God’s creatures lived, full of souls who were to be respected and cared for.’
Taking this a step further, De Oliveira says (86):
‘..the children had more to offer the workers than they had to offer the children’
Doesn’t that turn your ideas of the church’s response to those in need upside down? I know I struggle with these ideas. And yet they seem, the more I think about them, consistent with Jesus teachings, and the quoted parable in particular.]
Let’s consider this quote from St George (6th Century Martyr):
‘When we furnish the destitute with any necessity, we render to them what is theirs, not bestow on them what is ours; we pay the debt of justice rather than perform the works of mercy’.
The provision of care for the needy, assistance to the disadvantaged; and the pursuit of justice, are inextricably linked. There is a nexus between the two. Like two sides of the same coin, one does not exist without the other.
Injustice: Poverty and belonging.
When we think of examples of injustice in our world, we often jump to the thought of poverty. That there are many children throughout the world who are suffering from extreme physical poverty. Last week we acknowledged anti-poverty week; at NationsHeart we focused our service around poverty, including ‘Standing up against poverty’. But in our nation, including in Canberra there is another form of insidious poverty from which many of our children suffer: the poverty of relationship. And this poverty is spreading like gangrene.
I’d like to share with you an example from my former work amongst disadvantaged children.
And then there is the problem is that in our society many people have been deprived of the foundation of belonging. This is particularly relevant for those who have lost, or been separated from, their family. I’d like to consider one/ two examples; homeless teenagers, and Australia’s Indigenous people.
The Homeless Teenager-the search for identity
When teenagers cannot live at home with their family, there are a number of results. Progress along the normal path of development from child to adolescent to adult can be delayed or cut short. Where does this leave a young person who is searching to find answers to those questions which are common to adolescence: who am I and where do I belong? Well it leaves them isolated, lost; unless someone comes along to support them.
Lost children (teenagers) need a place to belong. They need an anchor point for their lives, so that they won’t get blown away in the wind or swamped by the waves of life. They need a place where the qualities of ‘family’ are evident and provided by someone, even if it’s not their own family.
Indigenous Australians-the search for identity
Now what about Indigenous Australians? Particularly what’s known as the Stolen Generation. From the little I know about Indigenous culture compared with white Anglo Saxon culture, generally speaking family bonds are much stronger in the former, the Indigenous peoples. Those of us who are parents can try to imagine what it would be like to have some well meaning powerful group take away our children- without a forwarding address. We can also try to imagine what it would have been like when we were children if one day someone who we didn’t know came along and took us from our home and family; never to see them again. But can we really understand and appreciate the depth of anguish which this separation forced upon our Indigenous peoples? I think not. For many Indigenous mums, it was as good as ending their meaningful life, which was totally dedicated to their family and children. And there was no relief to this distress, because those who did this had no understanding of what a terrible act they had committed.
So we had thousands of Indigenous children separated forever from their place of belonging, but even more severely than our homeless children. For they were forcibly ripped out of their family, their culture, their homeland, and their religion (which we now know was inextricably linked with their homeland, their ‘Country’). And the values forced upon them by their captors (and yes I know that I’ve deliberately used a provocative word there); were that their culture, values, knowledge, spirituality were less than worthless. And so they were enculturated into ours instead. Because it’s so good. What do we expect has happened to their sense of identity? Where was justice in this action?
Do you start to get angry about what you see going on around; do you feel passion? Good cause that’s God’s spirit churning up something inside of you, which is not selfish, but self-less. It’s about someone else who’s drawn the short straw.]
So now what
OK, so now what? Let’s have a look at a reading from 1 Peter (Ch 2: 9):
1 Peter 2:9
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.
God wants us. He wants to nurture us, to heal us and make us whole. He wants to stretch us and make us grow. We belong to Him.
God wants us-the people of His Kingdom- to pick up these little lost & broken ones. To take away their lostness, to help them to heal, to give them hope, to show them a place of belonging. What they see in our hearts and souls will tell them about God.
Those kids we were talking about earlier need real relationships, a sense of belonging, and identity. They need a tangible expression and abundance of giving. That is, they need it in practical ways, and lots of it.
And what about that teenager who’s had the rug pulled out from under him; doesn’t feel loved, can’t see any future or hope? What could we give him?
Maybe something to learn.
But don’t give him empty words. He’s heard them all before. How will he learn that God loves him, and that he is OK.
And there are many roles to play to have an impact. As well as the obvious direct care provision, there’s: the need to organize, to encourage, to teach, to pray for, to speak up on behalf of. It’s a team effort, and without all the players with their different gifts and abilities, it doesn’t all work.
I think first of all that we need to recognise that as Christians we have a responsibility to acknowledge that there are many within our society whom have not been provided with the opportunities for blessing which we have. They are stuck in a place which is not where they belong; in a real sense they are refugees amongst us. And consequently they have lost the usual relationships which contribute to their identity formation and development. Justice has passed them by.
Indeed some are called to care….but others are called to address injustice. Again, there’s the two sides of the coin. Based on the words of Micah 6; 8:
He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?
But let’s not do nothing and kid ourselves that it’s OK to belong to God. It’s not!
Can we help one child in need? Yes. Should we help one child in need? Yes. Can we ignore one child in need?
Where is justice? It’s in us. God has given us justice and made us custodians of justice in this world which is so sadly lacking.
How are we going to respond? The answer to that will be different for each one of us. Importantly we cannot ignore the question.
‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’