Sermon notes – Ps. Jim White
Sunday 16th February, 2020
Back in the 80’s and 90’s, a young lawyer, fresh out of Uni, followed his heart and his passion, and began to fight for the poor and oppressed in a deeply racially divided part of the United States. He found himself fighting for justice for those on death row, many who were black, and caught in a justice system that was corrupt and prejudiced. He gave his life to the call for justice – and he saved many from the electric chair – and released hundreds from false judgements.
When I watched that movie – a true story called “Just Mercy” – it caused me to search out what justice really is all about in relation to God – to our faith – to my life and yours. Because I saw the way that justice was a driving force and a passion in this young man’s life…. And how he gathered others around him with the same heartfelt conviction.
There was another man that came to mind…. Martin Luther King. He fought for a dream. His fight for equality and justice for all and the bringing down of racism was something that eventually lead to someone taking his life. But he will forever be honoured as a warrior for justice.
Unfortunately there is so much corruption and hatred in this world, that when someone stands up for justice, it can attract some hostile retaliation. The same applies spiritually. When one of God’s sons or daughters stands up for justice – kingdom inspired justice – the powers of darkness react.
These following words of Martin Luther King attracted that opposition. But in the end, justice prevailed – and his death was most likely the catalyst for major cultural reform.
He said, in his famous “I have a dream” speech:
“Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”
“No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
And of course he goes on to say those familiar words… I have a dream…” and, “Let freedom ring…”
Martin Luther King’s most often quoted scripture was:
Amos 5:24 New King James Version (NKJV)
“24 But let justice run down like water,
And righteousness like a mighty stream.”
It’s pretty obvious from looking at the scriptures that justice is not only an attribute of the nature of God – but something that He places into the hearts and lives of those who are filled with His Spirit. And as I looked through the many, many scriptures about justice, I discovered that justice and righteousness often go together and are in fact not too far apart in meaning. God Himself is Just and Righteous – and this is what He calls us to also. And we can be, because we also are filled with all the fullness of God!
Psalm 33:5 New King James Version (NKJV)
“5 He loves righteousness and justice;
The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.”
You’ll find that justice is often mentioned with things like love, kindness and goodness…
Jeremiah 9:24 New Living Translation (NLT)
“24 But those who wish to boast
should boast in this alone:
that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord
who demonstrates unfailing love
and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth,
and that I delight in these things…”
I keep seeing in scripture that God’s justice is not about mere words. It’s about action. And it comes wrapped in the demonstration of unfailing, steadfast, consistent, committed love.
Proverbs 21:3 New King James Version (NKJV)
“3 To do righteousness and justice
Is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”
There was a time when I thought that the word justice was about our judicial system. That it was all about the law – about criminal justice – about innocence and guilt – about conviction and aquittal.
And if you take that legalistic mindset, you soon begin to believe that justice is all about God bringing judgement and punishment to the sinner…. Unfortunately that’s still how a lot of people think about God. That He is this heavy handed judge just ready to condemn and punish. But they don’t truly know Him or understand Him. They have their own preconceived idea of who He is.
But thank God, in my study of the word in relation to scripture, I found that justice isn’t something God does to us – it’s something that He does for us! And He wants us to do it for others. Do righteousness and justice! Let it run down like water and a mighty stream!
Justice is about God making right what has been terribly, terribly wrong. Justice means to put right, to set right, to make right.
When we talk about the Righteousness of God, we are talking about the One Who is Right! The One Who is Holy!
Righteousness for us is not about striving to be good – it’s about an amazing change from the inside out that Jesus bought for us on the Cross. He gave us His righteousness as a gift in exchange for our sin.
You see, righteousness and justice is all about what God has done for us. If you really want to know what justice looks like – look at Jesus. Look at His life. Look at His death. Look at His promise of resurrection. Look at His prayer for us in John 17. His heart for us is pure and full of love.
But it doesn’t stop there. Righteousness and justice are meant to flow through us like a mighty stream.
I’ve been asking the question lately: What is your mission? What is your ministry? What are we actually here for?
Whatever it is specifically and personally for you – surely it has to involve bringing justice to those who for whatever reason are experiencing a life of mistreatment, abuse, unfairness, neglect, oppression…. That is the heart of God!
God the Father made a way for us to be set free, to be washed by grace, clothed in righteousness, to experience the greatest love that there ever was and ever will be.
And now it’s up to us to pour that mighty river over others.
Micah 6:8 New King James Version (NKJV)
“8 He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love [a]mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?”
To do justly – to love mercy… to humble ourselves…
Psalm 82:3 New King James Version (NKJV)
“3 Defend the poor and fatherless;
Do justice to the afflicted and needy.”
Wherever people are being mistreated, wherever they are suffering, wherever they are being persecuted, wherever they are in bondage… that’s where we are called to bring justice and righteousness and mercy.
On a connected kind of a note, a few of us are wrestling with the best way to describe our vision as a church – and how that speaks into our mission as a church. And we are able to affirm and celebrate our identity as the family of God… we are a place of belonging… we are the Household of God – a home for those who seek a place of worship to call home.
There’s something pretty special about being together and loving and supporting and building one another up to be all that we were created to be.
And that means that part of our mission is to one another. It’s to whoever walks through those double doors over there – whether we’ve been here in this church for around 40 years like Christine, or whether we’ve walked in for the first time this morning.
But then there’s the other aspect of who we are – God’s people who are called out – the called out ones – going into our world to minister the gospel – not just share the gospel in words – but to be ministers of the gospel in action. That’s mission!
That’s what the bible calls the “ekklesia!” – the called out ones… Called out from a meaningless existence into the kingdom of God – but then also called out to be ambassadors for Christ in the world.
We are called to come in and build a house of worship for God and for genuine fellowship with one another – in fact the bible admonishes us:
Hebrews 10:25 New King James Version (NKJV)
“25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”
But then, from that place of fellowship and exhortation, we’re called to go out – to be the church in our world.
God loves justice! We’re not just called to do church – we are called to do justice!
Here it is again, in case you’re still not convinced:
Psalm 146:7-9 New King James Version (NKJV)
“7 Who executes justice for the oppressed,
Who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord gives freedom to the prisoners.
8 The Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
The Lord raises those who are bowed down;
The Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the strangers;
He relieves the fatherless and widow;
But the way of the wicked He turns upside down.”
A large part of our vision and mission as a church comes from Zephaniah 2:6-7. It says that the Seacoast will be pastures, a shelter for shepherds and a fold for flocks. It says the Lord will intervene for those of the Seacoast and return the captives.
All those mentioned in Ps. 146 are captives. Captive to poverty, to hunger, to some form of imprisonment. Not all prisons are made out of steel bars. The bowed down are captive to oppression, depression, grief, intimidation, fear…. All kinds of things cause us to be bowed down. The strangers…. Who are the strangers now? Surely they would include refugees – people who have been displaced from their own homes and land.
My aim this morning is to remind all of us of our call to justice. We don’t just sit back and ignore the suffering and hide away in a building.
True justice is going to require some passion – some fire – some giving of your life away. It’s going to cost you time, energy, maybe some money…
Seacoast Church will always be revisiting the way we express our vision, our mission, what we truly value…. Not because there’s some fundamental change that needs to be made…. But because our vision and identity are continually unfolding, it’s growing, it’s progressive and dynamic.
We don’t just want to maintain what we have – we want to be always discerning God’s heart for His church – not only for now – but for the future – for the generations to come.
I had the privilege of attending the ordination yesterday of the now Reverend Pablo from the Uniting Church in Ballina. There were some really sacred moments in that ordination service. My ears pricked up when I heard Pablo respond to a statement of ordination that included the words – “to stand for justice.”
And although there was a large crowd there, most of them would have been in their seventies and eighties – even nineties. The church is very meaningful for them… but what about the future generations? It’s not a slur on the church, but a recognition of how important it is to maintain our core beliefs in the Word of God in a way that is fresh and inviting, and makes room for all.
I praise God that we are growing together. We need to value the wisdom and experience of the older generation. I really miss some of our older folk who are now in glory – ones like Geoff and Barrie. I miss Geoff’s passion for the Word… not just any translation – it had to be the KJV. I miss Barrie’s quiet wisdom. I miss the way he used to ponder on things and then speak truth with gentleness – sometimes it was firm gentleness.
How valuable are you men and women who have walked the walk before us. But I’m realising now that I’m the next generation…. My parents have gone, and now I’m the grandfather! How did that happen? But it has happened – and I am as passionate about Jesus as I have ever been – and hopefully a little wiser than I was!
I’m also realising how important it is that I am listening to the generations coming after me. That’s why all of our Strategic Planing Team are younger than me. Some not much younger – some half my age – but others younger than my own children.
Let’s not just sit in our little bubble – we need to open our eyes to the world around us – what are the fears facing this generation? What issues do our young people struggle with? What are our children experiencing as they try to navigate a digital, online world?
We need a righteous anger about some things – for our hearts to be stirred to action. We cannot walk past injustice.
Perhaps there are more Martin Luther King’s and Mother Theresa’s to rise up out of the church. And not just speaking prophetic declarations, which encourage and inspire us, but bringing hands and feet ministry and mission to those who need it.
These are revolutionary figures – but wasn’t Jesus?
Revolutionaries come in all shapes and sizes. Some are loud and others are quiet – but it’s amazing how a stand for injustice and a determination to live out a counter culture lifestyle can stir up even the most committed introverts.
One of our measures as a church – as a community – as a nation – is how we respond to those in our community who are the weakest and most vulnerable.
I know others have been quoted as saying that – but the Word of God says it first, and makes it clear in many places, as we’ve already seen.
But to reinforce this again, we only have to look at Isaiah 58… What is it that God really wants from us?
It’s no longer sacrifice. Jesus became the sacrifice once and for all on the cross of Calvary.
Fasting is spiritually powerful, accompanied by prayer…
But God says:
Isaiah 58:6-7 New King James Version (NKJV)
“6 “Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the [a]heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are [b]cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?”
That’s the call to justice!
Other versions say things like: Remove the heavy chains of oppression…. Set free the crushed and mistreated…. Get rid of exploitation…. Cancel debts…. Be available to your own families…
Be available to your own families? What a great place to start! What about your church family?
How do we bring justice to our homes and to the House of God?
Wouldn’t it start by removing oppression and discrimination and prejudice with those we are already connected to and in relationship with? Out brothers and sisters in Christ?
Wouldn’t it start by asking ourselves the questions – “Am I discriminating?” “Am I showing prejudice or favouritism?” “Am I disrespecting someone?” “Am I seeing injustice played out before me and yet I’m just walking past it?”
“Who is it in my circle of family and friends – my church family – who is bowed down?” “Who is it that is imprisoned?” “Who is it that is cast out?”
Galatians 6:10 New King James Version (NKJV)
“10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
I have this feeling that God gives us opportunities before our very eyes… and according to our response, He then either says, Yes – you can handle something much more significant in representing Me. Or No – your heart just isn’t completely aligned yet with Mine.
As we move forward as a church, I am going to keep justice at the forefront of what we are about. We do justice already – right here in Ballina, but in other nations of the world. but we can do it so much more.
You are the church! How will you take the church out of these walls and demonstrate justice and righteousness like a mighty flowing stream?
As I close, I want to come back to the greatest demonstration of justice ever known to man. The greatest revolutionary and history maker was Jesus Christ…
When He died on the cross for your sin and mine, any multitudes throughout the generations, He demonstrate divine justice. He made what was wrong – right.
This morning, we have the opportunity to exchange this miserable and broken self life – a life that harbours sin, regret, pain, condemnation… and exchange it for the life of Christ – a life that is washed and cleansed of all sin – a life that is forgiven…
If you haven’t made that exchange yet – today is the day to do it. The bible says – today is the day of salvation. It brings with it hope, joy, freedom, the empowering of God’s Holy Spirit, you’ll never be alone… and life will be forever in heaven.