Saturday, August 22, 2020

JUSTICE: Do Justice

Justice is not only to have, but to do

The Lord says to his people, “Do what is just and right, for soon I will save you. Isaiah 56:1 (GNT) 

We've been talking about looking at the lectionary readings through the lens of justice during this season of Pentecost and this Old Testament reading for today has those words in it. In James, it just says, "Do justice". So I thought, what better title for a sermon than "Do justice". The good news translation says, "The Lord says to his people, 'Do what is just and right for soon, I will save you'". In the King James version, it starts out, "Thus saith the Lord". Whenever I'm reading the Bible or hearing it read, and I hear words like that, "Thus saith the Lord", then it makes me feel like I should maybe be just a little extra layer of attention. Give it just an extra layer of attention to what comes after and the next words are, "Do justice".

Transcript of sermon
Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on August 16, 2020  
for Briensburg UMC

So it's not just me, or Mitch, or the district superintendent, or the Bishop, or even Isaiah, or any of the other preachers that have preached on this. And down through the ages, it's not us. It's not us saying it. All we're doing is telling you what the Lord said. This is what the Lord said. And this is why he asks of us.

Thus Saith the Lord

The Lord says to his people, “Do what is just and right, for soon I will save you.    Vs 1 (GNT)

 It's to remind them and also reminds us, I'm sure all of us, about Micah 6:8, where he said, same thing. What does God expect to be but to act justly, love, tenderly, and walk with your God? And so this is what God is asking for us, of us, that we would do justice. There's an action there. I meant to ask Cheryl about the parts of speech, what those really were, but I mean, whatever are the parts of speech are, it says that we're supposed to do this.

So it's not telling us that justice is just something that we can just have over here and put on the shelf and enjoy that we have that. It's not just an experience, not just a state that we live in. It may be all of those signs. But what God asks of us to do is to put that in action. I actually do justice. Justice is something that we are to be active in and in making happen and to contribute to. There may be all kinds of ways to do that. And each of us is gonna maybe hear a different sense of calling as to how to do justice, but we want to respond to God. Amen. When he calls us to do this. When he calls and tells us to do something we only need to think about how, not whether. We need to think about how then we're gonna do that. And then he has this promise: "And soon I will save you. Soon I will make everything right. Soon, I will take care of everything. I will protect you. I will preserve you. I will help you."

All Who Love God

And as for the outsiders who now follow me,
    working for me, loving my name,
    and wanting to be my servants—
Vs 6 (MSG)

 And then Isaiah in the Message, verse six is this way: "And as for the outsiders who now follow me, working for me, loving my name and wanting to be my servants". So he's addressing there everybody who loves God. And that is a pretty general statement. He didn't really qualify that with block denomination, they remember it, or even a whole religion, they remember it, or even if they were a member of any combo or national religion, or if this is something in their hearts that they wanted to do, to follow God. And he didn't really qualify that. He just said, "all who love God and want to be my servant".

When we have our communion, I like to extend the invitation and friends. Everyone who loves God and wants to live in harmony with each other is invited to join us at the table of the Lord. And I feel like that's an extension of this kind of sentiment that Isaiah is reflecting from God in this reading. That God is opening his home, his heart, his house, not made with hands, to everyone who feels drawn to him, regardless of what they think or believe or how they... what's going on in their lives or wherever they've been or where they are now. He wants everybody, he wants it to be open to everybody. His house. His love. And as his people, when we want to reflect that in our dealings with one another in our, even just when we're thinking about understanding God's word for our lives, then that's a part of the understanding.

Joy in the House of the Lord

“I will bring you to Zion, my sacred hill, give you joy in my house of prayer.  Vs 7a (GNT)

 That's a part of what we use to understand what God is saying to us and all the other things that he says. And then he says, "I will bring it to Zion, my sacred hill. I will give you joy in the house of prayer". And that's how it's phrased in the Good News testament in the first part of verse seven: "Joy in the house of the Lord". And I think that's how wonderful, don't you think it's wonderful when we come to the house of the Lord, when we comes to church and we're in fellowship with each other and we feel good and joyful? I'd rather feel joy from everywhere, wouldn't you? Especially in the house of the Lord.

God wants us to feel the joy of our salvation, the joy of his presence, and even the joy of the opportunities to face the hardships and difficulties that we face when we leave this place and any kind of struggles that we or our friends and family and neighbors, to face them joyfully because of what has happened here in our hearts and minds, while we were in this room together.

Now we were worshiping God and feeling his presence and feeling the joy. God wants us to have this joy. And he calls about the house of prayer. You know, we think of the church, a lot times, the building, as a house of prayer, but I think it's really helped to bring out this point during the pandemic, that it's not the building. It's our hearts. The throne of God is in our hearts. Like the song says, "there is a place of quiet rest near to the heart of God". And that is our heart and God's heart mixed together in our hearts and minds, our spirit, it's a spiritual house, not made with hands, the house of the Lord, the house of prayer. It can't be contained. You know, when they built Solomon's temple and David was considering the plans board in the first place, God said, "Well, what kind of house do you propose building me?"

Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool, how big of a box are you going to put me in here? How big of a place can you build to fit me? That was all put off for another generation when Solomon built the temple and then the glory of God filled the temple. So full of just the glory and joy of the Lord that there wasn't even any room for the people who were in there. They all had to go outside. And this cloud glory enveloped everybody. That's the house of prayer. But it is represented by the building. It's represented by the building that we're in, and by the altar in front of us, and the candles on the altar, and by our posture before the Lord, and with one another as we pray.

House of Prayer for All People

 Mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.  Vs  7b(KJV)

 And then out of the imagery in this passage also comes a connection with Jesus cleansing the temple. He went into the temple during his earthly ministry one day and he drove out all the money changers, turned over the tables, and he declared, "My house shall be called a house of prayer". That's what the rest of this verse says. That's what he says in the rest of this verse seven. And in King James, it says, "Mine house shall be called the house of prayer". It has another phrase with that. "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people".

So not just a little shrine for our personal use, but a house of prayer for all people, whoever they may be. You know I've traveled a little bit onto this path before when I was younger, but traveled to different places. And I've been in different churches and worship, sacred spaces of different Christian people and the sacred spaces of people from other religions. And in all of those places, well, in most of those places, I felt welcome to worship God and my heart as I felt led. Even amongst people that were completely different than what I might be accustomed to. That kind of connects with me there, then with this verse where he said, "My house shall be called the house of prayer for all people". Because in the Lord's heart and mind, we're all God's children, regardless of our differences in beliefs and practices and how we understand God debate or any of that. We're God's children. And God is inviting everybody to be a part of God's kingdom and love and of fellowship and friendship.

His house, spiritually, that is open to every person to come to from wherever they are at whatever place in their spiritual seeking and journey that they are. God will meet them there, on your own. Or somebody who tries to find God and search out who God is and search out and wants to be a part to connect with their creator, god will back away from them and meet them there. And harder relationships and our facilities need to reflect that open love for one another, for the world around us, for all God's children. They take us away to be able to work out how to do that, like I said. When it says, "thus saith the Lord" the question is not whether, but how. Though we may not know how to do that, we have to work on that. But doesn't it really make you want to open your mind to other people when you know that's what God wants? Is that his house will be a house of prayer for all people?

All People Are Invited

The Sovereign Lord, who has brought his people Israel home from exile, has promised that he will bring still other people to join them.  Vs 8 (GNT)

 And then that finishes up the passage that Mitch read, "The sovereign Lord, who has brought his people, Israel home from exile has promised that he will bring still other people to join them," and that's in the Good News translation. We're presented in the scriptures as the people who want to follow Jesus and want to be working on building his kingdom and who want to love God and whose faith is in Jesus Christ. So as a group, we're one of the references that are possible. There were a kingdom of priests, the priesthood of believers, a royal priesthood. The duty of a priest is to build a bridge, to build bridges between people, between God, to help people come to Christ, to help people who've gotten into a relationship with God. That's our calling as the people of God, as the people who follow Christ.

When people first started to follow Christ, they didn't even call them Christians yet for a long time. They just call them people that followed Christ, people that followed it in the way that Christ is teaching, the way of love and the way of commitment to Christ. And when they had to counsel in Jerusalem because all the people that Paul was leading to Christ were Gentiles... Excuse me. So they had to settle this question: did they need to follow the law of Moses? And after several days of deliberation, they all agreed that they didn't need to follow the law of Moses. That's what they wanted to be a part of the Jewish faith. But as a newer people who were following this new way of Christ, they just needed to place their faith in Christ.

And they gave them some, a few things that would be helpful and asked them to do their best. They began to form these groups of Christians, of followers of Christ, that first were called Christians at Antioch, and they set apart people to lead the community. And there had been people set apart in different ways so that the elders and the apostles had one job and the deacons then had another, the pastors had another.

But these people, they sat them apart, not over the group, but having special tasks to minister within the communities. Likewise, we, as the church today, we're not set apart to condemn the rest of the world in any way, but to serve the rest of the world, as Christ serves. To be ministering to the world, to minister to the community around us, to build the bridges that need to be built so that other people will come to know the love of God and Christ. That's who we lift up and Christ said, "If I'm to be lifted up, I will draw all people to me". And that's why the Bible says right here in Isaiah 56:8: "The Lord, which gathereth the outcasts of Israel says, 'Yet, will I gather others to him beside those that are gathered unto him'".

Well, thus saith the Lord. I want you to think about now, what is God? That's something for each of us to personally consider. What is God inviting me to do in this? When God says, "do justice" the point is he's telling me about my life, my ministry, my spiritual gifts, my understanding, my relationships, and my conversations. And then we just have to respond accordingly and make the changes that need to be made in our personal lives to be answering that call, and that command, and that request. Strong request. 

Thus says the Lord, "Do justice". 

In the name of Jesus, amen.

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