Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Looking for Justice

This Sunday I'll be preaching (If the Lord allows. . .) on Amos 5:18ff.

Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

We've been working through Amos for a couple months now. As we've worked our way along I've touched a little on the deeper definitions of Justice, but I've really been waiting until this passage to fully explore the issue. There are many ways to define Justice, but for the sake of this sermon, I'm working along these lines:

All humans were created by God to live in healthy, mutual relationship with God, with each other, and with the creation. A planet marked by justice would be a planet in which every human had their basic needs met in such a way that they could live contentedly within that web of relationship. Injustice would be anything - thought, word, or deed - done by one human or people group toward another that intrudes on the latter's ability to partake in those healthy, mutual relationships. Justice does not mean equality - Justice would not mean that everyone is rich or famous or good looking or dating someone who is. But justice does mean everybody has the time and resources to enjoy their relationship with God, with others, and with the creation.

From another perspective - If a people group cannot feed themselves, nor maintain healthy lives, because others are stealing their food or their land or dumping pesticides in their drinking water, then injustice is being perpetrated. If a whole people-group aren't able to pursue education or jobs that would allow them to provide for themselves or their families, and are instead reduced to working impossible hours or begging or stealing food in order to eat, the injustice is being perpetrated.

(note: of course we're not including those generally lazy people who aren't willing to put in the work necessary to support themselves. It is not unjust if a lazy man or woman have to face the consequences of their choices. We're also not including the fact that nature intervenes, as well - drought and flood are not always caused by the actions of other humans and thus, while cruel and unfair, don't exactly fit the definition of Injustice).

I think I'm pretty aware of some of the Big Issues at play. We've covered any number as we've worked through Amos:
- The current economic mess, in which a few corporate bigwigs made out like bandits while millions of average folk are losing their homes, their retirement, and their income.
- The use of human slavery in so many of our economic systems, from slavery in the chocolate trade to slavery in the diamond trade to slavery for sexual purposes.
- The destruction of the land and indigenous people groups to supply our endless need for cheap electronics and clothing and furniture
- The system at work on so many schoolyards and in so many businesses, wherein lying and bullying and gossiping are tools to climb to the social/political top.
- The hoarding of wealth in our bank accounts and buildings when 26,000 children die every day from hunger-related causes.

And, in one sense, it's easy to preach about these things, and call for change: drink fair-trade coffee, consume less stuff, support children through Compassion or World Vision, cancel your Cable TV and donate that money to the Rescue Mission, donate to good causes rather than buying so many Christmas presents, become involved in the lives of your neighbors, plant a garden, shop locally, etc.

But what about where you live? I admit - sometimes, I feel a little distant from it all. We preachers have the difficult job of bringing the Gospel to bear in worlds we seldom enter. We're not working 'out there,' out in the offices and streets of 'the world.' We spend a lot of time meeting with church people to talk about church stuff; we spend a lot of time sitting alone in front of books or computer screens or blank pieces of paper. I'm no longer on the school playground, I don't sit in the break room at your company and talk about the scuttlebutt around the office.

So help me make this thing truly relevant. Do you see examples of injustice where you live, work, play, or study? Have you experienced injustice at the hands of another? If Christians are called to work for justice, to seek justice - what does that mean to you? How do you see people misusing others, taking from them whatever is rightfully theirs (reputation, pay)?

When we talk about injustice, and you consider your context, how do they connect? And how might followers of Christ work toward justice in that place?


Cleaver said...

First it sounds like a tough decision to step out of my comfort zone and take from my personal time to look beyond myself to see the needs of others. I know it is not suppose to be about ourselves but when I do make that commitment not to satisfy my own self, I become very uncomfortable. I do believe that is a good starting point.

Beth B said...

Spot on, Dan! Justice does NOT mean equality.

In Plato's Republic, justice is the virtue that rightly orders wisdom (the virtue of the mind, courage (the virtue of the heart) and moderation (the virtue of the appetites) within a person.

Thus, justice-- even for pagan Greeks--was a relational thing, connecting various parts of a person so that he or she would function well. The premise of The Republic is that the polis is the "soul writ large." It all sounds a lot like biblical shalom to me.

Modernist nominalism is not interested in personal character or corporate virtue. It's only concern is to keeping individuals from colliding with one another. Equality is one of the ways to accomplish that goal; however it is a pale imitation of shalom/genuine justice!

Linda Anderson said...

My brain is buzzing as it ponders this subject. We are surrounded by opportunity to respond and many avenues to explore that stem from it. I must ponder this further today and will share more later. Thanks for posing the questions.

Anonymous said...

3 things I can think of in my (Kristen's) little world: gossip, putting down/criticism of men by women, neglect of children by parents for own selfish pursuits/material gain. There! I've contributed to an online discussion!