Cry for Justice

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The Cry for Justice

Psalm 142

Prayer for Deliverance from Persecutors

A Maskil of David. When he was in the cave. A Prayer.

With my voice I cry to the Lord;

with my voice I make supplication to the Lord.

I pour out my complaint before him;

I tell my trouble before him.

When my spirit is faint,

you know my way.

In the path where I walk

they have hidden a trap for me.

Look on my right hand and see—

there is no one who takes notice of me;

no refuge remains to me;

no one cares for me.

I cry to you, O Lord;

I say, “You are my refuge,

my portion in the land of the living.”

Give heed to my cry,

for I am brought very low.

Save me from my persecutors,

for they are too strong for me.

Bring me out of prison,

so that I may give thanks to your name.

The righteous will surround me,

for you will deal bountifully with me.

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

A Life Pleasing to God

Finally, brothers and sisters, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that, as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God (as, in fact, you are doing), you should do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honor, not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, just as we have already told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. Therefore whoever rejects this rejects not human authority but God, who also gives his Holy Spirit to you.

The cry for justice rings out across the world. You have to stuff your ears to keep from hearing it in our ever-globalizing world. Those who yearn for justice in their own life often feel that justice left undone in their lives comes at the fault of the rest of the world… but it is hard to lay the responsibility upon every single person and thing that crosses our path (though some try), so more often, we opt for the second best option of blaming God, or so we like to think.

If you take a long view though, it is kind of ironic that God, the one we sometimes choose to blame for injustice in the world, created this world perfect. Even if we get really nitpicky and claim that it wasn’t perfect, because there was one initial problem with the world: that man was alone… God took his time and made man and woman one at a time instead of just both at once (or did He? and because of that there was a waiting period on the world’s perfection. Again, it’s easier to blame God than to look at the bigger picture.

Brokenness was not caused by God, it was caused by human beings. Both of them. They both hid after they took something they were asked not to take by the one who knew the garden and themselves better than any mind in all creation. Humanity transgressed and broke everything – and it was God who made the first call for justice in our world! And He has not been repaid yet.

We continue to sin, day in and day out, stepping on each other, breaking each other, and the world around us, and it was never ours to break. If God implemented the “you break it, you buy it rule” we would not be able to pay. Literally. We don’t even have the right currency to redeem our world, to make things right.

So we are stuck with this uncomfortable sense of injustice and the knowledge that, it is really on us and on those who came before us, and we don’t have any real answers ourselves. It doesn’t matter if we are globally-minded citizens, outraged by environmental and socioeconomic concerns across the world from us, or if we focus our minds down into a tribalistic manner and seek justice for ourselves and those like us. No matter where we turn, we cannot shrug off the responsibility we play in adding to the mess around us… and my own philosophy has often been: if you don’t have anything helpful to say, keep quiet. (Borrowed from Socrates)

What is your cry for justice?

What responsibility do you take for injustice in the world?

What can you do today to make a difference for the better? What help will you need?

Fire

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“For wickedness burned like a fire,

consuming briers and thorns;

it kindled the thickets of the forest,

and they swirled upward in a column of smoke.

Through the wrath of the Lord of hosts

the land was burned,

and the people became like fuel for the fire;

no one spared another.

They gorged on the right, but still were hungry,

and they devoured on the left, but were not satisfied;

they devoured the flesh of their own kindred;

Manasseh devoured Ephraim, and Ephraim Manasseh,

and together they were against Judah.

For all this his anger has not turned away;

his hand is stretched out still.

 

Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees,

who write oppressive statutes,

to turn aside the needy from justice

and to rob the poor of my people of their right,

that widows may be your spoil,

and that you may make the orphans your prey!

What will you do on the day of punishment,

in the calamity that will come from far away?

To whom will you flee for help,

and where will you leave your wealth,

so as not to crouch among the prisoners

or fall among the slain?

For all this his anger has not turned away;

his hand is stretched out still.” Isaiah 9.18-10.4 (NRSV)

The hunger of wickedness is never sated. It burns with a fire that consumes everything around until it finally turns back on the hungry ones themselves. In doing so, the wicked bring destruction upon themselves.

I had a frank conversation with some friends of mine from Cuba, concerning the death of Fidel Castro and the feelings of the people of Cuba. In the US, Castro had a reputation of infamy, but in Cuba, among the rich and poor alike, there were mixed feelings about his leadership. As harsh as his rule had been, he successfully kept much of the drug trade and human trafficking out of Cuba, especially in camparison to much of Central and parts of South America. Many of those other countries had political freedom at the cost of oprression by the wealthy. The concern was that these drug lords would sweep in to take over the nation.

The ancient philosopher Plato wrote that governments shift in cycles. We see all the time, one dictator replaced by another. The corruption of one party makes way for the corrupt leadership of the opposition when it finally rises. When the oppressed take up arms and become revolutionaries – beating, looting, and killing any who get between them and their justice, we are simply making way for the next oppressors.

Isaiah’s words of warning are not just for the rich. They are for everyone. If we let our hunger for possessions rule us instead of a hunger for righteousness, we will lose our way and find ourselves on the path of wickedness. That path ends in flames and our own destruction. It is more than a problem of just wickedness and the quest for power, because, as Paul reminds us in Romans, we all fall short and are subject to temptation and corruption. If we simply eliminated everyone who had ever been wicked, we would have no one left.

I think the answer to avoiding this fiery judgment upon ourselves and our communities can be found in a simple piece of economic wisdom: Don’t go grocery shopping when you are hungry. What does that have to do with power and politics in our lives? It means we need to check our motives before seeking power. Those who feel insecure themselves often seek power over others and just as often end up being poor leaders. Whether you are running for political office or just thinking about having or raising children – you need to make sure you are secure enough yourself and “well fed” spiritually, emotionally, physically, etc… to be able to lead, nurture, and protect anyone else. It is only from this place of being full and satisfied, (which can only be fully realized in a relationship with God) that we find ourselves secure enough in our weakness to ask God for help instead of jumping in and trying to fix things ourselves… often taking us all out of the frying pan and into the fire.

  • Where do you feel anxiety the most this Advent and Christmas season?
  • When you feel God’s hand upon you, where does it seem to be guiding you?
  • What answers to your fiery trials do you find in the manger of Bethlehem?

Hungry

I come to you

For I know

Your love will satsify

Thursday December 15, 2016

Tremble

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“Wail, for the day of the Lord is near;

it will come like destruction from the Almighty!

Therefore all hands will be feeble,

and every human heart will melt,

and they will be dismayed.

Pangs and agony will seize them;

they will be in anguish like a woman in labor.

They will look aghast at one another;

their faces will be aflame.

See, the day of the Lord comes,

cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,

to make the earth a desolation,

and to destroy its sinners from it.

For the stars of the heavens and their constellations

will not give their light;

the sun will be dark at its rising,

and the moon will not shed its light.

I will punish the world for its evil,

and the wicked for their iniquity;

I will put an end to the pride of the arrogant,

and lay low the insolence of tyrants.

I will make mortals more rare than fine gold,

and humans than the gold of Ophir.

Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,

and the earth will be shaken out of its place,

at the wrath of the Lord of hosts

in the day of his fierce anger. “ Isaiah 13.6-13 (NRSV)

There is a difference between punishment and payback. Punishment involves correction. In a way, it is only done when the victim sees more in the perpetrator than that perpetrators sees in themselves. Punishment requires some hope of restoration and redemption in both parties – even if whatever was taken or destroyed cannot be brought back.

I heard a story a few months back about two women who travel the country doing church revivals and raising awareness of drunk driving. One of the women lost a son to a drunk driver. The other woman was the drunk driver who took her son’s life. There was punishment meted out, fines and prison time served, but relationships are restored and redeemed and now both women work to make sure it does not happen again.

Payback is something else. Payback dehumanizes the perpetrator and seeks only to do to them what had been done to their victim. There is no hope for restoration or redemption. It is exemplified in the phrase, “an eye for an eye” which Mahatma Ghandi taught that when followed, “leaves everyone blind”. Incidently, Ghandi may have taken his cues from Jesus here….

God punishes those who disobedient, particularly those who disobey him to the point of causing harm. Not just intentional harm either. A big part of God’s law is to prevent us from even accidentally causing harm. We harm one another when we let our arrogance and envy get in the way of looking out for one another. The best cure for an arrogant or envious community is to be shaken up, so they are forced to reassess what they already have and should be grateful for, as well as who they should be grateful to. God’s punishment involves shaking things up so that those who put their trust in things other than God see them fall away, leaving only God left standing. God does not punish out of spite or cruelty… He simply wants us to see the truth that He is the only one we can truly count on.

This Advent season we remember the justice of God and the way He came to earth Himself to take the bulk of that punishment Himself.

  • How does God shake up your life in order to bring you closer to Him?
  • When life gets stressful, who or what do you turn to for support?
  • Does that support bring you closer to God? How so?

From the squalor of a borrowed stable

By the Spirit and a virgin’s faith

To the anguish and the shame of scandal

Came the Savior of the human race

Sunday December 11, 2016

Hungry

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My people go into exile without knowledge; their nobles are dying of hunger, and their multitude is parched with thirst. Therefore Sheol has enlarged its appetite and opened its mouth beyond measure; the nobility of Jerusalem and her multitude go down, her throng and all who exult in her. People are bowed down, everyone is brought low, and the eyes of the haughty are humbled. But the Lord of hosts is exalted by justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy by righteousness. Then the lambs shall graze as in their pasture, fatlings and kids shall feed among the ruins. Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble, and as dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root will become rotten, and their blossom go up like dust; for they have rejected the instruction of the Lord of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people, and he stretched out his hand against them and struck them; the mountains quaked, and their corpses were like refuse in the streets. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still. Isaiah 5:13-17, 24-25 (NRSV)

Justice is not blind… it is hungry. Science Fiction writer Douglas Adams wrote many of his stories about a concept of “the interconnectedness of all things”. For those who read and affirm the Bible, this is the same kind of idea we teach when we teach that God created all things for a purpose, that God is a god of order, and that when one part suffers, all parts suffer with it. That last bit Paul wrote about the Church primarilly, but I think it applies to a broader group than one set of people.

Interconnectedness is the founding premise of both global warming and the “trickle down effect”. It is the motivation for welfare and war overseas. It is the purpose behind foreign policy and the insurance premiums and we built a monument to this idea in the paradoxical entity called “Wall Street”.

It’s weird. It’s hard to wrap our minds around. But with all of this being supported by it, there has to be some truth to it. For better or worse, we are all connected.

Justice, then, is not just a fancy idea either. Justice is the tension that exists between all things. If we are all connected, and my actions can either hurt or help you, there is necessarily a right and wrong way to do anything and everything. This is our problem today: we want there to be a clear right and wrong for anything that affects us, but not for our own actions. We want to receive the benefits of being in community, but not the responsibility. The more we shake responsibility though, the greater the tension in the community around us, until something snaps and we find ourselves broken, as well as the community around us. The gravity of justice is inescapable.

If there is a right and wrong way to deal with poverty and hunger, there is a right and wrong way to deal with romantic relationships. I think that is why God included problems of murder and theft in the ten commandments along with faithfulness in marriage and honoring parents… and ended with coveting – the sin of wanting what others have. That is one of the hidden sins of our society. Whether it is materialism and keeping up with the Jones’s, or the envy of wanting the looks or abilities of others around us, God calls it sin and our nation is riddled with it. The tension is beyond the breaking point. Justice is starving.

What can we do? The only way to find true justice is to put aside our desires and find new ways to live that bless others instead of just ourselves. It doesn’t matter if you are a white American or an Iraqi immigrant. We share the same world and our actions matter. Isn’t that what Advent and Christmas is all about? Isn’t that what Jesus came to do for us? He took the tension upon His own body and in His grace gave us the strength to lay down our own desires and live for righteousness. Because we trust in God’s provision, we are able to live for God and for one another instead of just living for ourselves. This holiday season, can we put down the thoughts of getting what we want and start giving God what He deserves?

  • Where do you feel the tension of injustice the most?
  • What part of your life do you try to protect the most?
  • How can you begin turning over your desires and replacing them with trust and obedience to God today?

Dies Irae, Dies Illa

Tuesday December 6, 2016

Goat Song

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Stamp! Stamp! – the restless son                        Clamp! Clamp! – the tethered colt

before beliefs beset between                                luna’s low laugh lauded

a startled flock                                                            lifting palms

unending train                                                            trampling coats

ripples riddled Adam’s bane                                 crowded by a flock of goats

Tramp! Tramp! – the dying day                           Chomp! Chomp! – the bitter teeth

could coo the crowd carrying                              mincing meanings made for mercy

a heaving hand                                                            burning in

upholding hope                                                           the outer cold

dancing down a slippery slope                              for payments made in blood and gold

Bleat! Bleat! – the charming chest                        Flake! Flake! – the broken bread

drinking droughts of dreadful dross                    needed nought known by none

infusing face                                                                   flayed to feed

outpouring lies                                                             and hunger heal

to cover over sightless eyes                                   crushed beneath the tragic wheel

Trip! Trap! – the fathers gruff                                 Stomp! Stomp! – the vineyard press

ripen rivaled rustic rib                                              angered action aim appall

seeking green and                                                        spewing lies

losing truth                                                                     choking true

feeding famished toller’s tooth                               a multitude against the few

Clip! Clap! – the shaved slave                                  Chop! Chop! – the butcher’s block

sinning strongs and saving salt                               waiting with a weary world

in buried births                                                              in hungry cold

raising Cain                                                                      to feed the flame

a vengeance for a neighbor’s pain                          with a lamb who bears the name

Fleet! Feet! – swift to shed                                         Bleed! Bleed! – the paschal son

torrid tired trying trust                                              forever filial faith is found

for given much                                                               for goats in shame

they take the more                                                       this lamb was slain

no entry yet they bar the door                               to break the power of evil’s reign

Creak! Creak! – the ancient gate                             Crack! Crack! – the ancient gate

nimbly numbly naming now                                    drenched in drops of death destroyed

none called right                                                           and Love’s first light

all sent left                                                                        shines in the gloom

their purity within bereft                                           while goats reborn from barren womb

sing praises at an empty tomb

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