Sermon: Embracing Justice

As we continue to open our ears and our hearts to God’s word though the prophet Micah, I invite you to turn with me to Micah, chapter 3. Micah 3, beginning in verse 1. Micah is in the Old Testament, one of the minor prophets. If you are in Nahum or Habakkuk you have gone a little too far, if you are in Obadiah or Jonah, you have not gone quite far enough. Micah, chapter 3, beginning in verse 1. Before we hear God’s word this morning, please take a moment to pray with me.

Father, may your Word be our rule, Your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

If you are able, I invite you to stand to hear God’s word.

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very Words of God.

Then I said,

“Listen, you leaders of Jacob,

your rulers of Israel,

should you not embrace justice,

you who hate good and love evil,

who tear the skin from my people,

and the flesh from their bones,

who eat my people’s flesh,

strip off their skin,

and break their bones into pieces,

who chop them up like meat for the pan,

like flesh for the pot?

Then they will cry out to the Lord,

but he will not answer them.

At that time, he will hide his face from them

because of the evil they have done.

This is what the Lord says:

“As for the prophets

who lead my people astray,

they proclaim ‘peace’

if they have something to eat,

but prepare to wage war against anyone

who refuses to feed them.

Therefore night will come over you, without visions

and darkness without divinations.

The sun will set for the prophets,

and the day will go dark for them.

The seers will be ashamed,

and the diviners disgraced.

They will hide their faces,

because there is no answer from God.”

But as for me, I am filled with power,

with the Spirit of the Lord

and with justice and might,

to declare to Jacob his transgression

to Israel his sin.

Hear this, you leaders of Jacob,

you rulers of Israel,

who despise justice

and distort all that is right,

who build Zion with bloodshed,

and Jerusalem with wickedness.

Her leaders judge for a bribe,

her priest teach for a price,

and her prophets tell fortunes for money.

Yet they look for the Lord’s support and say,

“Is not the Lord among us?

No disaster will come upon us.”

Therefore because of you,

Zion will be plowed like a field,

Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble,

the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

SIN IN THE WORLD

Then I said,

“Listen, you leaders of Jacob,

your rulers of Israel,

should you not embrace justice

My heart aches this morning, like it has for more than a year.

I ache particularly for my children and for the young people whose faces I see in this congregation, who have been learning ugly lessons in this past year.

My heart aches because, without us saying a word, they are learning that 2016 was normal.

That it is normal to wake up to terror on the television, that it is normal to live in a world where people are gunned down in our country for the color of their skin, their sexual preferences, or their occupation.

That it is normal for the unborn, who have no voice, to be silenced. That it is normal for those who fight for the unborn, to abandon their cause once the children leave the womb.

I ache that my children and yours are growing up in a world where they are learning it is normal to have people open fire in airports, shoot down planes, and drive vans through crowded markets.

Then I said,

“Listen, you leaders of Jacob,

your rulers of Israel,

should you not embrace justice

I ache that my children and yours are growing up learning that it is normal to be afraid.

That it is normal to stand by and support your people, but to be suspicious of other people.

That it is normal to be able to look at our neighbor, at a stranger, and see an enemy and not someone made in the image of God.

That it is normal to believe that God builds walls instead of tearing them down.

I ache that my children and yours are growing up in a world that spews so much poison. I have difficulty finding a better word to describe how we, as a nation, have spoken of one another in this past year.

I ache that they are learning this is normal. Even worse, that Christians are some of the worst offenders. I ache that, even in this room, we shake hands, we say “the peace of Christ be with you,” to each other and then by Sunday afternoon we speak so differently of each other. We come here and proclaim that in Christ there is no east and west, that Jesus has broken down the barrier that divides us and God and that divides us from one another, but that we can post meme after meme that belittles, demonizes, and debases those that disagree with us.

I ache that my children and yours are learning that this is normal, and normal for the people of God.

I ache that they are growing up in a world that seems, across the spectrum, to have replaced the love and justice of Christ with toxicity. I ache to know that I am not innocent in all of this either.

Then I said,

“Listen, you leaders of Jacob,

your rulers of Israel,

should you not embrace justice

SIN IN THE TEXT

Israel in the time of Micah was not too different from our own. Instead of loving one another, even the people of God used each other. Micah compares it to ravenous animals or cannibals:

who tear the skin from my people,

and the flesh from their bones,

who eat my people’s flesh,

strip off their skin,

and break their bones into pieces,

who chop them up like meat for the pan,

like flesh for the pot?

The image is horrendous because the Lord is trying to shock his people into realizing what they are doing. In their frenzy to protect themselves, to gain power, to get ahead, they had devoured each other. They sustained themselves by destroying others.

Then I said,

“Listen, you leaders of Jacob,

your rulers of Israel,

should you not embrace justice

The prophets who should be leading the people back to God are leading them astray. They have turned their calling into a way of making money. They satisfy their greed by charging for people to hear a word from God, but instead tell the people what they want to hear. They do this until the money runs dry and then they turn on those they once praised.

Self-serving greed extends to the leaders, the priests, and the prophets, all of whom look to turn a profit:

Her leaders judge for a bribe,

her priest teach for a price,

and her prophets tell fortunes for money.

Yet they look for the Lord’s support and say,

“Is not the Lord among us?

No disaster will come upon us.”

Then I said,

“Listen, you leaders of Jacob,

your rulers of Israel,

should you not embrace justice

They had not embraced justice. Instead, they hated good and loved evil, God tells us in verse 2. The people of God refused to embrace justice, choosing instead to embrace a way of life that served their own interests first. And the world began to turn upside down. It is always the weak, the vulnerable, and those who have no voice that suffer.

Should you not embrace justice?

How? How do we embrace justice in a world turned upside down?

GRACE IN THE TEXT

I believe we begin best by paying attention to God. How does God respond to injustice? How does the living God respond to a world turned upside down?

God says ‘No’, he says ‘Yes’, and he says ‘Go.’

No. Yes. Go.

God says ‘No.’ Whether in 700BC or in 2017, injustice, wickedness, and sin are not normal, not okay, not acceptable, not just the cost of doing business. Whatever the world has been teaching us and our children about ‘how the world works,’ when it means the exploitation of the weak, the destruction of image-bearers, and the defamation of the glorious name of God, the Lord of Lords says ‘No.’

After revealing how the leaders have devoured the people, God says, Then they will cry out to the Lord,

but he will not answer them.

At that time, he will hide his face from them

because of the evil they have done.

In other words, God says ‘No.’ This is not okay, this will not continue unchecked. Those who closed their ears to the cries of the afflicted will God’s ears closed to them. God says ‘No.’

After the prophets lead people astray, God promises to remove the gift of prophecy from them. They will endure silence and darkness from God. God says ‘No’ to preachers who use their position to advance themselves and refuse to proclaim the full word of God.

And God says ‘No’ to cities and cultures that build their power through bloodshed and wickedness:

Hear this, you leaders of Jacob,

you rulers of Israel,

who despise justice

and distort all that is right,

who build Zion with bloodshed,

and Jerusalem with wickedness

Therefore because of you,

Zion will be plowed like a field,

Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble,

the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.

God says ‘No’ to injustice.

Then I said,

“Listen, you leaders of Jacob,

your rulers of Israel,

should you not embrace justice

How does God respond to injustice? He says ‘No’ and ‘Yes.’

Ultimately, God not only rejects injustice, but promises to come bring justice – to set things right and make all things new. I will surely gather all of you, Jacob. I will surely bring together the remnant of Israel. I will bring them together like sheep in a pen, like a flock in its pasture, the place with throng with people. The one who breaks open the way will go up before them, they will break through the gate and go out. Their king will pass through before them, the Lord at their head.

God’s response to a world turned upside down is that he will embrace justice. God’s response is Jesus. “God came to set things right in a more powerful way than the prophets and the nation of Israel could have imagined: the holy and faithful God of Israel put his love into action as he came himself. In the person of Jesus Christ, God entered fully into this broken world and in the midst of the brokenness and injustice showed what holiness, faithful loving-kindness, and righteousness look like” (KDJ, Justice Calling, 112).

Jesus and his disciples sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, across the lake from Galilee. There they met a man who had been possessed by demons. He lived without clothes or home, but lived in the tombs. He was a man in a pagan land, suffering spiritual, physically, and socially. The man gave his name as ‘Legion’ because of how many demons had taken residence in his body. Jesus cast them into a herd of pigs which rushed in the lake and drown. The people were startled and came to the man they had come to fear was sitting, clothed, and in his right mind at the feet of Jesus. And they were afraid.

Jesus came to a man on the edge of society – spiritually suffering, physically suffering, and socially ostracized – and brought healing and wholeness to him. Jesus embraced justice as he healed the Gerasene demoniac.

Then I said,

“Listen, you leaders of Jacob,

your rulers of Israel,

should you not embrace justice

“Through the saving work of Christ on the cross, God condemned every injustice that has kept God’s world and God’s people from God’s shalom. Through Christ’s victory over sin and evil, God set and is setting all things right” (ibid)

How does God respond to a world turned upside down? He say ‘No’ – this is not the way things are supposed to be. And he says ‘Yes’ by coming in the flesh to overcome sin and evil and set the world right.

Jesus is God embracing justice by living and dying to vanquish sin and death and set the world right.

GRACE IN THE WORLD

In the face of injustice, God says ‘No,’ ‘Yes,’ and ‘Go.’ Part of God’s response to a world of injustice is calling his people, the church, to embrace Jesus and in doing so, embrace justice.

Then I said,

“Listen, you leaders of Jacob,

your rulers of Israel,

should you not embrace justice

Part of God’s response to a world broken and bruised by sin is to call you to follow him. In my hand, I am holding one of the famous Reformed Church of Stout pens. It says “Reformed Church of Stout” gives the phone number 319-346-1487 and then below that it says something. Does anyone know what it says? (toss pen and have someone read it)

Following Christ in Mission. You can keep the pen. Jesus is the true Savior. Jesus is the God who embraces justice, who sets all things right and makes all things new. Jesus is the one whose sacrifice brings salvation. Jesus is God’s ultimate response to a world broken by sin. Yet, he calls you and me to follow Christ in mission. Listen to Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as those God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

We are ambassadors for Christ. Not fellow saviors, rogue heros, or lone rangers, but ambassadors. Jesus, who is at work reconciling the world to God, has called us to follow him in his mission, to speak and act in his name. Following Christ in mission.

Then I said,

“Listen, you leaders of Jacob,

your rulers of Israel,

should you not embrace justice

Following Christ in mission. That is not just a catchy slogan. It is not our mission, it is not our project, it is not our work to redeem the world, yet the call to follow Christ includes the call to walk into a broken world that God loves and embrace justice. In a world like we have lived in for the past year, God says ‘No’, ‘Yes’ and ‘Go.’

In our going, we are called to echo God’s ‘No’ and God’s ‘Yes.’ In Christ, by the power of the Spirit, we regularly pray for the downtrodden, the weak, and the marginalized, and pray against the actions of the wicked who seek to devour them. We regularly come to worship, to praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to hear again of Christ crucified and risen, God’s redeeming ‘Yes’ to us. We regularly come to worship to practice loving one another and living as the body of Christ, so that, shaped by the gospel, we enter into the rest of the week wholeheartedly willing and ready to live for Christ.

And so we are ambassadors for Christ as we work so that the poor, the disabled, and the alien have dignity. We seek shelter for the homeless, peace for the victims of terror fleeing to our land, and salvation for all who are lost. We follow Christ by seeking an end to slavery, by praying for and building up our communities, and habitually welcoming the stranger.

We embrace justice by seeking the flourishing of our homes, our community, our state, our country, and every single country around the world. We embrace justice by doing nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit. Rather, in humility valuing others above ourselves, not looking to our own interests, but each of us looking to the interests of others.

We embrace justice by walking the challenging road of discipleship to Jesus, where he calls us to take up our cross and follow him, where he calls us to love our neighbor and our enemy, where he calls us to love our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

My heart aches this morning, like it has for more than a year. But I am also filled with hope. Hope because God has not abandoned this world, but came in Christ to embrace justice and set all things right. Hope because Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. Hope because when we embrace justice in whatever small ways God calls us to, we know that our labor is not in vain.

Then I said,

“Listen, you leaders of Jacob,

your rulers of Israel,

should you not embrace justice

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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