JUSTICE Baptism of Jesus
Today is John the
Baptist Sunday in the life of our church. John the Baptist was the
first prophet that the Jews had experienced for four hundred years.
He preached the Word of God with great power, and he was a prophet.
The text for
today’s sermon is from Isaiah 42 where the Word of God says, “I
will pour out my Spirit upon my servant and my servant will bring
justice to all the world. He will do this with gentleness and
tenderness. A dimly burning wick he will not quench and a bruised
reed he will not break and he will bring justice to the whole world.
He will not fail nor be discouraged until he has brought justice to
the ends of the earth.” This is one of the great passages that we
preachers like to learn and plant deep within our souls.
The Bible is very
clear that God has a great love for justice. You find the word,
“justice,” often in the Bible, and especially in the books of
the Psalms and Isaiah. Psalm 33, “God loves justice and
righteousness.” Psalm 37, “For the Lord loves justice and will
not forget his saints.” Psalm 82, God gives justice to the weak
and the fatherless, and he rescues the poor and needy with
justice.” Psalm 97, “Clouds and thick darkness surround his
throne, but righteousness and justice are the foundation of his
throne.” Psalm 99,
“Our Lord is a mighty king, a lover of justice.”
And so if you read God’s word in the Psalms, you come to
the conclusion that our God loves justice.
God’s love of
justice is not only revealed in the Psalms but also in the book of
Isaiah, and not only in Isaiah 42, but in other passages from
Isaiah, God says the same thing. Chapter 1, “Seek justice. Undo
oppression. Defend the fatherless. Plead for the widow and for the
oppressed.” Isaiah 5, “The Lord of hosts shall be exalted and
our God shall be worshipped in justice.”
Isaiah 30, “Our Lord is a God of justice.” Isaiah 56,
“Keep justice and do righteousness.” Isaiah 35, “God has
filled the whole nation with justice and righteousness.”
We find that God wants justice established to the end of all
So you can see in
the Old Testament, in both the Psalms and Isaiah, our God is a God
who loves justice.
Now, the word for
justice in Hebrew is a strange sounding word. It is the word,
mishpat. The word, “justice,” is found over and over again in
the Bible and it is found always in combination with the word,
Today, to begin, I
need to tell you a story about Billy and Bobby. Billy was twelve
years old and Billy was very smart. He was in all the honor’s
classes and was one of the top students in his class. He was also a
good musician. He played in the orchestra, sang in the choir, and
played in a rock band. Billy was also an incredible athlete. He was
a superstar soccer player, baseball player, basketball player, a
track star and every other kind of athlete. Billy was also president
of his class at high school and also president of the Luther League
at church. No matter what Billy did, he was always elected
Now, Billy had a
younger brother by the name of Bobbie, and something happened along
the way to Bobbie. Bobbie was a handicapped person; he was disabled
physically and somewhat intellectually. He couldn’t sing a note.
He never was on an athletic team. He was never elected to anything.
In school, he was in all the other classes; that is, he was always
in the special ed classes for slower learners. Bobbie’s heart was
full of love, but he just couldn’t do what his older brother could
do. But that did not mean that Bobbie’s heart was not full of
love. Bobbie was really a loving kid, but was not gifted in the way
that his older brother, Billie was.
Well, one day their
mother made breakfast and there were three wonderful cinnamon rolls.
These were wonderful, gewy, chewy, yumscious, dripping with brown
sugared syrup, freshly baked cinnamon rolls and they had just come
out of the oven and they were still warm and fresh. Within seconds,
each boy had devoured a cinnamon roll, when the telephone rang and
the mother momentarily was distracted by the telephone call.
Meanwhile, back at the breakfast table where there was one cinnamon
roll left, Billy was taking charge. Billy, who was stronger, faster,
smarter, more musical, more athletic, said to Bobbie, “This is my
roll, brother. You are younger and I am the older and wiser and the
rights belong to me. This is my cinnamon roll,” and he inhaled it.
Without a thought, Bobbie starts to cry and shout and whale, and
about that time, the mother gets off the telephone and rushes back
to the kitchen but the telephone rings again and the mother rushes
back to the phone again. The next day, it is the same song but the
second verse. Three cinnamon rolls that were freshly baked, dripping
with syrup. Billie is there, the older, the wiser, the smarter, the
more gifted. Bobbie is also there, the younger, the weaker, the less
gifted. Each swallows one roll. Bobbie again reaches for the extra
cinnamon roll, and is about to inhale it, when the mother says,
“Wait a minute. I am going to cut the cinnamon roll in two halves
and give each one of you a half.”
When the mother did
that, she made a judgment. The word, mishpat, means judgment. It
means God’s wisdom, God’s rule, God’s law, God’s
judgment…that there would be fairness
and equity within a family.
Likewise with God,
God has judgments and God’s judgments always protect the Bobbies
of life from the Billies of life. You have to protect the Bobbies of
life from the Billies of life.
Now, that does not
mean that Billie was mean. No, Billie was not mean. Billie was not
cruel. Billy did not hate Bobby. No, Billie was a strong, smart,
intelligent human being, who like all human beings, was selfish. And
Billie was going to take more than his fair share. Billie was going
to use his resources of a stronger body, a stronger mind, a stronger
personality in order to take more than his fair share.
But God has
designed the world in such a way that the Bobbies of the world need
to be protected from the Billies of the world.
Now, I would like
to you listen to a series of words that you have already heard, and
these words are associated with the word, “justice.” There are
nine words that are associated with the word, “justice,” in the
Bible. Widow, fatherless, orphans, poor, hungry, stranger, needy,
weak and oppressed. These are always the words associated with
Bobbie; Bobbie always fits into one of these categories. In this
list of words, you did not find the word, “rich.” Rich is often
associated with injustice. You don’t have to worry about
the rich, because the rich will be able to afford justice. Worry
about Bobbie and the widows, the fatherless, the orphans, the poor,
the hungry, the strangers, the needy, the weak and the oppressed.
So God has designed
the world in such a way that there is to be mishpat, and there is to
be mishpat unto the ends of the earth.
Now, let’s come
at this in a slightly different way. Let’s pretend that there are
a hundred people here in this room and each one of you has one
thousand dollars. In forty years, twenty of you will have $80,000
and eighty of you will have $20,000. That is the way it normally
works in the world. That is, 80% owns 20% and the 20% own 80%.
In Third World
countries, we often find that 5% own 95% and 95% own 5%. That is
just the way it is the world and has been for centuries.
And the purpose of
mishpat is not the redistribution of wealth. Not at all. The purpose
of misphat is to protect the 80% of the people who often have 20% of
the wealth and are often widows, fatherless, orphans, poor, hungry,
stranger, needy, weak and oppressed. The purpose of mishpat is to
protect the Bobbies of life.
So we ask: “What
is the purpose of the church?” Usually, we would say that the
purpose of the church is to evangelize. It means to go out into our
communities and bring people into the church where we study God’s
word and in the process of bringing people into the community they
may become disciples of Jesus Christ. There are many of us who are
concerned about this here at Grace Lutheran Church. Last year, our
attendance did not go up. Our membership did not go up. Grace
Lutheran Church has plateaued and many of us are upset about that.
We want to re-energize our congregation for evangelism so that the
people around us become disciples of Christ. What is the purpose of
the church? Usually we say it is to evangelize.
Or, sometimes you
say that the mission of the church is to teach love. We are to love
each other. We are to love our mothers, love our fathers, love our
family, love neighbors, love the people we work with, love the
people around the globe that we do not know. We are here today to
help people be more effective in their love. We would all say Amen
But there is
another purpose of the church. That is, we are called to be a
servant community and we are to pursue justice until justice is
brought to the ends of the earth.
Now, when our
mission of the church is justice, that means that we are involved in
political compassion. It has to do with structuring the laws of
society so that the widows, the orphans, the fatherless, the poor,
the hungry, the refugee, the needy, the weak and the oppressed that
they are protected. That is mishpat. That is God’s rule for human
let’s imagine that you have a child that is born severely
handicapped. Your handicapped child has grown up now and become an
adult who is living outside your home, and living in a group home.
Would you not agree that you want the laws to protect your
handicapped child, that you want your handicapped child fed, cared
for, nurtured in every way? You do not want it allowed that you
child is thrown out of group home where they are living and onto the
streets of Seattle and become a homeless person. Would we not all
agree that is justice? And any of you who do not feel that way, you
can leave this church and go and find another one because your heart
is all messed up. Justice is concerned for the handicapped of our
society, and the church is always passionately concerned for the
Bobbies of life and works for laws that help and protect the
Now, you can go and
visit that person once a month. You can go and visit your
handicapped person once a month. That is what is called charity. But
more important than charity is justice. So for twenty-four hours a
day, for seven days a week, for every week of every month of every
year, we want to know that your handicapped friend has food,
housing, and clothing needs taken take of under the law. That is
justice. Charity is a visit to a handicapped person once a month;
justice is caring for them twenty-four hours a day, seven days a
week, twelve months a year, for their life time.
I hate to inform
you that the State of Washington ranks forty-fifth out of fifty
states in the allocation of resources for handicapped children. If
you have a handicapped young adult living out at the state home in
Buckley, you may prefer to have them living in the State of
Minnesota where that state allocates many more resources for the
handicapped than Washington does.
We the church are passionate that God’s law, that God’s
mishpat, that God’s true religion would protect the Bobbies of
Let’s look at a
second example. Let us look at the second word on our list,
fatherless. The Bible distinguishes between the fatherless and the
orphan, and that distinction still works today. I would like to talk
about the 90,000 fatherless children in the state of Washington.
There are 90,000 children here in our state who have experienced the
death of a marriage, and these children do not have a father living
in their home. 90,000 fatherless children live in Washington and 80%
of them do not receive child support from their father. Justice or
mishpat is the law that a biological father is to financially and
emotionally support his child. 80% of them do not. If the law was
not there, the percentage would be even less. Now, this person who
is single loses a job. We have a single mother, who has lost her job
and she is now on welfare. How many of you actually know what a
single mother with two children on welfare receives each month in
her welfare payment? How many of you actually know the answer? Two.
Two out of several hundred people here today. The family that I am
talking about receives $440 a month…and $157 a month in food
stamps, for a grand total of $597 per month from welfare.
So I call this woman in our parish and I want you to know
that this is a good woman who has been part of our church for a long
time. She is a single mother who has a wonderful child in
confirmation and the child is smart and does his homework. So I call
this mother who I know is on welfare and ask her how she makes ends
meet. “How much is your rent?” $505. “What is your welfare
payment?” $440. How do you make up the difference?” “Only God
knows.” She said, “You know, I used to make $12 a hour working
at a hospital but now that I am laid off, I may $5.25 an hour at
McDonald’s. And when I get my check from McDonald’s, the
government is going to reduce their subsidy to me because I make too
much money. I work so hard, and soon as I get ahead just a little
bit, they push my head under water and try to drown me.”
Do you think that is just? Do you think that is fair? Is
Bobbie being protected by the law?
There are a whole
lot of people who don’t think so well about welfare and people on
welfare. Is it really possible that the 26,000 handicapped children
in our state are really all ripping off the system? Is it really
possible that all 450 blind children in the state of Washington are
really taking advantage of the system? Is it really possible that
all 42,000 children who live with a single parent are ripping off
the system? Are they all ripping off the system?
Of course, some people always rip off the system, no matter
what economic class you may be.
I was talking to
Ingrid Bentzen one day, who teaches in a nursing school down in
Tacoma. She teaches people and many of her students are welfare
recipients. I asked her, “How many leeches are there?”
She said, “O, there are some leeches. Some of these
recipients have been here for five, six, seven years, sucking off
the system.” I asked,
“Well, how many, Ingrid?” She said, “Ten, fifteen, percent.”
I said, “That is about the same percentage of pastors I know who
suck off the system called the church. Ten, fifteen percent of the
pastors don’t do the work and such off of their congregations. It
is about the same for pastors and many other occupations.”
What I am trying to suggest to you that welfare people do not
suck off the system any more than the middle class or the rich.
A few weeks ago at
church, I preached on the theme of the slaughter of the Holy
Innocents. Karen Keiser, a state representative in the state
legislature, was here and as she walked out, she said, “You wait
until the new bill is passed in our state legislature. A whole bunch
of innocent children are going to be slaughtered.”
I would like to ask
you if you could live on $497 a month?
We, as a church,
are committed to justice. We are committed to protecting Bobbie.
That is what we do.
Let’s see now. We
have talked about handicapped people. We have talked about welfare
people. So let’s talk about economics and world wide economics.
Let’s talk about Billie and Bobbie again. Billie is bright,
musical, athletic, has tons of personality and is the class
president. What does Billy become when he grows up? Billie owns the
company. He becomes the CEO. What does Bobbie become when he grows
up? Bobbie was trained down at the Tacoma Shelter and so Bobbie is
working on a kind of job that he needs some help. The question is:
can Bobbie ever compete economically with Billie? There is no way
that Bobbie can ever compete with Billie on the economic playing
In the world
economic system, we have all kinds of Bobbies. We have thirty-six
countries where the average per capital income is $150 per person.
These countries are dirt poor. How could they ever compete with an
industrial power like the USA, Japan, or Germany? There is no way
that the poorest nations of the world can compete with the
industrial powers. Those poorest nations of the world have
incompetent leaders; they siphon off profits for themselves; they
drive their nations into debt; the International Monetary Fund leans
of those nations to pay their debts. And all the while, we need to
realize that they are Bobbie. Misphat protects the Bobbies of life
from the Billies of life. If
you think that Bobbie can compete with Billie, I don’t know where
you are living. It is a real world out there, with enormous pain.
I really liked the
children’s sermon for today. In that children’s sermon, I asked
people to think of the year 1865. In England. Ten year old children
were working down deep in coal mines for twelve hours a day, six
days a week. Can you imagine that? I can’t. Ten year old children
working twelve hour shifts down deep in the coal mines. And the
question was asked: “And what can the church do for these poor
children working twelve hours a day down deep in the coal mines?”
Feel badly about the poor plight of these children who are deep in
the coal mines? Or, pray for them every Sunday morning in the
prayers of the church? Or, charitably give them a food basket at
Christmas and Easter? What should we do for these children: feel
sorry for them, pray, or give them a basket of food on Christmas and
Maybe there is a
fourth option. Work to change the law so that it is illegal for
children to work in such conditions. Rather than the law allowing
children to work in the coal mines, the law will make it illegal for
children to work in the coal mines. The law will demand that these
children go to school?
I suggested to you
that the church is often engaged in acts of charity; that is, giving
prayers and food baskets. But the church also needs to be involved
in justice: changing the laws so that the poor children will not
have to work in the mines anymore.
In England in those
years, there were Christians who worked to change the law for the
benefit of children. They worked for justice.
I like that passage
from the Bible where the Lord God says, “I will put my Spirit upon
my servant, my servant community, and he will bring justice to the
ends of the earth.” Then, and listen carefully, “a dimly burning
wick God will not snuff out.” Do you know how many dimly burning
wicks there are in the world? The widows, the orphans, the
fatherless, the weak. So many burning wicks that God will not snuff
out. “And a bruised reed God will not break.” Do you know how
many people in the world are so deeply bruised? A servant will not
fail nor will this servant be discouraged until justice is
established until the very ends of the earth.
Two years ago, I
had a really bad sermon on this text. That is, Pastor O’Neal and I
were doing a series of sermons on the Lord’s Prayer, and I had the
phrase, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I
preached a sermon about love, that love is up in heaven and that God
wants love to be throughout all the earth. We want to have loving,
loving, loving people throughout the whole wide earth. In that
sermon about the will of God on the earth, not once did I mention
the word, “justice.” I have lived with this for two years. I
said to myself, “Edward, you really blew that sermon.” Today, I
am making up folks.
It is the will of
God that justice be established to the ends of the earth, and you
and I are part of that mission. Amen.
SERMON. Select three
ten year olds to come forward and stand in front of all the
children. Tell this story to the children: in 1865, there was great
poverty in London, England. In that great poverty, many children
like these three were put to work in the coal mines. What is a coal
mine? Coal is a black substance and it was found deep in tunnels.
These ten year olds had to work deep in dark tunnels, miles into the
ground, miles under the ground, and it was very dirty work. How many
hours a day did these children work in the coal mines? Twelve hours
a day. How many days a week? Six days a week. These young ten year
old coal miners were dirty, exhausted, and poor. So you kids now
have three choices what to do for these coal miners. One: pray. One
child represents prayer. Every day, the church will pray for you and
especially on Sundays. The second child represents charity. That is,
on Thanksgiving and Christmas, the church will bring this poor
family food baskets. Twice a year. The third child represents
justice. That is, the church will act to have the laws changed, so
that the children no longer have to work in the coal mines and
instead are required to attend school. Now, which of these three
should the church do? Discussion. The church is always involved in
the pursuit of justice, changing the laws of the land to benefit the
weak, the children, the poor of the world. (This sermon becomes a
very graphic illustration of how the church is sucked into doing
charity as a substitute for doing justice.) William Booth founded
the Salvation Army in 1865 in response to the plight of the English
children in the coal mines.)