Justice or Just Us?

Teresa L. Fry Brown
Associate Professor of Homiletics
Candler School of Theology

Micah 6:6-8
With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I five my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Can you feel it? 
Can you see it?
Can you taste it?
Can you smell it?
It’s in the very particles of the atmosphere
In the mitochondria of our human existence
In the language of our faith utterances

Denominational elitism signifying God’s favor for some and disdain for others.

Militaristic budgetary priorities while millions of children go to bed hungry

Recidivism of gender attitudes seeking to the return of Victorian values and the rebuilding of a man’s castle

Generational discrimination evidenced in media presentations of youth culture and the expendability of elders

Death from diseases only “those people” contract
Destruction of entire cultures for broadening imaginary earthen boundaries
Depression from the unyielding societal weight of otherness
Disappointment in human promises written on counterfeit campaign pledges

The world encourages us to live as individuals rather than community
Perched precariously on the precipice of panic
Aimlessly ambling toward the abyss of apathy
Balancing blithely on the brink of brokenness 
Weaving weakly in the wounds of wickedness
Deceptively dodging the depths of depression
Staggering stupidly through the midst the stench of suffering

This evening let us remind ourselves of God’s mandate that we covenant to be proactive in a move for personal and societal transformation

Check your own papers as we contemplate the questions:

Are we doing justice or just us?

In our focus text that southern working class prophet, Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah and Hosea, is assigned by God to tell the people that their lives were offensive to God. Injustice was the order of the day

Even some of God’s prophets were leading the people to worship other gods:

There was total disregard for God’s plan of equality and blessing for all persons.

Judge–God convened a trial for Judah and Israel to evaluate the lives of the people
Defense attorney–Micah was called to plead the case of the people before God.
Witnesses–the mountains

The mountains testified about the high places people had built altars to other gods like, I am in charge, You are worthless, You can’t live here, You are not smart enough, etc.

This grieving prophet stood in the gap between God and the people.
Micah [v.6] begins to state the people’s case. 
He recognizes that they are guilty.

People ask, what do we need to do to plea bargain with God. 
Should we pay God off with a sacrifice? 
Should we give burnt offerings?
Should we dedicate our first born to God?
Surely God is like the other priests,
we can barter our forgiveness.

Beloved, we cannot beg, barter, and bargain with God.
God already knows when we have sinned and fallen short

Having heard all the evidence, God issues a verdict of guilty against the nation.

Micah begins to give Judah, the defendant,
A verdict from God in a three-point sermon, a sentencing agreement
That still applies to believers today.

Micah tells us that as a covenant people,
We are each charged to remember our blessings and benefits
And to extend them to others.

Micah 6:8 “And what does the Lord require of us but to do justice?

In the midst of the contention, confusion, confrontation we need to be reminded of what God requires of every believer–

“Require: to claim or ask for by right and authority 
“To call for as suitable or appropriate  
“To demand as necessary or essential: i.e., for our interactions with each other.”

What does the Lord require?

Not to talk but to act.
Not to theorize or hold conferences and meetings ad nauseum, but to do something to alleviate a situation where persons are left out, ignored, oppressed, restricted.

It is not a request;

Justice is a requirement of our contract, our testament, and our covenant with God.
Justice implies action, dynamic acts.
It is an act of providing a space for equal access to God.

Justice is about remembering how we got to where we are today.
If we are honest with ourselves
We haven’t always been saved,
Acted like we know we are saved,
Or remembered what it means to be saved.

Justice is not a denominational program,
A racial, ethnic privilege,
A gender based possession,
An age related prerogative.
It is a God ordained imperative.

Justice for all is not an exercise in political correctness, appeasement, cheap grace, or a pay off.

It is a command of God.

 God is the source, creative spark of justice. 
God is the defender of the oppressed of the earth. 
God’s justice is universal.
God’s justice is grace received and shared.

God’s justice is our standard, blueprint, floor plan, template,

Justice is not about just us but is the delivery of God’s mercy, love and grace to all creation.
Justice is honesty, impartiality, and fairness to all of God’s people.
Whatever God does is just even if the results are not by our standards.

The content of justice is the benefits distributed as a basic right of the community. 

Biblical justice was afforded to those who lacked power and resources to participate and strengthen where they could.

And what does the Lord require of us but to do justice?

 The prophetic call of justice is not based on guilt, moralism, or misguided obedience to a principle of political correctness .
The call to justice is not couched in some personalized political agenda item  or news conference rhetoric.
Justice is a joyful, festive response to God’s in-breaking in the future.

To do justice is to correct abuse and meet needs.
God’s benefits are distributed as basic rights to the community.
We may need to risk our lives, be unpopular, or stand alone.
Can you imagine what life would be like if God treated us the way we treat other persons?

Our covenant with God is to treat others as God wants them to be treated, not as we decide they deserve.
Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you – not before they do it to you.

Whatever we do to our brothers and sisters, we ultimately are doing to God and to ourselves.

Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.

We must learn to love each other at least as much as we love ourselves.

God’s plan for justice delivers and relives immediate needs of all persons
Helping needy
Setting back on feet
Giving love
Equal prosperity
End of oppression
Break down barriers
Preempt prejudice

Are we doing justice or just us?

Just Us is any label, barrier, classification, objectification, bigotry, “ism” perpetrated by anyone against another person or group of persons.

Just Us equals the status quo for too many in an us-them mentality
A “Those people” faith system
A “Not in our neighborhood you don’t” mantra
A “Who does she think she is?” mind set
A “We’ve always done it this way” thought process
A “They are not intelligent enough” sociological report

Just Us is
Those young people
Those old people
Those people
Those disabled people
Those fat people
Those skinny people
Those tall people
Those short people
Those Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Lutherans, Atheists, Agnostics, Buddhists, Non-denominationlists, Disciples, UCC, Universalists, Quakers, those Other  Presbyterians

Just Us is
Those Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Asians, Indians
Those women
Those men
Those gays
Those straights
Those houseless
Those with houses
Those Democrats
Those Republicans
Those Independents
Those rich
Those poor

Just Us is
Ostracism of anyone who doesn’t
Look like
Act like
Sound like
Think like
Believe like
Live like
Love like
Smell like
Eat like we do.
The role of the church is to meet people where they are
Help them when we can without judging their value
And let God use them as God sees fit.

Just Us is a stagnant, corroded, immobile faith.

 Can you hear Amos say, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”?
Justice is not measured in teaspoons,
Legislated to conserve the rights of any particular group,
Or doled out by the vote to a few good men, sometimes women.
 Justice sweeps, surges, moves, clearing out whatever is not of God.

We need to rejoice in the fact that God does not always give us what we deserve
But continues to supply our needs in spite of us.

My sisters and my brothers,
We do not have permission to be selective in our compassion.
We cannot do checkbook ministry.
We must be personally involved in the lives of others.

We need to rejoice in the fact that God does not always give us what we deserve
But continues to supply our needs in spite of us.

Are we doing justice as God intended, or are we doing just us?

Have we elected ourselves judge, jury, prosecutor and executioner of the other? – you know them:

Those we may have never met but have heard something about that allows us to believe they will harm us or offend us.

Determining who is worthy to live or to die
Whose god is bigger than someone else’s God
Whose holy parent can beat up whose holy parent in a massively destructive fight –

Or do we remember that God values everything and everyone?
Have we joined the conspiracy of silence that allows injustice to rule?
Or do we ask God to strengthen our resolve,
Put steel in our social backbones,
Stand up for freedom regardless of what it costs?
Will we protect all the children?
Will we stop looking the other way when someone is in danger?

When we see injustice we are to denounce it, not sit silently trying to protect what we do not possess.
It has been said that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

The prophetic word continues
What does God require of each of us but
To do justice
To love mercy-
unmerited favor of God
Give up our own advantage or control in order for someone else to live
To act on behalf of someone else 
To walk humbly,
not over other but to walk humbly,
no big egos,
no I’m better than anyone
No relating to people like they are less than human
But to walk humbly with God.
Graced by God’s presence
Called by God on purpose, in purpose, with purpose, for purpose
Will we be remembered for justice, mercy and humility?
Is our life marked by love of all creation or just our group?

To do justice, to extend ourselves to the margins, to try to repair the raveled edges of society involves risk
Risk humiliation– we may be rejected even by our own families and friends. Often have to stand alone
Risk our lives—greater love has no one than this that we lay down our lives for others, step out of our comfort zones, old beliefs, old ways, old relationships and do a new thing.
Risk joy-possibilities of transformation, change to what God wants in the body of Christ

If we are committed to the cause of justice we can follow the model of unconditional compassionate love set forth in the prophesy and fulfillment of God’s promise 
We who practice justice and not just us will be empowered to say

God’s Spirit is on me
God has chosen me, anointed, appointed me
The Spirit that was present in the beginning is with us, within us,
to lead and guide us,
to enable us
to empower us

To heal those whose hearts, minds and spirits
have been broken, bruised, and battered
To let everyone know that someone cares about them as children of God
That their loss is our loss
That when they hurt we all hurt

To preach the message of good news to the poor
That one day the mountains will be made low and the valleys will be lifted up
That their current situation is not the end of the matter
That God loves even them.

Sent me to announce pardon to the prisoners
That all have sinned and come short of Gods glory
All of us have habits, addictions, egos, but God is able to break the chains that hold us back

And recovery of sight to the blind
At times we all suffer from spiritual cataracts, but God can shine spiritual lasers in the darkness and we can look to the hills for help.

To set the burdened and battered free
The one God sets free is free,
no weapons formed against them can ever prosper.

To announce, “This is God’s year to act!”
Today is the day of salvation.
God is about to do a new thing in each and every one of us
One God’s day all will be free
All will have an open path to the benefits of God’s creation
The shekinah glory of God will overwhelm all that is mired in evil.
The hesed of God continues to give us access to God’s blessing.
In the earth quaking of our lives, the love of God covers us.
In the plains of indecision, the power of the Spirit lifts us to dry ground.
In the catastrophic places of our neighborhoods today and tomorrow,
God never fails to send the rain of renewal and the hedge of protection.
God will empower us if we are willing to do JUSTICE NOT JUST US!

This sermon was preached November 2, 2007, at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, at the national conference of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians.

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