Social Justice

A Psalm for the Fall

Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.

Psalm 90 is both good and bad news. The good news is that God is in this human redemption business for the long haul. All of human existence is but a moment to him. Like Martin Luther King, God knows where the arc of moral history is going. It is not a long arc to him. God knows that it bends toward justice. But it will take forever in human terms. And yes, the bad news is that God knows that your life, and mine, on this planet will be over in a blink. We won't live to see what we hope for become a reality.

Sunday, October 14, 2018
Pentecost 21
Fall Season

Remembering John the Baptist

King Herod had a critic named John. First he put John in jail and then he beheaded him, but that didn’t silence the baptizing prophet for we read his words still. John the Baptist is the patron saint of those who protest against injustice today. John was a journalist before there was newsprint. So on this weekend following the Fourth of July, we remember John’s martyrdom at the hands of Herod Antipas, as well as the slain journalists in Baltimore. I think the spirit of John the Baptist (or the “Dipping Man” in my Mary Sees All novel) leads us to ask, “When is Government Sinful?”

Government sin has three forms (in descending order):

  First, bad policy — This may not seem like sin at all, but ill-conceived tax cuts and poor environmental regulation shackles the next generation and betrays the Genesis 1:28 commandment that we be good stewards over the earth. Prophets and journalists speak about this sin with the opening phrase, “History will prove…”

  Second, social injustice — Here kings and presidents stoop lower to betray the poor, the refugee, and the innocent. They sin by their silence when people of color lose their children to aggressive policing. They sin by their quiet approval of hate groups. They sin in their closed door dealings with other rulers who oppress their people. Jesus, John the Baptist, the Old Testament prophets; Isaiah, Micah, Amos, and Hosea, lifted their voice against those who sinned against the poor. Religion must speak.

Sunday, July 8, 2018
Pentecost 11

God Loves Justice

Today is a day of reversals. Those on top are tumbling. Take that, Mr.Harvey Weinstein. And yet still, the rich get richer and no one speaks for the poor in the halls of government. But, Jesus spoke for them. When asked to give the sermon in Capernaum, he took for his text the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He put his finger on this passage and read:

“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed…” (Isaiah 61:1). 

Jesus also echoes much of Isaiah’s “good news” in his day to day teaching. As he walks among common folk he says:
Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied…
And,
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
        - Luke 6:20, 21, and Matthew 5:4-5

We should look at what is happening in today’s news and rejoice. Those without a voice are now speaking up and saying, “Me too!”

A line from Isaiah gives me hope: “For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them [the poor, the abused, the meek] their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them (Isaiah 61:8).

This is the shocking statement of Advent: The Lord God cares about Justice.

Sunday, December 17, 2017
Advent 3

Paying Taxes

Which is harder? Giving to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar, or giving to God the things that belong to God? Until recently, I thought it easy to list the things that belong to Caesar, or in my case, the United States. They are things like paying taxes and… Wait a minute. We now have a president who has taken pride in the fact that he has avoided paying taxes. In Jesus’ day, the tax structure was even more whimsical and unfair than our current one. Rich people paid bribes to avoid higher taxes. This was considered smart, but Jesus was blunt. Simply give to the government your taxes. Being fixated on lowering your tax rate or what deductions you can claim should never distract you from your real debt, which is to God.

Jesus was asked about taxes (Matthew 22:15-22) while he was teaching in the temple during his last week on earth. He knew that his time was short and that his real listeners wanted spiritual truth. We are told that when the Pharisees came to ask Jesus about taxes, he saw through them. He knew that they intended to trap him. For the Pharisees, money was an important thing. Giving it away to Rome, offended them. Not because Rome had stolen their nation’s freedom, but because they wanted to keep the money for themselves. They looked at their tax form and saw themselves as losers. They didn’t see the roads, civic buildings, and financial gains that Roman rule had brought to what was just a hundred years before this, a very backwoods part of the world. When we give our coin to Caesar today, we rarely see social good. A larger portion of our taxes go to that today, than what they did in Jesus’ day.

Sunday, October 22, 2017
Pentecost 24

Why I stand with Planned Parenthood

I want to thank the many Facebook friends who commented and shared by recent Facebook posts on why I, a conservative christian writer, am standing with PP against Trump-care. One of friends pushed back with a link to an organization that claims PP’s statistics are inflated and that they are only interested in providing more abortions. This bit of fake news was rebutted by the many women who shared personal stories of how they had been helped by Planned Parenthood, and even given the medical care that they needed to successfully become parents. It hit me as I scrolled through these comments that acts of genuine kindness are rarely reported because of privacy concerns. Stories need to be shared. Hope triumphs over hate.

Translating Jesus to Today

In today’s world, it’s rare for someone to ask you to walk two miles. Nobody has asked for my coat lately, and I can’t remember the last time I was slapped on the cheek. When pastors deal with Matthew 5:38-48, they tend to wax historical and provide details like the Roman laws governing how far you had to carry a pack and how much the ancient people hated to use their left hand. This misses the point. Jesus always draws his examples from the daily lives of the people he was talking to. They knew what it was like to be a minority people group governed by an oppressive occupying force. 

 

Sunday, February 19, 2017
Epiphany 7

Why do the innocents suffer?

When we do Christmas, it is very tempting to skip the story of King Herod's murdering the children of the Bethlehem region. In a year when the innocent children of Syria, and their parents, have been made to suffer, this ommission is unconsciencable. I remember one adroit fool suggesting that we could skip Matthew 2:13-23 in our Sunday lections because the event discribed doesn't appear in the secular histories of the time and could have been made up by Matthew. The only secular histories we have from this period are pro-Roman (Josephus wants to paint the Herodians in a better light for his Roman audience) the way Putin/Trump is pro-Assad and love FOX news. Putting current political concerns asside, the real reason for preaching Matthew's slaughter of the Innocents is to counter our dangerous tendency to down play the depravity of the human heart. When we say, "No one could do such evil," we give tacid support to the rise of dictators and future holacausts. 

 

I want to quickly list bullet points for telling Herod’s Slaughter of the Innocents and the Flight into Egypt:

Mary and Lou Gerhig

When reading Mary’s Magnificat song, I am reminded of Lou Gerhig’s speech about being the luckiest man on the face of the earth. Just how is Mary lucky? I am of the opinion that the Holy Spirit did a full disclosure — or at least she knew on a deep, intuitive level, the sorrow this pregnancy would bring her. We do well to name the three parts of Mary’s misfortune: 1) the active shaming by family and neighbors of her having a child out of wedlock, that continues for decades and is even amplified when that child is grown 2) her own misunderstanding and the suspicions of those around her, as to whether Jesus was in his right mind 3) the agonizing day when she watched her son die on the cross.  How is she the most blessed among women?

The Magnificat is a song of the oppressed — it is important not to gloss over the people Mary is identifying with — the hungry, the impoverished, and particularly, the nation-people groups who have been colonized by a foreign military power. Mary’s song could get her on the Roman government's watch list of suspected terrorists.

Sunday, December 11, 2016
Advent 3

How we need our religion to work

Jesus comes into Jericho and sees Zacchaeus up in a tree. As soon as Jesus speaks a kind word to this hardened tax collector, the man is changed. Zacchaeus becomes remarkably generous. His heart, like the Grinch’s, grows three sizes. If we (I say this with the collective royal “we”) as a congregation are Jesus in the world today, then this is how the god-forsaken should respond to us. Repentance is not held up by the stubbornness of the pagan’s heart, it is held up by the paucity of winsome examples of real goodness.

 

Sunday, October 30, 2016
Pentecost 24

Afraid of Amos - Part 1

There are many reasons to avoid the prophet Amos, and I have used them all. Being a lazy person, as I began to write this morning's blog, I noticed that the gospel lesson of the lectionary deals with the good Samaritan, a subject I can pontificate about in my sleep. In fact, I’ve blogged about it seven times in four years (see http://billkemp.info/search/node/samaritan). There’s also the fact that Amos is a bit political, and during an election year, polite pastors don’t touch that electrified rail. This is ironic, because in Amos 7 the king says, “I find it so disgusting, Amos. That you criticize my faith. Why don’t you go back to Rome? Don’t you know that America is the king’s place to do and worship as he pleases?” (My loose paraphrase of Amos 7:12-13) Further, most church leaders follow Marcion’s heresy (see Old Testament) and abandon all prophets, especially minor ones. This is to declaw the lion, and make scripture irrelevant to today’s world.

 

Sunday, July 10, 2016
Pentecost 8

John, Mary, and Mandela

In this season, as we remember Mandela, one of the great prophets of our time, we should be mindful of the parallels between his life and message and that of John the Baptist. Mandela, like John, was imprisoned for speaking truth to power. Be careful not to think that John lost his head, and Mandela spent decades breaking rocks in the sun, because they criticized the morals of those on the throne. The revolution that Mary, Mandela, and John were involved with went much deeper than a few sermons against marrying your brother’s wife. John was a thorn in the side of the Herodian dynasty. He preached dignity for the laborer, transparency in government, and the accessibility of God’s Kingdom for all.

    Mary sang of the hope that drives great prophets, both old and new; “[God] has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:52-53). These were political words. Then, as today, women were instrumental in manifesting the new vision. We think of Winnie Mandela, who articulated the vision while Nelson was in prison. We think of the persistent widow in Jesus’ story (Luke 18:1-8) about prayer. Jesus ends that story by saying that God hears our cries for social justice.

Sunday, December 15, 2013
Advent 3

Two Types of Saints

Habakkuk isn’t an easy person to like. His book is a series of complaints. He complains because the wicked are taking advantage of the good folk. He complains because no good deed goes unpunished. Mostly, he complains at God for not throwing around a few well placed lighting bolts. God replies that he’s going to get around to it. The guilty will, in time, be punished. Habakkul isn't too happy with God's plan to use Babylonian mobsters to bring about his street justice. God says, "I can hit straight licks with crooked sticks." Habakkuk, however, is not the kind of person to let his complaint go at that. He says that he will keep watch. He will be the one who remembers the poor and the oppressed. He will push until justice is done. His 'watchman on the wall' phrase, should be seen as a passionate and persistent commitment to social justice. This all doesn’t make him easy to like.

 

Sunday, November 3, 2013
All Saints Sunday
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