Sermon Notes…

I preached at my local Churches Together unity service tonight and thought I’d post my notes in case anyone would like to read them…  The theme of the service was justice and I preached from Amos 5:4 – 24

  • Each of us here is a beloved child of God. For those of us who have chosen Jesus, we are redeemed and set free by Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s grace. Yet, what are we dedicating our lives to?  What are our priorities.
  • Slavery
    • The slave Bible
    • The EA in the UK
  • Colonialism
    • Christianity spread across the world because the church partnered with the king/emperor
  • Women
    • Anti-suffrage
    • Anti-women’s rights of all kinds
    • Still people who they personally, or their denomination, who don’t believe I should preach
  • Yet still the Spirit moves
  • Those who fought for justice were the outliers of their time:
    • Martin Luther – removing hierarchy)
    • William Wilberforce – RSPCA, criminalising slavery
    • Lord Shaftesbury (Anthony Ashley Cooper) – child labour, worker’s rights
    • Mary Wollstonecraft – women’s rights
    • Josephine Butler – helped women exploited in prostitution
    • Sarah and Angelina Grimke – fought against slavery and women’s oppression
    • Sojourner Truth – fought against slavery and for women’s rights
    • Martin Luther King – civil rights movement
  • Do we want to be part of the dominant group who remain steadfastly against moving towards a more just society? Are we going to be the people who say:
    • Our job is just to keep the order as it is until Jesus returns. Nothing needs to change in the order of the world, just in my heart, in my personal relationship with Jesus.
    • Napoleon: “What is it that makes the poor man take it for granted that ten chimneys smoke in my palace while he dies of the cold – that I have ten changes of raiment in my wardrobe while he is naked – that on my table at each meal there is enough to sustain a family for a week? It is religion, which says to him that in another life I shall be his equal, indeed that he has a better chance of being happy there than I have.”

 

  • Or do we want to be one of the outliers, one of those who works for more justice, for all people to flourish. As Christian Aid’s slogan goes, do we believe in life before death?
    • Or are we propping the injustice of the Napoleons of this world by only advocating for justice after Jesus returns. A justice which colludes with oppression, abuse and violence?

 

  • Amos vs. 4 and 6: Seek me and live.
    • But what does that mean?
    • Orthodoxy and/or orthopraxy
    • Rohr: “The ego diverts your attention from anything that would ask youto change to righteous causes that invariably ask othersto change.”
      • When you look at what your faith requires, does it require more of you changing now? Not previously, when you first became a Christian? But now?  Or is your faith one which is more focussed on what others need to change?  Are you more interested in debates about a sexuality that you personally don’t have, or in examining your own personal sinfulness?
    • Bonhoeffer: “Only he who believes is obedient and only he who is obedient believes.” (page 63)
      • Bonhoeffer existed at a time where the majority of Christians in Germany had aligned themselves with the Nazis. At first Hitler and his regime supported the Church, advocated for Jesus and the church. And Christians at that time were delighted!  At last, we get to be taken seriously again, after a time when secularism had been growing thanks to the enlightenment which had, in many places, challenged the idea that God even existed.
      • Hitler declared his mission to be from God and in relationship with Jesus. And Christians generally accepted this.
      • Martin Luther, who we celebrate as the founder of the Reformation, in 1543 wrote a 65,000-word treatise on “The Jews and their lies”, referring to Jews as “poisonous envenomed worms”. Though it is a complex path to trace through history, it is simply not incidental that the Holocaust happened in Germany, the same country Martin Luther had 400 years previously published this terrible and horrifying anti-Semitism.
      • With hindsight, we can see that Martin Luther was atrociously wrong, and that the Christians who supported Hitler were horrifically wrong.
      • But where will future generations see us? Will we be on the side of justice or injustice?  It might be that you say, “I want to be on the side of Jesus”.  But all of these people thought they were on the side of Jesus; Martin Luther with his anti-Semitism, the crusaders who slaughtered anyone who wouldn’t forcibly convert to Christianity, slave owners, the Christians who accompanied colonial forces across the world – enslaving and oppressing entire nations in the name of power and progress, Nazi supporters, opponents of women’s suffrage.  What does it mean to work for justice?

 

  • This is a service for Christian unity. What does unity mean?  Bonhoeffer wrote eloquently about the ways the German church were offering cheap grace and denying the full power of the Gospel.  Was he dividing the church?  Or seeking to reunify it around the truth of the Gospel?  What are we united by?  Believing the same thing or working together for a more just society?

 

  • Unity is a complicated word at the moment isn’t it? We have a country completely divided by that dread word, du-du-duuuuuuuu: Brexit!
    • Me and husband voted different ways, so we are living proof that brexiteers and remainers can stay friends.
    • Yet, with the existing fragmentation in the church, Brexit has become yet another fragmentation. And people have very strong feelings on it, not least because for people of colour and immigrants, Brexit has led to huge increases in the amount of racism and xenophobia they are subjected to.
    • There are some Christians who would say that politics isn’t something we should be involved in, and when it comes to party politics there is an argument for that.
    • However, more generally politics is just a fancy way of saying “how do we organise our society?”And democracy in the West is itself the fruit of Christians working for justice.
    • So while party politics is a different animal, when it comes to Christians engaging politically, we have a responsibility to act for justice, as the passage from Amos reminds us.
      • 11 Therefore because you trample on the poor
        and take from them levies of grain,
        you have built houses of hewn stone,
        but you shall not live in them;
        you have planted pleasant vineyards,
        but you shall not drink their wine.
        12 For I know how many are your transgressions,
        and how great are your sins—
        you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
        and push aside the needy in the gate.

        • It’s easy to read this and see ourselves as innocent; we haven’t taken a bribe!
        • But have we pushed aside the needy?
        • When we vote, do we vote for whichever party is going to centre the needy? It’s amazing that churches together are running these ministries that help homeless and vulnerable people, but what are we doing to prevent these sorts of services being needed?  In recent years, homelessness has risen by 165%, that is not okay.  Families in one of the richest nations in the world cannot afford to feed their children. How is that okay?  Are we committed to eradicating homelessness?  To ensuring every family can feed themselves? To ensuring that every person is valued and treated with dignity and respect?
        • As Archbishop Helder Pessoa Camara said, “When I give food to the poor they call me a Saint.When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
      • Verse 14: 11 Therefore because you trample on the poor
        • When we go shopping to we consider which brands to buy based on whether they trample on the poor? Nestle have tried to argue that water is not a human right.  Lynx used highly sexualised women to advertise their products.  Some high street clothing brands use child labour and slave labour.  When we buy something we vote for its values and support its ethics (or lack of them). Do we seek to ensure that our purchases don’t trample the poor?  The climate crisis worldwide is affecting the poorest.  What are we doing to limit our consumption?  To change the climate crisis?  Because inevitably the poorest will be worst affected by climate changes.
        • How are we bringing justice?

 

  • 18 Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!
    Why do you want the day of the Lord?
    It is darkness, not light;
    19     as if someone fled from a lion,
    and was met by a bear;
    or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,
    and was bitten by a snake.
    20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light,
    and gloom with no brightness in it?

21 I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

  • This is a prophetic word for our time. How many Christians are awaiting Jesus’ return, so that all can be well, but are not acting to make things better right now?
  • If justice is not rolling down like water, if righteousness is not an ever-flowing stream, then God will despise our festivals, He will take no delight in our solemn assemblies.

 

  • The legacy of many of our church mothers and fathers has been a more just society; free education, free healthcare, care of children, worker’s rights, women’s rights, the criminalisation of slavery, the civil rights movements, liberation theology and more.
    • When Jesus’ mother praises God for her pregnancy she sings this:
      • God’s mercy is from generation to generation
        on those who fear Him.
        He has shown might with His arm,
        He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
        He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
        and has exalted the lowly.
        He has filled the hungry with good things,
        and the rich He has sent away empty.

        • She sings of justice.
      • When Jesus announces His ministry in temple He says:
        • “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
          because he has anointed me
          to bring good news to the poor.
          He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
          and recovery of sight to the blind,
          to let the oppressed go free,
          19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

          • He announces justice.
        • Are we the mighty who will be put down from our thrones and the rich that will be sent away empty? How can we be in solidarity with the most vulnerable?  How can we become a people known for our work towards justice?  How can that become one of the things that we are united around?  I’m not sure I have many answers, but often it starts with acknowledging our failures, or as the Bible calls it And then seeking God’s wisdom in how He is calling us to do justice.

 

  • Jesus transforms us and calls us to obedience, but now we are saved, what are we going to do with our freedom?
    • Let us pray.
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