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The First Congregational Church, Columbus Ohio
March 6, 2005
A sermon delivered by The Rev. Timothy Ahrens

Dedicated to the memory of Robert Kallmerten and always to the glory of God!
Justice as a Moral Value Part V of VIII in the Sermon Series: "Moral Values: Which Values and Whos Values?"
Psalm 23, Ephesians 5:8-14, Matthew 20:1-16

Over the past several weeks, Ron and I have examined questions and issues about Moral Values. We have asked in four sermons, "which values and whose values?" I have preached on Generosity and Grace. Ron has preached on Love. Today, Justice is the Moral Value. As those who know realize, I could and would preach and speak all day on this, if granted the time and audience. But, this is, as announced, a "Communion Meditation," which is another way of saying, "Brief sermon." Last Sunday I said, "We are bearers of grace in the world. Grace is what the church is to be about." Having said that, I also believe that justice is the most important work we do in the church.

"In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth," reads Genesis 1:1. By Genesis 1:3, God says, "Let there be Light!" and light enters the chaos. The Hebrew Word for "Light" is more inclusive than the spectrum of colors. "The word means: "Joy, Peace, and Justice." According to holy scripture, before God created Adam and Eve, and any life forms in this earth-sphere, God created Justice. Justice is Primordial. In God's creative being and energy, Justice is a spectrum of color in the Light of God! As those created God by to sustain this planet, we are called to shine forth justice!

The moral cry for justice finds its voice growing out of the sobs and the tears of those whose forlorn and forsaken lives have been assaulted by injustice. I have heard sobbing and weeping which has compelled me to advocate and struggle on behalf of those whose humanity has been beaten down by injustice. Throughout history, actions taken on behalf of justice have most often grown out of the struggle between unjust and just laws, between what is morally wrong and what is morally right.

That is crux of the Civil Rights Movement in the American south. People could no longer abide in laws which were inhumane and unjust. People took to the streets in acts of civil disobedience and defiance against laws which segregated and divided people by color, race, ethnicity, and faith traditions. Laws which proclaimed justice for some, in a land whose Constitution proclaimed justice for all, were no laws at all.

Unjust laws, rules, and social practices keep people down. St. Augustine said, "an unjust law is no law at all." Later, St. Thomas Aquinas said, "an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal or natural law." (as quoted from Martin Luther King's "Letter from Birmingham City Jail," April 16, 1963). Jesus said, "everyone is my brother and my sister."

150 years ago, Abolitionist Theodore Parker wrote: "The arc of the moral universe is long, But it bends toward justice." As people of faith, you and I are called to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice and in so doing, to make that arc shorter than it was before we were placed by God in this universe. Another way to put it is this: You and I are custodians of God's justice. We have been created to make things come `round right. But, unfortunately, we become so heavenly minded, we are no earthly good. Justice grounds us in the "humus" of earthly goodness, as well as Godly goodness. Justice carries us out of the "hubris" of our own issues, and opens us to the "humus" of our sisters' and brothers' issues. Justice as a moral issue is usually hard to grasp for those whose "social location" is privileged and for whom "life opportunities" are plentiful and abundant. Quite frankly, the less a person or a community has experienced the pain of injustice, the less they are open to the need for justice. Conversely, the more often a person or a community has experienced the pain of injustice, the more open they become to working for justice. Recent Immigrants and refugees, African-Americans, Native Americans, abused women, men, and children, women, gays and lesbians, persons with disabilities, and Jews and Muslims have often experienced social and cultural injustice. Depending on their opportunities and social location, the degree to which they have felt the sting of injustice have varied greatly. Nevertheless, the cries for justice coming from these and other communities are often palpable and real. The question becomes "when" and "how" will justice prevail?

In his best-selling book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell talks of how an idea, a product or a behavior moves from the edges of a society to broad acceptance, consumption or practice often suddenly and unexpectedly. Along that path from the edge to the point of transformation, from the minority to the majority opinion, there is a "tipping point." As we look at injustice in the world today, we see the huge chasm of global poverty. This is a moral concern. The tremendous suffering and death of people affected by the global debt, by global poverty, and the pandemic of HIV/AIDS, leads us to ask, "what will the `tipping point' be?"

In September 2000, the United Nations gathered the heads of states from all across the globe. Out of this meeting, The Millennium Development Goals called for targets to be set for 2015: 1. Eliminate extreme poverty and hunger; 2. Achieve universal primary education; 3. Promote gender equality and empower women; 4. Reduce child mortality; 5. Improve maternal health; 6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; 7. Ensure environmental sustainability and develop a global partnership for development. (Wallis, pp 290-292). Based on Leviticus 25 and the year of Jubilee in which the poor are released from all debt, the goals called upon us as First World Countries to lift the burden of poverty from the poor. While international leaders stepped boldly forward, we in the church have been mostly silent. Perhaps, Christians, Jews, and Muslims could work together to be the tipping point for debt relief and global hope! Justice, is after all, a core moral value of each of these faith traditions!

I could go on . . . and on . . . But, now, as we turn to the table of unity and hope, the table of our Lord, Jesus Christ, I leave you with this story of Lisa Sullivan. In God's Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get it, Jim Wallis concludes his book with Lisa's story. Lisa Sullivan was a young African-American Community organizer who earned the trust of urban youth in Washington, D.C. and around the country. Growing up in DC in a working-class family, Lisa went to Yale and earned a Ph.D. After early jobs in national foundations and nonprofit organizations, Lisa felt called back to the streets and the forgotten children of color who had won her heart. She used her unusual intelligence and entrepreneurial skills to organize great youth-organizing projects up and down the east coast. But, at the age of 40, Lisa died suddenly of a rare heart ailment. At her grave side, Marion Wright Edelmann and Jim Wallis held each other and wept for one of America's great fighters for justice. But, her spirit lives on. She had a saying Jim lifts up at the close of his book. When Lisa heard people complaining that there were no leaders for social justice in this day and age, she would get angry and say, "We are the ones we have been waiting for!" (Ibid., pp. 373-374).

As I look out today, I feel Lisa Sullivan's spirit and words resonating in this place and for our times. Justice is a moral issue. We are the ones we have been waiting for. And, I would add, "we are the ones God has been waiting for, too." So let us be the shapers of the moral arc of the universe as we bend that arc toward justice! Amen.

Copyright 2005, The First Congregational Church