The Image of God is the Image of Justice

But you, God of mercy and compassion,

slow to anger, O Lord,

abounding in love and truth,

turn and take pity on me.

– Psalm 86

The Lord has made known his salvation;

has shown his justice to the nations.

Rejoice at the presence of the Lord:

for he comes to rule the earth.

He will rule the world with justice

and the peoples with fairness.

– Psalm 98

The Psalmist says he will rejoice at the presence of the Lord.  Why?  Because as the Lord rules the earth, he does it with justice: fairness, with deep compassion, love, and truth.  This is cause to rejoice!  This is cause to respond in worshipful praise and thanksgiving.  

This is the kind of justice we’re looking for in our cities and communities.  As Christ followers and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are shaped by a biblical image of God who is about faithful, fair, authentic, loving, and compassionate leadership-governance-rulership-exercise of power.  

Our exercise of justice (the exercise of governing, leadership power) is now judged faithful or unfaithful in a moral sense because of God’s ways of justice.  Our sense of justice is now measured up to God’s sense of justice. This is why how we view social justice has much more to do with the way we image God.  How does God govern?  How does God rule?  How does God bring forth fairness?  He rules with tenderness, compassion, truth, love, and fairness.  This means that our sense of justice is to be shaped by God’s sense of justice.

My friend Robert is one of the most upstanding men I know.  A family man.  A committed follower of Jesus.  He has shared stories with me of growing up in San Diego and being pulled over by police officers who didn’t rule (justice) in authentic, faithful, and compassionate ways.  For no reason (other than being a black man), he’d get pulled over while going to work, or to the beach, or driving back home.  Simply because he was black.  

Are there good, faithful, authentic, and compassionate cops?  Absolutely!  There are two retired cops living in my neighborhood who are upstanding!  

But even they would tell you that having governing power in the wrong hands is dangerous.  And it’s in the particular stories that we find a particular God ruling something just or unjust.  And it’s in the particular stories of our friends that we find human unfairness, inauthenticity to exercise power, anger, and prejudice.

We seek God’s justice and pray that God would rule in the hearts of people. We pray for ways to see God in biblical ways: compassionate, faithful, authentically truthful, fair, and abounding in love. And this is why we are to pray for those who have misused their power and have used it unjustly. God will show them mercy and compassion. And this is why you and I are to seek God’s justice for the oppressed and marginalized.

One pastoral note: if we’re having a hard time with justice, we might want to return to the scriptures and read how God judges and rules. God has set the standard. Psalm 86 and 98 make it plain.

Advent Hope

Psychology has done a wonderful job of giving us words and concepts such as vulnerability and the false or shadow self to talk about our weaknesses.

The AA or 12 step program starts with the admission of powerlessness.

The Bible starts (in Genesis) with two concepts of humanity:

  1. Original goodness
  2. Original sin

We need a way of looking at both our God given identity (of original goodness) and admitting our sins (the shadow self). It’s how we become most human and reflect a divine image in this world.

The appointed prayer of the week during the Advent season helps us to be vulnerable about our sins but also looks toward the coming of Christ in our lives so that we might reflect a new “original goodness” identity. We admit that our powerless to be this new type of original goodness person and need help from a Higher Power.

Prayer

“Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Grant us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.†”

When Popular Messages Leave Us Feeling Empty

Many of the messages that I hear in certain church settings are based on “getting your best life” or “fulfilling your purpose/potential/call”. I think we have purpose, potential, and a call. Yet why do they seem to leave me feeling empty? I’ve reached some potential/call/purpose, but it’s not as satisfying as I thought it would be.

“This is your season” messages may not leave room for losses so the message is preached yet again for a lifetime, like a constant loop (i.e. “It’s your season…”, “A season of favor is upon you…”, “you’ll reach the nations…”) .

There will come a time when Jesus will have to be enough.
There will come a time when deep intimacy with Jesus, self, and others is more than enough.

Contentment with our current state is a good spiritual discipline to cultivate in our hearts.  What’s also helpful is grieving losses as part of the life cycle.

As we grieve losses, we can trust that God will resurrect new ways of being that are more commiserate to our stage of life/faith. We may have to practice more contentment or forgiveness; learn to give rather than receive; learn to be fully present to God/self/others and not just our wants/needs.

Homily – God’s Unfailing Love towards the “idiot”

andre-hunter-350301-unsplash
Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

Liturgical Readings for the day:  http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/022318.cfm

Three readings tying three themes of sin, forgiveness, and God’s unfailing love.

In Ezekiel 18, the writer begins with listing a set of behaviors that are considered sinful, worthy of death because the act themselves cause pain and sorrow for others.

In Matthew 5, Jesus has started listing his “10 commandments” and continues the prophet’s line of thought and spelling out what is considered harmful and wrong.  The commandment, “You shall not murder” is reinterpreted in Jesus as “You shall not WANT to murder.”

In Ezekiel 18:31, the Lord offers a remedy:  a new heart AND mind.

In the Gospels, we see Jesus focusing on the motive of the heart.

Thoughts, heart, and behavior are all connected.  And somehow God’s faithful presence, as well as the faithful, loving presence of others in our lives, have something to do with how we live among one another.

The themes of sin, forgiveness, and God’s unfailing love are very present in our lives each day.  During the Lenten season, I am confronted with my own heart/mind/motives, attentive to all the interior rooms, where there is light AND darkness.  God’s unfailing love gives me the courage and ability to reflect inwardly and confess the darkness and need for change.

I am also aware of my need for a spiritual community to help me live as unto the Lord and his unfailing love in our lives.  Our culture tends to live isolated from one another, leaving us influenced by our own thoughts and whatever we’re exposed to (i.e. video games, netflix, youtube, tv, etc).  Not all of it is “bad”.  I enjoy a good “netflix and chill” with my bae.  But I’m also aware of how easily I’m influenced.  I’m aware how I can be tempted to pick a side on an online debate that mostly gets me in trouble.  I’m aware of the constant barrage of sexual fantasizing that media sources convey.  I’m aware of violent images that I’m exposed to, making me feel like others are “stupid, idiotic fools” (for context, read Matthew 5:22.  The word “raca” is stupid/idiot/fool).

Ezekiel reminds us that it’s not God’s doing that we’re in broken situations.  It’s our unjust ways.  The remedy is always a return to a God who is unfailing in love, ready to give new hearts and minds in full redemption.

Lord, we confess the anger in our hearts towards others.  We ask that you heal our broken hearts that we might be reconciled to you and one another.  Amen.