About a year after my father died, the city of Philadelphia sent a notice of a fine due for illegal parking, issued to a license plate registered in Dad’s name. I had personally cancelled the plates and turned them in so I knew the parking ticket was issued in error. I called the number on the notice. The response from a disinterested person was less than encouraging. I followed his instructions and mailed documents to the address. Weeks later, another letter arrived notifying me that the documents were insufficient and that I should send the fine. My only recourse? Make a trip to Philadelphia to appear in court in person, a real inconvenience and if anything was ‘out of order’ I would have to pay the fine and additional court costs! As I complained about this inconvenience to a friend, he brightened and said, “I know somebody.” He called his contact in city government who used the influence of his office to clear up the matter in short order.
“Connections make the world go ‘round,” someone said. We all like ‘knowing somebody’ who make the way easier for us, don’t we? Having access to a decision-maker ‘cuts through the red tape’ is something most of us desire.
Did you know that justice is a major concern of the Lord God we love? It is not just an issue about the law, it is a concern for each of us in all of our relationships. This is a key question in our practice of faith – Do I treat others, regardless of their position, past, religion, sex, or race with the same respect? Many Christians just do not realize that this matters to our Lord.
James challenges us to open our eyes to the subtle sin of injustice. It is a longer passage than I usually quote but would you take time to read it entirely? “My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others? For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives? Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters.
Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear? Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin.” (James 2:1-9, NLT)
All Christians know the great commandments – “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” So what does that of love look like? It is an active word that includes seeking reconciliation, working for understanding, including all persons in our concern. This is not just a political issue, nor is it just about the justice system. This is about a basic change of heart in ME and in YOU.
It is about letting the Holy Spirit work on our attitudes towards those who are ‘other.’ It is about the people we welcome to worship alongside of us. It is about the way we think about others in our private thoughts. We have failed if we are content to be apathetic towards others. We might soothe our conscience by insisting, “I’ve done no harm.” But that is not enough! Real love modeled after Jesus’ love for us pursues others, seeks reconciliation, and offers forgiveness!
I know this is not a ‘fun’ read today. In fact, some of you are probably angry at me for raising the issue. I’d rather stay comfortable, too. Change is difficult, but genuine love is the mark of the Christian and as the Spirit matures love in us, the radiance of Jesus shines brightly into a world is very dark. I know that we desire to make His Name glorious. So, will you pray about the way God would have us love – the least, the lost, the different, the unlovely, the hostile, those who test the limits of our understanding?
Our word from the Word comes from Amos. He was one of the first prophets who brought God’s message to Israel. He was not a priest. Amos was a shepherd, an ordinary guy that God stirred with a message about a great sin among His people. May the Spirit make this ancient word live in our hearts.
“This is what the Lord says: “The people of Israel have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished! They sell honorable people for silver and poor people for a pair of sandals. They trample helpless people in the dust and shove the oppressed out of the way. … At their religious festivals, they lounge in clothing their debtors put up as security. In the house of their god, they drink wine bought with unjust fines.” (Amos 2:6-8, NLT)
“My people have forgotten how to do right,” says the Lord. “Their fortresses are filled with wealth taken by theft and violence. Therefore,” says the Sovereign Lord, “an enemy is coming! He will surround them and shatter their defenses.” (Amos 3:10-11, NLT)
“Away with your noisy hymns of praise! I will not listen to the music of your harps. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.” (Amos 5:23-24, NLT)
Almighty God, Loving Abba
Humbly I stand before You, my heart open to Your correction.
Help me to see my hidden attitudes. Reveal my apathy towards others to me.
Lead me to face the truth with courage, to pursue change through the power of the Spirit.
As you make me loving, as You teach me of justice,
Let the beauty of Jesus shine bright,
And as I seek to make peace for all,
May You be seen in me.