Sermon 10-2-2016; ‘Social Justice’

Matthew 25:31-46

Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water – Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith, HarperCollins, 1998. 

Pastor Ruthie Tippin; First Friends Meeting Indianapolis



On Friday, May 30th, I went to court in the Chambers of Judge Marshelle Broadwell.  I sat in the jury box – not with a jury – but with ‘friends of the court’ – there to monitor the needs of those serving the judge, attorneys, and defendants.  A railing separated us from four men in shackles and orange jumpsuits, waiting for their case to come before the court.  As their names were called, a bailiff would come, release them from their handcuffs and the shackles that held them to one another, and then lead them to the table where their court appointed attorney waited for them.  Other defendants, not in custody, were waiting in the courtroom gallery for their case to come forward. 


Everyone was guilty.  That had already been decided.  These persons were there because they had broken the rules of their probation.  Some had ‘forgotten’ to check in with their probation officers.  Some had missed court appointments.  Some had committed crimes while on probation.  One had tragically lost his son to death just a day before he was supposed to appear in court the month before, and was too grieved to come.  One man was determined to be too drunk to understand court procedure, and was scheduled to return at a later date. 


Time and again, throughout that morning I saw mercy and compassion meted out with justice.  Judge Broadwell, our Marshelle Broadwell, could see what they often could not.  She and her assistants could look through computer files, discovering records about each of these persons who sat before her.  Their attorneys had their files.  Nothing was hidden.  As they addressed the judge, it was clear that decisions were being made based on any number of factors discovered in the past history of these defendants.  If a person’s sentencing would be better served coming out of a second court appearance on a separate matter, he or she was sent on.  If Marshelle wanted to deal with it that day, it was done.  Incredible. 


Criminal justice was social justice was Godly justice.  When everyone left the courtroom, Marshelle introduced me, and I told the small group of attorneys and Marshelle what an amazing experience this had been for me, and how much it reminded me of God at work… each person being represented with an Advocate – Christ or the Holy Spirit, and the Judge, God, being so aware of the person’s life struggles and victories, and meting out justice in a loving way that preserved their personhood with respect and care.  They didn’t know it, but for me, it had been a divine experience. 


Jon and I went to hear David Brooks and Tavis Smiley at Butler University this past Thursday.  A number of you were there, too.  It was a great evening, and we learned a lot.  To hear them speak about poverty, justice, truth… it was heartbreaking and eye opening all at once.  At times, I felt like I was listening to two old Quakers… Friends from old times, and yet very contemporary time.


“Everybody is worthy just because.  Everybody is somebody’s child.”  Tavis Smiley

I kept hearing George Fox say, ‘There is that of God in everyone.”

“We must speak the truth, or the suffering are rendered invisible.”  Tavis Smiley

           That sounded like John Woolman or Lucretia Mott, or Bayard Rustin to me. 


“The best thing we can give to anyone is the gift of no social distance.”  David Brooks

He spoke of full humanity, where relationships with love at the center, begin to matter again.  Society has become so socially isolated that we, as Christ talked about, have become strangers to ourselves.  We no longer recognize our neighbors, but live as strangers all too often.  The poorest among us economically are overlooked just as easily as those who are poor in spirit.


When do we see Jesus, and not even know it?  When do we walk past Jesus without realizing it?  The suffering Christ is pretty obvious in a hospital emergency room, or a doorway downtown, or on a park bench.  But often, Christ is invisible.   Or at least, we keep him where we think he would be, or should be.  But he often surprises us.  He surprised the people in the story we heard today.


The Shepherd King divides the nations right and left, and gives the inheritance of his kingdom to those who have cared for the needs of the hungry, thirsty, alienated, naked, sick, or imprisoned… and they’re stunned.  “Lord, why should we inherit your kingdom?”  “I was one of these, and just as you’ve done this for one of the least of these – members of my family – you have done it for me.”  Those remaining cry out “Lord, we never saw you hungry, thirsty, alienated, naked, sick, or imprisoned… “  They not only lost their inheritance, but were sent to eternal punishment rather than eternal life.   


The picture on the front of our bulletin today is a bit obscure.  If you look closely, you can see the figure of Christ on the left, a person offering bread on the right, and another person bent low in suffering in the center…  It’s an image taken by my cell phone, from the exhibit at Marian University of art pieces drawn by German children, and sent to the American Friends Service Committee as thank you notes for the food given them during WW I and 2.  Drawn by a student, it’s an illustration of our scripture reading today… Matthew 25: 34-36

“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.”


Among the notes was one from young girl named Erna Deetz: “Quaker food is still quite warm! In warmer love, offered.  Received with warmer gratitude.”   Another child wrote, March 10, 1921: “Dear Friend in America:  During the World War our childhood suffered very much.  We were all weak.  During that time, we were unable to do anything.  We mostly just slept.  We slept just as much in our gym lesson… One day came the joyful news that our friends in America would be sending gifts to Copernick.  They were to go to the poorest children.  I was one of them.  It was what we needed most: milk.  Everyone go the powder for a quarter of a year or longer, until we were back to our old state.  I give you my heartfelt thanks.  I hope that you’ll continue to help us.  I will keep you in my heart as a lasting memory.  With great sincerity a school boy from the IG School in Class 3.0a   Georg Schadow”


Those children saw Jesus in the generosity and kindness – the 684 calories per day they were given to eat that sustained them – by Quakers so long ago.  People they did not know, in countries far, far away, cared for the hungry, the sick, the thirsty…


What we see makes a difference in what we do.  How we see affects how we act.  Peanut butter can look like part of a sandwich, or it can look like love, offered to a hungry child.  When Christ was asked how to live, how to order one’s life he gave a two-part response:  ‘Love God, and love your neighbor.’  What if he’d switched that around?  ‘Love your neighbor, and love God.’   How much power do you have to love your neighbor without God’s love?  How selfless are you?  Matthew 22:37-38Jesus declared, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  Christ enumerated these commandments.  He meant them to be understood in order.  Love God first.  Love neighbor, out of your love for God. 


Elizabeth Fry saw God, loved God, cared for God’s people in Newcastle Prison.  Mother Teresa did the same in the slums of Calcutta.  Rosa Parks found him in a bus – up toward the front.  John Woolman found him in slave quarters. Albert Schweitzer saw God, loved God and God’s people, first in a converted chicken coop, and then a hospital in the jungles of Africa.


We don’t have to be Florence Nightingale, or Dorothy Day.  God doesn’t ask us to be William Wilberforce or Martin Luther King Jr.  But God does ask us to be us.  To live out God in us.  To see God in every one.  To understand that God lives in every person, and that every person has the same needs, the same hopes that we do.  The priest and the prostitute are each God’s children – even if they don’t realize it.  The lawyer and the liar are each God’s children – even if they don’t understand it.  We are all capable of holding the light of Christ within us. 


The cold water of injustice stings.  The water is sometimes so deep that we can’t touch bottom. This stream of life is a tough one to navigate. But Quakers, born into injustice as rebels to the Church of the Crown, are used to it.  When you begin your faith journey questioning everything about the established church, it’s not a big stretch to question the authority of those who demand that you bow and scrape.  And when you see others forced to do the same, you can more easily come along side.  Let us be certain that we come out of love for God, leaning on God, filled with the centered goal of living out God’s love for others, so that they like us, might see, feel, and recognize God within themselves.   


Luke 4:17-19

…the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. Unrolling it, He found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”…