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Sermon Starters: Acts of Justice

by Steven W. Manskar

Scriptures:

  • Deuteronomy 5:1-21; 10:12—11:1; 16:18-20; 24:17-22
  • Psalm 10:12-18
  • Psalm 33:1-12, 20-22
  • Psalm 37:23-34
  • Psalm 72
  • Psalm 82
  • Psalm 94
  • Psalm 97
  • Psalm 99
  • Psalm 101
  • Psalm 112
  • Isaiah 5:1-7; 16-17; 42:1-9
  • Jeremiah 22:1-5, 11-17
  • Amos 5:18-24
  • Micah 6:8
  • Luke 4:18-19; 6:17-49; 7:18-23; 12:22-34; 14:15-24; 16:19-31; 18:18-30
  • Acts 4:32-37; 10:34-48; 16:16-34
  • Romans 12:1-21; 13:8-14; 14:1-12; 15:1-6
  • 2 Corinthians 3:12-18; 4:7-15; 5:16—6:2
  • Galatians 3:23-29; 5:13-15; 6:1-10
  • Ephesians 2:8-10; 19-22; 4:17-24, 25-32; 6:10-17
  • Philippians 2:5-18; 3:12-16; 4:4-9
  • Colossians 2:6-15; 3:12-17
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24
  • Hebrews 12:14-15; 13:1-6
  • James 1:22-25; 2:1-13, 14-26
  • 1 Peter 1:13-16; 3:8-12
  • 1 John 3:11-24; 4:18-21
     

Acts of justice are the social and public works of mercy. Scripture tells us Christians must feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty (see Matthew 25:35). Obeying Jesus’ command to love our neighbors also requires Christians to ask why their neighbor is hungry and thirsty. Asking questions leads to acts of justice, which are what Christians do in partnership with other Christians and community agencies. Acts of justice address the causes of our neighbor’s suffering. They require organizing and partnership between stakeholders in the community.

John Wesley describes acts of justice in the first General Rule:

“It is expected of all who continue in these societies that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation, first:

“By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced, such as: the taking of the name of God in vain; the profaning the day of the Lord, either by doing ordinary work therein or by buying or selling; drunkenness: buying or selling spirituous liquors, or drinking them, unless in cases of extreme necessity; slaveholding, buying or selling slaves; fighting, quarreling, brawling, brother going to law with brother; returning evil for evil, or railing for railing; the using many words in buying or selling; the buying or selling goods that have not paid the duty; the giving or taking things on usury—i.e., unlawful interest; uncharitable or unprofitable conversation; particularly speaking evil of magistrates or of ministers; doing to others as we would not they should do unto us; doing what we know is not for the glory of God …”

A closer look at Wesley’s examples of what he means by “doing no harm,” reveals that he expected Methodists to refrain from participating in behavior and practices that harm the individual relationship with God, their neighbor, and themselves. These practices harm the life of the community and the world. They dehumanize the neighbor, especially poor and vulnerable people. Therefore, Christians should refuse to participate and actively oppose the practices.

“Justice is a chief attribute of God’s activity in the world. ‘The Lord of hosts is exalted by justice’ (Isa. 5:16). Obviously God is not acting out of some abstract legal norm to be administered. God is the source of care for the right of every person, and the giver of the law which seeks to embody that right in structures of faithful community. Thus, the context for apprehending the activity of God as justice is the wider covenant community and not merely the structures of the judicial system. The prophets in particular appeal to this broad understanding of God’s justice as a warrant for human justice.

“The justice of God is experienced by the vulnerable in the community as the upholding of their rights, and the advocacy of their need (Deut. 10:18; Ps. 10:18; Jer. 5:28). To those who have denied or manipulated the rights of others God’s justice may be translated as ‘judgment,’ the activity of God to hold accountable those who exploit the rights of others.”

— Let Justice Roll Down: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Christian Life by Bruce C. Birch (p. 155-156).

Categories: Covenant Discipleship for Groups and Class Leaders, Sermon Starters