The Flip Side of Justice Worship Series: WEEK 3
Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost - August 25, 2019
We continue our three-week series on “Joy: The Flip Side of Justice.” Again, as with preaching notes of the previous two weeks, we focus our attention especially on the readings of the older testament, though we allude to all the readings. This week’s reading includes verses from the beginning of the book of Jeremiah as well as Psalm 71.
Patrick Miller, who served as a Professor of Old Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, reminds us that the book of Jeremiah is one of the longest in the Bible, surpassed only by the book of Psalms. It was written during one of the most difficult periods in the history of Israel, which included the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the exile of the people of God. [For more information about the historical background of Jeremiah, see “The Book of Jeremiah: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” by Patrick D. Miller in The New Interpreter’s Bible (Abingdon, 2001)].
Jeremiah has been called a “prophet of doom” because he announces strong words of judgment to the people of God and gives reason why judgment and devastation come to the nation of Israel. Jeremiah, as God’s spokesman, calls for repentance, for the people have been unfaithful to God’s teaching. Expressions that describe the people’s unfaithfulness include: lying, inability to correct bad behavior, and apostasy, a particularly strong word depicting total abandonment of following the rule of God.
- Where do we see lying manifested in our own day?
- In what ways might we be complicit in the dissemination of lies?
- Are we coachable? Can we learn to correct bad behavior? Who or what might help us?
The first reading for the eleventh Sunday after Pentecost includes the first six verses of “The Call of Jeremiah.” This call tells us that Jeremiah was appointed by God, assuring us that all that follows in this long book is God’s word. “Now I have put my words in your mouth,” says the Lord (Jeremiah 1:9b, NRSV). It also foreshadows the essence of Jeremiah’s message to the people, which will be “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” We gain a glimpse of hope, even joy, when we notice the last of these couplets: “building and planting.” In God’s time and with the people’s repentance, there is the promise of a new day, a day to build and plant new things. In this couplet, we receive a foretaste of the promise that comes much later in the book, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11, NRSV). There can be joy on the flip side of God’s strong words that bring justice to our waywardness. The joy comes because of repentance and turning again to trust God.
Hope is the main theme in the other reading from the older testament for this week: Psalm 71. “For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you” (Psalm 71:5-6, NRSV). In the face of distress, when everything in life seems to be against him, the psalmist conveys utter trust in God. The psalmist’s words are the antidote to the apostasy that Jeremiah speaks against. Here is an example of a believer with unfailing faith and hope in the Lord. “My praise is continually of you” (verse 6).
The reading from the book of Hebrews gives us another reason to be filled with joy. The verses sum up the entire message of the book. In fact, these 11 verses sum up well the readings of these past three weeks from the older and the newer testaments. As followers of Jesus, we “have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly . . .” (Hebrews 12:22, NIV). Oh, how we long to be part of that joyful assembly, which is promised by Jesus when he invites us to receive and enter the kingdom of God. This kingdom, asserts the book of Hebrews, “cannot be shaken” (verse 27). “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire’” (Hebrews 12:28-29, NIV).
E. Stanley Jones, the great twentieth-century missionary and evangelist, often asserted in his writings and sermons, that the world yearns for peace and harmony. Too often, the political orders of our time have failed us, and our political leaders have failed us. Humankind has always fervently sought a leader who could guide us through confusing and difficult times. Jones affirmed that the order we seek in society is the kingdom of God and the leader we seek is Jesus Christ. Moreover, he affirmed, following the verses in Hebrews, the kingdom is unshakeable and the leader, Jesus Christ, is unchangeable. When, as our reading from Hebrews asserts, we “do not refuse him” (verse 25) and we do not “turn away from him,” then we enter the realm that cannot be shaken. This is the true joy that is the flip side of justice. It is found by following the unchanging leader and receiving the unshakeable kingdom.
The reading from the Gospel of Luke (13:10-17) tells the story of the stooped woman who is healed by Jesus in a synagogue on the Sabbath. The story underscores that, for Jesus, our concern (our actions of justice) for fellow human beings takes precedence over observance of the Sabbath. In last week’s reading, the Lukan passage warned us that the new realm inaugurated by Jesus brings divisiveness. That kind of divisiveness is evidenced here in the dialogue between the synagogue leader and Jesus. The leader of the synagogue takes issue with Jesus’ violation of Sabbath rules to heal the woman. Jesus responds by saying that we should do more for this daughter of Abraham than we would already do for an animal on the day of Sabbath. We should do justice. Jesus’ response echoes the cry for justice we read the first week in Isaiah and that is also in Micah 6:8. We should set the woman free of her illness. It is always more important to free up a human being from whatever binds him or her than it is to blindly follow the letter of the law. The crowd who observed the interplay of Jesus, the leader of the synagogue, and the woman rejoiced “at all the wonderful things that he was doing” (Luke 13:17, NRSV). Herein is another invitation to find joy and here, especially, that joy is found when justice—doing the right thing—is displayed.
Some thoughts about messages that could be drawn from this week’s readings:
- God demands obedience and promises a future that builds and plants—a future of hope (Jeremiah).
- Faith in God, especially through difficult times, brings joy to our lives because it is grounded in hope (Psalm 71).
- We follow an unchanging leader and enter an unshakeable kingdom through faith in God through Christ.
- Joy is found when justice to the afflicted takes priority in our actions (Luke).
- To be happy in Jesus, trust and obey (all four lessons).
Joy and justice are two sides of the same coin. When we “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed” (Isaiah 1:17 NRSV), we find joy. John Wesley exhorted followers to follow the simple rules of do no harm; do good; and stay in love with God. There is deep satisfaction of following these simple rules in life. Doing justice in our relationships with our neighbors, community, country spreads joy around and makes the world a better place.
The Rev. Douglas Ruffle, Ph.D., serves as Director of Community Engagement and Church Planting Resources/Path1 at Discipleship Ministries. He also serves as liaison with The Upper Room. He is the author of A Missionary Mindset: What Church Leaders Need to Know to Reach Their Community—Lessons from E. Stanley Jones (2016), and Roadmap to Renewal: Rediscovering the Church's Mission, Revised Edition with Study Guide (2017).
Verses marked NIV are from the New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.