The Flip Side of Justice Worship Series: WEEK 1
Ninth Sunday After Pentecost - August 11, 2019
We welcome you to the first of a three-week series, “Joy: The Flip Side of Justice.” While all the lectionary readings will be considered for these preaching notes, we will focus especially on the first readings from the older testament.
A common theme in our Scripture lessons for the next three weeks is justice. We don’t often think of joy and justice together, yet if we look for joy in these passages, we will find it. Joy is found when we, as the people of God, put our faith into action by pursuing justice and championing the oppressed.
In the passage for Isaiah 1:1, 10-20, we hear the prophet rebuke us for forgetting to do justice in our actions while we are giving praise to God. It is not that God doesn’t want our praise and our offerings of worship. God wants us to worship while we also practice justice. Joy is promised when we “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed” (Isaiah 1:17 NRSV). There is joy when we—as people of God—are willing to be obedient to God’s teaching.
Psalm 50 echoes the prophet’s words in Isaiah. Sacrifice in the context of worship gives honor to God, and salvation comes to those who “go the right way” (Psalm 50:23). While it is not on our list of readings for this Sunday, the theme in Isaiah echoes the familiar verse in Micah 6:8: “ . . . and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
There is a caveat in these lessons from the older testament. If we are obedient, we will find that joy of living. “ But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword” (Isaiah 1:20). Joy comes when we obey God and thus, keep up our end of the covenant with God. Hardship will come upon us if we refuse to obey God’s teachings. It would be good to challenge our listeners with this stark contrast between obedience and rebellion. What might this mean in our day and context? How are our lives changed because of the choices we make? The lessons make it clear that we are the ones who choose to obey or rebel. In a real sense, our actions define whether we find joy or encounter brokenness because of the choices we make. It is not that we break God’s laws in our disobedience. We break ourselves by these choices. Or, we find joy through obedience.
The lesson in Hebrews shows us another facet of how actions give testimony to our faith in God. The author of Hebrews defines faith (“The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” Hebrews 11:1) and then demonstrates how it is lived out in the actions of those faithful followers of God who have gone before us. From Cain to Noah, from Abraham to Joseph, we remember the stories of faith and faithfulness manifested in the actions of people who live obediently. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, in obedience to God. He received joy when God stayed his hand and gave back the life of his son through whom his descendants would be more numerous than the stars in the sky.
If you prefer to preach from the gospel lesson, you will find in Luke another call to action. Just as Isaiah emphasizes actions that bespeak faith over empty praise, Luke calls on us to “Be dressed for action and have lamps lit” (Luke 12: 35). The caveats of the older testament lessons mentioned above apply here: blessings for those prepared or judgment for those unprepared for when the Master comes. Being prepared, for Luke, also echoes Isaiah. He is talking about living an obedient life in response to God’s teaching. Joy awaits those who practice justice (giving alms to the needy, being more ready to give to others rather get things for ourselves).
If you resonate with the overall theme of the three-week series, “Joy as the Flip Side of Justice,” then look for joy in the ordinary happenings of life. Invite listeners to find joy in everyday living. Give an illustration of what that looks like. Try to answer the question of how we define the meaning of joy in our day. The Scripture lessons push us to seek generosity toward others and avoid greed for ourselves. The lessons push us to live out our faith in everyday manifestations of justice and to consider such as true worship of God.
Here are some thoughts that could translate into a message for the lessons of the ninth Sunday after Pentecost:
- True worship aligns praise and social action (justice) – Isaiah and Psalm 50
- True treasure is not found in material things, but finds treasure in heaven (Joy) – Luke
- Finding treasure in heaven prioritizes providing for others (Justice), rather than worrying about possessions – Luke
- Can we find true Joy in living by “learning to do good” and “seeking justice” and “rescuing the oppressed”? – Isaiah
- Putting our faith into actions of justice toward other humans ultimately brings joy –all four lessons.
- Trust and obey—for there’s no other way
Joy can be the flip side of justice when the fruits of our generosity benefit the needy. Joy can be the flip side of God’s justice when we make choices that follow God’s teachings faithfully.
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).