Sermon ~ 09/09/2018 ~ Equity?

READINGS: 09/09/2018 ~ Proper 18 ~ Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost ~ Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 125; Isaiah 35:4-7a; Psalm 146; James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17; Mark 7:24-37>


“My brothers and sisters, your faith in our glorious Savior Jesus, the Christ, must not allow for favoritism.” — James 2:1.

My brief biography on the church website says I have had material which I wrote performed Off -Broadway. My most important credit in that arena is I contributed writing to a show which stared Kaye Ballard. Some of you may remember Kaye. But she was more of a theater personality than a TV or movie personality.

Now, theater people tend to do a lot of different things just in the profession. So I was also a stage manager off-off Broadway, a business manager for a children’s theater, wrote and staged club acts and worked for the theatrical charity the Actors’ Fund of America.

I never waited on tables like many theater folk, but I did work many jobs outside of theater. You name it, I did it— from managing a store to being a tour guide to computer operations to back office Wall Street operations. Being a pastor is not a second career for me— it’s a ninth career. This is a story about one of those other jobs.

I once was a computer operator at Bloomingdale’s Department Store in New York City. That was back when a computer took up a space the size of this Meeting House.

I mostly worked the night shift. Computers were slow in that era, so sometimes jobs took hours to complete. The machine would chug along and I would have nothing to do except sit and watch in case something went wrong.

And so, with the permission of my boss, I took to reading books as I sat there. Once, at about midnight as the computer was grinding away and I was reading, the CEO of Bloomingdale’s walked in. He was an older, tall, regal, patrician looking fellow. What he was doing there at midnight I have yet to figure out.

He asked a couple of questions and my responses seemed to satisfy him. Since I had permission to read and the CEO saw me reading, it did not concern me. But curiosity did overtake him so he asked me what the book was.

Now, in 1762 the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote a work called The Social Contract. That book proposed this radical idea: all people are created equal.

There are many issues you can have with Rousseau’s work. But his best ideas are reflected by Jefferson fourteen years later in the Declaration of Independence.

The work I was reading was also called The Social Contract. But this book said people are not created equal. So I said that to the CEO of Bloomingdale’s: “The premise of the book is not everyone is created equal.”

The CEO of Bloomingdale’s, this older, tall, regal, patrician looking fellow, smiled, nodded and said: “I never thought they were.” Then he turned and walked out. (Slight pause.)

It says this in the work known as James: “My brothers and sisters, your faith in our glorious Savior Jesus, the Christ, must not allow for favoritism.” (Slight pause.)

Justice does not allow for favoritism. Favoritism sanctions privilege, something perhaps familiar to a CEO. It is therefore clear this passage addresses justice. After all, favoritism, by definition, means things are not equal.

But when it comes to the word equal, I suspect we read inaccurate implications into it. Why? We are, in fact, not equal, at least not equal in any mathematical sense.

Each of us is born with a set of gifts and talents. Each of us is unique, different, created by God with singular gifts and talents.

Therefore, instead of equal I sometimes use the word equity. And I do think it is good to strive toward equity. But that word, equity, is an almost impossible target.

So I think neither equality nor equity is quite right, at least from the perspective of Scripture. Perhaps that’s because Scripture understands that any standard of human justice is flawed, imperfect. But we do need to be clear: when we try to talk about equity, when we try to talk about equality, we are addressing the possibility of justice.

There is a reason I just labeled justice a “possibility.” Human justice is unquestionably an illusive goal. Further, Scripture does not address human justice. Scripture addresses the justice of God. (Slight pause.)

I maintain when this passage says we (quote:) “must not allow for favoritism,” the justice of God is being addressed. Most of the time when we translate the underlying Greek word for justice we translate it as righteousness.

But we also have a hard time with that since we think of righteousness in human terms— my righteousness. So let me offer a definition of righteousness from a Bible dictionary.

(Quote:) “Righteousness is a fulfillment of the demands of a relationship with God”— a fulfillment of the demands of a relationship with God. When we think about justice are we even aware relationship and justice are intertwined? (Slight pause.)

Here is some interesting history. Our Pilgrim ancestors would not have carried the King James Bible to these shores. They were, after all, rebelling against anything related to the King. The Pilgrims would have brought the Geneva Bible.

In the Geneva Bible the word for justice is not translated as righteousness. Justice is translated as “right wise”— one strives to be right wise with God, strives to maintain a right relationship with God. So here’s my take: a right relationship with God constantly seeks the justice of God for all people— the justice of God for all people. (Slight pause.)

You heard Dietrich Bonhoeffer quoted at the start of the service. [1] Let me offer a couple more quotes. The ideas here offered might help explain how God’s justice demands a relationship with God and demands relationships with others.

Here’s Thomas Aquinas— “The work of divine justice always presupposes the work of mercy and is based on it.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu — “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has a foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” (Slight pause.)

Biblical justice does not just or only mean equality, just or only mean equity, just or only mean everyone has a seat at the table, just or only mean everyone has a voice. Why? Biblical justice adds yet another layer to those foundations.

Biblical justice means, indeed instructs, that everyone is engaged in relationship with everyone else. And I think being in relationship at a minium means we become more involved, more concerned— hard, difficult work. (Slight pause.)

The Epistle of James reminds us of two things. The first is of upmost importance. (Quote:) “You are acting rightly, however, if you fulfill the venerable law of the scriptures: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

The second explains what that means (quote:) “If deeds do not go with faith, then faith is dead.” Faith, relationship, justice— these are all intertwined. Amen.

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “Since earlier I offered several quotes, let me offer a couple more very ancient ones. This is a Yom Kippur, a Day of Atonement Prayer: ‘We pray for impossible things: peace without justice, forgiveness without restitution, love without sacrifice.’ This is Saint Augustine: ‘Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.’”

BENEDICTION: Surely God will empower our ministry; surely God will supply for our needs when we are about God’s work; may this God, the God who formed the universe, bless us with the courage, the knowledge, the wisdom and the fortitude to serve the Gospel of Christ, empowered by the Spirit to seek justice, this day and forever more. Amen.

[1] “The absence of anything lasting means the collapse of the foundation of historical life, confidence, in all its forms. Since there is no confidence in truth, the place of truth is usurped by sophistic propaganda. Since there is no confidence in justice, whatever is useful is declared to be just. And even the tacit confidence in one’s fellow-man, which rests on the certainty of permanence and constancy, is now superseded by suspicion.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)

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