READINGS: 11/28/2021 ~ First Sunday of Advent ~ The Sunday on Which the Christian Virtue of Hope Is Celebrated ~ First Sunday in Year ‘C’ of the Three Year Lectionary Cycle ~ Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BK57fvrnKBk.
Justice and Integrity
“In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous branch, a branch who maintains a right relationship with Me, to be raised up from the line of David who shall bring justice and integrity to the land.” — Jeremiah 33:15.
When the reading from Jeremiah was introduced this was said. “Prophets sometimes get a bad name for they are too often remembered for their condemnations rather than their word of hope.”
In our society many think a prophet is someone who predicts the future. Foretelling future events was not and never was the job of the Prophets in Scripture. The job of a prophet is to speak the Word of God, the truth of God.
That having been said, my bet is most of us have had some experience of foretelling, predicting— premonitions. I’ve had my share. Let me mention just one.
In August of 1964 I was headed into my senior year of High School. On August 4th I was watching as President Johnson made an emergency address to the nation.
The President said a Navy destroyer had been attacked by North Vietnamese PT boats. He asked Congress to give the executive the ability to respond without a declaration of war. As I watched I had one reaction.
This is where not prophecy but premonition kicked in. I was suddenly aware something half way around the world would affect me. Indeed, several days later Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.
Sure enough, at age 19 I got my draft notice. At 20 I shipped out to Saigon. Now, when I was 20 and 21 a lot happened while I was overseas. Much of what happened made it seem there was little hope left in the world.
Aside from the reality of Vietnam, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy were assassinated. There was a revolution in Czechoslovakia but it was squashed. Johnson decided to not run for President and there were riots at a national political convention.
On the other side of that coin, American Astronauts landed on the moon, the Beatles released the White Album, the Who released Tommy. The Jets won the Super Bowl. The previously hapless Mets won the World Series. But that other side of the coin is more about fun than it is about hope. We often confuse the two— fun and hope. (Slight pause.)
This is found in the Scroll of the Prophet Jeremiah: “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous branch, a branch who maintains a right relationship with Me, to be raised up from the line of David who shall bring justice and integrity to the land.”
Most people would describe my sense of humor as verbal but it sometimes extends to the visual, the physical. 3 years before the Gulf of Tonkin incident, my first day of High School— I was 13— my mother walked me to the front door of the house. With a tear in her eye she gave me a tight hug and wished me luck. I could not resist.
I walked out the door, did a pratfall down the short stoop and landed on my butt. Mom screamed. I looked up at her and said, “You’ve got to watch out. The world is a dangerous place!” I don’t think she ever forgave me for that one.
Despite making that statement in a humorous way I was, of course, right. The world is a dangerous place. How dangerous?
Ask Jeremiah. Again, when this reading was introduced it was said the prophet speaks a word of hope to the people of Israel who seem to be in a hopeless situation, under siege from the armies of Babylon. The world is dangerous. And because of that we sometimes fail to hope. (Slight pause.)
I have a friend, his name is Jack, who is the Executive Director of a non-profit which addresses issues of poverty. A question folks constantly ask Jack and with which people wrestle is ‘can anyone escape poverty or is the situation hopeless?’
When asked this Jack says things are not hopeless and that is what drives his organization. He employs a 2 ‘E’ approach, he insists— two “Es”— education and engagement.
In today’s world education is a necessity. But he says engagement is the real key and needs to be an integral and integrated part of education. People need to be engaged with one another in many ways, on many levels, in order to achieve any results.
And yes, engagement is a two way street. But I want to suggest those who profess to practice what Jeremiah calls (quote:) “justice and integrity,” are practicing the flow of that engagement, that two way street, a street which is and must be open no matter what happens, no matter what another party does, no matter how another party behaves.
You see, justice— God’s justice— is not a result. It’s not something you point to and say this is what it is. Therefore you practice it, you do it, no matter what the circumstances are, no matter what happens.
Hence justice can never stand alone. Justice is also about integrity. And integrity is about the wholeness possible through living into and living in a full sense of what the community of God entails. What’s that? Equity for all people. (Slight pause.)
That brings me back to my pratfall and the observation of a 13 year old. Yes, the world is a dangerous place.
But should we fear the world? Should we fear danger? It’s clear a lot of people today from prelates to pundits to politicians want us to be afraid. So should we hide our heads in the sand because the world is a dangerous place or do nothing because we are afraid?
There is another possibility. It is the one I think Jeremiah’s words of hope recommend. We should accept the challenge with which danger presents us and boldly confront this dangerous world. (Slight pause.)
I believe the words of Jeremiah are about hope because they are an invitation from God to us. They are an invitation to consistently, with integrity, confront a dangerous world. These words are an invitation to practice justice— God’s justice.
And justice never happens in isolation. Justice happens in community. God’s justice is, you see, not about my justice. God’s justice is not about your justice.
God’s justice is about our justice, communal justice. And God’s community includes all people. If you exclude someone what you are saying is that individual is not human, is not a child of God. (Slight pause.)
That leads me to this question. Why is this reading assigned on the First Sunday of Advent, the Sunday on which the Christian virtue of hope is celebrated? (Slight pause.)
For me the answer is obvious. The birth of the Messiah is about hope. The birth of the Messiah is about confronting the world with action, with hope as did the Messiah.
And yes, the birth of the Messiah is about the hope of God. This hope of God to which we are invited insists the Dominion of God will be seen when we act with one another to confront the reality of tribalism which tries to counter justice in this dangerous world.
This hope of God to which we are invited insists we need to maintain justice with integrity. Integrity insists on constant action, insists on constantly working toward the justice of God. And so, here again we are faced with a question.
Are we willing to work with integrity toward God’s justice in this world, God’s world, and be filled with hope in so doing no matter what happens? I know. Being hopeful no matter what happens— that’s hard. Can we do it? Your call. 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: “We had a Baptism today. And yes, it’s kind of easy to say baptizing a child gives us hope. But hope will become real if and when we engage that child, any child, any other person and seek to know them, to mentor them, to encourage them, to love them no matter what the trails or the circumstance or the difficult times are, times which we will inevitably face.”
BENEDICTION: Let us go in joy and in love and in peace, for our hope is in the one who has made covenant with us. God reigns. Let us go in God’s peace. And may the face of God shine upon us; may the peace of Christ rule among us; may the fire of the Spirit burn within us this day and forevermore. Amen.