Hope Month: Injustice – September 3, 2023
I want to take you back to history class for a moment. Let’s return to the late 1700s. To a wealthy European colony in the new world.
In this thriving colony, new ideas were being born, libraries were being built… and some idealistic young men began longing for freedom. They dreamed of throwing off the yoke of the distant European king and ruling their own nation with liberty and justice for all.
And so a revolution was kindled. Battles were fought. And the European overlords were kicked out for good. A new free nation was born.
Now, we all know what country I’m talking about, right? … Haiti.
I’m talking about the Haitian revolution - the largest slave revolt since Spartacus fought the Romans - where African slaves defeated not just Napoleon’s French army, but the English army as well.
Haiti - which at the time was wealthier than the entire 13 colonies of America combined - became an independent nation in 1804.
And yet, while the United States grew steadily in wealth and influence over the next 200 years, Haiti would become the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
When I first visited Haiti in 2010, I found a nation wracked with poverty, disease, hunger, violence, and despair.
So what happened? What went wrong?
Why did this promising young nation fall so far?
Well, the short answer is just one word: injustice.
And that - injustice - is what this year’s Hope Month is all about.
We’ll come back to Haiti in just a moment. But just a bit of context: Every year at Grace we spend a month focused on one of what we call the
The 6 Broken Places
Separation from God
These are all ways our world is broken - it’s not what it was mean to be. And we spend so much time talking about this because we believe two fundamental things:
First, we believe that God is in the business of healing these broken places. It’s what he does. And second, we believe that God calls us to join him in that healing work. It’s what we do.
We heal the broken places of our world in Jesus’ name. Including the broken place of injustice.
So that’s what this month is all about. How do we do it? Let’s start with prayer and then we’ll dive in.
WHAT IS INJUSTICE?
Let’s start with a pretty simple question: what is injustice? It can actually be a little hard to define.
I mean, every child knows it’s unfair when one kid gets more candy than another. Is that an injustice?
Well, yes. But we also know injustice can be far more consequential.
It’s obviously unjust when a person with a disability is denied a job due to prejudice. Or when a young girl is sold into a brothel in Cambodia.
It’s an injustice when a helpless senior citizen with dementia is mistreated. Or when someone is wrongfully imprisoned. Or when a child goes hungry in a time of plenty.
All of that is injustice, but what ties all of that together?
Well, here is where I think the Bible plays a very important role. Because injustice was a major concern of the biblical authors, and they talk about it all the time.
And here’s why. To the writers of the Bible injustice - of any kind - big or small - falls short of what God designed.
Throughout the Bible we see that God created shalom for humanity. Shalom is the Hebrew word for peace. But it’s way more than just an absence of violence.
It’s the presence of God and everything that comes with it - abundance, life, joy, generosity… It’s Eden. That’s what God desires for every one of us. So, biblical justice looks like this:
Biblical Justice: The open-handed thriving of individuals and communities living within the abundance of God.
So what is injustice then?
Injustice: Any needless suffering brought on by a withholding of God’s abundance.
Poverty, hunger, slavery, homelessness, abuse, even garden-variety inequality… it all falls short of what God desires for humanity.
Any time the abundance of God is withheld from someone, it’s injustice. And we see that all over the world.
Ok... So who is doing the withholding?
Well, sometimes it is one individual acting unjustly. A slaveowner, a thief, someone who takes advantage of the vulnerable.
But often injustice is a system that keeps people oppressed. A spider’s web of suffering that holds people back from the shalom of God.
This is why I started this message by talking about Haiti. How did the wealthiest New World colony become the poorest nation in our region today?
Well, it wasn’t just individual acts of injustice, I’ll tell you that much.
When you see a Haitian baby today abandoned by his teenage mother, that’s an injustice. He is being withheld from God’s abundance for him. That’s not what God desires for an innocent child.
So who do we blame? It’s easy to point the finger at the mom. But then you think about what she’s facing. Rape, a lack of education, gangs roaming the streets of her village.
She grew up in a family that didn’t have food or clean drinking water. Disease and malnourishment was holding all of them back.
Why isn’t there any clean drinking water? Well, because generations of desperate, impoverished people have deforested their country and over-farmed the soil. So a lot of Haiti today is basically a desert. It’s hard to survive there.
Why is there so much widespread poverty? Well, we could go back to national debt. After the slave revolt, France imposed massive debt on Haiti for “stealing their property” (a.k.a. their slaves) and the country didn’t finish paying it off until 1947. How do you build a nation with no money? Haiti was crippled from the start.
Want to go back even farther? How about the fact that the country was founded on race-based chattel slavery and the indigenous people of the land were massacred?
How do you form a nation with citizens who were all ripped from their homes half a world away, forced into brutal unpaid labor, and denied basic education?
With all of that, is it really any wonder that a child today would be abandoned by his teenage mom?
What I’m describing here are systems of injustice. Layer upon layer of needless suffering that withholds God’s abundance from entire generations.
Now, I realize Haiti is a pretty extreme example.
But the truth is - those same systems of injustice are at play all over the world, including right here in Hamilton County.
The vulnerable are exploited right here. It looks different than Haiti, but generational poverty spreads in our backyard too.
There’s economic disempowerment baked into our legal system. There’s growing income inequality. And let’s not forget we have our own legacy of slavery to deal with.
If we have eyes to see it, our lives, even comfortable suburban ones, are woven in to global systems of injustice that touch billions of people right here and around the world.
The abundance of God is withheld and these systems conspire to keep it that way. Maybe it’s been withheld from you. Or maybe, without even realizing it, you are a part of the system doing the withholding…
Injustice is everywhere and our world is broken with it.
So… Are you overwhelmed yet?
I know I am! Of all the broken places of the world, injustice seems to be the one most likely to lead us to despair. To make our eyes glaze over. To make us shrug our shoulders and say, “what could we possibly even do?”
And I would know. I spent most of my adult life before becoming a pastor traveling the world going looking for injustice.
But good news. This is called “Hope Month” not “despair month.”
And here’s why: because our God is in the business of healing injustice. He dismantles unjust systems. I’ve seen it with my own two eyes and the biblical authors saw it too. Listen to this:
Joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper,
whose hope is in the LORD their God.
He made heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them.
He keeps every promise forever.
He gives justice to the oppressed
and food to the hungry.
The LORD frees the prisoners.
The LORD opens the eyes of the blind.
The LORD lifts up those who are weighed down.
The LORD loves the godly.
The LORD protects the foreigners among us.
He cares for the orphans and widows,
but he frustrates the plans of the wicked.
That’s what our God does. He restores victims of injustice back to his abundance.
You see, the authors of Scripture understood that when it comes to God’s intentions for the world - God’s desire to bring humanity into shalom - that he was not sitting idly by.
God cares deeply about injustice and He is doing something about it.
Which is why, when our God stepped into the story - when he became one of us: Jesus Christ - he made it clear where his priorities lie.
Right at the beginning of his ministry (you can look this up in Luke 4, page _____), Jesus was teaching in his hometown.
And he chose this moment to make a declaration about what he was here to do - about what his ministry was going to be all about. He could have done this by reading any number of passages from the Old Testament. But listen to the words he chose:
The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.”
He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”
A quick bit of background. The “time of the LORD’s favor” that Jesus mentions here was shorthand for something in the Hebrew Bible called the “year of Jubilee.”
It was a long hoped for time when all debts would be cancelled, when slaves would be freed, when the poor would be given a fresh start, when justice would be the law of the land.
Everybody was waiting for that “time of the LORD’s favor” to arrive. Until that one day in Nazareth when Jesus says, essentially, “it’s here.”
Just like Psalm 146, Jesus is saying that his priority is restoring God’s justice to the world. And when you look at the rest of his ministry you see these weren’t just words.
Jesus spent time with the outcast, the vulnerable, the downtrodden. He gave them joy and hope. He healed the sick. He restored community to those who had been cast aside.
He gave food to hungry people. You think feeding the 5000 was just an object lesson? No! The year of Jubilee had begun! The poor would have full bellies again.
Jesus cared about those who were suffering from injustice and he restored them to the abundance of God - to God’s justice, to God’s generosity, to God’s shalom.
Except wait a second. That all sounds nice, but if that’s true then why is there still injustice in the world?
If the year of the LORD’s favor has begun, then why is there still poverty? Why is there still hunger? Inequality? Abuse?
Did Jesus give up on his mission to restore God’s justice to the world? No he didn’t. Jesus has continued his healing mission right up to this very day.
Do you know how he’s accomplishing it? Through you. Through me. We are his body. His agents of hope and change.
Because his Spirit lives within us, we - the Church - are empowered to dismantle systems of injustice in his name. To take a firm stand against the brutality of our world.
To be God’s agents of Jubilee doing the work he cares so deeply about.
Do you want hope in a broken world? Look in the mirror. Because Jesus is working through you to heal injustice. And he can do more with your humble actions to change this broken world than you could possibly imagine.
But you do have to act.
O people, the LORD has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to act justly, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.
That’s from the prophet Micah. And this is our key memory verse for the month. And it raises a great question:
What does it look like for you and for me - in 2023 America - to “act justly” - to bring healing to the broken place of injustice as Jesus’ representatives?
What does it mean to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God as he brings humanity back into his abundance?
That’s what we’re talking about for the next four weeks. It’s Hope Month and we are going to learn how to hope.
So let’s get practical. What does it mean for you to get in the game of healing injustice?
The way I see it, there are essentially three ways for us to “act justly” as followers of Jesus. First, we
We encounter some injustice in our world and we do something about it in the moment. This is something Jesus did all the time:
Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
In your life this could mean giving compassion to a homeless person instead of just walking by.
It could mean inviting a coworker to come to Grace’s Care Center with you when you find out they’re in need instead of just saying, “I’ll pray for you.”
Put simply, when you see someone suffering from the abundance of God being withheld, you respond and you give it back.
So that’s the most episodic thing you can do. But we’re dealing with systems of injustice here. What if you want to be more intentional? Well, that’s when you:
You make a decision - you resolve - to sacrifice something you have for the sake of God’s justice. It could be your time. Your energy. Your money.
For example, this is Hope Month. We’re offering a ton of great experiences and resources. You could resolve right now that you’re going to learn more about injustice this month.
Next Saturday from 9-noon we are hosting Tim Streett from our partner Shepherd Community Center to teach his class called “Poverty 101.” gracechurch.us/poverty101
He’s been teaching it for years and I guarantee it will change the way you see the world. Resolve to educate yourself.
For that matter, pick up a copy of my book. I wrote this right before becoming a pastor here, after spending about 7 years seeking out injustice around the world. These are some of the stories which stuck with me the most.
It’s called “Into the World Next Door.” I don’t make any money off of book sales. I give every dollar away to the partner ministries written about inside.
There are hard copies at the bookstore and you can find the Kindle version at Amazon. There’s heavy stuff in here, but I promise you: every story ends in hope.
Resolve to learn.
But also, resolve to give!
Money is the cause of so much injustice, but it can also be used to combat it.
If you need ideas, of course you can always give to Grace and our Care Center, but we also have a bunch of amazing partners doing justice work around the world.
Including Nehemiah Vision Ministries in Haiti. NVM is why I don’t lose hope for Haiti. It’s run by a Haitian team led by a Haitian man - Pastor Pierre - and it is a stunningly beautiful ministry that is incredibly holistic:
Childhood education, medical care, dental care, food, an orphanage, community advocacy, a church… They even invest in local pastors so that other faith communities can grow in self-sufficiency.
They are combatting systems of injustice with systems of hope and they are actually changing things. God’s abundance is on display.
You can invest in their work. I resolved to sponsoring a child with them 12 years ago and I still do. What a privilege to have even a little bit of skin in the game of healing Haiti.
So. Resolve to give.
But probably most importantly, resolve to act. Get in the game. Volunteer. Use your energy to pursue God’s justice in the world. It’s what he cares about.
The best way to start is just to start. Don’t know where to begin?
Weekend of Service
September 30-October 1
Instead of doing worship services in here, we worship God by serving out there. By doing what he cares about in the world.
This year it’s all about justice – restoring God’s abundance – including doing a massive food drive for our Care Center which will help us feed thousands of families. Resolve to act. Don’t just stay home that weekend.
But the big twist for Weekend of Service this year - and we’ll talk more about this as the month goes on - is that we want to invite as many people from our community as possible to serve along with us.
Our goal is for half of all Weekend of Service volunteers to be people not from Grace.
Which means that you need to start thinking right now about who you want to invite. We are going to show our community what healing injustice looks like… and, God willing, we’re going to bring them along for the ride.
So, respond to the needs you encounter, resolve to get in the game in an ongoing way. Finally,
Here’s what I mean by that. When it comes to systems of injustice, there are many forces in our world conspiring to keep things broken. To keep us apathetic and indifferent.
Especially here in the suburbs it is easy to be blind to suffering in our world and how our lifestyles are contributing to it.
Which is why, as followers of Jesus I believe we’re also called to rebel. To fight back against the powers of this world in the very way that we live.
That’s what Jesus did! He lived outside the bounds of polite society. He shunned wealth and extravagance. He spent time with people the world rejected.
He even overturned tables at the temple when the religious system of Israel was becoming corrupt and abusive to the poor.
He was a rebel against the powers of injustice and you can be too in the way you live. What you buy. What you eat. Who you spend your time with. Let the rebellion begin.
We’ll talk a lot more about all of this over the month. But just remember, healing injustice takes action:
Respond. Resolve. Rebel. Jesus did it. And he wants to keep doing it through you.
I know this is a lot to take in all at once. Injustice is a monumental topic.
So, if you remember nothing else I’ve said today, remember this: God cares deeply about injustice. And he is in the business of healing it.
What a privilege that we get to do it with him!