Sermon – September 9, 2018

Categories: Church,Sermons


by Rev. Joe Connolly

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

I have over time both in the pulpit at the United Church of Christ, First Congregational, and here at Chenango Valley Home, addressed some of my personal history. Specifically I’ve spoken about some of the many different jobs I’ve had over time.

After all, being a pastor is about a ninth career for me— not a third— a ninth. This is a story about one of those jobs I’ve had and I don’t think I’ve told in either place.

In 1966 I went to work for Bloomingdale’s Department Store. Before the store even had a computer on the premises I was trained in computer operations and, once the computer actually arrived, became one of their lead computer operators. That was back when a small computer took up a space the size of this room.

I primarily worked the night shift. Since this was back when computers were large and slow, the jobs I ran on that machine would sometimes take a couple of hours to complete. I see an old computer operator out there nodding his head. The thing would chug along and I would literally have nothing to do except sit and watch.

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 looking fellow. What he was doing there at midnight I have yet to figure out.

He asked a couple of questions about what was happening. My responses seemed to satisfy him. Since I had permission to read a book the fact that the CEO saw me reading did not concern me. And perhaps a curiosity about my reading overtook him so he did posed a question as to what the book I was reading was about.

Now, in 1762 the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote a work called The Social Contract. That book for the first time ever proposed the idea that all people are created equal. Indeed, this thinking was reflected by Thomas Jefferson just fourteen years later in the American Declaration of Independence.

The work I was reading was also called The Social Contract but took a different tack. The claim made by the book was people are not created equal. So that’s what I said: “The premise of the book is not everyone is created equal.”

At this the CEO of Bloomingdale’s, this older, tall, regal looking fellow, smiled, nodded and said, “I never thought they were.” He then turned and walked out. (Slight pause.)

We find these words 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.)

When it comes to the word equal, I suspect we read into it what I would deem to be inaccurate implications. We are, in fact, not equal. I hope that’s obvious.

Why? How? Each of us is born with a set of gifts and talents and it might even be argued each of us is unique, created by God with different sets of gifts and talents.

Therefore, I often say the correct word to use (in English at least) is equity. We should strive toward equity since equality is an illusive, even an impossible target.

But maybe equity is not quite right either, as least from the perspective of Scripture. That’s because Scripture understands that any human justice is flawed, imperfect. So Scripture does not address human justice. Scripture addresses God’s justice.

What is God’s justice? The underlying word in Scripture we most often translate as justice actually means righteousness.

And righteousness is another word with which we have a hard time since what it means in Scripture is not what we often take it to mean. So let me quote a definition from a standard Bible. “Righteousness is a fulfillment of the demands of a relationship with God”— a fulfillment of the demands of a relationship with God— tall order that. Further, I think we have a hard time with the concept that justice and any kind of relationship are intertwined.

All that having been said, let me offer a couple more quotes. These are from some well know theologians. The ideas here offered might help explain how God’s justice is really about relationship, and not simply about any relationship. Rather, this is about the demands of a relationship with God.

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

“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.” — Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

“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.” — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Slight pause.)

This may surprise some of you. Occasionally even politicians can address justice effectively. Here are a couple more quotes.

“Justice is truth in action.” — Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the 1860s and 1870s.

“I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations of justice and liberality.”— George Washington, First President of the United States, 1789 to 1797.

“I have always found mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” — Abraham Lincoln, Sixteenth President of the Untied States, 1861 to 1865.

“May we, in our dealings with all the peoples of the earth, ever speak the truth and serve justice.” — Dwight David Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States, 1953 to 1961. (Slight pause.)

So, 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.” Relationship and justice— they are 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: “You may have noticed the cover of our bulletin today has a picture of Lady Justice sitting atop the Chenango County Courthouse. Ever since Justice has been depicted with this kind of image— and that started in the 1600s— some of the statues have had a blindfold, some do not. The stature on top of our courthouse has no blindfold. Is justice blind? I would suggest, since Scripture insists justice and relationship are intertwined, God’s justice sees everything. Thereby, the justice of God is not blind since it inclines irrevocably, even relentlessly toward mercy.”

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, this day and forever more. Amen.

[1] Note: as ths service was at Chenango Valley Home these comments were a little more brief than might usually be true on a usual Sunday morning.

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