Being a mouthpiece for truth and justice
Nigel writes on "Being a mouthpiece for truth and justice". This is based on a sermon given at All Saints Weston, Bath on 13-11-16. This is a series of talks following Mark Greene's book: Fruitfulness on the Front Line – making a difference where you are (IVP) (ISBN: 978-1-78539-125-1)
This continues the series looking at fruitfulness on the Front Line.
Two introductory remarks
The Archbishop (ABC) visited Bath last Wednesday. At a meeting with students, held at BathSpa, he was asked about the relationship between evangelism and social justice. At the University of Bath I see this with the students in the relationship between the Christian Union (CU) and a group called “just love”. They are independent and yet related. Some students are members of both. The CU sets out to tell every student the good news of Jesus, and give them a chance to respond. Just love’s vision is to inspire and release every Christian student to pursue the biblical call to social justice. The ABC replied that both were indispensable, and totally interdependent.
He was also asked about the American Election. Donald Trump had been confirmed as the president-elect a few hours earlier. He replied that:
• It was a strange result
• he would probably not have voted that way
• He wondered what was happening
So he acknowledged the importance of the question, and then said that the reading set in the Anglican lectionary for that morning was Daniel 5 vs 21: Acknowledged that the most high God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men, and sets over them anyone he wishes”. So he said:
• we have to trust
• We believe in God who raised Jesus from the dead.
• Therefore we need not fear
• God is in charge, Daniel is saying
• So we ask, trust and then wait
Let us look at the passage
Isaiah 58 is a remarkable chapter. It is a wake-up call, saying “come on! Be honest with yourselves. Look at how you pray (fast). Do you really think that your prayer is integrous? God sees your behaviour. You say “come on God. Can’t you see me. Why don’t you listen?“ God sees selfishness, self-gain and “I, I, I.”
Then from verse 6 the different picture is given. God calls us to:
• Loose the chains of injustice
• Untie the yoke
• Set free
• Give food
• Give shelter
• Give clothing
• Don’t turn away
• Avoid (don’t accept) the “pointing finger” (isn’t that so often an intimidating gesture?)
• Steer people away from malicious talk – the chit-chat that sets out to harm others
Contrast verses 4b:
“you cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”
With verse 8ff:
“then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help and he will say; here am I”
Light, healing, righteousness, glory. Great words.
And verse 11 describes God’s blessing in “sun-scorched” places. Remember Psalm 84. When we pilgrim-journey with the Lord, arid places (the valley of Baca) become places of springs.
How good to be known as rebuilders, repairer, restorers. Ezekiel 22:30a tells of God “looking for a person among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land (people) so that I would not have to destroy it……” We are watch-people too.
Rather than “I, I, I”, God sees “Community, community, community”.
So how do we apply this, and be “be a mouthpiece for truth and justice”?
WHEN? All the time. It is an attitude of mind. “It’s just not cricket” is an old-fashioned phrase that sums this up. I am not harking back to the colonial era. I’m just pointing out that a line was crossed when a national cricketer said that “it is all about winning. You don’t walk even though you know you are out” (page 141). Those little lies. Reading CV’s used to be a part of medicine. If an applicant lied (or even misled by format) they were red-lined, and the CV discarded. The BBC’s Apprentice programme went down for me when Lord Sugar appeared to approve an applicant who had lied to a member of the public to succeed at his task.
WHO? Well we all have our heroes. William Wilberforce, and the film “Amazing Grace”, is an inspiring story. But we should all be “heroes”. This is about day to day living, such as objecting to gossip, or power (bullying) behaviour. One of the most corrosive behaviours for any community is the abuse of one gender by another – and usually by men on women. I have seen many cases in A&E. The episodes of physical domestic violence always occur within a back drop of continuous verbal abuse, such as the put down comments that belittle. Point them out. “Hey you can’t say that”!
• Put a different perspective. Bishop Jim Thompson, preaching on 30th September 2001, three weeks after 9/11, and commenting on the unfolding response by the West, started by saying that “as long as there is such a gulf between the wealth of the first world and the poverty of the third, then extreme acts will happen”. He had us all feeling slightly uncomfortable.
• Speak up – not to win, but to help others to see
• Have the instinct to pray. Prayer always helps though we may not see it
• Engage constructively with the real life issues. To care for people who have an unwanted pregnancy with compassion (and not judgement) helps some change their minds, and better prevents others coming back. So unborn lives are saved. The heat and ill-informed anger so often seen in debates about sexuality can harm, not help. We need to avoid the forceful application of scripture to bolster a blind, insensitive position.
• Another quote from Mark Greene’s book (Pg 149):
One of the things I learnt from John Stott was that it is often more important how you debate than whether you win the argument – we’re to model dialogue and double listening (listening humbly and reverently to God’s word, and listening humbly and attentively to the world). The other thing I remember him saying is that it’s important to engage with the best arguments of our opponents and not the worst. So, rather than creating a straw man and then destroying it – which is what so called public debate is all about – there should be a genuine request for dialogue and understanding.
Two recent, world changing votes have shown the importance of this principle. We were in Scotland for the Brexit result. Our daughter Anna-Fleur came into breakfast saying “what have they done?!” Her generation has been taken into uncharted waters by a protest vote. And we never really heard the arguments. Apart for a day or so after Jo Cox’s murder, when the shock led to calls to stop the name-calling, the Brexit campaign was dominated by misleading quotes, critique of others and populist arguments. And how on earth did America find itself with two such flawed candidates in the recent election – the world watching, a bitter and personal slanging match, and a man who has bullied women being appointed? There is danger in electing the populist leader, who then goes back on the promises for which he was voted in.
• WHERE? Where ever God has placed you. Where is your life place? Do you sometime feel lonely there as a Christian? Do you wander about moving into a safer/easier place? Always think - yes but if I leave there may be no-one else here to stand up for truth and justice. I may be the only Christian here (in practice this is rarely the case).
• PRAYER COVER AND TRAINING. This is a tough call. So pray for each other. Ask friends (intercessors) to pray for you when you go to a difficult place. And always be willing to learn from each other.
Be a mouthpiece for truth and justice.
Prayer (page 156)
Father, help me to love mercy, seek justice, and walk humbly before you on my frontline. Give me ears to discern where falsehoods reigns, eyes to see where injustice has its roots, and wisdom and courage to cultivate truth and justice. For your glory may it be. Amen
University Chaplain, University of Bath, and Associate Minister, All Saints Weston, Bath