Sermon for 7 Pentecost Yr B

7 Pentecost Yr B, 11/07/2021

Ps 85:8-13

Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“God’s righteousness and justice and ours”

Righteousness and justice. Today I’d like to focus on God’s righteousness and justice, and our righteousness and justice. So I’m going to start off with 3 quotes, which I think are helpful and insightful in regards to righteousness and justice. The first quote is attributed to Rodrigo Rojas: “The annual global cost of training a soldier is 56 times greater than educating a child.” Think of all the children who could be properly educated if 56 times more money was spent on educating children than on training a soldier. Think of how that education would ultimately improve the lives of those children, and most likely all of society would benefit because they would be able to contribute to the well-being of society. The second quote comes from theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: “[Humanity’s] capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but [humanity’s] inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” In other words, democratic societies are more just than non-democratic ones; but because we are all sinners there will always be injustices, which are best dealt with by democratic societies. The third quote is from Martin Luther: “Christ took our sins and the sins of the whole world as well as the Father’s wrath on his shoulders, and he has drowned them both in himself so that we are thereby reconciled to God and become completely righteous.” Luther’s quote emphasizes that our righteousness is based on God’s righteousness, thanks to the grace-filled relationship we have with Jesus based on his saving work. 

In today’s psalm, which is a liturgical prayer, asking God to restore God’s people; in verses 10-13 of the NRSV, the word “righteousness” is mentioned three times. In these verses, “righteousness” is personified: “righteousness and peace will kiss each other; righteousness will look down from the sky, Righteousness will go before him (the LORD), and will make a path for his steps.” However in the REB, the word is not “righteousness” rather, it is “justice.” “Justice and peace have embraced, justice looks down from heaven. Justice will go in front of him (God), and peace on the path he treads.” The Message renders these verses a bit different, and puts it like this: “Right Living and Whole Living embrace and kiss! Right Living pours down from the skies! Right Living strides out before him (God), and clears a path for his passage.” 

I like The Message’s rendering, because, I think, “Right Living” may imply the combination of both “righteousness” and “justice.” At any rate, I think justice and righteousness are very closely related to each other in describing both God’s righteousness and our righteousness. As the psalmist implies earlier in verse 8; and as Luther implies in the quote I shared; righteousness and justice are possible for human beings because of our relationship with God, when, by God’s grace, God’s people “turn to him in their hearts.” Precisely because we are the recipients of God’s righteousness and justice, we are able to respond by serving God and one another with righteousness and justice. That reminds me of the following story.

A busload of teenagers was returning from Mexico. They had gone down there as a kind of Christian charity to help out the exceedingly poor people. They worked hard all day, then got back onto the bus; they were very tired, and they were very, very hungry.

They crossed the border back into the United States and stopped at a diner; and they waited. They waited a long time, and finally one of them got bold enough to go over to the waitress and ask if they could be served. The waitress told them she would serve them, but they—indicating the two black teenagers among them—would have to eat on the bus. The teenagers looked at one another, and one of them finally said, “Well, we weren’t hungry anyway,” and they went back to the bus.1 In this story, both black and non-black group members shared the same injustice of not being served a meal. In this way they were all righteous because they all agreed to share the same experience, and not buy into the racism that would have allowed the non-blacks a right that was denied the blacks. 

Speaking of racism, we Canadians like to think of ourselves as a welcoming, hospitable, multicultural nation. Yet, in our history, and even to this day, sadly there have been examples of racism and injustice. In one study done in the past by a University of Toronto political scientist professor, Joseph Fletcher, who led a research team asking 3,300 Canadians about civil liberties, here is what they discovered: 75% of Canadians said immigrants bring discrimination upon themselves by their own habits and customs. 30% said that all races aren’t equal. 33% said laws guaranteeing equal job opportunities for blacks and other minorities go too far. 

Fletcher said his findings show a hesitance on the part of “a substantial proportion” of Canadians to accept immigrants for whatever problems may arise from their being here. 

“I was disheartened and saddened for Canada to see there was so much racial intolerance and prejudice,” said Fletcher. 

“It isn’t just a single question, but rather the pattern of response from all the questions. There’s really a deep-seated distrust of immigrants and foreigners generally, and certainly racial and ethnic groups in particular.” 

Our past history has not always been just and righteous. 82,000 Chinese immigrants had to pay a head tax between 1885 and 1923. One-time Premier of British Columbia, Sir Richard MacBride, spoke this racist comment about immigrants: “To admit Orientals in large numbers would mean in the end the extinction of the white peoples, and we have always in mind the necessity of keeping this a white man’s country.” 8,000 Ukrainian immigrants were interned during World War I. Thousands of Japanese Canadians were stripped of their property and interned during World War II. Immigrants from India couldn’t bring their wives until 1923, and weren’t allowed to vote until 1947. Canada turned a blind-eye to the plight of Jews in wartime Europe. There was a “climatic unsuitability” provision that allowed the government to bar blacks from entering Canada prior to 1953.2 Loyal Canadian German Lutherans during World War II had swastikas painted on some of their churches, and some were even falsely condemned as Nazis. Of course currently the Indigenous Peoples, once again, with the discovery of 215 bodies at the Kamloops Residential School, and 751 bodies at the Marieval Residential School in Saskatchewan are lamenting how unjust and unrighteous both the Canadian government and the church were by forcing their children to attend residential schools, often far enough away from their families that they rarely saw them. Teachers in these schools abused Indigenous children culturally, sexually, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. The Indigenous Peoples are crying out for justice and righteousness. Add to that, the tragic deaths of a Muslim family in London, Ontario run over by a young white supremacist, and a swastika found on an Edmonton mosque, and we can see that we have a lot of growing to do in Canada before, with the help of our LORD: “Righteousness/Justice and peace embrace and kiss each other; righteousness/justice will look/will pour down from heaven, Righteousness/Justice will go in front of God, and clear a path for his passage.” 

As the Israelites were restored by the justice and righteousness of God who delivered them from their exile back to the promised land; so may our LORD’s justice and righteousness grace us in such a way that we may respond by serving him and one another with justice and righteousness. 

Let us pray: “O God of ev’ry nation, of ev’ry race and land,/redeem your whole creation with your almighty hand;/where hate and fear divide us and bitter threats are hurled,/in love and mercy guide us and heal our strife-torn world.” -Wm. W. Reid Jr. (#713 Evangelical Lutheran Worship)

1 Wm. J. Bausch, A World Of Stories for Preachers and Teachers (New London, CT: Twenty Third Publications, Eighth Printing, 2007), p. 319. 

2 Don Retson, “Racist past comes back to haunt Canada,” The Edmonton Journal, Sunday, April 16, 1989, pp. B1 & B3.

About dimlamp
I am, among other things, a sojourner, a sinner-saint, a baptized, life-long learner and follower of Jesus, and Lutheran pastor. Dim Lamp: dimlamp.wordpress.com gwh photos: gwhphotos.wordpress.com

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