"Baptism and Justice" (A sermon by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, based on Isa. 42:1-7). ______________________________________________________________________
Today we celebrate the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord's baptism is--among other things--a clarification of, a reaffirmation of Christ's special mission in the world. In our passage from Isaiah, we are told that one very important role of God's Messiah is to bring justice. The prophet mentions this role of bringing justice three times, he says: "he will bring forth justice to the nations…he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth…"
Many people, when they think of justice, cringe and shake in their shoes because they associate justice with something that is to be dreaded or avoided at all costs or as being some sort of plague or incurable disease. In the words of Canadian singer-songwriter, Bruce Cockburn: "Everyone wants justice done on somebody else." For such people, justice is reduced to being very negative, it is robbed of all goodness. For yet other people, justice is associated with only "the fanatics," "the radicals," the politicians--those who love to "grind their axes," the so-called "vocal minority," "the special interest groups."
According to Gerhard Linn: " "Justice" is certainly a key word in our first lesson's poetic description of the content of the ministry of God's suffering servant: he will "proclaim justice to the Gentiles…until he brings justice to victory." "
"But the words between these two phrases give a particular nuance to this concept of justice: "He will not break a bruised reed." "
"This image draws on a symbolic act during a court case when a death sentence is proclaimed and the execution is about to take place. The sentenced person sees the judge break a reed, thus giving the sign that this person's life is at an end. The execution must take place."
"Imagine the situation of such a person. There is no hope, no future. But then the unexpected happens. The judge does not break the reed, does not "quench the smouldering wick." Grace is proclaimed. A new beginning is possible."
"That is what God's justice is about. God in his infinite love does not do to us what we deserve but what we need. And that is what the gospel is all about."
"All people--most of all those who have lost all hope--need to hear the great and good news: God offers you the chance for a new beginning." "We may do a great deal to bring about justice to help people. But the test of whether we are doing it in the spirit of Jesus is whether love is the central motive."
In the Bible, God's justice belongs together with God's grace and love. God's very being is founded in love and in justice. That's why in the Bible, God defends the cause of and looks after: the poor, the weak, the oppressed, widows, orphans, slaves, resident aliens, wage earners, those with physical, mental, emotional and spiritual illnesses. In God's eyes, justice involves not just somebody else, but all peoples--because all peoples have basic essential needs and these basic, essential needs are basic rights. Therefore, they are a matter of justice. Jesus' ministry and mission involved the bringing forth of justice to all nations--of establishing justice in the earth.
In our baptism--becausewe have been baptized into Christ--our ministry and mission becomes the same as our Lord's. We too are given the constant, ongoing mission of being Christ's hands and feet; of being Christ's mouth; of bringing forth justice to the nations. You may ask: "How can I do anything about justice? After all, I'm not real important and powerful. How can I make a difference?" Scripture tells us we can do something about justice. We are important; we are the Body of Christ; we are God's family--that's pretty important and special! By living faithfully as Christians, our Lord is able to work wonders through even the most simple words and actions. The following story, as told by Rodney E. Smith, demonstrates this very well.
"There is a story of a black family and a white family who lived in the area of Atlanta during the time of the racial riots and uprisings of the 60's. The day came when the black family was told by law that they would have to bus their little 11-year-old from her school in the urban city to a school in the suburbs. They had no choice, for this was the law. The day came when the white family was told by law that their all-white school now would have several new students and these students would be black. They had no choice, for this was the law."
"The day came when the black family bid farewell to their little girl. There were tears in the eyes of the parents as well as the little girl, for they were afraid of what would happen. "Just remember that you are a child of God," the parents said as last words to the little girl as she climbed aboard the school bus. The day came when the white family bid farewell to their little girl. There were feelings of anxiety and fear. "Remember, it is your school and don't let anyone push you around," remarked the parents to the little girl as she headed down the street for her school."
"That night the parents of the two little girls were very anxious to hear how the day went for their little girls. They received the same story when asked, "Well, what happened?" The girls shared the same story, "You wouldn't believe this, but I had to sit next to a girl all day of the opposite color. We just stared at each other for a while. We had to walk together to the restroom, to gym class, and even had to sit next to each other during lunch." "Well, were you afraid?" asked the parents. "I was so afraid and the other girl was so afraid that we just held hands all day long!" "
By just holding hands all day long, that black girl and that white girl were bringing forth justice. Justice involves community-building and those two little girls were doing just that. Community-building leads us closer to the other--the one whom we may have anxieties about; the one who is different than I am; the one whom I need to get to know and understand better; the one who may have similar concerns about life and living as I do; the one who may also share the same hopes as I do. As the story teaches us, no matter how small or unimportant we may feel, we do count, we can make a difference. God is able to bring forth justice even in our smallest, everyday events.
So, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, don't dread or avoid or give up on God's justice. The prophet reminds us of the faithfulness, the single-mindedness, the constancy of Christ's justice, he assures us that: "He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth." That is Great and Good News. That is a wonderful promise which involves us because in our baptism we become Christ's hands, feet and mouth; we share in his mission of bringing forth justice. As the South African Christian author, Alan Paton, in his book, "Towards the Mountain" once said: "life must be used in the service of a cause greater than oneself. This can be done by a Christian for two reasons: one is obedience to his(or her)Lord, the other is purely(practical), namely that one is going to miss the meaning of life if one doesn't."
May we be obedient servants of our Lord. May our lives be filled with meaning. May we never underestimate the miracles our Lord is able to work through us in the everyday, ordinary events of our lives. Amen.