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Sermon illustrations

Justice

The Cross and the Lynching Tree

In the wake of slavery and the Civil War, there was so much ugliness in black life that one would have had to be blind not to see it. And nothing, absolutely nothing, was uglier than lynching in all of its many forms: hanging, burning, beating, dragging, and shooting—as well as torture, mutilation, and especially castration.

And yet so many were blind, deaf, and dumb. What enabled artists to see what Christian theologians and ministers would not? What prevented these theologians and ministers, who should have been the first to see God’s revelation in black suffering, from recognizing the obvious gospel truth? Did it require such a leap of imagination to recognize the visual and symbolic overtones between the cross and the lynching tree, both places of execution in the ancient and modern worlds?

James Cone, The Cross And The Lynching Tree, Orbis Books, 2011, p.94.

The Dark Side of the Web

In October 2014 Wired magazine reported on the dirty work every social media company must somehow handle: moderating the deluge of exploitative, degrading content posted in unimaginable quantities around the world and around the clock by boors (and increasingly by bots).

This is not simply material that might offend those of gentle or puritanical sensibilities, but truly unthinkable representations of real and fictional violence, abuse of women and men, children and animals, and countless other horrors conjured up by the human mind. Someone has to prevent the average user from encountering these horrors or else all of our news feeds would be regularly infiltrated by retch-inducing images and text.

But this means that a human being has to review every degrading image. And that someone is usually a resident of a distant country, employed by an outsourcing firm—at the time of Wired’s article, largely in the Philippines, thanks to its cheap labor supply and reasonably close ties to Western culture. Philippine young adults do this work because there is no better work to do, and they do it until they are utterly undone by it.

This is the reality of the globalized Internet world, in which the depredations of a few, the pornographers and exploiters who seek power without vulnerability (Exploiting), are foisted on those with no alternative (Suffering) in order to allow the privileged to live in ignorant comfort (Withdrawing). It’s a world in which poverty of spirit is bought at near-poverty wages. The flourishing of a few powerful companies—and we who use their services—is a mirage made possible only if you avert your eyes from the vulnerability they outsource to others.

Taken from Strong and Weak by Andy Crouch. ©2016 by Andy Crouch.  Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove  IL  60515-1426. www.ivpress.com

A Different Way of Doing Justice

After the fall of apartheid in South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu led his country in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC rejected the two extremes normally implemented after such violence. There would be no blanket amnesty, nor would every perpetrator face military tribunals as war criminals, such as took place after World War II. They opted for a third way: “granting amnesty to individuals in exchange for a full disclosure relating to the crime for which amnesty was being sought.”

This third way was based on the concept of restorative justice that was part of traditional African culture. As Tutu wrote, “The central concern is the healing of breaches, the redressing of imbalances, the restoration of broken relationships, a seeking to rehabilitate both the victim and the perpetrator, who should be given the opportunity to be reintegrated into the community he has injured by his offense.”

When people in the West think of justice, they usually think in terms of retribution. We focus on punishment of wrongdoing proportionate to the crime—an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Retributive justice uses an adversarial approach to justice and curbs the excesses of revenge. By contrast, restorative justice focuses on both the reparation of harm done and the healing of relationships. It is concerned about the needs of both the victims and the offenders. It uses a collaborative approach to justice and seeks reconciliation.

Taken from Peace Catalysts: Resolving Conflict in Our Families, Organizations, and Communities by Rick Love Copyright (c) 2014 p.45 by Rick Love. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

An Eye for an Eye

Zaleusus flourished as king of the ancient Greek Locrians in about 500 B.C. His government over the Locrians was severe but just. In one of his decrees he forbade the use of wine unless it were prescribed as medicine; and in another he ordered that all adulterers should be punished with the loss of both their eyes.

When his own son became subject to this penalty, the father, in order to maintain the authority of the laws, but to show parental leniency, shared the penalty with his son by ordering one of his own eyes to be thrust out along with one of his offending son. In this way, the majesty of his government was maintained, and his own character as a just and righteous sovereign was magnified in the eyes of his subjects.

James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited, p. 39.

Great God Almighty Done Parted the Red Sea One Mo’ Time

Easter Sunday dawned with Martin [Luther King] in jail. . . . We planned a march from New Pilgrim Baptist Church to the city jail for the afternoon of Easter Sunday. . . . By the time church ended some five thousand people had gathered . . . dressed in their best Sunday clothes. The marchers set out in a festive mood. Suddenly they saw police, fire engines, and firemen with hoses in front of them, blocking their path. “Bull” Connor bellowed, “Turn this group around!”

Five thousand people stopped and waited for instruction from their leaders…I can’t say we knew what to do.. . . I asked the people to get down on their knees and offer a prayer. . . . Suddenly Rev. Charles Billups…jumped up and hollered, “The Lord is with this movement! Off your knees! We’re going on!” . . . Stunned at first, Bull Connor yelled, “Stop ’em, stop ’em!” But none of the police moved a muscle. . . . Even the police dogs that had been growling and straining at their leashes . . . were now perfectly calm. . . . I saw one fireman, tears in his eyes, just let the hose drop at his feet. Our people marched right between the red fire trucks, singing, “I want Jesus to walk with me.” . . . [Bull Connor’s] policemen had refused to arrest us, his firemen had refused to hose us, and his dogs had refused to bite us. It was quite a moment to witness.

I’ll never forget one old woman who became ecstatic when she marched through the barricades…she shouted, “Great God Almighty done parted the Red Sea one mo’ time!”

Taken From Andrew Young, An Easy Burden: The Civil Rights Movement and the Transformation of America, HarperCollins.

A Guard Against Paternalism

Practicing confession is one way to guard against paternalism in both extreme and more subtle ways. For example, we can tell stories of justice in a way that discounts other people’s agency—that is, their ability to act and choose to shape their own lives and futures. Invisible Children’s “Kony 2012” campaign made Joseph Kony infamous as a way to raise awareness and increase pressure to stop this evil warlord in central Africa who maimed many and made children into killers.

The video seems to have contributed to pressure to contain him, which is fantastic, but for the sake of our confession it’s worth noting that a number of commentators from Uganda and other countries strongly criticized how this version cast the hero of the story—namely, Americans.

It could have better respected the story of people they were trying to help. People in Uganda and other nearby countries had suffered most. They had lost children. They had done the most work to try to stop Kony. They had done the most to help the children suffering in his wake.

Taken from Slow Kingdom Coming: Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly in the World by Kent Annan Copyright (c) 2016 by Kent Annan. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Heather and Mark: Justice Doers

I recently met with Heather, a woman who attends my church in New York City. After graduating from Harvard Law School she landed a lucrative job with a major law firm in Manhattan. It was a dream come true for most aspiring young professionals. She was a high-powered corporate lawyer, she was “living the life” in the big city, and yet it was all strangely unsatisfying. She wanted to make a difference in the lives of individuals, and she was concerned about those in society who could not afford the kind of fees her clients paid her firm. For a fraction of her former salary, she became an assistant district attorney for New York County, where so many of the criminals she prosecutes are those who have been exploiting the poor, particularly poor women.

When I was professor at a theological seminary in the mid-eighties, one of my students was a young man named Mark Gornik. One day we were standing at the copier and he told me that he was about to move into Sandtown, one of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in Baltimore. I remember being quite surprised.

When I asked him why, he said simply, “to do justice.” It had been decades since any white people had moved into Sandtown. For the first couple of years there it was touch and go. Mark told a reporter, “The police thought I was a drug dealer, and the drug dealers thought I was a police officer. So, for a while there, I didn’t know who was going to shoot me first.”

Yet over the years Mark, along with leaders in the community, established a church and a comprehensive set of ministries that have slowly transformed the neighborhood. Although both Heather and Mark were living comfortable, safe lives, they became concerned about the most vulnerable, poor, and marginalized members of our society, and they made long-term personal sacrifices in order to serve their interests, needs, and cause.

That is, according to the Bible, what it means to “do justice.”

Timothy Keller, Generous Justice, Penguin Publishing Group.

Jesus’ Trial: A Failure of Justice

One of the fascinating features of the Gospel writers’ accounts of the trial of Jesus is this blending of the legal and moral factors. They all indicate that in both Jewish and Roman courts a certain legal procedure was followed. The prisoner was arrested, charged and cross-examined, and witnesses were called. The judge then reached his verdict and pronounced the sentence.

Yet the evangelists also make it clear that the prisoner was not guilty of the charges laid, that the witnesses were false, and that the sentence of death was a gross miscarriage of justice. Further, the reason for this was the presence of personal, moral factors which influenced the course of the law.

Caiaphas the Jewish high priest and Pilate the Roman procurator were not just officers of church and state, fulfilling their official roles; they were fallen and fallible human beings, swayed by the dark passions which rule us all. For our motives are always mixed.

We may succeed in preserving a modicum of rectitude in the performance of our public duty, but behind this façade lurk violent and sinful emotions, which are always threatening to erupt. These secret sins the evangelists expose, as they tell their story of the arrest, custody, trial, sentence and execution of Jesus. It is one of the purposes of their narrative, for the material of the Gospels was used in the moral instruction of converts.

Taken from The Cross of Christ by John Stott. Copyright (c) 1976, 2006 Kindle Locations 895-904 by John Stott. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Justice as the Source of Conversion

W.H. Auden is one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century, who grew up in England but who spent some of his life in the United States. In November 1939 he found himself in a German-language movie theater in New York City, which was showing an official German newsreel celebrating the Nazi victory over Poland. At that point, the US had not entered the war and so German films could be shown freely in American theaters.

Auden was startled by the shouts of “Kill the Poles!” that rose from the audience of ordinary German immigrants. These immigrants were under no coercion to support the Nazis. They did so freely. At that moment, as Auden saw the unmistakable evil of these moviegoers, he realized there must be a God, a God who would could judge the evil of this world. In an interview many years later, Auden commented: “I wondered, then, why I reacted as I did against this denial of every humanistic value.

The answer brought me back to the church.” For Auden, there must be some sort of response to the sin and evil in this life. Of course we are drawn toward a teddy bear god that doesn’t judge sin and evil, but at the very same time that god is incapable of punishing those who have denied God and have perpetrated evil in this world.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Justice is Personal

When did the topic of justice become important to you?” Gideon Strauss posed that question to two dozen people crammed into our living room one fall evening in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. Some of us were there because we knew Gideon’s remarkable personal story—growing up Afrikaner in the last years of apartheid South Africa, becoming deeply involved in that country’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Others were interested in his work with the Center for Public Justice, an innovative think tank in Washington, DC. From my eleven-year-old daughter—perched on her mother’s lap for lack of chairs—to the gray-haired couple from a nearby suburb, all of us took turns answering Gideon’s question. A few minutes earlier you could have mistaken this gathering for a polite dinner party of reasonably diverse, prosperous professionals.

But as we went around the circle, as so often happens, the answers went deeper and deeper, longer and longer. Almost every answer to Gideon’s question involved a story of violence. In this room of seemingly secure citizens of the United States, there was hardly anyone who had not encountered some kind of forceful violation of dignity that had shaken their world, bruised their innocence and kindled a passion for justice. That word justice, potentially so abstract and distant, was in fact acutely personal. But for me one answer came even closer to home. Abby, an Asian American physician a few years younger than me, had been invited by mutual friends. When her turn came to answer Gideon’s question, she began, “When I was a girl my family moved to a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts, called Needham.” Needham!

My family, too, had moved to Needham when I was thirteen years old. I came of age there, and it will always be home for me, though my parents moved away years ago. Abby was from my hometown. I barely restrained a delighted outburst as she continued her story. “There was a convenience store named The Little Peach in Needham.” Yes, there was—down the street from the high school, right across from the Methodist church where I came to a living faith.

My friends and I stopped at The Little Peach countless afternoons in my high school years. I enjoyed a pleasant wave of nostalgia (and a distinct memory of the taste of Orange Crush soda) as Abby went on. “One day my dad needed to use the copy machine there, and he brought me along. I must have been seven or eight years old.” I quickly estimated the years—that would have been my sophomore or junior year in high school. “My father was born in China, and his English was poor. He had trouble figuring out how to get the copy machine to work.

But he couldn’t explain his problem to the owner of the store. The owner became furious with my father. He started mocking my dad’s Chinese accent. Then he grabbed my father’s papers, ripped them up and tossed them on the floor, and told us to get out of his store.” Abby paused. “I had always known my father as strong, kind and smart. I had never seen him humiliated like that in front of me. He was so ashamed—I was so ashamed. I didn’t know what racism was before that day and what it could do to someone—but after that, I knew.”

Taken from Strong and Weak by Andy Crouch. ©2016 by Andy Crouch.  Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove  IL  60515-1426. www.ivpress.com

The Justice System for the Rich and Poor

Robert H. Richards and Ethan Couch illustrate how opportunity bends toward affluent white males. Richards was found guilty of raping his three-year-old daughter, but because of his connection to the DuPont family and its vast fortune, his legal team was able to mount a defense that spared him spending any time in prison.

The judge stated, “The defendant would not fare well in prison,” agreeing with Richards’s attorneys that an inmate of his status is not a good fit for the penitentiary. Similarly, Ethan Couch stole beer and took his parents’ Ford F-350 out for a ride with seven friends. Tragically, he struck and killed four pedestrians.

He pleaded guilty, and at sentencing his lawyers argued that because of his wealth and poor parenting, prison should be out of the question because he couldn’t be held responsible for his actions. He was sentenced to rehab and ten years’ probation. Both of these cases argued implicitly that “affluenza” was the culprit, not the individuals themselves.

The word affluenza was popularized by the 2001 book by the same name. It was used to bolster the argument that their wealth, resources, and position in society caused these men to do such harm. Thus, they should not be punished harshly, if at all. It is safe to assume that if these two men had not been white, wealthy, and defended by well-funded legal teams, their sentences would have been significantly different.

For the framers of our nation to say that “all men are created equal” is a lie. We profess to be kind and value equality and fairness, but the dominant culture encourages pursuing what’s better only for me and mine.

Taken from Twelve Lies That Hold America Captive: And the Truth That Sets Us Free by Jonathan Walton Copyright (c) 2019 by Jonathan Walton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Manipulating Justice

As any parent of small children will tell you, children have an amazingly acute sense of justice. Even the most fractional disparity in the distribution of the most trivial family good will be met with cries of “That’s not fair!” Of course, over time, parents will also note among children a powerful capacity to conveniently bend notions of justice to self-interest.

A six-year-old’s passion for justice is clearly not disinterested. In the hands of clever human beings, justice becomes an amazingly flexible concept. In fact, as we get older, it comes to look more like a powerful tool for getting what one wants. As a result, we adults respond with a healthy dose of suspicion to zealots who bandy about slogans of justice. Indeed, every leader of mass murder in the twentieth century (whether Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot or the Rwandan génocidaires) painted the cry for justice over their grotesque crimes.

Taken from Just Courage: God’s Great Expedition for the Restless Christianby Gary A..Haugen. ©2008. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove  IL  60515-1426. www.ivpress.com 

May This Body Nourish Us in Faithfulness

At a funeral Mass for a friend of Archbishop Romero who was murdered by the government because of her faith in Christ, Romero invited those present to follow this Lord who died, this God who sacrificed himself for others, this obscure Israelite teacher who, we confess, is the hope of the world.

Holding the host aloft, he said, “May this body that was immolated and this flesh that was sacrificed for humankind also nourish us so that we can give our bodies and our blood to suffering and pain, as Christ did, not for our own sake but to bring justice and peace to our people.”

Taken from: In Search of the Common Good: Christian Fidelity in a Fractured World by Jake Meador Copyright (c) 2019 by Jake Meador. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

On Turning the Other Cheek

Many of those who have committed their lives to ending injustice, simply dismiss Jesus’ teachings about nonviolence out of hand as impractical idealism. And with good reason. “Turn the other cheek” suggests the passive, Christian doormat quality that has made so many Christians cowardly and complicit in the face of injustice. “Resist not evil” seems to break the back of all opposition to evil and to counsel submission. “Going the second mile” has become a platitude meaning nothing more than “extend yourself,” and rather than fostering structural change, encourages collaboration with the oppressor.

Jesus obviously never behaved in any of these ways. Whatever the source of the misunderstanding, it is clearly neither in Jesus nor in his teaching, which, when given a fair hearing in its original social context, is arguably one of the most revolutionary political statements ever uttered:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.

…Jesus did not tell his oppressed hearers not to resist evil. That would have been absurd.is utterly at odds with such a preposterous idea.  His entire ministry is utterly at odds with such a preposterous idea…A proper translation of Jesus’ teaching would then be, “Don’t strike back at evil (or, one who has done you evil) in kind.” “Do not retaliate against violence with violence.” The Scholars Version is brilliant: “Don’t react violently against the one who is evil. Jesus was no less committed to opposing evil than the anti-Roman resistance fighters. The only difference was over the means to be used: how one should fight evil.

Taken from “Living Toward a Vision” by Walter Wink,  in Christian Peace and Nonviolence, A Documentary History, Ed. Michael G. Long, Orbis Books.

One Night I Went to Church

One night I went to church. They had a mass meeting. And I went to church, and they talked about how it was our right, that we could register and vote. They were talking about [how] we could vote out people that we didn’t want in office…that sounded interesting enough to me that I wanted to try it. I had never heard, until 1962, that black people could register and vote…

When they asked for those to raise their hands who’d go down to the courthouse the next day, I raised mine. Had it high up as I could get it. I guess if I’d any sense I’d a-been a little scared, but what was the point of being scared. The only thing they could do to me was kill it and me seemed like they’d been trying to do that a little bit at a time ever since I could remember.

Fannie Lou Hamer, in Modern America, Quotes in The President’s Devotional.

Pious Irrelevancies and Sanctimonious Trivialites

In his now famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. offers a scathing rebuke of his white clergy colleagues, whose inaction caused him much frustration:

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare:

“Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.

In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” African Studies Center, University of Pennsylvania.

The Prodigal Should Be Arrested

The law is harsh and cannot help us to receive forgiveness.

In Craddock Stories, a collection of outstanding stories by Fred Craddock, is the following account with one who could understand law, but not grace.

Craddock preached in Blue Ridge, Georgia one Sunday while the pastor was away. He preached on the lectionary text which was on the prodigal son. After the service a man said, “I really didn’t care much for that frankly.”

He asked the many why and the man said he just didn’t like that story because it was morally irresponsible.

Craddock said, “What do you mean by that.”

“Forgiving the boy.” the man replied.

Craddock asked, “Well, what would you have done?”

“I think when he came home he should have been arrested.” answered the man.

Craddock writes, “This fellow was serious. He’s an attorney, I thought. I thought he was going to tell me a joke. But he was really serious. He belonged to this unofficial organization nationwide, never has any meetings and doesn’t have a name, but it’s a very strong network that I call “quality control people.” They’re moral police. Mandatory sentences and no parole, mind you, and executions.”

Craddock then asked, “What would you have given the prodigal?”

He said, “Six years.”

Fred Craddock, Craddock Stories, Chalice Press, 2001, 51.

A Righteous Car Dealer

I knew a man who was the head of a set of car dealerships in the South. The way in which things were done was you could come in and negotiate, and the salesman had a pretty big window of what they could give you the car for. They would negotiate, you would negotiate, and it was a lot of horse-trading going on except there was car-trading I guess. The salesman couldn’t go lower than this, but they could get this high and so it was a tradition. Somebody did some research and found out that men always were better negotiators with the salesmen than women and white men and black men were better negotiators than African American women.

When somebody actually looked at what was going on, African-American women were regularly paying far more for their cars and were actually subsidizing the price of what white men who were paying for cars in that particular town. They realized that even though nobody thought they were doing something — if the result was unjust, and it was unjust — then even though there was nobody in there who originally had said let’s do it this way because that way we will really hurt African American women, but they were hurting African-American women. There’s two things you can do. On the one hand, you could say because we’re not deliberately trying to hurt African-American women, we make better profits this way, we have no responsibility.

The owner, a Christian man, said we do have responsibility and he changed the model. He changed the whole approach. His own profits have gone down, but he says it’s the only way to be just. Have you got the eyes to see systemic evil or are you a typical white Westerner? I know a lot of you aren’t white and a lot of you aren’t Westerners, but I’m particularly looking to you. Do you have the eyes to see that kind of thing? If you do see them, do you take responsibility?

Timothy Keller, from Race and the Christian.

Tell Them About the Dream Martin!

Most of us in the United States know the famous “I have a Dream” speech Martin Luther King Jr. gave at the Lincoln Memorial as part of the 1963 March on Washington. On a sweltering, humid day in the nation’s capital, some 250,000 people came to hear King speak on the cause of civil rights and the fight for equality and justice for African Americans. What most of us don’t know is that that the “dream” part of the speech almost never happened, in fact, should not have happened. It was not a part of the prepared remarks for that day, but inspiration came in the form of a gospel singer named Mahalia Jackson.

As King inched towards the climax of his speech, he seemed to hesitate, perhaps unsure of whether his prepared remarks were as inspiring as he had hoped. At that moment, the great civil rights leader heard a voice behind him. “Tell them about the dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!” Mahalia Jackson shouted. At that point, Clarence Jones, one of Dr. King’s advisors leaned over to the person next to him and said, “These people out there, they don’t know it, but they’re about ready to go to church.”

The rest, as we now know, is history. Dr. King had been testing out this “dream” section of his speech at previous events, and when he took Mahalia Jackson’s advice, he put into words the longings of a generation to experience equality and justice for all. He described the power of the gospel to create reconciliation where there had previously been hostility and tension.

I love this little insight into one of the most important moments in American history, not because it lessens King’s impact and genius, but rather, enlarges it. It also speaks to the genius and boldness of Mahalia Jackson, willing, in one of the biggest moments of her life and Dr. King’s, to speak up with a great idea. How wonderful for King not to scoff or ignore her, but to  listen, pause and realize that she was right, that now it was time to tell them about the dream.

Stuart Strachan Jr. source material https://www.vox.com/2016/1/18/10785882/martin-luther-king-dream-mahalia-jackson and other articles.

Tension Leads to Breakthrough

Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

Martin Luther King, Letter From a Birmingham Jail.

They Came for Me

In Germany they came first for the Communists, 

and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. 

Then they came for the Jews, 

and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. 

Then they came for the trade unionists, 

and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. 

Then they came for the Catholics, 

and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me, 

and by that time no one was left to speak up. 

Martin Niemoeller

Three Dollars Worth of God

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk, or a snooze in the sunshine.

I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant.

I want ecstasy, not transformation.

I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth.

I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

Wilbur Rees, Three Dollars Worth of God.

True Justice is Love

For decades I’ve tried to meet people where they hurt. I’ve preached and desired to see “justice for all,” and I still fervently believe in it. God loves justice and wants His people to seek justice (see Ps. 11 and Mic. 6:8). But I’ve come to understand that true justice is wrapped up in love. The old-time preacher and prophet A. W. Tozer had a way of making the most profound truths simple and palatable. He once said, “God is love, and just as God is love, God is justice.” That’s it! God’s love and justice come together in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, and we can’t be about one and not the other. They’re inextricably connected.

John M.Perkins, Dream with Me, Baker Publishing Group.

A Venomous Creature At Your Bosom

Frederick Douglass describes how the evils of slavery and racism acts as a sap on the integrity of both our country and our faith in a God where there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free:

Fellow-citizens, I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretense, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad: it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing and a bye-word to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union.

It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement; the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet you cling to it as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes. Oh! be warned! be warned! a horrible reptile is coiled up in your nation’s bosom; the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic; for the love of God, tear away, and fling from you the hideous monster, and let the weight of twenty millions crush and destroy it forever!

Frederick Douglass, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” speech, Rochester, NY, July 5, 1852.

When Success looks like Failure

Sometimes our successes can be more devastating than our failures. We fight, strain, and struggle in pursuit of something or someone that looks to be good, and after days or months or years, we obtain it. Dancing and singing, we throw up our arms in triumph. We close our eyes and sigh in relieved satisfaction, enjoying the moment and the smooth, cool weight of the victory we now hold in our hands. We bite and chew, savoring the sweetness of our success. But when we open our eyes and look around, we are shocked to discover that the faces of the people we love most are no longer present in the cheering crowds. The place where we stand is foreign or unfamiliar, and the reflection in the mirror seems to be not our own.

Donna Barber, Bread for the Resistance: Forty Devotions for Justice People, InterVarsity Press, 2019.

The White Man’s Burden

In the context of justice, I think what Christians need to confess about their pride isn’t so much about taking credit away from God but from the people we help. One version of this is sometimes referred to as White Man’s Burden, which takes its name from a Rudyard Kipling poem that describes how it would be noble for colonialists to exploit people under the guise of helping them.

Taken from Slow Kingdom Coming: Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly in the World by Kent Annan Copyright (c) 2016 by Kent Annan. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

A Charge for Justice Seekers

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, you, brother or sister, are blessed and sent as a seeker of shalom and justice for the powerful and the powerless, the oppressed and the oppressors, the privileged and the marginalized, and all people made in the image of God. You have been reconciled to God by the blood of Christ Jesus and filled with Holy Spirit.

You are therefore Christ’s ambassador, called to call all to be reconciled to him and one another by the name of the risen Lamb that reconciled you. Be blessed between the now and the not yet to preach and practice the ways of Jesus, making sacred space for those in your care to be loved through sacred listening and Christ-centered spirit-led activism. Like Moses, you have been sent to Pharaoh to make Yahweh known so that Egyptians and Israelites may worship in spirit and in truth, now and for always. By his grace, through the gift of faith and for his glory.

Taken from Twelve Lies That Hold America Captive: And the Truth That Sets Us Free by Jonathan Walton Copyright (c) 2019 by Jonathan Walton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

See Also Illustrations on LawsLawsuitsLawyersPovertyPrisonRaceRighteousness

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on Justice. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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