Life + Culture

Justice in the Hands of All People (Part 2)

St. Francis, not Pastor Henneman

This is part two of a sermon by Pastor Greg Henneman, who explains that today's work of prophetic justice is in all of our hands:

We might think of prophets as a category of people like Nathan and Elijah and Habakkuk and Jeremiah whose names are in the Bible. But God’s work in the world did not end with the sealing of scripture. God has continued to call prophets, especially prophets who speak against the trampling of the poor, afflicting the righteous and pushing aside the needy.

In the 13th century God called a man we know today as Francis of Assisi. Francis was born into a family of wealth and comfort, but he gave up all of that and placed himself among the poor and cared for the poor.

When Francis was called by God he heard the voice of Christ say to him, “Repair my church” and through his life Francis did that. He shifted the entire focus of the church so much, that today we often speak of God’s preferential option for the poor.

In the same way, in the 18th century, John Wesley, the founder of our Methodist movement, moved from a position of power to poverty. Wesley studied at the University of Oxford. He was an ordained priest in the Church of England. With that, he had position and status. But he stepped out from behind the pulpit and placed himself among the poor. He preached to farmers and coalminers and like Franics, he shifted the focus of the church. Because of Wesley’s focus, today the Methodist church retains its focus on ministry with the poor, on justice for the oppressed, the very things we do here at the Church for All People are a continuation of this Wesleyan heritage.

In the 20th century, Martin Luther King didn’t simply speak of having a dream, but called for economic justice. At the time of his assassination, King was organizing a poor people’s campaign and this was not popular. Talk about having a dream and they give you a Nobel Prize; talk about economic justice and you get assassinated.

Oscar Romero: "A church that doesn't provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn't unsettle, a word of God that doesn't get under anyone's skin, a word of God that doesn't touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed--what gospel is that?"

That is what happened to Archbishop Oscar Romero. Romero served in El Salvador in the late 1970s and identified with the poor and became an advocate for the poor. Like Francis and Wesley and King, he was a prophet. He called on the government and military powers of his country to stop brutalizing their own people. Whenever he preached, radios across El Salvador clicked on among the common people, but those same broadcasts angered people in power. So much so, that one morning in 1980, literally as he was praying over the communion table, he was assassinated.

Serving as a prophet is not a popular or easy thing. Amos words ring true today that “they abhor the one who speaks the truth.” But, it is at the heart of God’s will and call for us to live lives where we give our voice to righteousness and justice.

It is work that Michael Reed has helped us begin to live in to here at Church for All People. A couple of months ago we hosted a forum in this room where state legislators and the media came and heard our stories. And then, a few weeks later, we moved outside these walls and went to the State House. Your presence put a human face to the proposed budget and you made change happen.

UM Church for All People at the Ohio State House

As we prepared to go the State House, budget proposals included cutting all funding for food banks, cutting and redistributing money for housing, and reducing Medicaid benefits, including benefits to pregnant mothers. These proposals would have undercut everything we are doing in feeding people, housing people, and celebrating First Birthdays.

What happened after we showed up? All three of those proposals were defeated. Money for food pantries, housing, and Medicaid were secured. Your presence changed the policies of our state.  In the words of Amos, "justice roll[ed] down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream".

This is something to be proud of and we need to be greatly thankful to Michael Reed for starting us on this work.

But the call in Amos to justice and righteousness is not simply about responding to the injustices of the world, but creating an entirely different type of community, where all are welcomed at the gates of power, instead of being pushed away.

What if our work towards justice wasn’t simply showing up when someone proposes something that is harmful to our community, but having a continual presence?

A seat at the table

What if, instead of fighting for scraps at the bottom of someone else’s table, we were to have a seat at the table?

What if, instead of responding to the injustice of our world, we advocated and created our world? What if our work of justice was to create the kingdom of God, here on the South Side of Columbus, as it is in heaven.

I believe it is possible.

I believe it is possible not out of naïve hope or optimism, but because I believe it is God’s will.

It is God’s will for justice [to] roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

It is God, working through you, the beloved community, that our world can be transformed.

I believe it is possible, because despite popular opinion, The Man is not in control of our world. The Man does not determine our fate, you do. God, working through you, is much more powerful than The Man.

Pope Francis

Last week, Pope Francis, who took his name and his mission from Francis of Assisi, who has called
for a church of the poor and for the poor, toured Latin America.  As he prepared to leave Bolivia, he shared these words that are appropriate to this message and to our community. Pope Francis said:

“In conclusion, I would like to repeat: the future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites. It is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize. It is in their hands, which can guide with humility and conviction this process of change. I am with you. Let us together say from the heart: no family without lodging, no rural worker without land, no laborer without rights, no people without sovereignty, no individual without dignity, no child without childhood, no young person without a future, no elderly person without a venerable old age.”

To paraphrase the Pope, let me re-phrase these words for our community:

The future of the South Side does not lie in the hands of The Man, it is fundamentally in our hands and our ability to organize. It is our hands that can guide with humility and conviction this process of change. Let us together say from the heart: no family without housing, no unemployed without work, no people without food, no life without health, no neighborhood without safety, no person without dignity, no child without a first birthday, no youth without a future, no senior without a blessed old age, no stranger without acceptance, and no community without your voice.

Let this be our vision, let this be the kingdom of God among us, let us make it happen. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

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