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December 8, 2014
The following is a sermon from Greg Thomas, pastor at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Danielson, CT. Cornerstone is a BPFNA Partner Congregation.
At this time of year – Advent – we look to God for the hope of all generations, a hope that is rooted in God’s justice and the peace it will bring. We read, pour-over, and search our scriptures, we sing songs of anticipation and wonder, and we wait for the glory of the lord to be revealed.
From our lectionary texts for the week, we find this longing and with it, words from the prophet Isaiah that bring us hope that God’s peace shall reign.
God directs Isaiah to speak words of comfort to the people of Israel.
What are these words of comfort? That human sin and wicked deeds are fleeting, But the word of the Lord lasts forever.
Remember the greatest of these words? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” They are from Deuteronomy, a book of the Law.
Jesus reaffirms this word and adds to it – “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself”
From our responsive reading this morning based on Psalm 85, we heard these words:
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness = Justice – divine justice which is always on the side of the poor and dispossessed, is an absolute requirement for peace.
And of course, the word for peace here is Shalom – which is more than an absence of violence, but the presence of well-being for individuals, families, communities and indeed all the world.
Many of you have seen a bumper-sticker that reads, “No Justice, No Peace” Friends, this is not a threat, it is a statement of reality. It is but a paraphrase of the writer of Psalm 85.
This week again we have been reminded that in our great land, we are still far from the ideal of justice and peace.
From New York City we learn that yet again an unarmed black man can be killed by white police officers – this time for the offense of selling individual cigarettes – and no one is held responsible. Even though the official coroner's report labels Eric Garner’s death a homicide.
Eric Garner is just another name to add to the sad, tragic and expanding list of unarmed black males being killed with impunity by white authorities. John Crawford, Michael Brown, and looking back a few years, Sean Bell and Amadour Diallo - also in New York. I am sure many of you also saw the video of South Carolina State Trooper Sean Groubert shooting Levar Edward Jones as he tries to respond to the officer’s request to show an ID.
The Jones and Garner cases are especially troubling, because they are not the product of eye-witness testimony which can often be a he said, she said kind of affair. No, these two outrages were fully viewable on video.
At lease in the Jones incident, the officer has been charged with felony assault.
We are a country that still is wrestling with racism and racial injustice.
The incidents in Ferguson and New York have not only highlighted longstanding racial tensions, but have also laid bare the disparities facing black citizens throughout our country. While these cases raise questions about the prevalence of racial profiling and police misconduct, they also reach far beyond that, stressing ongoing issues of economic inequality, housing discrimination and unequal access to adequate education. And it rises from the deep fear and despair that clings to walls of inner-city tenements, and reeks from the tar paper shacks that still dot the Old South.
Whether or not we like it, racism, prejudice, and fear of those who we perceive as different, continue to be the catalyst for the killing of unarmed, young, black males.
Both prayer and action are needed to foster discussions in our communities, states and our nation about police response to situations that should not result in deadly force.
I do not have much theology in common with our Southern Baptist sisters and brothers, but I have gained a deep respect for Conservative white Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore who said this about Ferguson and NYC:
“In the public arena, we ought to recognize that it is empirically true that African-American men are more likely, by virtually every measure, to be arrested, sentenced, executed, or murdered than their white peers. We cannot shrug that off with apathy. Working toward justice in this arena will mean consciences that are sensitive to the problem. But how can we get there when white people do not face the same experiences as do black people?...
… a government that can choke a man to death on video for selling cigarettes is not a government living up to a biblical definition of justice or any recognizable definition of justice. … It’s time for us in Christian churches to not just talk about the gospel but live out the gospel by tearing down these dividing walls not only by learning and listening to one another but also by standing up and speaking out for one another.”
In this time of Advent, when God’s announcements of Peace and justice and hope are ringing in our ears, let us use these inspirations to Proclaim God’s word of comfort and do our best to live out our Gospel mandate to live out these ideals in our lives every day.
When we do, we will no longer need to ask the question, “How Long?”
God tells Isaiah to shout this new reality that God holds forth to us from the mountain-tops.
To the faithful he shouts, “Here is your God!”
And when the people accept God’s vision and leading, then, the words of the great Prophet Isaiah will ring true:
See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.
It is only in our attempting to live into God’s Justice, Hope and Peace, that the world will be made whole.
Then we shall know Shalom – God’s Peace.