Into the Neighbourhood - The Coming Kingdom of Justice

This is the second of the Hope and History Advent Candle Liturgies that we will be using in Belfast South Methodist this morning. The feedback was good from last week, particularly from some enterprising folks in North Belfast who had adapted the whole thing into an ecumenical advent carol service. Again, this week I have included part of my sermon for the morning for those of you who are REALLY late in getting your thoughts together for this morning or have decided to give this morning's service a miss... I hope that doesn't apply to any folks from South Belfast Methodist.

VOICE 1:      A green shoot will one day sprout
                        from what seems to be the shrivelled stump of Jesse;
VOICE 2:      from his roots a branch will bear fruit.
VOICE 1:      The Spirit of the Eternal I Am will rest upon him;
VOICE 2:      the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
VOICE 1:      the Spirit of guidance and power,
VOICE 2:      the Spirit of insight and righteous fear;
VOICE 1:      fear of the Eternal I Am will be his joy and his delight.
VOICE 2:      He will not judge by first appearances, or make decisions by what is said in the street;
VOICE 1:      but he will judge the needy according to what is really right;
VOICE 2:      with justice he will make decisions for the poor and the powerless.
VOICE 1:      The word of his mouth will strike the earth like a battering ram;
VOICE 2:      The breath of his lips will blow away the wicked.
VOICE 1:      Justice is his belt and faithfulness his braces.
VOICE 2:      Under his rule the predator will make peace with their prey;
VOICE 1:      wolf with lamb, leopard with kid, calf and lion will graze together
VOICE 2:      and a little child will lead them.
VOICE 1:      The cow and bear will feed at the one trough,
VOICE 2:      their calves and cubs will grow up together.
VOICE 1:      Infants will play fearlessly by the cobra’s lair,
VOICE 2:      and toddlers will put their hands harmlessly into the viper's nest.
VOICE 1:      Neither animal nor human will harm nor destroy on all God’s holy mountain,
VOICE 2:      for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Eternal I Am as full as the oceans are of water.
From Isaiah 11:1-9

VOICE 1:      We lit the first candle
                        in anticipation of the coming of the kingdom of peace,
                        not simply the absence of conflict
                        but the presence of God’s perfect justice.
                        And so we light the second candle
                        As a beacon of justice in an unjust world
                        And as a symbol of our commitment
                        to act justly and promote mercy
                        in this neighbourhood.                               

Glens of the north, rejoice;
river and moorland-spring,
hark to the advent voice;
valley and lowland, sing:
Christ comes, the promised Prince of Peace;
To rule and make all conflict cease.

Hills all across the south
Welcome the coming king,
Hear the words of his mouth;
Justice and peace they bring:
He comes the humble poor to raise,
Let every voice proclaim his praise.

We look forward Lord, to your kingdom of peace and justice
when all wrongs will be righted and all crookedness will be straightened out.
We humbly admit that in the past we have been more self-righteous than righteous
 we have been more interested in judgment than justice and revenge rather than reconciliation.
But we thank you that you are merciful as well as just
and pray that you would forgive us and help us to forgive as we have been forgiven.
May we act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with you wherever you may take us
for we ask it in the name of your son Jesus Christ           
and for the sake of his coming kingdom. AMEN

Historically the second Sunday in Advent has been celebrated as Bible Sunday, though in recent years it seems to have been displaced to mid October for some reason at least in Protestant traditions...
A number of times when I have been preaching on Bible Sunday I have emphasized is the difficulty of translating words and ideas from one language into another… Because there is NEVER a direct equivalence… This issue is so well recognized that I am told there is a French proverb
“Traduire, c’est trahir.”  
Which, when translated, ironically, means
“To translate is to betray.”
That is one of the reasons why in Islam they do not read from a translation of the Koran… but always read and teach from the original Arabic…
But we don’t do that in Christianity… We translate from Hebrew to Greek and from Greek to Hebrew… sometimes via Latin…  And one of the Biblical concepts that has been diminished in our understanding partly because of translation issues is the Biblical concept of justice, or as it is sometimes translated, righteousness. As well as two key words translating these two ideas, mishpat and tsedeq, there are a cluster of other important ideas including chesed, or kindness/mercy and shalom, or peace... 
When we talk about justice in English it is often about legal or criminal justice… but Biblical concepts of justice and righteousness are not just about criminal, retributive justice, but also restorative and social justice.
Righteousness on the other hand is not just about personal morality or religious purity, but right relationships with God, with others and with the world around us...
Micah and Amos both make clear that if we aren't practising justice and righteousness then God isn't interested in our worship... After making clear that animal sacrifices are not what God wants Micah says:
what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:8 (RSV)
While Amos is even more dramatic… He says that God hates the worship of his people and that they should stop their noisy singing… Instead he says:
let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
Amos 5:24 (ANIV)
On Thursday evening Nelson Mandela died. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon  spoke about him saying:
"Nelson Mandela was a giant for justice and a down-to-earth human inspiration. Nelson Mandela showed what is possible for our world and within each one of us if we believe, dream and work together for justice and humanity."
Ban Ki Moon 
You and I may never be regarded as giants for justice… but we can all play our part in translating Biblical concepts of justice and righteousness into flesh and blood in our neighbourhoods… They are wonderful words, great ideas and wonderful ideals but unless we translate them into flesh and blood… applying them to the bread and butter issues of the people around us… then they are meaningless… They may as well be Hebrew for all the difference they will make to the lives of people around us...

Closing Exhortation & Benediction
   Go out into the neighbourhood
   to put flesh and blood on God’s demand for justice.
   May his kingdom come and his will be done
   in our neighbourhood as it is in heaven. AMEN



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