This sermon was preached by Rev. Curtis Korver at Alberni Valley CRC on February 11, 2018 as part of marking Justice and Hope Sunday.
Texts: Psalm 146; Matthew 4: 12-17; Romans 8:19-25
I’ve never made it a secret that the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, is my favorite part of Sunday worship. We do many things: we sing, we pray; we confess and the promise of mercy is renewed. We tell stories of Jesus and other stories and songs and letters that help us to understand more and more about the wonder and grace of Jesus. We celebrate baptism and welcome babies or adults to the family. Each has a wonder and joy of its own. But I think the Lord’s Supper is my favorite.
In a way that the church has never quite defined perfectly, Jesus is present in and around the bread and the cup. Jesus said that the bread is his body and the cup is his blood and when we eat and drink, we take Jesus into ourselves by faith. United with Jesus, it is as if we are with him in his dying to old and sinful ways with him. It is as if we rise with him to new ways. Sin and shame are gone. New life has come. If we can’t say exactly what happens in the Lord’s Supper, we know something happens. We get a taste of something so good that we long for more.
We long for more of whatever is true, whatever is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, as Philippians 4 reads. We long for more of what those Old Testament prophets saw on a distant horizon. They were a wild bunch, untamed and unpredictable. They saw God’s kingdom coming and they would stop at nothing to get others to see it. They ranted and warned and smacked people with words to get them to turn and notice. With imagery that is delightful and compelling, the pointed the way. Ezekiel saw the day coming when hearts of stone will be replaced by hearts of flesh and all will be sprinkled, cleansed with fresh water, sins forgiven, guilt and shame removed. Isaiah told of a day coming when the lion will lie down with the lamb and a child will play with cougar cubs and mama cougar will watch happily. Micah told of a day coming when swords will be beaten into plowshares and battleships sunk to make artificial reefs and we ain’t gonna study war no more. Amos saw the day coming when the reaper will overcome the sower. It’s a playful joke; the crops will grow so fast that the combine will pass the seed drill. Everyone will eat. Everyone will have a way to gather food, from the field or a grocery store. Joel said that mountain streams will run red with new wine and ravines in the desert will run with water war torn cities in Syria and Iraq will be rebuilt and green with newly planted trees and vines and gardens.
Isaiah also told of God whistling and calling his people home. I love that picture. It makes me think of a dog owner whistling and a dog turns and runs — can’t run fast enough — to return to the master, filled with bouncing, barking joy. It’s a picture of all creation delighted in the presence of God.
We long for more. In this holy meal, we get a taste of a meal still to come. One day, we will be together in heaven and God himself will be the host. Revelation 19 calls is a wedding feast. The bride, the church, will be united to the groom — Jesus. In this meal, we get close enough to taste it.
We’re not there yet. Our deepest longings are not yet realized. We are still longing because our final joy lies beyond the boundaries of this world, as J.R.R. Tolkien understood it. I don’t know if Tolkien had Romans 8 in mind when he crafted that little phrase, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Have a listen:
19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”
We wait. There is no question of that. The question is how we wait. We do not resign ourselves to the injustice of the world while passively and quietly waiting for the coming of God’s Reign. We must not tolerate human injustice while keeping our heads down and waiting for God’s justice.
Think of the reading that started the service this morning. That was Psalm 146. We read that God upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free and gives sight to the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down. The Lord watches over the foreigner, the refugee, the fatherless and the widow. All of this happens in the present tense! God is doing this work now.
Spend some more time in the psalms and we will find the words justice and righteousness together again and again. It’s not quite this simple, but you could say that justice is the righting of wrongs. Righteousness is a way of being in which rights are honored, and every person can access what he or she has a right to access. Both are described as things that God loves. God has plenty of love for everyone, but again and again, he singles out the beaten down and neglected, the poor, the ones who never get a break — the people who do not receive justice and do not live in that right way of being. God loves justice and righteousness and people who are shut out from justice and righteousness. God loves them and as such, God suffers when they suffer. As lovers of God, we are involved. If we love God, then it makes sense that we love those whom he loves. If we love God and if God suffers with the oppressed, then we work to ease the suffering of the one we love; we relieve the oppressed. True, God does not need us to help him out of any troubles. It’s not need that drives us. It is love that drives us. We love not with words, but with action.
We read from Matthew this morning. We read that Jesus begins his ministry saying that the kingdom is near. Then we read that a prophecy from Isaiah was fulfilled. On those walking in darkness a light has dawned. In Zebulon and Naphtali were the first tribes of Israel to be taken captive by the Assyrians. God allowed that to happen because they had broken covenant, they were in breach of contract with God but now they were being restored. More of that same Isaiah passage promises that every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment soaked in blood will be destined for burning. There will be peace. The covenant, God’s pledge to be God to his people, had never gone away but the blessings will be restored. To us a son is born, reads the passage. His name will be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. The government will be on his shoulders and he will uphold it with justice and righteousness. The zeal of the Lord almighty will accomplish this, the text promises, so, we wait for Jesus to do his work. But having been fed by the body and blood of Jesus, having been united with him, we are united in his work. We wait. We work.
Ultimately the righting of wrongs, the transformation of our hearts and all the cosmos is the work of God, so you might argue that we are first people who wait. But it’s a different kind of waiting. It’s not like waiting for the bus. It’s not like waiting for a sermon to end when everyone but the preacher knows it’s done.
According to the reading from Romans, the one about waiting, we wait like expectant parents wait. The expectant mom waits and eats carefully, providing the best nutrition she can for her own body and for her child. She walks and exercises, knowing that she will need all the strength she has to bring the child into the world. The parents wait. And they get the room ready. They get a crib and a car seat. As the big day draws closer, they make plans work, for mat leave, for time off. They might arrange for grandma to come and help for a while. They wait. They long for the baby to arrive. Any of you who have had a baby arrive even a day late know what it is to long for the birth. The expectant parents wait. And work. We join with the work that Jesus has begun and will complete. We join in working for the way of being the prophets foretold.
This is not a thing to talk merely talk about. Having been forgiven, having been nourished by Jesus, by his body and blood in the bread and the cup, we respond. We can join this work. We are invited to join a project that ultimately will succeed. I came up with five specific projects. Rob helped me. I had help from the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue. You are invited to commit to one, or two, or all. Or maybe one that I have not listed. Here are five:
- Learn. If this call to join the work of Jesus, this restoration work, this work of putting all things back in order leaves you a little puzzled, learn more. Ask me. Ask someone. Re-read the texts mentioned today.
Learn. Learn about refugees. Learn about refugees and be suspicious of some of the nonsense that gets passed around on some Facebook memes. Learn about how badly underfunded schools are on reserves. This is a big problem in Canada. Reserve schools receive only 50 – 70% of the money that provincial schools receive. That has a harmful effect on education. Learn about the sex trade and human trafficking. Do the hard work of learning the truth about climate change.
- Engage in a tough conversation. If you know what is true, factual, speak up, especially when lies, half-truths, and prejudice fuel the speech of people you know. Engage in tough conversations with grace and truth.
- Advocate. Speak up with people who have a voice but are chronically ignored. Speak up for what is right. We have the privilege and responsibility to work with all levels of government, praying for them, following the laws they establish and providing reliable information that can help them make the best decisions. The Center for Public Dialogue is a ministry of the CRC. On their website, they have an action center that lists many ways you can engage your MP. Great place to start.
Letter offering: we have letters ready to go on behalf of First Nations children who do not have access to the same privileges that many other Canadians have. I’ll be standing near the coffee pot after church and eager to talk with you!
- Announce Good News: Make a promise to pray for someone who does not know the love and grace of Jesus. Promise to speak Good News to that person with your attitude, your actions and even words. We don’t stop talking about sin and grace and eternal salvation just because we talk about justice and righteousness. We are after full shalom, peace in hearts and the world.
- Give. Time at the breakfast club at a school. Give time are Alberni Literacy Society. Give money. How much time and money is up to you. Many of you already give – a lot. No one has to give more or give anything at all to be welcome here. This is an invitation to join something good and eternal. You will have opportunity to give in a moment to the offering for our friend Mimi’s work in Guatemala City. With many others, she runs two community outreach centers, providing support, love, and as many resources as they can to children and families so that those families can have food and education and help in accessing what is rightfully theirs as citizens of their own country.
First, let us pray. I will pause to give you time to wonder, to ask God for direction, to commit to one response to God’s invitation to join his work in Christ.
Gracious God, we give our best, lest in gaining the world we lose life itself. As covenant people, we seek to witness to your will and way. Help us to know more clearly what you would have us do with the wealth and opportunities entrusted to our care. As we contribute to the needs of your people, we present ourselves as living sacrifices.
God of extravagant mercy, with hands outstretched you have poured out wonder and pleasure and delight, goodness and beauty and bounty. So take these offerings, we pray, as our protest against all that evil and ugly and tyrannical, in our world and in ourselves — and thus may we know and others know ourselves to be blessed.
Author's note: I had a lot of help from Nick Wolterstorff - see his essay, "Why Care About Justice?" in Hearing the Call, Eerdmans, 2011, page 95-108.