This is the second sermon of a six message series written by Pastor Jack Van de Hoef based on the book Live Just.ly by World Renew and Micah Challenge. Click here to learn more and order your copy of the book. This sermon was originally given February 19, 2017; Bethel CRC, Brockville, ON
Watch video at www.livejust.ly/videos/ (scroll down to Session 7, Justice and Generosity)
It can be easy to talk about justice. We might sit together and talk about justice over a cup of tea and remind each other how serious the matter of justice is. We might even write some letters on a particular issue of justice.
But like we heard in the video, we so easily choose to compartmentalize. We put the issue of justice in one part of our lives and don’t let it affect the other parts. See how the people of Israel did this, as described in Isaiah 58.
In the first three verses, God speaks of how Israel is seeking God. “They seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.”
They practice fasting, a time of self-denial and humility, and then wonder why God has not seen it or noticed. They go through the proper, prescribed religious rituals but it seems like God is not paying attention to them.
The problem, God says, is that they have separated being and doing. They have compartmentalized worship to one part of their lives and have not let it impact the rest of their lives. They are following a ritual, but not living a life of obedience, of faithful surrender and trust in God.
God sees through their outward religious practices. He sees their whole lives where they are also doing actions which contradict God's will. "Your fasting doesn't honour me. You do as you please. You don't fast to draw closer to me. Your fast ends with fighting and quarreling." You leave church and gossip over a cup of coffee. You sing of holiness and say your prayers in the sanctuary, and then leave and argue or continue your grudge and sneer another insult.
God does not accept those who go through the motions of religious practices but don't really mean it in their hearts. God is not fooled by the superficial worship. He wants to see action! Religious rituals are easy to keep. But God wants them backed up with greater evidence of a person's total commitment to him. Think about it. God doesn't want Sunday Christians; he wants people who live their faith every day.
Jesus reinforced these words from Isaiah in Matthew 7:21, "Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Forget about practicing superficial religion with its outward niceties and rituals. Get to the heart of the matter. Be committed to doing the will of our Father in heaven. What is his will? To take care of those who are suffering. To comfort the widow and orphan. To give to the hungry. To break the yoke of injustice.
This challenge is further reinforced by the apostle James (chapter 2:14ff). He shows how foolish it is to think someone can have faith without deeds. What good is it to say to a hungry person, "Go, I wish you well; be well fed," without doing anything about their need? Faith without deeds is dead. Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by what I do.
You can't just talk about what you believe; you must do something about it. Being and doing belong together (as mentioned in the video.) You can’t put faith in one box or compartment of your life and school in another and work in another and friendship in another and a bit of justice in another. This faith or trust in God is who you are. It impacts your whole life, everything.
What God desires is that his people are concerned for those who are suffering. Stand up against injustice. Set the oppressed free. v. 7, "Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter--when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?" And in v. 10, "Spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry."
God says, "Spend yourself." Give of yourself, whether that is your time or money or energy.
Justice means generosity. What will it cost you? Will it be a financial donation? Will it be an increase in our giving to the ministries of the church? Will it be consistent giving through the budget envelopes or the PAR, Pre-Authorized Remittance program? Will it be choosing a particular ministry and deciding to give a specific amount every month? Sometimes justice has a financial cost.
Justice can also have a different personal cost. Perhaps God wants us to use our knowledge and wisdom to work against injustice and oppression in our society. It's easy to complain about what the government is doing. It's easy to carry a placard and protest government action. But perhaps some of us here have been gifted to be able to help with those tough decisions in a more constructive way. Perhaps some of us have the gift of writing a submission to a government committee with concrete suggestions and well thought out reasons.
Or perhaps it is the gift of time to help at the local Food Bank. Or a gift for building or repair for some house of a person who is too poor to hire someone. Perhaps it is volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, in their store, or on one of their summer builds. Perhaps the Lord is calling you to specialized ministry in a foreign mission field.
Don't be so quick to deny it! God expects each of us to give of ourselves for those who are suffering, for the hungry, the needy, the oppressed, the sorrowing. It might be making regular visits to the senior members of our church or giving medicine to sick people in Sierra Leone. It might be devoting part of our day to praying for others or giving a certain amount of money per month to the church or missions. Whatever it is, we must go beyond mere routine religious observance and pour ourselves out for the hungry.
Many of us are living this generosity. Praise God! Thank you for your example and encouragement of justice lived out in generosity. There are others to whom the Lord is speaking this morning to challenge your stinginess. The Spirit is prodding you to consider these words of God and your lack of generous response.
Into this faithful and generous life, God speaks about amazing and wonderful blessings. Verses 8, 9 and 10 have this powerful little word: ‘then.’ Spend yourself, live generously and something will happen. Then ...
“Then your light will break forth like the dawn ...
“then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
“Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs ... and will strengthen your frame.
“You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”
Yes, the needy are the first to benefit from our generosity. And we will also experience God’s blessing. When we as God's people give of ourselves, God guarantees that he will supply all our needs. We will never come short of what we need. More than that, God will always be near to us, hearing and answering our prayers. God promises to guide us always. We will be filled with life like a well-watered garden or a spring whose waters never fail, overflowing with blessing to share generously with others.
It’s the promise which the apostle Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians 9:6-10, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work ... You will be blessed in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”
With these blessings from God, with this life from him, we can continue to spend ourselves. We can continue to bring healing and restoration to a broken and suffering world.
Therefore we must not be afraid to pour ourselves out. We must not be afraid that we might give too much of ourselves to their needs. God will take care of us. In fact, he will give himself. "Here am I," says the Lord when we call to him.
God has given himself. “Here am I,” in Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. Consider how Jesus poured himself out for the hungry. Jesus did not give clothes or money. He gave the ultimate gift of himself — his own life — by dying on the cross for us. We are the hungry — hungering for salvation, oppressed by our sins, needy for forgiveness. Jesus spent himself to satisfy our hunger, to free us from sin's oppression, to satisfy our needs. His gift of himself is complete so that everyone can have all that they need.
God raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to sit at God's right hand. Jesus is now a source of life and healing and light.
The blessing promised by the Lord is that we will be a light and healing, a garden and a spring of waters. In our generous living, it is his light and healing, his life that flows through us. Live generously. Spend yourselves for others, sharing God’s generous blessings.
To God be the glory! Amen.