I went to public schools growing up and like most public schools in the United States, we had this tradition, to start the day with the Pledge of Allegiance. It’s this expression of loyalty to our country:
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Justice for all. It was a pretty bold vision. But have we really seen it through?
We learned at ArtSpeak a week ago that there are 27 million men, women, and children in slavery today, more than any other time in recorded history. Today’s slave trade generates an estimated $32 billion a year.
Is this justice for all?
Half of the children in the world live in poverty. Half. The Chinese government estimates that there are 40 million more Chinese men than women because one out of every six baby girls is aborted, killed, or abandoned. Is this justice for all?
Right here in our city, the Salem School System is in desperate need of help, but in a lot of ways, it still lacks the resources to make the progress it needs. So many of the children in our city end up at a disadvantage right from their first day at school. Is this justice for all?
Seems a little more like justice for some. And even if these statistics make us angry, even if they make us sad, when we’re really honest about it, we have to admit that we aren’t always outside of the problem either. In a lot of ways, we’re active participants. I’d imagine that most of us - if not all of us - can point to moments when we’ve acted out of our own desires and impulses, when we’ve taken jabs at another person to make ourselves feel better, when we’ve objectified men and women, when we’ve contributed to oppressive systems through our materialism or our racism, when we’ve gotten revenge - passive or active - when we’ve pursued justice for me.
This is not the world that God intended it to be, one with justice for all.
What is the world that God intended it to be?
Let’s look back.
In the first two chapters of Genesis, we get a picture of the world God created. The Hebrews had a word for what this world was like. It was called shalom; it meant wholeness and balance and completeness, deep peace. It was a sense of total well-being. Perfection itself.
And so God invited men and women into a unique purpose, to steward God’s shalom as his representatives on the earth, to care for it and to care for each other.
Now let’s skip to the end to the world God will lead us to one day. In the last few chapters of the book of Revelation, we get a picture of the world restored to the way it ought to be. Chapter 21, the writer, John, says this:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared..., “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
This is the world restored. This is the new creation. This is a world that is once again defined by a God who’s near and who’s bringing shalom and healing and justice for all. And this isn’t an angry kind of justice, but a kind of justice where everyone is treated fairly, where relationships are healthy and right, where no one needs payback or punishment because no one’s taking advantage of anyone else.
When human beings decided that their own way was better, that their own law was better, when they turned away from the world as it was intended to be, they lost shalom. And things just spiraled downward from there.
And now we live in a world riddled with what we call evil. Evil is disharmony. It is anything that is outside of God’s intentions for it, anything that is not as it was intended to be. Sin is our participation in that evil, when we make decisions based on our own desires and wants instead of God’s design and will for the common good of the world, when we pursue justice for me.
Even when we say we want to do good in the world, even when we mean it, when we try to do it alone, we are left defining “good” through our own perspective, which often just ends up being what’s good for us.
Here’s an example from Tom Long. After the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001, President Bush vowed to “rid the world of evildoers.” But Bush was defining “evil” through the lens of the American people - essentially, he wanted to rid the world of those who would do evil against us. The trouble was that Al-Quaeda had made the same vow, but they defined “evil” differently. They had been trying to rid the world of evildoers by attacking Americans. Americans tried to rid the world of evildoers by attacking those who were attacking us. When we are each left to define evil and good on our own, we are all someone else’s “evildoer,” so ridding the world of evil means eventually, the world will be rid of us too.
If you’re like me, this concept of “evildoing” might feel distant - like murdering and terrorizing and brainwashing children into soldiers. But evil is not always done on so grand a scale. It includes hurting our spouses, gossiping about our friends, calling names, manipulating, blaming, shaming and judging - things most of us are guilty of doing at one point or another. They start in small ways and grow, like a cancer spreading from a small cell to disrupt the whole body, and what results in a world riddled with everyone defining evil and good on their own terms is disconnection, distrust, disharmony, loneliness, conflict, envy, judgment, and shame.
I’d imagine that most of us don’t intend to participate in evil or engage in sin; we don’t even like those parts of the world. We don’t often mean to act selfishly or out of our own self-interest, and we don’t enjoy being hurt when other people do.
But justice for all isn’t generally as easy as justice for me. Most of the time, it’s far easier to go along with the crowd than to stand up for what’s right, to reject or wound others when they have rejected or wounded us, to give in to what makes us feel better when we’re insecure or afraid instead of actually growing into better people when growth is hard.
If we can imagine shalom in the world as it was, and we can anticipate shalom in the world to come, we have to admit when we look inside and outside ourselves that our world is not defined by shalom.
But God has promised to restore it. How?
God tells his people, “You. I’ll do it through you.”
But the nation of Israel couldn’t do it. So they prayed for a way, for a leader who could. They prayed for a Messiah. And one day in the first century, a Jewish man named Jesus stood up in a synagogue and started to read from the book of Isaiah:
“Look at my Servant, whom I have chosen. He is my Beloved, who pleases me. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not fight or shout or raise his voice in public. He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. Finally he will cause justice to be victorious. And his name will be the hope of all the world.”
The Messiah has come with justice for all and his mission is to restore shalom. How?
He’ll do it through you when you set aside your version of justice for me and learn to live into God’s justice for all, into shalom. During his ministry and after Jesus was raised from the dead, he empowered his followers to do the very things he had done; he invited them to join in his mission, to feed the minds and bodies of all nations.
And the people around us notice when we play a part in this and when we don't, don't they? I’ve heard it said that if the people in our lives, if our friends and families, if even the cats and dogs in our houses are not better off because we’re following Christ, if they aren’t gradually seeing less anger, and more forgiveness, if they aren’t gradually seeing less bitterness, and more kindness, if they aren’t gradually seeing less judgment, and more grace, if they aren’t seeing more sick visited, more naked clothed, more hungry fed, if those around us, are not seeing more justice because we’re following Christ, we have to ask ourselves if we really are.
Early followers of Christ did this. In the days of the early church, there was an infanticide and little girls were being killed just for being little girls. But Christians said, “Give us those babies. We’ll take care of them.” This was justice for all.
Women were told by early Christians that they had value, that their voices mattered, that they were worth educating and investing in and sacrificing for. Some of what we read in the Bible about women might look oppressive to us, but in that day, it was absolutely revolutionary. Nobody in that culture was doing anything like this. It was justice for all.
All over that world, people were dying of epidemics, and with each new outbreak, Christians said, “We’ll help. We’ll care for them.” Most people were running away to protect themselves, but the Christians were running toward the sick to help them heal. And the church actually grew after each epidemic because Christians were literally running into the epidemics to love sacrificially, to heal, and to save, because that’s what Jesus had done for them. This was justice for all.
Most of the major social movements of the past two thousand years - public education, higher education, literacy, children’s rights, abolition of slavery, civil rights, women’s suffrage, soup kitchens, hospitals, mental health institutions - were started by Christians. And there was something profound enough in the way Jesus had empowered Christians to live that people actually wanted to join them. This was justice for all.
The world doesn't just need justice. The world needs Jesus. Because only in Jesus can we see what shalom actually looks like.
Pastor Brynn Harrington
Where do you need to experience God’s Shalom in your life right now? Where might you be able to bring a taste of God’s Shalom in your environment?
God of Peace, Lord of the Shalom, King of Righteousness. For all time, we will praise you for the Shalom that you bring. We will praise you for your just judgements and we will proclaim your name as the Name above all other names. Grant us the power and presence of your Holy Spirit today, so that we can experience your will done here on earth as it is already done in heaven. In the Name of our Lord Jesus, Amen.
One of the ways in which the Church practiced embodying justice and Christ-like shalom was through the practice of radical hospitality. Today, consider sharing table with someone unlike you. Perhaps that means having dinner with someone of a different class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or life stage.
Pastor Aaron Engler
- Scruggs, Scott, "And Justice For All"
- Rev. 21:1-5.
- Long, Thomas. What Shall We Say?: Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith.
- Stark, Rodney. The Triumph of Christianity.