Monday, August 5, 2013

But It's My Candy!

[Picture me standing before the congregation on Sunday with an orange plastic bucket filled to the brim with candy.  I take out the two chocolate bars – big ones – and begin to eat them, slowly at first and then more quickly shoving bits into my mouth even as I talk.  Wait for it with me – someone will break – they always do.  Sooner or later, someone will ask why I am not sharing.  Usually it’s one of the kids.  This time, it’s one of the grown-ups asking from the back, “when are you going to share?”.  I smile.  It doesn’t ‘work’ if no one protests.  And thus we begin our conversation about sharing – this time with a twist, as I ask them why I should share.  After all, this is my candy.  I bought it with my own hard-earned money.  If you wanted candy, I ask, shouldn’t you have brought some yourself?  Why should I share mine?  And thus begins the dialogue about why we not only should, but must, share out of our plenty.  And I wonder again why it’s so easy to understand about a bucket of candy and so hard to understand about wealth and bounty and privilege and blessing.  And the sermon goes something like this . . . as I share the bucket of candy but take it up again at the end and clutch the leftovers tightly to myself.*]

In the kingdom of God: there is no ‘they’ there.  It is all and always and only ‘us’.  Isn’t that the Golden Rule (do unto others . . . ) in a nutshell?  This understanding that it’s all an ‘us’ proposition is the foundation of biblical justice.

The Bible is replete with discussion not only of God as just, but of God’s call . . . no – God’s demand that we, as God’s followers, treat all others (whether followers of God or not) justly (read: as we ourselves would wish to be treated).

The word justice appears in the Bible 173 times, beginning with Genesis 18.19:  speaking of Abraham, it is written that he would keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice . . . 

Justice is fairly easy to recognize.  Injustice isn’t.  Sometimes, we convince ourselves that our injustice is actually justice.  A reality check is always helpful.  The constant companions of injustice are deception, violence, robbery, greed.  If we’re acting justly, there is no need to lie, to stretch the truth, to cover up.  If we’re acting unjustly, truth is nowhere to be found.  If we’re acting unjustly, we’re doing violence to another.  If we’re acting unjustly, we’re taking what is not ours to have.

Micah 6.8 is perhaps the best known biblical passage on justice: what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness (or mercy) and walk humbly with your God?  This is the Prime Directive of the Divine.

In Matthew 12.18, when Jesus is baptized, the divine promise of him is that he would proclaim justice to the Gentiles.

In Acts 24.25, the scary message of the gospel to the Roman powerhouse Felix was justice – a message which frightened him out of his wits.

All of this brings us to the conversation of the modern concept of privilege.  Privilege is the idea that a group of people enjoy unfair advantages brought to them not by merit or effort, but simply by random circumstances, such as birth.  Privilege is another way of saying something is unjust, systemically unjust.

Privilege is passive injustice – if I am privileged, it does not mean that I have done something directly malicious to another person.  I may have never told a single lie and still be privileged from the lies told by those who came before me.

Privilege is the hardest injustice to undo because it requires the privileged one to give something up that they themselves did not steal to get.  It require me as it’s beneficiary to recognize that I didn’t steal this, but someone did.

And privilege is hard to talk about because it breeds great resentment and feelings of helplessness among those accused of possessing it.
Here’s the thing: we’re privileged.  We live in the United States.  That’s an advantage.  And it’s not all about worth, merit or hard work.  Some of it is.  But some of it is about unfair advantage.  The same thing about gender.  And about race or ethnicity.  And economics.

None of this is about making people feel bad about the color of their skin or their gender or their citizenship.  It is about readjusting our thinking to understanding a couple of things biblical:

1. To whom much is given, much is required.  Luke 12.48

2. Truth is a divine imperative.  How I feel about it is pretty much beside the point.

3. Justice is God’s business – always.  And because it’s God’s business, it must also be ours.  Even and especially when we’ve been on the receiving end of the fruits of injustice.

4. If my politics towards others are not informed by Christ, I have no place to stand.  So when we talk about Obamacare, gun control, welfare, immigration, military spending, and the myriad of other concerns we share as citizens, we cannot begin with what we think.  We must begin with what God thinks.  We must seek out the mind and heart of God.  We must listen for a word from God.  We must be humble.  We must recognize that God speaks to you as well as to me.  We must be open to hear a convicting word – one that makes us uncomfortable.

6. Because, perhaps most important of all, if God is always and only telling us what we already believe, chances are we aren’t listening to God at all.  And that, friends, is the core of injustice.

If we’re to be about our Father’s business, we’re to be about the business of stewarding, of taking good care of, God’s justice.  After all, there is no other justice than God’s.

*In answer to why I should share the candy, answers included “good manners”, “the Golden Rule” and my own personal favorite: “you’re the pastor.  You’re supposed to share!”  (Had to be someone who doesn’t know me so well on that one – I was an only child long before I was a pastor.)


  1. As always well written ad well done! You are inspired and inspiring! Miss you... Rhonda

    1. Thanks, you! Miss you too! I've taken a week or more off the phone cos my voice has been fading again, but it's coming back pretty well, so let's talk soon, ok?

  2. Don't mind sharing the candy - but dessert - that's a whole different ball game! LOL

    1. Okay, Ms. Liz - sounds like something to work on to me -- of course, I'm the one begging to share the dessert, so I would say that, wouldn't I?