Sometimes we have phrases that are structured so that more than one meaning can be found. That is the case with the sermon title for this Sunday, “The Joy of Willing Justice”. Both the prophet Isaiah and our teacher and guide Jesus address the importance of living out both meanings in this title.
The Old Testament book of Isaiah begins with the prophet reflecting on what he has seen going on—and raises the issue of whether our lives live up to our worship. He says that God won’t even accept our worship if we don’t live out during the rest of the week just what worship is supposed to be about. We are not supposed to ignore justice for the poor, and helping those in need, and no matter how amazing, powerful, meaningful, and “cued in” our worship experience is, it misses the point entirely if we are out of touch with the needs of the world around us. It is tempting to use worship to sing praise and rejoice at all of God’s goodness to us, to rejoice at the new life that Jesus gives us through his death and resurrection. And that is certainly a part of it. But it that’s ALL that it is, and it doesn’t connect with the way we live our lives other than that time together on Sunday (or whenever it is), then, Isaiah seems to say, God hates it, and wont’ even pay attention to it. No matter how much worship is getting away from the stress of life and basking in the glory of God, if it stops there God isn’t going to receive it, Isaiah says.
The passage from Luke has Jesus talking about being prepared—about paying attention. Again, it is tempting in our times of gathering together to be so focused on God and each other that we aren’t aware of what else is happening. Jesus admonishes us to “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks”. Don’t get complacent. Don’t ignore what might happen—or what IS happening.
One of the hymns in our United Methodist Hymnal (“When the Church of Jesus, no. 592) nails it: “When the church of Jesus shuts its outer door, lest the roar of traffic drown the voice of prayer, may our prayers, Lord, make us ten time more aware that the world we banish is our Christian care”.
The two meanings of “The Joy of Willing Justice”? First, that we find joy in agreed-upon, “happy to do it” acts of justice on behalf of those who need it, as Isaiah lists (Isaiah 1:17), “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow”. We are doing justice that we are willing to do, because we agree with it and are genuinely finding joy in doing it. Second, we are “willing” justice in that we are actively committed to it—it is desired, it is our will to live it out. So it’s both agreeing on the behavior, and desiring with our very being to do it as we do it.
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
1 The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
10 Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom!
Listen to the teaching of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
11 What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt-offerings of rams
and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who asked this from your hand?
Trample my courts no more;
13 bringing offerings is futile;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—
I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.
14 Your new moons and your appointed festivals
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me,
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you stretch out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
17 learn to do good;
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.
18 Come now, let us argue it out,
says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land;
20 but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be devoured by the sword;
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
32‘ Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
35‘ Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
39‘ But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’