Jubilee, Justice and Jesus
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on .
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During the talk, one of the readings, Leviticus 25 verses 1 to 12, is read by the Reverend Mansell Morgan.
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Today, today I am one year old. Three hundred sixty five days ago I stood there for the first time and delivered my first Main Street sermon. [Applause] Thank you.
And I’m going to stay if that’s alright. [Applause]
We began with a series on Mark’s Gospel and my first talk was about new beginnings. The kingdom of God: God’s way of doing things round here. In that year since, we’ve talked about fellowship and how important our relationships with God and with each other are designed to bring about the Kingdom of God in French. And then before Christmas I thought we’d talk about my signature passage, the thing that really kind of gets me going, the thing that makes me indignant. Isaiah Chapter 58, all about true worship, which talks about taking taking an active part in community life. Where religious activities are thrown away instead. For true worship is to care actively about the injustices that occur in the world: to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry. According to Isaiah this is true faith, this is true worship, this is true religion.
Even in the lectionary readings in our build-up to Christmas the themes from Isaiah were about truth and justice. And so, one year on, we’ve covered quite a lot and I am delighted to be part of this fantastic congregation here. We are a naturally loving, caring church and I’m so pleased that you’ve chosen me to be here.
I hope that during 2018 our example of Kingdom living will be evident to all of those around us and that, because of our lives, people will see God in us and be drawn to love him as well.
our Eco Church, launched today, is one such example of how we, as followers of Jesus, can show that we really do mean business in further protecting our environment, remembering that what we actually have is on loan from God to us.
How, or whether, we decide to act as individuals or as a congregation to become more environmentally aware will be down to us. Much of what we discover this year as an Eco Church may not be so much our participation, rather it becomes more a part of that true worship which Isaiah spoke about in Chapter 58.
So this year of jubilee is an opportunity to partner with A Rocha and Tearfund to act justly and that’s our theme for today, the first in a three-part mini-series based on around one verse in the prophet Micah, who was around at the same time as Isaiah in around the eighth century BC and so today we’ll be talking about Jubilee, we’ll be talking about justice, and we’ll be talking about Jesus. Sounds like a Baptist three-point sermon, beginning with the same letter. And we start by thinking how we can be part of that biblical justice that can transform us and so transform our world.
I’m going to ask Mansell if he’ll come forward and I’ll read one verse from Micah and then Mansell will read from Leviticus chapter 25. I’ve never preached from Leviticus before.
So Micah chapter six and verse eight:
He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Leviticus 25 verses one to twelve
Read by the Reverend Mansell Morgan.
The Lord said to Moses on Mount Sinai, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a sabbath of rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your manservant and maidservant, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.
“ ‘Count off seven sabbaths of years—seven times seven years—so that the seven sabbaths of years amount to a period of forty-nine years. Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan. The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields. …’ ”
Thank you, sir.
1983 or 1984, I can’t quite remember. It was probably the first year that I remember hearing the word Jubilee. It seemed like a fun words like hullaballoo or Jamboree or perhaps even that song that we used to sing in church, Jubilate; there was something celebratory about it.
And back in 1983 or 1984 as a young seven, eight, year old lad, I remember Blue Peter celebrated its silver jubilee, twenty-five years of Blue Peter. This year, 2018, the same programme has been voted the best TV children’s program of all time. I don’t know what that means for the future but for all time and I’m sure that they’ll be celebrating another Jubilee as they celebrate sixty years on TV.
So you can imagine my puzzlement when the same word, jubilee, came up in church. Was it a party, some kind of celebration? If it was anything like Blue Peter’s then great! fantastic! In actual fact, Jubilee was a form of celebration, depending on who you were.
Taking place every fifty years, this is hence Tearfund’s fiftieth anniversary this year, it cancelled all debts, freed all slaves, and returned to its owners all the land that had been sold. This celebration was primarily to give order and pride and life back to the poor, back to the ordinary people. And for the land it gave chance for it to lie fallow for a year, to breathe, to rest. And so socially, environmentally, financially, politically, and spiritually the world would be restored. The Hebrew word shalom sums up how the world would be because of the Jubilee: calm and at peace and whole in every way possible. We often translate shalom as being at peace but the Hebrew word is much deeper and richer, declaring that wholeness rules and reigns in every single thing.
As Ruth explained this morning, Tearfund’s Jubilee is partnering with A Rocha to make a difference in and for our planet. It’s a Jubilee where, not just environmentally speaking, we can celebrates and actively change our world.
As we know through our own missions of the month organizations, our prayer and our financial support changes the world just that little bit. Many of those who work for or support these charities have a passion to act. They see the injustices in the world, they say something’s wrong, somebody should do something about it. They turn to Scripture and they find out that they can be the change that they want to see in the world; that they can bind up the broken-hearted, proclaim freedom for the prisoner; that they can declare the jubilee of the Lord, the favour of the Lord; that they can help the oppressed go free; that they can share the food, their food, with the hungry; that they can give their clothes to the naked and shelter the refugees.
Our mission of the month charities, especially in the first quarter of the year, do that justice thing pretty strongly. This month we support Open Doors. For sixty years or more they’ve been supporting Christians who are being persecuted for their faith. Their World Watch poster outside tells us of the hundreds and thousands of Christians, our brothers and sisters who, through no fault of their own, live in dangerous places where it might even be illegal to be a follower of Christ. And what’s our response? We can pray, we can write to our brothers and sisters in prison. As we come up to the festival of Lent, in just a few weeks’ time, we might, meet together perhaps during the daytime and share a simple meal together to remember exactly what it may be like to be a Christian in a persecutor country. As home group we’ll be going through this little booklet, How to live like a North Korean: how to worship, how to pray, how to meet like a North Korean. I did this in my Bible study group back in Gillingham a few years ago and it was really, really challenging for me.
So there are things that we can do to fight the cause of injustice. Next month our mission of the month will be Christians Against Poverty, an organisation which helps people get out of debt but not shying away from the fact that they are a Christian organization. In Gillingham, where I volunteered with CAP, about 25% of people who received the support from CAP became Christians. The social justice activities work. And of course we know what injustice looks like. We only need to listen to the news: questions surrounding the collapse of Carillion; the unfair way in which the most powerful political figures in the world can demean developing countries by criticizing the fact that they are poor; people who can get away from a prison sentence for abusing children because the police didn’t do things properly. What a horrendous world. Injustice should move us to action.
And even Jesus was indignant about justice issues. Indignant means to be deeply angered by something. The word is used in the NIV for Jesus when children were prevented from coming to him to play and be blessed by him. Those close to Jesus, I guess, were trying to protect him from those bothersome urchins. You can imagine it, can’t you? They aim to pull them away but when they try to do this the Bible says Jesus was indignant. You can almost imagine the writer spitting out that word indignant. How rude and wrong and unrighteous and unpleasing were these people not to include children in the kingdom of God. The injustice that people, even children, who wanted to come were being barred from doing so. But for Jesus, no, everybody, everybody was and is welcome.
So why does God love justice so? Because God loves shalom. He loves that restoration and peace and wholeness that he desires for his whole creation to have.
If we are doing our best to respond to God, for that is what worship is, we need to take steps to enable our world and its people to flourish. That’s what we need to do
In the Bible, justice is not always about doing something new, it’s about aligning what we already do with Kingdom values. If we pray “Thy Kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven,” then we may need to be willing to be the answer to our own prayer and not sit passively by; to do what we already know God would have us do. Our lifestyle then should be to live as if the full kingdom of God was here, as much as it is possible
So whatever injustice riles you, the things that make you indignant: the environment, debt, animal welfare, persecution, education, human trafficking, politics, fair trade, many others. Whatever riles you, whatever makes you indignant, you have the capacity to do something about it in any number of different ways. This is the reason why we are launching Eco Church, to transform our little parts of the world little by little, energizing others to do the same. This is where deep relationships form, this is how the kingdom of God is established.
There’s a long tradition of course of God’s people challenging the structures of the day. You’ve got Moses going to Pharaoh, let my people go; you’ve got Esther going to the king of Persia, for such a time as this; William Wilberforce, not in the Bible, using his position to end transatlantic slavery; Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement; all the way to Christians today, perhaps even you, speaking out against corruption and policies that perpetuate injustice.
Because, folks, we are called to be salt and light. To act and live in ways that bring about justice, and pray for the Kingdom of God to come. God is the God of justice and he hears the prayers of his people.
The inescapable truth, of course, about justice is that there’s something wrong in our world and it needs to be set right. The creation account in Genesis centres on wholeness, the fundamental unity of all God’s creation. At the moment, we’re a bit defunct and a bit kind of disjointed, but God loves unity.
It’s estimated that around three hundred thousand people are dying each year due to the effect of climate change. We can and must take steps to allow creation to flourish and not die.
Jesus loves justice but more so he lived justly And here’s the thing, here’s the thing: he calls us to follow him. He calls us to follow him. Those passions in each one of us that make us indignant, perhaps that’s the heart of God breathing and beating in us for justice] perhaps that’s God poking us into action. In doing what enables humanity and creation to flourish we discover God’s character and when we do that we are transformed into his likeness.
So to come full circle and then to close. There’s actually no evidence in the Bible that God’s people took part in the year of jubilee, more’s the pity. It could have changed lives and individuals for the better. But the gauntlet has been laid down. The idea of Jubilee has been set before us, to act justly, in a variety of different ways.
Are you allowing God to use what makes you feel indignant to transform our world?
This Tearfund Jubilee year, how might we be different? How will we obey? How will I put God’s desire for action through Jubilee into practice?
May we listen for his voice and then act accordingly.
Let’s bow our heads.
Lord God, thank you for the challenges that you put towards us. Thank you that our faith is important but what’s more important is that we act on that when you call us to do things. Would you help us to reflect, perhaps this year, this day, this week on what riles us and what we can do, how we can act, how we can respond to make this world a better place for you and for your kingdom to come. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
This talk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission.