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Our Call to Justice

Our Call to Justice

Micah 6:8

Today I greet you from Clark Memorial United Methodist Church. Clark, located in the heart of North Nashville, has long been a beacon of hope. Founded over a century ago, it has been a sanctuary for those seeking solace, a haven for the marginalized, and a catalyst for positive change.

One of the pivotal moments in the church's history occurred during the civil rights movement, when, Reverend James Lawson, took courageous steps to confront injustice and advocate for equality. Reverend Lawson, a tireless champion of civil rights and nonviolent resistance, fearlessly led the community in the pursuit of justice.

It was here, within the walls of Clark Memorial United Methodist Church, that Reverend Lawson organized and trained individuals in the principles of nonviolent protest. From organizing sit-ins to advocating for voting rights, Clark stood on the front lines of the struggle for racial equality, embodying the timeless principles of justice. Today, as we reflect on the enduring legacy of Clark, we are reminded of the profound call to action that echoes through the halls of this church. Just as our forebears paved the way for justice, it is incumbent upon us to continue their noble work, to advocate for the oppressed, and to strive tirelessly for a world where justice and equity reign supreme.

For a moment, I want to sit with the concept of justice because I have found that many of us hold different views about what justice is. Justice involves acting with fairness towards all individuals, particularly the marginalized and vulnerable. It encompasses seeking the well-being and rights of others, challenging oppression and exploitation, and upholding God's standards of morality and compassion. Ultimately, justice in scripture is rooted in God's character and is inseparable from love, mercy, and righteousness. 

In scripture, we find multiple narratives of faithful individuals who embodied justice. Examples abound, such as Moses confronting Pharaoh to demand freedom for the Israelites from slavery, Esther risking her life to intercede for her people before the king, and Jesus challenging societal norms to uplift the oppressed and show mercy to the outcasts. 

Jesus’ teachings emphasize the importance of caring for the poor, the sick, the marginalized, and the outcast. He actively engaged with those who were considered social outcasts, such as tax collectors, prostitutes, and lepers, demonstrating that everyone is deserving of God's love and grace. He spoke out against hypocrisy, greed, and injustice, calling out religious leaders who exploited their power and neglected the needs of the vulnerable. His sacrificial death and resurrection serve as powerful symbols of God's love of justice, offering redemption and reconciliation to all who would accept it. Through his teachings, actions, and ultimate sacrifice, Jesus exemplified a radical commitment to justice, compassion, and reconciliation, inspiring his followers to do likewise.

All of the justice champions revealed to us in scripture demonstrate that embodying justice involves not only personal integrity and morality but also a commitment to pursuing the well-being and dignity of all people. They model for us how to be agents of positive change in our communities and advocates for a more equitable and compassionate world. 

The work of justice is personal and relational, rather than transactional. With this work, the emphasis is placed on understanding and empathizing with the experiences, needs, and dignity of others. It recognizes that justice is not simply about the distribution of goods or the fulfillment of legal obligations but about recognizing and honoring the inherent value of every person. This understanding forms the basis for genuine relationships built on respect, empathy, and compassion.

Justice prioritizes building meaningful connections and understanding between individuals. It involves actively listening to others' perspectives, engaging in dialogue, and seeking to understand their experiences and needs. By fostering open communication and mutual understanding, we find opportunities for collaboration, reconciliation, and healing. The relational nature of justice challenges us to move beyond mere transactions or exchanges and instead cultivate deeper connections with others. By prioritizing relationships built on respect, understanding, and mutual support, justice work lays the foundation for creating a more just and compassionate society.

Imagine a bustling city street corner where people from all walks of life converge. Among the throngs of hurried commuters, there's an unhoused man named John, weathered by life's hardships and overlooked by many. Each day, as the sun sets and the city's rhythm slows, a young woman named Sarah takes her evening stroll. Instead of simply passing by, Sarah stops to greet John, engaging him in conversation and offering him a meal from the sandwich she packed for her walk.

Weeks pass, and Sarah continues her daily visits, getting to know John beyond his circumstances, listening to his stories, and sharing her own. Over time, their encounters become more than just moments of charity; they become a genuine connection rooted in mutual respect and understanding. Sarah learns of John's struggles with addiction and homelessness, while John discovers in Sarah a friend who sees him not as a problem to be solved but as a fellow human being worthy of dignity and compassion.

One chilly evening, as Sarah and John sit together on the street corner sharing laughs and stories, a passerby stops in astonishment. He marvels at the unlikely friendship blossoming before his eyes, a testament to the transformative power of genuine human connection. Inspired by their example, he pauses to offer his own support, sparking a ripple effect of kindness and solidarity that begins to permeate the city.

Sarah embodies justice not through grand gestures or lofty rhetoric but through simple, consistent acts of compassion and solidarity. By recognizing John's humanity and engaging him as an equal, she demonstrates that justice is not just about correcting systemic injustices but also about building relationships based on empathy, respect, and mutual support. Through her actions, Sarah challenges societal norms and inspires others to see the value in every individual, regardless of their circumstances. She reminds us that true justice is not just about what we do but about how we treat one another with love and dignity.

John Wesley and the early Methodists were also champions for justice. They were actively engaged in social activism, seeking to address the root causes of poverty, inequality, and injustice in society. Wesley was deeply concerned about the plight of the poor and worked tirelessly to improve their living conditions.

They were pioneers in the field of prison reform. They visited prisoners, provided them with spiritual and material support, and advocated for humane treatment and rehabilitation rather than punishment. Wesley was an outspoken opponent of slavery and played a significant role in the abolitionist movement. He condemned the institution of slavery as a grave injustice and called for its abolition. Wesley actively campaigned against the slave trade, urging his followers to boycott goods produced by enslaved labor and to work for the emancipation of slaves.

Wesley and the early Methodists placed a strong emphasis on education as a means of empowering individuals and lifting them out of poverty. They established schools and educational programs for children and adults, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Wesley believed that education was essential for personal development and social progress. It was said that Wesley’s work with the early Methodists, providing for the needs of those on the margins, contributed to the prevention of a revolution like the one that took place in France. 

One question that we should all be asking ourselves is this: Are we, as Methodists, living into this legacy of justice work? The issues that concerned John Wesley are issues that are still plaguing our society today. Every single one… and we could add a few. There are too many people in our society who can’t afford healthcare. There’s an assault on public education right now where some individuals don’t want all of our children to have free access to a quality education. We’re lacking affordable housing. We’ve got a drug crisis where people are overdosing more than at any other point in modern history and a broken prison system that seeks to collect black and brown men. There are intersections between crime, poverty, and racism that we refuse to resolve as a society; and issues of environmental injustice where poor, black, and brown people suffer the most with polluted air and water. 

Someone might say, well none of these are issues for the church to address but they were issues for the early Methodists. How did we drift so far away from the essence of what it means to be a Methodist, where what’s happening spiritually in our hearts and minds reaches our hands and feet? And maybe how we ended up here doesn’t really matter if we would simply commit ourselves anew to this work. 

This Lenten season, my prayer for you is that you will spend time meditating on the Christian call to justice. 

May you be inspired by the examples of Jesus, John Wesley, and countless others who have championed justice throughout history. Let us use this season of self examination as an opportunity to recommit ourselves to embodying justice in our own lives and communities. May we walk humbly with God, seek to act justly, and extend mercy and compassion to all whom we encounter. As we strive to live out the principles of justice, may we be agents of transformation, bringing light to the darkness, hope to the despairing, and healing to the broken. Amen.

Discipleship Guide-Our Call to Justice-Lizzie 2.18.24
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