"Justice When There Is No Justice"

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – January 12, 2014

Centenary United Methodist Church

    In our reading this morning, an Old Testament prophesy from Isaiah looked forward to a day when God will send a messenger that will bring lasting justice for everyone.   Isaiah wrote, “He will not lose hope or courage.  He will establish justice on the earth.”  (Isaiah 41:3b-4)  What is missing in our lesson is a more precise timetable for such justice.  Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah that pointed to and demonstrated that one day all of us have the potential to experience perfect justice.  So, what has happened to this justice since Jesus has come?

    It is very clear that injustice is every bit as prevalent today as it was when Jesus lived.  In fact, the Gospels tell us that there was no justice at his trial or for his crucifixion – a sentence reserved only for those who committed a capital crime against Rome.  Jesus’ only crime was fulfilling his one stated purpose in his life -- preaching and teaching the truth.  (John 18:37)

    When we look at what happened to Jesus’ own disciples, we learn from various early Christian traditions that there was no change in this pattern of injustice.   Jesus even predicted that the lives of his disciples would end as tragically as his own.  (Matthew 20:22-23)  

    For example, Matthew was slain with a sword in Ethiopia. Mark died in Alexandria after being dragged through the streets of the city. Luke was hanged from an olive tree in Greece.  John was thrown into a caldron of boiling water, but miraculously escaped death.  John was the only disciple to survive into old age.  He died in Ephesus of natural causes.  Peter was crucified in Rome.  His body was nailed to a cross upside down.  James the Greater was beheaded in Jerusalem.  James the Lesser was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple and then beaten to death with a fuller's club.   Bartholomew was flayed while still alive.   Andrew was bound to a cross where he continued to preach to his persecutors until he died.  Thomas was killed with a lance at Coromandel in the East Indies.  Jude was shot with arrows until he died.   Matthias was first stoned and then beheaded.   Barnabas was stoned to death at Salonica.  Paul after experiencing various forms of torture was finally beheaded in Rome by an order given by Emperor Nero. 

    This pattern of injustice has held true down through the centuries to our own time.  Some of us are aware of the experiments that Dr. Josef Mengele performed on people that were imprisoned in the Auschwitz concentration camp.  He graduated from an excellent university and a top medical school.  Yet, when he became an SS Captain for Nazi Germany, he became a monster that did things to people that are beyond anything imaginable. 

    Stories have come to us in recent years from Sierra Leone and other African nations where roaming rogue militias have entered villages and amputated the arms of the men as a way of curbing and eliminating any resistance to their looting and pillaging. 

    We learn almost annually of someone that spent thirty years in prison for a crime he did not commit.  With modern methods of testing the DNA left at various crime scenes, a number of such people have been proven innocent and have been released.  How does a society give back thirty years of a person’s life? 

    Where is this justice that was promised by the prophet and presumably brought with the ministry of Jesus?  Who can possibly come into our world from God and level the playing field so that true justice comes to everyone?   The answer is that no one can and no one will ever come that will do that for us. How can I say this without contradicting the Scriptures? 

    We have to remember there is a great difference between our form of justice and the form of justice that Jesus pointed to, a perfect system of justice that has been present since the beginning of time.  Even though it is here, most people were and are unable to experience it.  This is why an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth has remained the law since ancient times.  We are in the 21st century and that ancient law still reigns in our judicial systems.

    For example, people want restitution of what was stolen.  People want convicted criminals to rot in prison for the rest of their lives because of the hurt and personal devastation they caused by what they did.  Some want castration for men who are sexual predators.  On and on go our lists of crimes and the punishments. Many of us become upset when people have their crimes dismissed due to a technicality or to have their sentences greatly reduced.

    How can a perfect justice system be present and only a few people experience it?  Here is the answer.  In every generation people have a choice to create and contribute to the growth of society or to remain self-absorbed by destroying what others have created or take for themselves what others have earned.

    For example, a match is a wonderful creation until it gets into the hands of an arsonist. Computers and their software have made life easier for millions of people and institutions.  However, there are others that use their skills to hack into people’s financial accounts and steal their assets and personal information.  The recent theft of such information from 110 million customers at Target or the Neiman Marcus high-end retailer in the U.S., are prime examples.  Such people can also create computer viruses that destroy records and valuable data.    Everyone now has to use User Names and Passwords in order to protect themselves.

    Such criminal activities in all their different forms have always been the experience of people since Cain and Abel.  What exactly did Jesus bring to our understanding that tells us that a perfect justice system exists?   When we look at his teachings, we find the answer.  In one of his parables, he mentioned how the wheat and the weeds must be allowed to grow together until the harvest when they are separated.  (Matthew 13:24f) 

    He taught his listeners not to judge what other people do with their lives but to spend their energy on perfecting the spirit by which they live.  He said, “First take the log out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from someone else’s eye.”  (Matthew 7:5)  He told his listeners to forgive 70 times 7. (Matthew 18:22) This translates into an idea of never being offended by what someone else does. 

    These teachings are difficult for people to understand.  To some, they appear ridiculous and silly.  They do not give us what we want – justice!   Before we dismiss the significance of these teachings, we need to ask ourselves, “What did Jesus and his disciples know that allowed them to die with love on their lips?” 

    Each had discovered that they had the ability to become people with transformed values and attitudes while living in the midst of people who know only what their five senses tell them. What Jesus and his followers knew is that every person in this life is defining their identity exactly as they wish.  God gave to us free will which is a form of perfect justice. We reap what we sow.       

    During an early period in my marriage, when our two children were toddlers, a young man of my acquaintance came to me with a financial need.  He had been in a car accident and his car needed to be repaired.  It was his only source of transportation.  He did not have the ability to get a loan at the bank unless someone co-signed.  He asked me if I would co-sign. I did as he had asked.   After he made the first two payments, I never saw him again. He moved from our area.

    Being the only wage-earner with a small salary in our young family, I had to make the payments for the next eighteen months.  Each month when I made that payment I experienced the same emotional turmoil.  I was angry, resentful and remorseful that I had been so stupid to trust someone that I had known for such a short time.  Finally, it dawned on me that not only had he stolen my money, he had taken up residence in my head and also had stolen my spirit.  It was then that I realized that the price was too expensive. 

    I forced myself to sing each time I wrote the check.  I had finally understood the presence of the perfect justice system.  I was going in one direction with my life and he was going in another.  I completely let go of what he did and felt instant healing and peace. The freedom of being able to detach from that experience was absolutely exhilarating. 

    Each person is judged by a justice system that never makes a mistake.  No one gets away with anything, even their good deeds that were done in secret.  It is then that people personalize the meaning of what Jesus taught, “Where your treasure is, there will your hearts be also.”  (Matthew 6:21)

    Today, we have witnessed the same result of the transformed life recorded by the author of Genesis when he wrote the story of the life of Joseph.  Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him and he refused.  She told her husband that Joseph had tried to rape her, and, because of her accusation, Joseph was put in prison.  That imprisonment became a stepping stone to his becoming second in command in Egypt.

    In our day, Nelson Mandela emerged a transformed man after spending 27 years in prison. There was no remorse in him for what others had done to him.  Like Joseph, Mandela’s imprisonment became a transforming experience and also like a stepping stone to becoming the President of South Africa. There can be no doubt that this perfect justice system has been in existence since the beginning of time.  It was Jesus, however, that taught his followers about its presence.  We judge ourselves by the choices we make. 

    Some of us choose to live in eternity now.  Others, who continue to sleep-walk, remain subjects of the reigning gods of this world that are forever changing.  Jesus taught that there is a perfect justice system in play even when there appears to be no justice.  All of us begin life blindly until we learn something different that takes our awareness to a new level. 

    Those of us who understand how to interpret the symbols of the material world know that Jesus taught us how to detach from their influence.  Others engage in delaying their education in this area for as long as they wish.  However, even for them, there is hope.  How do we know this?  There is only one way to discover our true identity and that does not come with defining ourselves by the symbols of the material world.  It comes when we realize we are spirit-beings from a realm where nothing material exists.