Saturday, September 18, 2010
When I was a kid, I met a whole bunch of adults who thought that if they could get away with something – if they were smart of enough to think of it or hear of it from someone else and finds it useful - then it was just fine. In the struggle to make it in the world if one could get away with something, if the risk was low and the benefit meaningfully high, then that was enough. It served the bottom line and the greater good of the family balance sheet. And so wet bunches of newspapers were wrapped inside dry bundles.
Electrical meters were turned to run backwards. And in the early days before cable signals were scrambled you could buy an inexpensive box and have all the free cable you wanted. Even the premium channels.
We kids, playing in this yard or that one, noticed such things, but never spoke of them. These none-of-our business things. These mind-your-own business-things.
4Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
5saying, "When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,
6buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat."
7The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
Sometimes businesses absorb the same belief systems: whatever builds profits is an intrinsic good. Front page in the business section of the Miami Herald this past week was a grim reminder. While big banks were receiving bailout funds paid for by our tax dollars and while small businesses and homeowners needing mortgage loans are struggling to get loans from these same banks, one business especially has been the beneficiary of their support and generosity: Payday Lenders. Big Banks borrow money at extremely low interest rates from the Federal government and then bankroll payday loan centers and collect tens of millions of dollars in interest from them. Far more common in lower income neighborhoods, payday loan institutions in Florida can legally charge interest rates that are as high as 287 APR. That’s right. 287 percent. While Congress passed a law in 2007 that caps lending to military personnel at 36 percent APR, the rest of us civilians do not get such protection. Over 37 States and Washington D.C. make payday loans illegal. But not Florida.
When we talk about serving others, it comes in two types: Charity and Justice. Charity is simply taking care of someone’s immediate needs. The hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, the homeless are given shelter. We encourage and practice charity here – using what God has entrusted to us to care for the immediate needs of one another, our neighbors, and those most vulnerable in our community. Feeding the Hungry at First Lutheran once a month, The Trinity Food Pantry, our semiannual participation in the Coalition to End Homelessness’’ Church-Based shelter program, Thanksgiving and Easter baskets, collecting money for world hunger, participation in the Souper Bowl of Caring, WELCA’s donations to local social service organizations, our summer Vacation Bible School’s donations to needy projects all over the world, Church Women United’s Travelling Bassinet to help mother’s in need, walks for MS, Alzheimer’s, Breast Cancer, Autism, and more, the Bloodmobile, folks who give their hair for wigs for those who have lost their hair due to chemotherapy, the list goes on and on. Charity we know. We drop the change in the plate, write the checks, donate the food, bake the dinners, collect the clothing and cell phones, walk the miles. We give; we give and by and large our giving impacts immediate and particular needs.
Justice and charity are not the same thing, yet we confuse them all too easily.
To work for justice is to take on the root causes of injustice, to take on the powers that exploit the vulnerable, the poor, the marginalized. To declare systems in violation of God’s very plan for creation - for God’s intention for God’s people. To hold those systems accountable, To expose them and demand the justice that they have been withholding. To act and act decisively. To act boldly for justice.
The images from Amos paint this picture even more fully: The righteous being sold for silver; the needy being sold for a pair of sandals. Institutions arrayed against them. Cheating them time and time again. Extending and deepening their poverty. Trinity is not about to pour itself into works of charity and forget God’s call to be doer’s of justice. Charity and Justice must work together: compassionately tending to immediate needs with one hand and demanding justice from the powers of this world that defy God by denying that justice to God’s people with the other. We do justice because in Christ Jesus, the very Kingdom of God has broken into the world and that Kingdom has God’s radical justice at its very heart.
One of the key opportunities that we share here at Trinity for the cause of justice is our participation in BOLD Justice, a community-based justice organization here in Broward County. Trinity is one of its founding congregations and our folks are some of its key leaders. In just three years BOLD Justice has won funding for low cost dental care for those in need, fought for affordable housing in Broward county resulting in hundreds of new units being brought on line, and won the addition of personnel at Workforce One to help people fix flags on their unemployment applications that were preventing them from receiving their desperately needed benefits. In all of those efforts, members of Trinity joined with folks from 25 other congregations and synagogues to take stands for justice, to deliver wake up calls to powers that had been deaf to the cries of the poor and needy, the most vulnerable in our society. - those who cried at the gate for justice and were not being heard.
It is the season once again for our annual house meetings held by our justice ministry network leaders at Trinity. These meetings are held in order to ask you and your neighbors and friends what issues BOLD Justice should tackle next. Once these meetings are announced, I invite you to please spare an hour or so and learn about what we have accomplished so far and share your concerns to help shape BOLD Justice’s future issues.
Justice, like poverty has become a four letter word among far too many who grab headlines and airtime these days but for we who call ourselves Christians and who seek to both be Christ, especially for the poor, and to see Christ in everyone, it is to be found at the core of our very souls.