This morning I read from the notes of Reinhold Niebuhr, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jesus. For Jesus, I read Matthew 5. A strange realization hit me when I read in this context of Niebuhr in the 1920s looking into the face of industrialization and war’s aftermath and the poverty of our souls. At the same time reading King in the 1950s and the face of a wealthy nation and war’s aftermath and a new war on the horizon. At the same time reading Jesus in the 0000s looking into the face of the prosperous Roman Empire brought on by war and rancid religion that ignored the plight of the people. All three seemed to face the same factors and proposed similar solutions.
What is evident in all three is their consistent demand that in confrontation with evils of injustice and unnecessary poverty they demand we love our enemies into redemption and never settle for status quo. Justice is an eternal pursuit that must be engaged with passion.
For decades I read Matthew chapter five with the filtered glasses of evangelical gospel expansion. This morning the pundits plaster on social media, “The nation needs God. That is the only answer.” Yet, they claim they have God and it is providing no answer. Ouch. No one is more convinced that our answer lies in God’s grace extended through us into the world. But finger pointing people to a godless God, a vacuous entity is not an answer, but a fund raising technique. God gets involved. God requires justice. God looks the hoarding rich politicians with their burgeoning incomes and lifelong pensions and healthcare and large business owners receiving 500 times the remuneration of a worker and says, “You are out of line. You pursue sinfulness and greed and gain and power and leave the lonely and the lost and the languishing in the street.” He isn’t happy with all this mess. Do we really want Him to step into it and sort it out? Maybe not.
But for Niebuhr and King and Jesus, they want God to step into us and sort it out. Yes, they want God to step into us and act out through us. You see in Matthew 5 Jesus was a drill sergeant at boot camp not a glassy eyed pacifist. His instructions set the tone for these two others to come along later and put it into 1920s and 1950s context. What Jesus is saying is “Get out there and resist the hell that lives in your streets. Demand right treatment of all in the name of the Father. Don’t force it on others, but never relax your demand. When you are persecuted, and you will be persecuted, then fight back with love that so wants the enemy to become a friend, he is thwarted in his hate.” Go and read it and let me know if that is not what He is saying. He is preparing a team that will later stand in the streets empowered by His Holy Spirit and take beatings while demanding justice with a clear light shining in darkness.
Our world is dark. We need a Niebuhr, a King, a Jesus follower to give clarity. We are far from it. The pontificating religious voice reeks of let me keep my money and power and you can have yours when I am gone. It does not speak of serving or sacrificing as is commanded by the life of Christ. It speaks of hoarding and rightness and pride. The protesting voice speaks of taking and stealing from others with anger and aggression. It does not serve its way into change. The political voice slithers and stacks up power and money while throwing out high sounding changes that have little to no effect on the disenfranchised and downcast. The prosperous business capital voice speaks of freedom for itself but an unjust and unrighteous distribution of benefit from enterprise. And God would love to do some sorting if we let Him. But He will do it through us. That is the message of Jesus. God came down in man and said, “Go get it done. My kingdom come. My will be done. On earth through you as it is in heaven through the angels.”
So, yes, we need God. We need to live His life into our streets. We need to sacrifice and serve against the force of evil greed and gain and glory. We need to overcome evil with good. We need to love the enemies of justice and mercy into lives of justice and mercy. It is just treatment of our brothers and sisters we seek. It is merciful attention of our brothers and sisters we seek. And that means resistance to unjust and unmerciful systems, while loving the ones that hold the reins.
That is a tall order, Jesus. Martin and Reinhold, do you really think it can work to the next level? We are further in the journey, but mankind has a sinful and immoral heart that keeps coming back to the same stuff over and over.
We clamor with climate change while drug addictions plague a more heinous future impact. We banter over schools while the family front is torn with tension and violence and desperation and lack of attention. We promise payments when meaningful work and a respectful environment of fair remuneration is avoided and leaves dignity in the ditch. We hoard great wealth into the accounts of protest and rights organization while payday loans strip the meat off the bones of the poor and anxiety and depression escalate to epidemic. We wail over walls while imprisoning our sons and daughters for generations in the most incarcerated nation on the planet for no more than a bad Friday night of escape.
What will we do? How will we serve and sacrifice our way into a more just and merciful community?
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus was not calling for us to sit on the sidelines and pray for those that live injustice and an onerous overlording of the people. He was calling us to confront with a deep concern for their souls. For if they do not come to a knowledge of truth, they damn their own souls. He is calling for us to come together in community with all concerned for all.
“To the degree I harm my brother, no matter what he is doing to me, to that extent I harm myself.” Martin Luther King, Jr 1958
“The church does not seem to realize how unethical a conventionally respectable life may be.” Reinhold Niebuhr 1926
“You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Jesus, the Christ 0032