Sunday, June 1, 2008

Sermon - June 1

Micah 6:1-8
"Core Values"
June 1, 2008

Core values. Every so often it’s good for an individual or an organization to ask themselves about core values. This “core values” term is very “au courant” in managerial and business circles. In fact, I found the most succinct definition of core values on the National Park Services website. Apparently, they have just gone through the process of discerning their core values. And they have a good explanation of the term:
What are Core Values?

The core values of an organization are those values we hold which form the foundation on which we perform work and conduct ourselves. In an ever-changing world, core values are constant. Core values underlie our work, how we interact with each other, and which strategies we employ to fulfill our mission. They are the practices we use (or should be using) every day in everything we do.
Operating practices Business strategies Cultural norms What we are good atChanged in response to market/ administration changes
Govern personal relationships Guide business processes Clarify who we are Articulate what we stand for Help explain why we do business the way we do Guide us on how to teach Inform us on how to reward Guide us in making decisions Underpin the whole organization Require no external justification Essential tenets

Micah 6:8 can be understood as a statement of the core values of God’s people. We did not choose them from a multiple choice menu. These are values that grow, undeniably and organically out of the relationship with God that God has created and covenanted with us. These three things undergird our life of faith: To do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God. These values lie at the center of our faith, pinned there by the cross of Jesus Christ, who embodied these values in a human life so that we could see how it was done.
Put another way: What does God require/request/respect from us? Given who God is and what God has done, who shall we be?
The first core value is Justice. Doing – Actively living out the value of Justice –
Most of us might go to an awful lot of Sunday School before we would recognize the centrality of Justice to God’s desire for his people. Because the Bible we read is in English, but if we looked at the Hebrew, we would begin to see how often the word tzedek, or justice is used. It’s the word translated as “judgement” as well as “justice”. And it is closely related to the word sometimes translated as charity - "tzedakah". That’s because, according to God’s Word, giving to the poor is a matter of fulfilling an obligation, and of righting a social wrong. Our image of Justice is Lady Justice, holding the scales – well, there is some of that balancing sense in the Bible’s core value of Justice. So too, the act of giving tzedakah involves restoring the relationship of giver and receiver as equals in society.
In Bible Study, Karen pointed out that the way God wants us to give is in the spirit of “You’re not poor, you’re just broke.” To consider someone poor is to consider them less than you. But to see them as broke recognizes that they like us (in worth, in stature before God) , only without money – Broke. And, as Jan added – we all are broke – broken, sometimes. Justice is a hand over of what God means to be evenly distributed.
There’s something else about Lady Justice that relates to Biblical justice: Lady Justice is blind – impartial. Doesn’t favor the majority, the popular, the familiar, the familial. Justice is equally owed the alien and the stranger and the sojourner. In fact, God’s covenant with His people was that they were to be especially careful to be impartial and fair to aliens.
Psalm 72:12–14 describes how God’s servant is
to see the world (my translation):
For this one delivers the needy when they call,
the poor and those who have no helper;
is concerned about the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence this one redeems
their life,
and precious is their blood in his sight.
This care of the weakest is often tied to the period of slavery
in Egypt. Deuteronomy 24:17–18 states: “You shall
not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice. . . .
Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord
your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command
you to do this.”

(from "What Does the Lord Require" session 1 - the thoughtful christian)

One of the reasons that Christians have had such an easy time being Americans is that America also has affirmed the importance of this core value. Americans would say that justice, impartial justice, including the importance of a fair trial, is one of our most cherished core values. It is part of the Bill of Rights – a foundational document for America.
Yet in the current climate of fear and division, this foundational principal is being downgraded, relativized, ruled in- applicable. I’m not going to talk about the “War of Terror”. I just want to tell you about what has happened to one young man: Omar Khadr, who is now 21, is being “tried” if one can call it that, after being held for 5 years without legal representation, without family visits, without contact with anyone who can help him. He was 15 when he was captured. Justin Ault is older. Chris Berger is older. Sean Hartin is older than this young man was when he was scooped off the battlefield. For five years, in which Justin and Chris and Collin can reasonably expect to learn to drive, kiss a girl, fight with their parents over how late they stay out, graduate from high school, make some good decisions, and hopefully not too many bad ones, take their first legal drink, if they choose, move away from home, but hopefully not so far away that Mom can’t send a car package. But the same five years in which these guys will do those things, Omar has been imprisoned without charges, subject to “enhanced interrogation techniques”, techniques that we would NEVER allow to be used on one of our children, brought up on charges based on flimsy evidence, without access to adequate legal counsel, and now faces a trials conducted in secrecy, far from the eyes of the American people. The actual trial is being held in a sort of bunker, in conditions that remind me of nothing so much as the way I was taught dictators structured trials – the only observers will be behind soundproof glass, so that they can’t even really hear what is going on in the courtroom. This is happening right now. And our government is doing it. And the God who asks of us that, as a core value we do justice, cannot be pleased.
What can we do? Maybe we can't do much.
Pray. That’s right.
Write letters to our representatives, of course.
Make good decisions at the polls. Yes.
But, as Christians, what we cannot do is just shrug our shoulders and say, So What? Doing justice means that we act, whatever it is we do, out of core value that God expects us to maintain. This value is not just for Republicans or Democrats, or for “liberal” or “conservative” Christians. It is for all of us.
God requires that aliens also be granted justice.
That’s why I was so moved to receive the token of appreciation from the boy in Beit Jala who we sent some money to for a van. Because it shows that we are acting out of this core concern for justice for aliens. You know, Palestians are aliens in the most fundamental sense of the word. They are people without a country. Palestinians living in the occupied territories are not allowed to be citizens of Israel, the country that occupies their land. Nor are they allowed to have a nation of their own. Thirty foot high concrete walls cut them off from their gardens and vineyards and orchards. You may have the idea that the wall is around the edge of the Palestinian territory. But that’s not right. It snakes all over, winding around and through villages, separating the people from the land they farm and from each other. Look at a map.
You know the emblem from Beit Jala was in a lovely little olive wood box. Well, there’s lots of olive wood to work into boxes and candlesticks and stuff over there. Because over one million Palestinian olive trees have been torn up by Catapillar bulldozers in the last few years, hundred of square miles of productive agricultural infrastructure destroyed as collective punishment and intimidation, both in direct violation of the Geneva Accord, which Israel and her most important ally, the United States of America, signed. How would Dirk react if a bulldozer showed up one day on the church’s land and started “plowing”?
Illegal settlements built by the Israeli government on Palestinian land are protected, while 94% of all building permit requests by Palestinian families are denied. And if the families has a baby, the family grows, as ours do, and they decide to go ahead and build, on their own land an additional room on a home they own, they are told that the whole house is subject to demolition. Whenever the government chooses to have the bulldozers come. So many children grow up in a home for years, go to school one day and come home to find their mother crying over a pile of rubble. And people wonder why Palestinians sometimes seem to be so angry and alienated? I think I’m beginning to get it.
So I’m very happy that this church has become involved a little bit with some of the boys who cannot live in their own homes because of unjust conditions there. We sent a little money for a van. Of course, the Israeli bureaucracy has, temporarily we hope, blocked the purchase of that van by refusing to recognize the church run school as a non-profit organization. They want to squeeze, from a Christian charity in this desperately poor little town, a 100% tax on the purchase of the vehicle. This is the government that, in January of this year, signed an agreement in which they receive – for nothing - 30 BILLION dollars of weapons and armaments from the United States of America in the next ten years.
The core value of justice is why the effort of this church to build a home for homeless women, the Women in Transition project, is so important. That’s what Kirk spending all those hours wiring the place is important to us and to who we are. Because these are things that matter to God.
If we are going to understand ourselves as God’s people in this place, then we need to get straight about what is core – what is central to what we do. Maybe some of us think that gifts to Palestine and clean water for Malawi and fair trade coffee and olive oil and wiring a house for homeless women is just some nice “extra” stuff that some folks do when they have extra time, or extra money. Maybe some of us think that the high school mission trip is a nice “bonus” for the kids – that they go to work with poor people for a week as a kind of vacation from their parents. But it’s not a frill. Micah reminds us that this stuff is what is CENTRAL – CORE in our relationship to God. It’s not tangential and auxiliary. This stuff is doing justice. This is what taking our relationship with God seriously looks like. Being the church depends on living the core values that God requires.
Without that, the building’s a museum.
The fellowship is a not-very-exclusive club.
Worship – a meaningless ritual.
What does it mean to share in Jesus’ body and blood if we don’t share his life and his relationship to God? Jesus’ showed us how to do what God requires –
To do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.
We come to this table to be strengthened to live
more faithfully the core values of Jesus’ life and our own.


Rev. Jen said...

This is a fantastic sermon!
You ought to publish it more widely. Perhaps you would come and preach it at my church?

beabs said...

This is a call-to-arms that I can answer! Where do I enlist? Oh, yeah! At church.....I don't think the Cardinals are playing at home next Sunday, so I'll be there! Keep us squirming, Cindy, we've been too complacent for too long!