Take up the Slack in Justice

By The Rev. A. Wayne Schwab

[Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 and Luke 12:32-40.]

Trinity Church, Plattsburgh, New York; August 8, 2010.

From Isaiah: “. . .seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”
Being just – our theme for today

Do you know where the expression “sleep tight” comes from.
Early beds had ropes instead of a box spring.
Network of ropes were the box spring of those days.
Tighten ropes or be uncomfortable.
“So sleep tight.”

That idea of taking up the slack is a way to hear Jesus’ teaching.
He assures us that God will give us the kingdom – what we need.
Then, immediately he says “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.”
Don’t rest on reassurance.
Take up the slack in your living.
Care for the poor.
“Be dressed for action – have your lamps lit.”
The actions are to love and to be just.

Two definitions – fresh and biblical
To love is to accept others just as they are and help them to fulfill their potential.
You can’t love a crowd so to love a crowd be just – seek equal access to the good things in life for everyone.
Justice is the public face of love.

*   *   *

George was the top salesman it his bank.
Trouble is he was pursuing a false dream.
One day his sister said: “George, you’re a homebody – love your family – why do you work so hard.”
He came clean: “I hate it.”
He found he could retire early and he did!
He had been pursuing the wrong dream.

A pastor wrote in the Christian Century:
His subject was materialism.
The problem is not things.
The problem is our wanting all the things we can get!
“It’s this insatiable desire to acquire stuff rather than the stuff
itself that is the problem.”

I suspect this was George’s problem.
He had let the desire for stuff – in his case to be on top – override his desire to be with his family.
God spoke to him through his sister – “George, you’re a homebody – love your family – don’t work so hard.”

*   *   *

I believe George’s story and this Gospel get to a problem we have as a nation.
The problem is “the American dream.”
Just what is the American dream?
Too often it is assumed to be prosperity – the chance for everyone to become rich regardless of where they start.
We say, “Immigrants come because they want the American
dream of becoming rich.”
That’s materialism: the desire to acquire stuff.

What is the American dream?  What is the American dream?

It is justice!
It is that everyone is equal before the law!
It is justice – fairness.
No one is gets special favor.
That’s our goal as a nation – we work for everyone to get an equal chance.
We’re not perfect.  Some of us do not get an equal chance.
We keep working to give everyone an equal chance.
Justice is what drives us!

Where do we find this version of the American dream?

Did you ever hear of the Mayflower Compact?
Those folks on the Mayflower wrote out why they were coming and the society they wanted to build.

“We . . . solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves . . .  to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.”
The date – Nov. 11, 1620
The place – the Mayflower anchored off Plymouth Rock as they were about to land
Why: the kind of society they wanted to set up

A just society – all equal before the law – “enact, constitute, and frame, just and equal Laws”

The goal – “for the General good of the Colony” – not for a few but for everyone.

Why – the general good of the colony – a good life for everyone – and justice the way to get there.

And so the preamble to our Constitution reads:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Yes, I’ve cited this before.  We need to connect it to the “American dream.”  Justice is the American dream.  That’s why immigrants – we are all immigrants come here.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to
form a more perfect union, – not perfect but working for it
establish Justice, – our first purpose, justice
insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, – see to the good of all
and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, – the blessings of liberty flow from justice
do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

And we continue this emphasis on justice in our pledge to the flag:

“We pledge allegiance to the Flag,
and to the Republic for which it stands:
one Nation indivisible,
With Liberty and Justice for all.”

The last line is always the punch line – “with liberty and justice for all.”

*   *   *

For Christians, this call to justice is our basic clue to government – justice is the basis for all we do.
In public life and in private life.
It is the real American dream – especially for Christians.

In public life, let justice – fairness – guide how we think about immigration and the laws to regulate it.
Be just – threat all fairly, justly.
Let’s not be slack in it.
Like tightening up the ropes in the old beds; let’s not be slack in justice.

George was not fair or just with himself and his family.
Don’t let acquiring stuff rule your life.
Learn from George.

*   *   *

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.”
Light our lamps of justice.
Let’s be sure that is the American dream we work for.
Take up the slack in our nation.
Work for all of us to have equal access to the good things in life.

[Rev.  A.  Wayne Schwab; Coordinator of Member Mission Network, Inc., President of Member Mission Press, Chair of the Spiritual Formation Committee of the United Church of Hinesburg, VT, Author, Speaker, and Workshop Leader.]