Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
50 years today, like most 10 year-olds across America, I woke up to the new possibilities of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s 2 hour and 36 minute walk on the moon. It was summer, so were allowed to stay up late and watch the historic events unfold on the TV. Armstrong, in his bulky suit, was the first to wriggle out of a square hole, and back down the ladder to the moon’s surface. 600 million people were watching on television or listening on the radio, as Armstrong’s foot touched the moon’s crust of the Sea of Tranquility and uttered, “That’s one small step for man… one giant leap for mankind.” Aldrin climbed out next. His words were less quoted, “Beautiful! Beautiful!” he said. “Magnificent desolation.” We watched the grainy black and white images on the TV as the two astronauts struggled to plant an American flag on the moon’s surface. They got it standing, barely, and then took pictures, presumably for their Christmas cards. We listened as President Nixon made the most historic, and longest long distance call to the moon to congratulate them. And then as we were all falling asleep, we watched as the astronauts gathered up 50 pounds of rocks to bring home to earth.
Astronaut Michael Collins, who was flying over the Sea of Tranquility every two hours, was struck by the unity of people around the world at that moment in time. “It was a wonderful achievement in the sense that people everywhere around the planet applauded it: north, south, east west, rich poor, Communist, whatever.” And for one brief moment, regardless of nationality or political leanings, the American flag on the moon truly represented the possibility of “liberty and justice for all.”
For the next few years, I would collect all the memorabilia I could of that historic night. Newspaper clippings, commemorative coins, and first issues of the10 cent moon landing stamp. I even had a poster of the 3 astronauts prominently displayed in my bedroom. No, nothing was ever quite like that night again for a ten-year old. It was truly a reminder of what the world could accomplish when justice prevailed, and when all people were allowed to celebrate a great achievement.
As citizens of this nation, and defenders of a civil society, we believe that justice for all is a fundamental right. We support and strive to work for organizations that provide legal access to vulnerable people living in poverty, individuals with disabilities, veterans, seniors, minorities and victims of domestic violence. That is not simply a part of being a good citizen of a nation, however, in scripture, we are taught that it is also to be the character of a faithful follower of God. So this morning, let us consider the nature of God’s justice for this world.
The whole of the book of Amos is actually about the theme and call to justice, but it seems that it is the prophet alone who is committed to it. Amos lived and spoke at a time in which King Jeroboam had extended the borders of his kingdom, and when Israel was outwardly as well-off and powerful as it had ever been. But underneath that prosperous surface, lay deep social divisions. There were the privileged and entitled ones, and those who were not. In contrast to the principles underlying the law of Moses for the Jewish people, the distribution of wealth was ever increasingly unequal.
Amos’ message was clear. Israel was being called into judgement for its lack of justice. The poor and needy were being oppressed, and denied justice in the courts. They were being forced into servitude and slavery. The few goods which belonged to the poor were being confiscated, and their garments taken as collateral. Trade was dishonest, with prices inflated and crooked weights and measures used. The weight of the ephah of grain was less than true, and the weight of the shekel was exaggerated. God would not tolerate the abuse and exploitation of the poor any longer. The summer fruits in the basket, which appeared in Amos’ vision, should have been the sweetest, but instead, they were to be the last fruits the nation of Israel would see and enjoy.
God’s fury against Israel was justified. Why, you may ask. Because they had forgotten all the things God had done for them. He delivered them from the hand of the Pharaoh in Egypt, and given them his law to live by. He had destroyed their enemies so that they could inherit the new land, and sent them prophets to renew his word. The prophet Amos’ uncomfortable message was that as God’s chosen people, Israel didn’t have a monopoly on divine favor which they could choose overlook, but rather, they had been called to a special moral responsibility. They had been called to be a holy people. This meant that they were to reflect God’s character, for all to see. It was a character which in Amos’s understanding, was defined by justice. God desired a righteous society, and not simply a few righteous individuals. To the nation of Israel, Amos declared, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
So what does it mean do justice? Let me assure you that to do justice is not a romantic pollyanish ideal, a nationalistic phrase nor even an abstract concept. Doing justice is hard work. Justice, you see, is to share the gifts of God’s creation fairly among all his children. It is at the heart of Jesus’ own teaching, “You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all you soul, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” To do justice is to care for your neighbor as you care for yourself. But to do justice also demands that God’s people must work together. There will be personal sacrifice, and at times a community, a church or a nation, will need to suffer discomfort for the sake of others. To do justice begins by learning to see, and feel the pain and oppression of those who are experiencing injustice.
Surprisingly, over the years, I have discovered that even the smallest eyes know what is right to do- what it is to do justice. Perhaps they learned it from Dr. Seuss, in his famous work, “Horton Hears a Who.” One day, Horton the elephant hears a cry from help coming from a speck of dust. Even though he can’t see anyone on the speck, he decides to help it. As it turns out, the speck of dust is home to the Whos, who live in their city of Whoville. Horton agrees to help protect the Whos and their home, but this gives him nothing but torment from his neighbors, who refuse to believe that anything could survive on the speck. Still, Horton stands by the motto that, “After all, a person is a person, no matter how small.” It is a basic idea in God’s kingdom. A person’s a person, no matter how small.
Or perhaps justice was taught by the most unexpected of teachers. An American tourist was walking down the streets of a Chinese city and was intrigued by the children, many of whom were carrying smaller children upon their backs, and managing at the same time to play their games. “It is too bad,” the tourist sympathetically said to one little fellow, ” that you have to carry such a heavy burden!” The little boy looked up surprised, “He’s no burden,” came the quick reply; “he’s my brother.” The man sighed, “Well, you are chivalrous to say so”” said the man, and he gave the boy some money. When the American reached home he said to his family: “A little Chinese boy has taught me the fullest meaning of the words, `Bear ye one another’s burdens.”
Or perhaps justice was learned by 10 year-old boy, 50 years ago in the midst of a year that had witnessed of war, famine, and violence in the streets. On one moonlit night in July, the world was being drawn together in unity by two men walking on the moon, and proclaiming with the raising of a flag the promise for all the world to see of “justice for all.”
Of course, we didn’t see all the things on TV which happened that time on surface of the moon. Men had already prayed in space, but Buzz Aldrin went one step further. To prepare for his walk he took Holy Communion. He brought the wine and bread with him from earth to space. And so the first foods ever poured or eaten on the moon were for the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. We didn’t see the image of Michael Collin circling the moon and drinking his coffee either, nor the American flag toppling over as the Eagle ascended from the moon’s surface. But all three astronauts recognized their role was an honor. They were carrying the promise of a democratic world, and the collective will of the planet with them. They recognized that this was not their honor alone. Together they were making the journey and doing the work with hundreds of thousands of colleagues. Neil Armstrong wrote of that day, “I was certainly aware that this was a culmination of the work of 300,000 or 400,000 people over a decade and that the nation’s hopes and outward appearance largely rested on how the results came out.” That was not privilege, but a statement of justice for all.
My friends, the prophet Amos reminds us that the people of God are called to participate in God’s love for the world, and to be God’s hands and feet, doing justice, taking down barriers, allowing access for all, offering mercy, working for each other’s good. But God’s invitation also comes with a warning, as it is did to Israel long ago. It is the warning of the summer fruit. As Old Testament professor Donald Gowan once said, “If we ignore the word God has set before us, what more can God do for us?” Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.