What Makes a Hero: Justice
During the month of July, we have celebrated heat waves and the 50th anniversary of the walking on the Moon with Apollo 11. We have looked at our human condition through the lens of the movies. As we watched Simba from the Lion King, we reflected on the courage to remember who we are in Christ Jesus as we move from the challenges of our past to God’s preferred future. Moana’s storms sailed us through an exploration of persistence that we, like Paul, are called to discover in the storms of life. Toy Story’s cadre of characters urged us to remember that God calls us into ministry together with others in community as we share our resources. Today, we conclude the series with our final film, Hidden Figures as we are seeking justice.
When Hidden Figures came out in 2016, there was much excitement in my house! The true story behind three women who calculated the launch data for Apollo 11 and how they broke barriers of gender and race doing so! Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaugh are all African American women working for the NASA space program in the early 1960s. Each one with a different set of gifts – Dorothy in administration and ultimately, IBM computers, Mary in engineering, and Katherine in trigonometry and orbital mechanics. At each step along the way of using those gifts, the women were met with challenges and obstacles. Katherine earned the opportunity to work on flight paths for Apollo 11, but was inhibited by the lack of bathroom facilities for African American women. Take a look as she speaks up when this injustice is called out on how it impacts her work – For those who have not yet seen this move, the language in the clip reflects the context of the time: (show clip)(1)
We all pee the same color at NASA! There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Justice comes from moment when we hear God’s call for us to be a part of the fullness of God’s world. Katherine ran to the bathroom day after day after day. Not bathroom down the hall, but the bathroom almost a half a mile away. She ran in the rain. She ran in the heat. She carried her calculations and worked as she went.
An unjust system would never have changed on its own. Without the prophetic actions of Katherine day in and day out, the receptivity of Al, the supervisor who knocked down the sign, there would be no movement in the hearts of those who held onto racism, sexism, and classism as deeply as their commitment to put a human into space. It may be hard for us to hear. In order for Katherine to change where she went to the bathroom, from the “colored only” 1/ 2 mile away, resistance and change was necessary.
God’s justice involves our change. Justice cannot happen without our change. So, what is this justice exactly? What does it look like to be a righteous disciple of Christ who follows Jesus and who lives in the light of Christ? In koine biblical Greek, the word for righteousness is dikiaios (pronounced dick-ki-a soon-ney). This is translated from one of two Hebrew words, either the Hebrew word tsaidiyq (pronounced set-it-ka)– translated righteousness, or mishpat, translated justice. Both of those words are translated with the one word in the Greek. This means that New Testament righteousness, always has hues of justices. Translators necessarily have to make choices. English language translators have most commonly translated dikiaios as righteousness, whereas Spanish language translators have most commonly chosen to translate dikiaios as justice. (2)
God calls us to live out this kind of righteousness, that cannot be separated from justice. In fact, it is so interwoven that, linguistically, the words are identical. You can not be righteous without seeking God’s justice, nor can one be just without knowing righteousness.
Justice for who you might ask? Justice for those we love. Who do you love? Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.
In the days of Moses, the Pharaoh did not remember Joseph and the special relationship the people of Israel had enjoyed through the work of Joseph. Instead, what the Hebrew people knew from the government was systematic oppression and threats for their lives! In fact, Pharaoh declared that all male offspring should die before their 2nd birthday. He banished threats and insults to the Hebrew people. Pharaoh instructed the midwives, Shiprah and Puah to kill all baby boys who were born. The girls could live. However, the boys were to be killed on the spot. Pharaoh was convinced that no good could come from Hebrew people, and the best way to stop a whole population (and the threat to his ruling power) was to kill all the newborn males! Xenophobia and Nationalism has been present in every generation.
In Exodus 1, starting in verse 15, we hear how this chapter of history played out. For Shiprah and Puah, Egyptian midwives to Hebrew women and Egyptian women alike, the Pharaoh determined that they were to disregard the humanity of women in labor. But Shiprah and Puah could not! These were neighbors and friends. They shared cups of proverbial flour and eggs. They watched the children they had birthed grow up. They could not kill babies on the birthing stool as they helped deliver. As a midwife, their commitment to life was primary. Many midwives in the Ancient Near East became midwives when they were unable to have children. This put them at the margins of their society. They risked their comfortable social and political status to bring love and justice for the Israelite families.
Shiprah and Puah, were bold and clever midwives as cared for the mothers and babies before them. They sought justice by loving their neighbors, not by checking papers and identification cards, although an Egyptian and an Israelite, would have looked visually quite distinctive. Shiprah and Puah loved their neighbors with civil disobedience and placing the needs of people ahead of the needs of Pharaoh.
“The Hebrew women birth too fast!” the midwives claimed (can’t you imagine they were shaking inside as they told the Pharaoh!) in their tongues in their checks. “We miss our opportunity.” In the delicate moments of birth, life and death often hang in the balance. Shiprah and Puah courageously chose life in the face of fear and bigotry. Their names are recorded in the biblical witness as those who cleverly found a path to God’s justice. Love makes a way when no way is visible.
Seeking justice is always an expression of love for God. God who made us and loves us; God, who put love in our hearts, calls us to live out a life filled with justice and righteousness.
Many of you have shared a deep concern for our brothers and sisters who are migrating and the deplorable conditions under which they are being held. United Methodist congregations across the country have opened their doors to provide sanctuary for those immigrants whose lives would be endangered if they were to be deported to their home countries. Twenty-three persons have shared that they are living in sanctuary in United Methodist Sanctuary congregation, fifteen of them, four families, are living in our Eastern Pennsylvania Conference. One church, First United Methodist Church in Germantown, has opened her doors to be home for these families. We pray and work for justice and love for our neighbors.
Our General Board of Church and Society has shared a fuller theological reflection that is included in the August newsletter. The addresses of all of the families are included, so that you might encourage them with a card of prayer! Cards will also be in the lobby for you to sign, as well as letters to our elected officials to speak out on behalf of justice and compassion for children and families. Justice for God’s people requires change and is an expression of love for God.
We, too, are called with Shiprah and Puah, like Katherine and Al, like Paul’s letter to Galatia, like Jesus’ story to the community are called to love God’s justice, embrace God’s people, and love our neighbors as ourselves. How is God calling you to reflect God’s justice for your neighbors?
Let us close in prayer:
Oh crucified and resurrected Christ, ground our anger at injustice in a love that necessitates action. Forgive us where we have contributed to the injustice and oppression of racism, sexism, and classism. Let us be unlearning of the ways of bigotry. This moment, when our eyes are opened to the injustice around us, is profound. Soften our hearts and empower us to act against the powers that seek to destroy and divide. May we respond to this world simultaneously as bridge builders and prophets, wisely and compassionately, boldly in Your name. Amen.
(1) Hidden Figures, 2016.
 Hidden Figures, 2016.
New Testament Lesson: Galatians 3:26-29
…for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Gospel Lesson: Mark 12:28-34
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.
Meditations For Your Week
Sunday, July 28~ Saturday, August 3
Sunday: “For in Christ Jesus, you are all children of God through faith. As many of you were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Galatians 3: 26-27. Pray for boldness to cloth yourself with Christ. Jesus spoke out against oppression of the poor and marginalized.
Monday: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3: 28. Where is God calling you to speak for justice? When some are left behind, this is not God’s vision of justice in Christ Jesus.
Tuesday: “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3: 29. Consider that the Abrahamic covenant was blessings and hope for the descendants. Those who you bless will be blessed.
Wednesday: “One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Mark 12: 28. Pray for each one as we ask questions and seek answers. Curiosity does not distract us from God’s way, but opens up our hearts to seek justice.
Thursday: “Jesus answered, “The first is ‘Hear O Israel: THe Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength, the second in this, ‘ you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no greater commandment than these” Mark 12: 29-31. How have you loved your neighbor with actions of justice?
Friday: The scribe said to him, ” You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘ he is one, and beside him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the understanding, and with all the strength; and to love one’s neighbor as oneself.’ – this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Mark 12: 32 – 33. We have so many excuses, reasons why we can not serve our neighbors right now. Pray that you persist through your excuses, to care for your neighbor, and answer the call God has placed on your heart to do justice.
Saturday: “When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, Jesus said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God. ‘ After that, no one dared to ask him any questions.” Matthew 16: 34. Consider that seeking justice brings one closer to God and God’s kingdom. Justice is in the very nature of God’s way.