by Rev. Doug Gray
We started this series—Grace and Justice—with a simple statement: “The world isn’t working.” We talked about how God does justice to make it work. In fact, defending the defenseless, caring for the vulnerable, and welcoming the stranger are all part of God’s character and so God calls us to do justice in two ways: to make wrong things right and to live right. If we love God and want to know God, then we have to do justice. We also talked about grace—the grace of Jesus Christ—not only in forgiving us and including us, but strengthening and guiding us for showing grace in our justice. With Jesus’ help, we can make the new community where grace is the driving force. And last week, we lifted the hood to look at the engine of grace—learning to recognize the image of God in everyone and always remembering with great humility, how God has shown us grace and drawn us into a warm embrace before we deserved it. Today, we tie all of this together as we try to answer the question, “How do we do justice?”
Robert Frost, the great American poet, once wrote,
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
Here in Quincy, we get that, but we know that it applies to streets with their potholes, sidewalks with tree-roots pushing up, and sea walls trying to hold back the storm surges. “Something there is that doesn’t love a human restriction” and that finds a way to break it down or break it up. But we live in a time when our nation and our world seem to really like walls. We put up walls of partisan politics, and privacy fences in our back yards. Our communities and states are increasingly dividing up by economic and social class—so that the poor, the rich and the middle class don’t have to mix too much. The very neighborhood in which we sit has a causeway that generally keeps crime and violence. We separate our generations too—children and parents go their separate ways most days and come back together at the end of the day, and those who require special care we institutionalize. The Israelis have put up a wall between them and the Palestinians. Some would like to build a wall between us and Mexico. Oh yes, our society and our world like walls. In a world that loves walls, how do we do justice?
First, we focus God’s love on people first. Alright, so think with me. When Jesus came, did He build a worship space? Did He gather focus groups and then create a plan of action? Did Jesus look for the most rebellious people to start a revolution to sweep away the opposition? Jesus said, “Follow me,” and then He lived a life completely devoted to making God’s grace real to the people around Him. Whenever we see Jesus at work, He is focused on people. Jesus is living out what Job says about rescuing people crying out, caring for the fatherless and making the widow sing for joy. So we should always focus God’s love on the people who need it, especially the person in front of us. In a world that makes walls, we can focus on the people not the walls. Grace is bigger than walls.
Second, we become hole-makers and bridges. One of my favorite comicbooks in the 70s told of a young person smuggling Bibles into East Germany and Russia. Of course, during the Cold War, the communist regimes behind the Iron Curtain were atheist, so smuggling Bibles meant some super-secret spy stuff that sounded very cool to me. I later learned that some of my extended family had smuggled Bibles into the Ukraine in the 1980s as a part of an agricultural mission. They were put in contact with Christians through their work, and they brought much longed for Christian fellowship and encouragement. In a sense, my cousins poked a hole in the “wall” between East and West, but we can also make bridges. In 1998, I was having pancakes, two eggs and bacon with a group of businessmen from my church just north of Milwaukee. We were reading a book called, The Renewing of American Compassion: How Compassion for the Needy Can Turn Ordinary Citizens into Heroes, by Marvin Olasky.  (In part because of this book, Olasky would become an advisor to George W. Bush ahead of his
2000 campaign.) We read about the way our society has found ways to distance people from caring for the poor, and how in many cities, that has become about dividing races and opportunities. We looked around the table—all white guys in their 50s and up (except me)—all living in the very white suburbs, attending a very white church, and all with great access to wealth and opportunity. What if we worked with a like-minded African-American church to make a bridge between our communities and open up opportunities for people of both churches? That group of 8 guys, kindled by the Holy Spirit, sparked a roaring fire for change in our church that led to a search for a sister-church that was as black as we were white. For the next five years, these two churches covenanted to build a bridge between two very different cultures and experiences, and people found new opportunities for serving and for employment. When society puts up walls, do we find ways to poke a hole and become a real, loving, grace-filled human being to someone on the other side? Can we bridge the gaps of gender and race, age and economics, so that people can cross to our side and we can to theirs?
Robert Frost wrote, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” and he talks about the irresistible forces of nature, and later even hints that he knows what it might be, but you and I are here today because we know that “Something” is really “Someone.” Paul writes, “The Messiah has made things up between us so that we’re now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance… Christ brought us together through his death on the Cross. The Cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14, 16) It’s not that our differences disappear, but that in Jesus, our differences don’t have to limit us. Democrats and Republicans—we all long for Jesus to change and renew us. Conservative and liberal—we know God’s Kingdom has come when our kids can play together and have hope for a better tomorrow. Whether you are sure in your faith, exploring the idea of faith, or not sure you have a faith—we all came today hoping God would show up, that something would change in us, that God’s love and grace might penetrate the walls of our hearts, and that we would find a way to make Jesus more Lord of our lives than He was yesterday—we came to find God today. Perhaps we want to learn how to focus on loving people first. Perhaps we want to be better hole-makers and bridges. No, walls are generally not God’s idea. Humans build walls. God builds a home. When we are together, we are not strangers or aliens, rich or poor, insiders or outsiders—we are family, built on Jesus Christ. When we are family, justice looks a lot like grace.
Marvin Olasky, The Renewing of American Compassion: How Compassion for the Needy Can Turn Ordinary Citizens into Heroes (1996)