Jesus and Injustice - Love in Action
Today is the First Sunday in Advent, not just the start of the Advent calendar, buying presents and decorating a tree. Advent is described as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. It is derived from the latin word adventus, meaning coming. For me Advent is a chance to reflect on who Jesus is as I expectantly wait and prepare for celebrating his birthday. I've started doing that early this year, and this morning I wanted to share with you who Jesus is to me.
As I try to become more like Jesus, there are many characteristics and attributes that I am trying to develop in my life which I see in Jesus from the stories in the bible. At the moment, the theme of justice resonates strongly with me - the Jesus I know didn't tolerate things which weren't as God intended. During Advent I am challenging myself to take time out from the shopping, feasting and celebrating to look around and to make a difference in the lives of those around me and I will be inviting you to join me in doing this later on.
I also hope that I will inspire you to reflect on who Jesus is to you. A stranger or a close friend? An insignificant baby or a powerful leader? What do you read of Jesus doing that you'd like to do more of? Who is the Jesus that you identify with and what do you plan to do to become more like him?
Would you join me in reading from Matthew 21:1-13 which is actually the Church of England's gospel reading for today, the First Sunday in Advent.
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.’ This took place to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet: ‘Say to Daughter Zion, “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”’ The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’
‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’
‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds answered, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.’
Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘“My house will be called a house of prayer,” but you are making it “a den of robbers.” The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant.
‘Do you hear what these children are saying?’ they asked him.
‘Yes,’ replied Jesus, ‘have you never read,
‘“From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise”?’
And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.
So, who is Jesus to me?
When I read this passage I am drawn to a few things.
Firstly, the Jesus I read about and have come to know entered into Jerusalem gently, humbly, on a donkey, yet there was a large crowd, there was energy, people were drawn to find out more. Then when I continue on I am struck by the contrast when I read 'Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there'. Those of you who have seen the Jesus film from 1979 might remember the portrayal of an indignant man, saddened and upset by what the temple had become. Jesus's righteous indignation stirs him to action. The feeling of 'this is not right, this is not how things are supposed to be', followed by action and then by restoration of what should be happening, of the presence of God in the temple - the healing of the blind and lame and of being a place of praise.
The temple courts were set aside as holy places for worship, yet they had become overrun with people seeing an opportunity to take advantage of others and to make money. I didn't fully understand what these verses were saying when I first read this passage so I did some research!
When this was written, Jerusalem was under Roman occupation, so Roman money was used. However, the Jewish authorities dictated that only Hebrew money could be used to pay the temple tax, so money changers were allowed to set up tables and benches (our word for bank comes from this word bench). However, they didn't just change local Roman money but all foreign currency. There were also people selling animals, birds and other things to be used as sacrifices in the temple.
The issue which I believe Jesus was outraged by was that these money changers were using God's Temple and those who came to worship in order to get rich themselves. Exchange rates were set so that the money changers made money changing worshippers money into the Hebrew Shekels. They then also charged the Temple priests to change it back into Roman money - making money from each transaction. They also offered loans with interest rates up to 300%. This wasn't just a convenient banking service to help worshippers at the Temple, it was exploiting worshippers in order to make as much money as possible. You may be able to think of examples of people being exploited by others trying to make as much money as possible in our society - exorbitant interest rates, payday lenders. What I'm drawn to is Jesus's response to the injustice.
Jesus was and is someone who would not tolerate injustice in the world around him.
I want to be someone who doesn't just stand back and tolerate injustice in the world around me.
For me this awareness of injustice is felt most strongly about the issues of poverty and inequality which I see around us.
It breaks my heart that there are people, some of whom may be in this room, many who may live within walking distance of here who can't afford to put food on the table at each mealtime.
It breaks my heart that many live in fear of a knock at the door, of checking their balance at a cashpoint, of a bill bouncing or a card payment being declined in a shop as a result of debt.
It breaks my heart that many children will grow up only knowing one parent, or being fed lies about one or both parents due to relationships breaking down and people hurting.
It breaks my heart that the most vulnerable in our society are not always given the support and opportunities they need and deserve.
For each of these examples and many more, the Jesus I know is actively doing something to turn these situations around.
Here at Leeds Vineyard we have close links with projects and people who are committed to transformation on all of these fronts - putting God's love into action. That might sound familiar to you as it's part of our strap line here at Leeds Vineyard - Love God, Love People, Love in Action.
Along with my husband Matt we oversee Reach Out - God's love in action here at Leeds Vineyard. As a community we aim to listen to and learn from the teachings of life of Jesus. We want to be known as a church who is honest with their money, who has a desire to reach the poor and who want to see justice for the broken. Why? We are not just trying to 'do good', to 'look good' to 'make ourselves feel better, but we are trying our best, and being led by the Holy Spirit to put the teachings of Jesus into action- that's what we do when we become followers of Jesus- we learn to be more like him and do what he wants us to do.
This morning is an opportunity for us as a community to respond with action. We have Gwen Procter here from the Vine Debt Advice Centre, Elaine Sadler from the Vine Child Contact Centre, Frank & Beryl Watson who head up our Leeds Vineyard ministry - On the Streets, and Anthony & Jane Pollard who are champions for a charity Caring for Life. You can sign up and commit to buying food, gifts and warm clothes for their clients this Christmas. We are also inviting you to pray for the projects on Christmas Day, and to volunteer or find out more. The work of each project cannot happen without individuals willing to give their time and energy to help.
We also have Pete Sammons here for Reach Out Global as a representative of our friends who are based overseas and who are doing this in other countries - we want to encourage them and remind them that although they may be a long way away they are not forgotten.
As I learn more about what Jesus did about the injustice in the world around him I believe that this is what Jesus would do .This is why each year I look forward to this love in action Sunday - we get the chance to impact the community we're part of at Christmas. To ensure that people get a celebration, a feast, a gift, to feel loved, valued and remembered at Christmas. We get the chance as a community to demonstrate generosity to those around us, to step into people's lives gently, humbly and let them know that God loves them. Personally, I often feel overwhelmed by the need I see around me and this gives me a focus, something tangible to do, a way to respond.
At the start of Advent I would also love for you to consider who is Jesus to you? My question at the start of my talk was: Who is the Jesus that you identify with and how do you plan to do to become more like him?