Tuesday, December 20, 2016

"The Work of Christmas Begins"

A Christmas and New Year's Greeting from Bishop Peggy A. Johnson, Philadelphia Area.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Preach Social Justice on Sunday, Jan. 15

Advent is a special time of waiting, anticipating and preparing for the sacred, birth of Jesus Christ. So in this appropriate time I want to call on all of you to look ahead to 2017 and particularly to our growing concern for social justice. 

The prophets who proclaimed the birth of Christ—including Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah and Malachi—looked forward to this coming Messiah who would deliver salvation. But just as importantly, he would bring justice, freedom and righteousness for all God’s people.
Isaiah 11:4 declares that “…with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.”  Isaiah 61:1 proclaims him as one who will bring “good news to the oppressed, to bind the broken-hearted, and proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.”  

The coming of Christ is forever connected to fostering right relationships between people, and it is a key part of the gospel that we need to preach in our pulpits and model in our ministries.  John Wesley, our Methodist founder, said, “There is no holiness but social holiness.”  (Works of John Wesley, Vol. XIV, p321)

I ask that everyone preach a social justice sermon on Sunday, January 15, 2017. This is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. His legacy in the forefront of America’s Civil Rights Movement can be a powerful backdrop for any sermon. It is a legacy of striving against great odds to follow Christ in the pursuit of love, freedom, mercy and justice for all.

There are many directions that sermons preached on this day could go. But I urge all preachers to use this time to speak prophetic words about the social injustices that hinder peace and progress in the communities where you serve, or in our state or country. 

Call on everyone who listens to do something about social justice as a response to God’s Word. Ask and help people to become better informed, to participate in the political system, to speak out when people are being left out or oppressed, and to do something to make the world a more just and welcoming place for everyone to live.

In this way we can faithfully fulfill the ministry of Christ that we so happily herald during the Advent season. Sadly, too many of us soon forget the reason for this season and pack away our sacrificial sentiments along with the Christmas decorations when the new year comes.

Recently I viewed a documentary on Netflix titled “13,” which refers to the U.S. Constitution’s 13th amendment that abolished slavery.  It explains in compelling ways the history of slavery, “Jim Crow” laws and practices ensuring racial discrimination and oppression, civil rights advocacy and the mass incarceration epidemic in this country. 

Perhaps a timely social justice sermon could focus on the prison system. According to this documentary and other sources our country imprisons far more people than any other nation on earth.  We have gone from 357,000 prisoners in 1970 to 2,306,200 in 2014. 

One in three African Americans can expect to be in the criminal justice system at some time in their life. And although they are less than 13 percent of the U.S. population, African Americans make up 40.2 percent of the prison population. 

How have our laws and money-making enterprises created this “prison-machine”?  What are some better ways to live and thrive together on this planet with justice and respect for all? These questions can offer interesting topics for preaching, teaching, dialogue and active response.

Know for sure that if and when you preach this social justice sermon there will be some who will not be happy with you. “Good news to the poor” can mean not-so-good news to the rich and powerful. Truth and justice is never a simple, easy goal to achieve in this world. Many of those with money and power have the upper hand in controlling the process and would prefer to keep things the way they are. 

Preach social justice anyway. Salvation comes from Jesus Christ, and along with our salvation comes a new way of living in which we are all equally sisters and brothers. Together, our goal is to be all that we anticipate and celebrate on Christmas Day: the loving presence and liberating power of Christ in this world.  Amen.