Maintain Justice!

Friday, February 8, 2013 — Week of 4 Epiphany (Year One)

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 946)

Psalms 69:1-23 (24-30) 31-38 (morning) // 73 (evening)

Isaiah 56:1-8

Galatians 5:16-24

Mark 9:2-13

“Maintain justice!” cries the prophet, speaking to the people who are rebuilding Jerusalem. Their work is a religious work. They are rebuilding the Temple of the Lord.

But the prophet sees that strong traditional rules about who belongs and who doesn’t belong to God’s family are interfering with the work of the Temple. No doubt there are those who are remembering Deuteronomy 23 which lists some of those who are to be excluded from the assembly of the Lord — eunuchs, those born out of wedlock and their descendants for ten generations, Ammonites or Moabites and their descendants for ten generations.

Isaiah sees these divisions and decries them as unjust. “Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say ‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’; and do not let the eunuch say, ‘I am just a dry tree.'” Instead, the prophet gives a welcome place to the foreigners and eunuchs who will keep the sabbath and live in community. It is a matter of justice and of prayer. “These I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

Isaiah closes with powerful words. “Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.” That reminds me of the signature words with which our Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning began his term in 1985, “In this church, there will be no outcasts.”

I know of churches who will tell a young girl who has become pregnant out of wedlock that she should hide herself from the community until her child is born. Thankfully (for a lot of us), I know of none who enforce such ostracism for ten generations as Dt. 23 commands, not even those churches who read the Bible with fierce commitment to its literal words. For centuries white churches excluded Africans and their descendants for ten generations and more. Even now Sunday morning is our nation’s most segregated hour. And eunuchs? I would connect the ancient prohibition directed at eunuchs with our contemporary debate about homosexuals. Shall they be welcome?

Much of what our society is debating right now has to do with these same kinds of exclusions — foreigners living among us, women with an unwanted pregnancy, LGBT neighbors. How does Isaiah’s cry “Maintain justice!” resound today?

Maybe Paul gives us a clue. In Galatians Paul is dealing with the division in his church between the circumcised and uncircumcised. He suggests these categories are meaningless. Instead, he says, look at results. You can see the works of the flesh, and you can see the fruits of the Spirit. He lists them. Works of the flesh — “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” Even people of good pedigree do some of these things. But “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and temperance.” He goes on to insist — “there is no law against these things.

Reminds me of Martin Luther King. “I have a dream of a day when a person shall be judged by the content of his character…”

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