We used to play “truth or dare” when I was at slumber parties as a kid. In case you have never played it… you sit as a group in a circle. One person is it, and chooses anyone else in the group to question. The questioner can ask any question, usually the kind of question designed to embarrass, like: “Do you like Stefan?” or, “Which basketball player on our team is your favorite?” The person can respond with the truth or she can respond, “I’ll take the dare.” If she doesn’t want to tell the truth, the questioner makes up a dare that the responder has to do in order to get out of telling the true answer to the question. In our day, the dares were like: “I dare you to go outside in your pajamas and shout: Look at me!” Now everyone goes outside in their pajamas and no one looks twice. Or it could have been: “Call the Pizza Hut, order a pizza, give your name, and hang up.” Now everyone orders online so that is not such a daring thing to do. Our dares were usually kind of silly and harmed no one.
This month I have a dare for you! I dare you to try some different kinds of prayer. For the month of July, we will be exploring different texts in Scripture which challenge us to follow a variety of prayer examples– maybe praying in a different location, in a different posture, using a different pattern. Most of us are accustomed to prayer before meals, prayer to begin the day, prayer to end the day. Most of us are accustomed to prayers of thanks to God, prayers for forgiveness of our sins, and prayers which are pleas to God for help for ourselves or for a loved one. We use those kinds of prayers regularly in our worship together. This month, let’s make a commitment to try different ways to pray. When you agree to take a dare, you agree to try something that is new or difficult, either physically or emotionally. To take my dare, you will need to sacrifice some of your time. To take my dare, you will need to step out of your comfort zone. When you take my dare, you run the risk of drawing closer to God in a way that you have not before. I challenge you to take my prayer dare! I am going to take it. I will put some comments about my reflections on new ways to pray up on Facebook and on our website throughout the month. Please offer your comments and share your insights.
Today your prayer dare is praying for justice. The way to pray for justice is simple but difficult. It requires a certain level of courage. In the words of our friends at Nike, “just do it.” The 8th century prophet (that is 8 centuries before Christ was born) Micah nails it when he describes what God is expecting from us. Not stuff, not money, not being on our knees and talking non-stop. In Micah’s day, he had to say to his people– God is not waiting for your multitude of animal sacrifices. God is not waiting for your calves or your oil or even your first born child. (That is hyperbole at the end of his escalating list of sacrifices, obviously God does not want you to sacrifice your first born!) God is waiting for you to do justice, which is a way of showing steadfast love, or mercy, and in doing so, you will be walking with God. It is a moving prayer, not a stationary one. It is an active prayer, not a passive one. It is a prayer with your life, not just with your mind or voice or heart.
Praying for justice is living justice. The Hebrew word for justice is mishpat. Simply put, living justice is living in such a way that we treat one another by following the ways of God. It is yielding our lives to God and God’s way. Doing justice is upholding what is right according to God’s practices, God’s expectations, God’s love. It is caring for and about the powerless, the inequities in our justice system, the job market for immigrants, the guys who live in the tents at the end of the highway. And doing justice is not only our one on one relationships with people we meet, but it is also our role in society at large. One example: I can’t believe it is God’s way to gun one another down. Right here in this sanctuary, we are not so far removed from places in our city where gun violence is happening. What is our role as residents of a city racked by gun violence? Different people will feel called to take different actions, but I am sure that it is unjust to sit and do nothing.
Earlier in this book of Micah, the prophet condemned the leaders of Israel for their failure to live justice, for ignoring the needs of the people, for hating good and loving evil, for taking bribes, for causing bloodshed, for failing to listen to God. To address their injustice, Micah uses the imagery of a court case between God and the people of Israel. The mountains and the hills will be the jury, listening to God’s complaint against God’s people. Using rhetorical questions, he points out that it is obvious that God never did anything against them, that God did not weary them. It is the people of God who are in the wrong. The people who seemed to have forgotten that God had rescued them from slavery in Egypt, providing them with leaders like Moses, Aaron and Miriam. The people who seemed to have forgotten the blessing they received from the prophet Balaam when King Balak of neighboring Moab tried to buy him off so that he would curse the people of Israel because he was afraid of them. The people who thought they could buy off God, bailing themselves out with their offerings and sacrifices. That is not the way to resolve the dispute between God and God’s people. Micah calls them back to what God expects of them, to what they should have known, to what is good. To do justice, embrace faithful love, walk humbly with God.
Praying for justice can not be just words. It can not be just showing up when the news media is around. We have a pastor in Baltimore who has been outspoken since last year’s riots. At one point this spring he was asked by the neighbors in Sandtown/Winchester to leave the neighborhood because he only seemed to show up when he could look good and did not seem to be doing anything for the community. Since that time, they have met and talked things out. Tomorrow under the JFX they will be working together– Muslims, Christians, gang members and police– to hand out food to anyone who is hungry. Living justice, not just talking about justice.
As we celebrate the 240th year of our nation’s birth, we can’t forget that we are here because people before us insisted on justice. I think of the people in Boston who protested the unjust policies Britain had exacted on the colonists in the 1770’s. They did not just write letters to the king. They took action and threw the barrels of tea into the harbor, creating a big blow to England’s cash flow. I think of the young people in Greensboro, NC and other cities who did not just picket outside the whites only lunch counters in the 1960’s. They went in and sat down and refused to move. Insisting on justice requires action. I really appreciate the words of Cornel West, American scholar, social activist, currently a professor of religion at Princeton University: “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”
This week I dare you to put feet to your prayer. Find a way you can take some form action to follow God’s commitment to justice for all, not just for some. Make the time to write or call an elected official. Let them know your concern not just for your own neighborhood, but for someone else’s. Why are the worst roads in the poorest neighborhoods? What are we really doing about the high number of vacant homes in our city? Find out where your elected official stands on issues that affect this city as a whole. You can even compliment where a compliment is due. We discovered brand new lighting on Edmondson Avenue that helps the entire street to be much better lit for safety. I am going to contact the city and find out who to thank. It is a way to encourage our government to keep the needs of the neighborhoods on the front burner. Instead of always complaining and requesting, how about a “well done” every now and then? Get involved in your own neighborhood association. Find out who the president is, when the next meeting is. Take the president to lunch and find out what he or she is concerned about. Make time to find out where there is a job training program that you could offer your assistance to. You have skills and wisdom that could benefit someone else. I know one called “turn around Tuesdays” which meets on the East Side, but surely there are more. Resume writing, tax preparation, interview practice, donating clothing to help people in the job search process. Go down to the JFX tomorrow and bring some 4th of July food to share. Be a part of an effort to bring Baltimore together. This prayer dare requires action. Praying for justice means living it.
Next Sunday I will invite you to share your experiences with my prayer dare by writing them down and offering them up to God via the offering plate. Dares are not easy. Dares require you to step out of your comfort zone, to make some sort of sacrifice, to try something new. I dare you….. to do justice, show faithful love, and walk humbly with God. Amen.