Like many of you, I spent Tuesday night watching the Presidential debate. I listened to the questions, arguments, to the explanations and even to the back and forth snarky comments.
And as I listened to the questions that were being asked by the
undecided voters in the audience on a range of issues…
there seemed to be an underlying question that was present throughout the evening – a bigger question -
Will you seek what is right for ALL Americans – women, Latinos, young, old, uninsured, wealthy? Will you do the right thing, even if it’s the hard thing? Will we have a nation where there is truly liberty and justice for all?
To be honest – I think this is the question that was constantly before the Israelite people – Will we have a nation where there is justice for all people?
In The Book of Deuteronomy, they are forming their nation -
And as they set up their rules and regulations and festivals and traditions, God reminds them over and over again – that in all the things that they do -
JUSTICE, Justice and only Justice must be their aim.
do not forget about the people on the margins. Don’t forget about the widow, don’t forget about the orphans, and DO NOT forget about the defenseless… the children, the ones who have no voice, the ones who depend on you.
Justice, and Only Justice – Must be your aim
But we know what happens in this story –
Because it’s the same thing that has happened in this country.
Justice is an ideal –
But it is not a reality
We lift up the ideal of justice, but we remain a segregated society – the rich on one end and the poor on another.
We lift up the ideal of justice, but we still send 1 out of every 3 young African-American men to prison.
We lift up the ideal of justice, but in the report cards just issued – only 38% our 3rd graders in this neighborhood are reading on grade level, compared to 97.5% of 3rd graders in Upper Arlington, just a few miles away.
Justice is an ideal.
But it is NOT a reality.
And there are few places for me where this call toward justice is more convicting and more important than when it refers to our children.
Today is Children’s Sabbath – a Sunday set aside for us to celebrate the gift that they are to us and the unique call we have to be a people who stand up for children.
How do we ensure that justice for our children is not just an ideal – but a REALITY
I’m going to suggest today that
it begins with knowing them. It begins with hearing their stories, listening to them, and helping them to find their voice.
Justice is not just about big ideas and principles and morals.
Justice is about real people.
Real people with names, and stories, and dreams.
This is going to come as a real shock to a lot of you who know me – but in elementary school – I REALLY liked to talk.
And I often got into a fair amount of trouble for this talking -
Detentions, missing recess, writing sentences on the board… throughout elementary school - nothing was helping.
But in the 6th grade, I was assigned to Mrs. Helms class. And Mrs. Helms was a smart lady. She immediately saw through my behavior and realized what was going on.
I’ll never forget the day where she pulled me aside. I was preparing myself for another set of sentences on the chalkboard or a paper on alternatives to talking
But she said to me, April – I’ve been noticing you.
And I said, yes, I know I talk too much – everyone says so.
No, I’ve noticed how quickly you finish your work and I think you are bored – I’d like to invite you to do something really challenging? It’ll be a lot of work, but do you think you’d be interested?
No teacher had ever spoken to me quite like that – And just like that – Mrs. Helms singlehandedly solved my behavior problems and also changed the trajectory of my life. I didn’t even care that I was doing all this extra work in math and reading. She saw beyond my behaviors and saw what might be possible
Mrs. Helms figured out what the RIGHT thing to do was – for me and for my future
Justice, Only Justice – must be your AIM.
Before I was at Summit, I was the youth pastor at Riverside UMC for 7 years. I worked with 7th-12th graders and helped them to know God and grow in their faith.
And – this will also come as a shock to you – sometimes – they didn’t always get it.
Sometimes they didn’t take bible study seriously. Sometimes they goofed off and wanted to throw spitballs at each other.
And sometimes in church, they were BORED and disruptive.
I remember one Sunday after church when (we’ll call her) Mrs. Taylor approached me after the service. And she was a, let’s say, tightly wound woman anyway – but on that day – she was particularly UPSET.
Apparently, the youth sitting nearby her seat had been texting during the service and passing notes and even talking a bit during the message.
She was appalled.
"Someone needs to do something. Someone needs to teach those kids how to behave."
Now, this is what I wish I would have said to her –
Yes, Mrs. Taylor. Someone DOES need to teach these children.
Someone needs to teach the children how to live in this world.
Someone needs to teach them how to read, how to hear, and how to listen…
Someone needs to teach the children how the story of god’s love is for them.
Someone needs to teach the children that God is in their lives now.
Someone needs to read the bible stories to the children and help them to understand.
Someone needs to let the children know that their voice and their dreams matter.
Someone needs to learn their names and find out what they love and encourage them to take healthy risks and to eat good food and to take care of themselves.
Someone needs to teach the children how to love and respect themselves and others and someone needs to teach them how to be people who promote justice in the world themselves.
Oh, Mrs. Taylor – you are RIGHT. Someone needs to teach these children.
ARE YOU VOLUNTEERING?
Justice, Only Justice – must be your AIM.
Anthropologists William Kornblum and Terry Williams followed 900 children in urban and rural poverty across the US, concluding that "the most significant factor" determining whether teenagers would end up on the corner or in a stable job was "the presence or absence of adult mentors." The chances of a child’s success went up when they had just one caring adult in their life, but the chances of success were exponentially higher when a young person had 4-6 caring adults in their life.
To make justice our AIM – we have to know them.
I want you to know the names of the children in this church.
(Introduce children & hear their stories)