INTRO TO SCRIPTURE: How do we find the courage to do justice? Listen to Joshua’s instructions he gave the Israelites as they were undertaking a seemingly impossible task. And the prophet Micah’s rebuke centuries later when they failed to follow God’s instructions to act justly.
*THE WORD IN SCRIPTURE: Joshua 1:6-7, Micah 6:8 Nancy Powell
Joshua 1:6-7 Be strong and courageous, for you shall lead this people to possess the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go.
Micah 6:8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good,
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice and to love kindness
and to walk humbly with your God?
Leader: A Word of God that is still speaking,
ALL: Thanks be to God.
THE MESSAGE How does courageous justice arise?
Pastor Donna Goltry
How do we find the courage to do justice? Two tips from today’s scripture readings: (1) follow God’s instructions; don’t waiver one way or the other, or as it said, turn to the left or to the right. (2) Act justly. It is simply said; why have we found it so hard to do?
When the scriptural instructions from Joshua were given, the Israelites had been preparing by wandering in the desert for 40 years, to be ready to enter and settle the promised land of Israel. Joshua gave them instructions: have courage but be careful not to waiver from God’s commands. As he was encouraging them, he also gave them a stern warning.
Settling the promised land of Israel took some battles, losses, and eventually some compromises with other tribes living there. But when they stayed focused on God’s commands, God was with them. Centuries later, though, they had waivered, just as Joshua had warned them not to do. They had fallen into the habit of worshiping other idols, like money and power instead of God. Micah called them back to honor God’s teachings. Micah proclaims God’s demand for social justice.  He castigates them, God doesn’t care about your showy offerings. God simply wants you to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.
Now, as then, it is hard to stay true to these commands. Our tendencies are like the ancient Israelites to get off track – focusing on false idols, like wealth and security. And in the process, taking advantage of other people.
Interesting read this week about people on Forbes 30 under 30 list who are facing jail sentences. These are people who’ve made a massive fortune by age 30. Like the most recent to fall, Charlie Javice, who was riding high on her start-up, “Amazon for higher education.” She boasted that in four years she had “over 5 million students at over 6,000 colleges” using her services. Truth was much lower – around 300,000, but it greatly affected the amount she sold the start-up to JPMorgan. Had they known, JPMorgan would not have paid $175 million for it in 2021 and made her a managing director at the bank. Today she faces bank and wire fraud charges. 
But she is not the only one, the article in The Guardian listed four or five others. According to a tech entrepreneur who has been keeping count, 30 Under 30 entrepreneurs have raised $5.3B in funding but have been arrested for frauds and scams worth over $18.5B. Wow. Who would have thought! The writer of the article credit it to pressure to succeed, shortcuts encouraged, millennials being told “fake it till you make it.” 
I’d add, when the drive for money and power is used to damage others, it damages our social fabric. It is an idol that destroys justice in a society.
In contrast, getting a fair reward for our honest labor and worthwhile entrepreneurship is desirable. It’s a hard balance sometimes, but we must individually and collectively struggle to find the balance – to nurture honest return on our labor and capital, while doing so with an eye to justice. To provide good jobs and means for support of public services we need.
How do we find the courage to do justice? Let’s admit it. Acting justly is hard. One individual can’t really do it alone and make it work. It takes communal commitment, a combined effort, to reign in the strong currents of personal gain that run amok over justice.
And before we can do justice, we need to figure out what it might be. Here is what it is not. It is not mercy. We do mercy pretty well. And mercy is important. Mercy is giving out sack lunches to those who are hungry and keeping the blessing box stuffed. Justice is structuring our economy so people have the means buy it and transportation to get to where food is sold. Whether that is money or vouchers, whether that is grocery stores convenient to all parts of the city or, if not, convenient transportation to get to where the food is sold. Think about this neighborhood. St. Paul’s is nearly a food desert. The nearest grocery stores are the Asian and Mexican markets on N Broadway, which offer some foods, but not a full range. Buses run through the city, but not necessarily in an easy manner to get to the grocery stores.
This is one example of where we rely on mercy like sack lunch handouts and the blessing box, but tackling justice food issues is beyond the scope of what we can do as individuals or one congregation.
And that is generally the problem. Justice takes coordinated action – whether at the community level for certain issues, and often government policies at the state and federal level.
But, throwing up our hands and saying, we can’t tackle it because the problem is too huge is not the solution. And one solution that could tackle certain justice issues is under development right now. An organization called DART (Direct Action Response Training) is pulling together a coalition of many churches in Wichita. A full-hour bible study on justice is being held at Chapel Hill this Thursday night, and if you are interested in attending it, please contact me. Send me a text or email, so I can get you enrolled. And that is just the beginning.
After the Bible study, there will be listening sessions set up throughout the city to listen to what you say are the problems here that keep you awake at night. From those listening sessions, the coalition will narrow its focus to 1 or 2 justice issues that we can tackle as a community. We recognize we can’t solve all the ills. So, let’s make a difference where we can. It is seen as a step toward greater justice for the Wichita community.
A few weeks ago, I saw an episode of Call the Midwife that so clearly described the problems people can face. As is often the case, drama can illustrate situations better than a cold-case description.
The husband and wife and a toddler were squatters in a temporary travel trailer with no running water. They had moved to Poplar in London’s East End because of the promise of jobs in construction of new housing to replace condemned tenements. But he could not find work, had no money for rent. When the trailer was confiscated as an unsafe place to live, they moved into a condemned building, filthy, full of rats and other vermin. There, she gave birth to a baby, on her own. But soon, she fell ill from the filth, and her husband summoned a midwife, who got her to the hospital. While the mother was grateful for medical care, social services took the toddler away to foster care and the husband went to a hostel, because there were no family shelters for him to care for the toddler.
The midwife lamented to Dr. Turner, why does this happen? Why can’t a way be found to keep families together? His answer pointedly illustrated the plight of the poor. He said, CIRCUMSTANCES. When one thing goes wrong, like the husband could not find a job, it cascades. Those living on the margins, first one thing, then another, leads to these circumstances. No job. No safe place to live. Children separated from familes.
This may have been about East London in the 1970s, but how well it describes some of our pockets of poverty in Wichita in 2023.Can we do better? How do we find the courage to do justice?
A promising way is to collaborate with faith communities, like with the initiative that begins with the Bible study this week. We can’t solve all the ills, but I am hopeful that by focusing as a community of faith, we can make a difference in people’s lives in Wichita. Together, we can tackle an issue of justice. That is what this week’s bible study is all about.
Here our prayer: Lord, guide the Sedgwick County faith community in seeking justice for our neighbors. Send us to be a part of this. Help it bring fruitful changes in the lives of those most in need. Amen.
 Arwa Mahdawi, “30 under 30-year sentences: why so many of Forbes’ young heroes face jail,” The Guardian, 07-04-2023.