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Comfortable words for social justice?

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sermon for Mattins on the first Sunday after Christmas
At this time of year, many choral societies put on performances of Handel’s Messiah. The first words of this wonderful piece of music are “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.”
You know these words well. You know that they are the words of God spoken through the prophet Isaiah, but who are these words for? Who does God want to comfort His people?
Isaiah stands in the Heavenly court and gives us a commentary on what he is hearing take place between God and His host. As we stand with Isaiah, we hear God recognise the plight of his people. He sees how they suffer, and it’s clear that He does not want this to happen. This is why He calls out to the court His will that His people should be comforted. Who are in His court? It’s difficult to say given that we are trying to understand what’s going on outside Time and in Eternity.
Yes, there are choirs of angels in God’s court. However, if God promises His Church Eternal life, then it’s also true to say that the Church is there, too. And He calls to His entire court for the comforting of His people.
And now you’re confused, aren’t you?
Aren’t God’s people members of the Church? Even before Our Lord is born, the Church is present for the Jews faithful to God are as much part of the Church as we are. It seems that the Church is being called to comfort the Church. How is that possible?
It’s hard to think, but we must remember that, while we live in this state of life, we form the Church Militant. The Church in Eternity is the Church Triumphant. The Church Militant is in Time: the Church Triumphant is in Eternity where Time has no power. We are the Church that still has to undergo the hardships of life. The saints are the Church that has been perfected, and our destiny in the Church Militant is to become saints in the Church Triumphant. While Isaiah is the prophet for Israel in slavery to Babylon and seeking her comfort for his time, we live in a time in which human beings are enslaved to sin. We humans have always suffered slavery to sin.
Israel in slavery to Babylon and Egypt stands for all humanity in slavery to sin. And God sees the suffering of His people in sin and wants the Church to do something about it. In His love for His Church, God says, “cry out!” And a voice from the crowd cries out. “What shall I cry?” Whose is that voice?
The voice is the one who cries in the wilderness. We can guess that this voice is that of St John the Baptist asking God what he is to say to the Church.
God says to St John, “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.”
This sounds depressing. All that we know will fade away and die. What comfort is there in that? Is this Good News?
Of course it is!
If we are slaves to the world and we know that the world will wither away then we know our slavery is at an end. If we are slaves to sin and God’s goodness comes then sin will shrivel up and vanish. This is great news for all who love and trust God. This is great comfort for us through St John the Baptist. It means that all that the Slave driver calls good is destroyed when real, true goodness comes.
The Church Militant suffers from sin and its results now, but God is rock solid in His desire that we should be saved from sin. He comes to us with strength – that’s the literal meaning of the word comfort. We receive comfort when we look beyond this world and see the Eternal message that the Church has been given.
These days, we hear certain people stand up in pulpits and say that the mission of the Church is for social justice. To an extent, they are right. Yet, the primary purpose of the Church is to preach the salvation of Jesus Christ in Eternity before physical need. Yes, we must feed the hungry and clothe the naked, give drink the thirsty and visit those in prison, heal the sick and bury the dead, but these actions must come from the true love of God as well as love of neighbour. Poverty, nakedness, thirst, imprisonment, sickness and death are terrible things which must be addressed physically, but they will pass away as will all our attempts to alleviate them. Social Justice is justice determined by society. It is not God’s justice: it will pass away when God’s justice comes.
There are also spiritual poverty, spiritual nakedness, spiritual imprisonment et c. These must also be dealt with and can only be dealt with by the grace of God from Eternity. The message of hope that the Church bears is that living out faith in God will cure us all and keep us from the second death.
The Eternal message of the Church is to point to Jesus and say, “Behold your God!” Any attempts to change that, or water it down, will shrivel into nothingness. We can stand firm and know that God is with us, that God is for us, and God declares that we are His and His alone. He will feed us, carry us and lead us.
This is our comfort. This is the comfort we must proclaim to all humanity.

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