I saw the film Just Mercy a few weeks ago with my wife and some friends. The entire film, following the work of Bryan Stevenson, was a sobering and somber reminder of the injustice that often takes place in our midst. The whole film has been rattling around inside my mind, but one scene in particular has kept me enraptured mentally.
One of the men that Bryan Stevenson represented was a man named Herbert Richardson. Richardson survived an attack in Vietnam that killed his entire platoon, leaving him with major PTSD. This led to his bombing of a house, leading to the death of a young woman. While this was an action that he took, his PTSD was never considered and he was not given a just and fair trial.
As a member of the audience, we watch as Herbert Richardson was walked from death row into a waiting area, as the guards prepped him for death by electrocution. We watch as they shave his body, give him his last meal, and strap him in. All this takes place while the song “Old Rugged Cross” plays over the loud speakers, the song he chose to be his last listen.
Man, my heart was in my throat.
As I sat there watching this scene, I couldn’t help but think of the injustice and brokenness in my own community. I couldn’t help but think of my indifference to it. As a pastor, I’m at church every Sunday. I sing songs just like the Old Rugged Cross about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Yet at the same time I too often ignore the needs of those around me.
In the book of Isaiah, God speaks through the prophet Isaiah about what is on His heart, about what He despises.
And here’s the message. God despises those of us whose lips claim allegiance to Jesus, but whose hearts are indifferent to the needs of others around us.
That definitely convicts me.
I hate your New Moons and prescribed festivals. They have become a burden to me; I am tired of putting up with them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will refuse to look at you; even if you offer countless prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.
Wash yourselves. Clean yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from my sight. Stop doing evil. Learn to do what is good. Pursue justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Please the widow’s cause.
“Come, let us settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are crimson red, they will be like wool.” – Isaiah 1:14-18
God despises when I attend Sunday school, pray, read my Bible, evangelize, tithe, sing hymns, and teach Scripture, but don’t care for those in need around me.
The church should unashamedly stand for the value and dignity of every human life, from the fetus to the foster child to the foreigner in our midst.
How many times have you sung the hymn “Jesus Paid It All”? I’ve probably sung that song a thousand times throughout my life. And only this weekend did I realize that the context of this passage, and thus that song, is not primarily about sin in general. It is about the stain and blemish on me when I dare to ignore the call of Christ to care for ALL people.
In the scene I opened this blog with, as Richardson is being executed, those on death row are banging against the cell doors and yelling “We’re right here! We are with you! We’re right here! You’re not alone!”
And honestly, again, as I was watching it I wondered what those in need in my community were hearing from me. Maybe they’re hearing “I don’t have the time for you” or “I don’t have any resources with which to help you”. Maybe worse yet they’re hearing “you put yourself in that position” or “I don’t trust you not to use and abuse the system”.
Am I proclaiming “We’re right here!” to those in need?
To be candid, they’re probably not hearing that from me. It’s easier for me to sit in my ivory tower studying and proclaiming the Word of God than it is for me to get my hands dirty in acts of service to meet very real needs in my community. God forgive me for that.
This final verse we looked at together is encouraging and full of the gospel. God will wash me white as snow. The beauty of that verse is not only that God will forgive my indifference which is despairingly sinful. God also promises to wash the crimson stain of my indifference away.
That means that as I ask God, He will give me a greater heart for those around me.
Church, we will close our collective doors if we keep standing above those in need.
Church, we will miss the heart of Christ if we don’t go to meet the needs of all people.
Church, we will push our communities away if all they see from us is the decrying of sin in a sinful culture, constant outrage and outcry, and no heart for the souls of men.
Church, our God despises our religious traditions devoid of a passion for justice.
Church, our mission is to rule and reign, dispensing the justice and MERCY of God.
Jesus did not come decrying the sins of Roman culture.
He came decrying the sins of the religious like me.
Jesus did not come to avoid service.
He came to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.
Jesus did not come trying to change a culture.
Jesus came to save the world.
My greatest witness is not my moral high ground (I don’t know about you but I’ve got some very wicked private sin in my heart). My greatest witness is humble service.
My community doesn’t need my religious outrage.
They just need mercy.
In His Name,
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