Summer Series on Micah 6:8 (Day of Mourning) 22 January 2023

Summer Series on Micah 6:8 (Day of Mourning) 22 January 2023

Introduction

The last three Sundays we have focused on 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?”

We reflected on what it means to: “To act justly, to love-kindness and to walk humbly with God.”

When I conceived the Summer Series focusing on Micah 6:8 I saw the series as a kind of

preparation for this Service of Mourning. On the Sunday before Australia Day, Uniting Church congregations across the country hold worship services to reflect upon and lament the effect of, the invasion and colonisation of this nation upon her First Peoples.

The observance of a “Day of Mourning” was endorsed by the 15th Assembly at the request of members of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC).

According to Stuart McMillan, Assembly Consultant Covenanting and former President of UCA Assembly, “Our decision to declare a Day of Mourning annually from 2019 is a way in which we stand together in Covenantal relationship to honour, remember and acknowledge the truth of our history.

For it is only through our lament and truth-telling that we can together, First and Second Peoples, look with hope to the future.”

This morning the theme I want us to reflect together on is “Justice and Reparation”.

Before we do that, I want to briefly defines what reparation means.

First thing first, reparation is NOT “Just saying sorry or feeling bad while avoiding accountability for individual or collective contributions to the violation, or while benefiting from the harm, whether through inheritance or ongoing privileges.”

According to the United Nations: “Adequate, effective, and prompt reparation is intended to promote justice by redressing gross violations of international human rights law or serious violations of international humanitarian law. Reparation should be proportional to the gravity of the violations and the harm suffered. In accordance with its domestic laws and international legal obligations, a State shall provide reparation to victims for acts or omissions which can be attributed to the State and constitute gross violations of international human rights law or serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

In the article entitled, “Colonialism and Historical Injustice: Reparations for Indigenous Peoples” Chris Cunneen “questions whether law can now provide justice for Indigenous peoples for these historical wrongs. It discusses the limitations of attempts to seek redress and compensation through the courts.

It considers the arguments for a Reparations Tribunal or Commission as an alternative to the failure of the legal system to provide a just response to injustice. Reparations are seen as a bridge between law and justice; a way of overcoming the limitations of the law of the coloniser and its inability to meet the demands for justice from the colonised.”

He argues there can be no reconciliation between the colonised and the coloniser without a reparation process. In short, reparation is a practical way to pay back for the harm caused by the offence, either by directly repairing the harm or through constructive work to help the local community. The victim is usually consulted about what should be done.

I am sure you are not surprised that the idea of reparation is not universally accepted. 

The gospel reading, I have chosen for Mourning Day is Luke 19:1-10.

The story of Zacchaeus consistently fascinates me. It embodies many distinctive elements

of a great story — a surprising twist, dramatic turns, and a shocking resolution.

In the story, a man of wealth and power cannot find a spot on the street among the crowds as he endeavours to get a good look at Jesus. This is partially because the man is short but also so despised by people that they would crowd him out.

Thus, like a child, this man of short stature climbs a tree along the street to look down for Jesus, and, to his surprise, Jesus looks up at the despised outcast and calls him by name.

Can you imagine that?

Jesus decides to spend time at the home of the sinner of sinners. But perhaps the most shocking element of the story is its climax, as Zacchaeus pledges to give half of his possessions to the poor and to pay back to those he defrauded four times what he took.

The story of Zacchaeus is a story of reconciliation.

The story of Zacchaeus is about justice, restorative justice.

The story of Zacchaeus is about reparation.

Jesus chooses Zacchaeus and stays in his house because he desires him to be reconciled

with God and people. This is after all the same Jesus who asserted, “The Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” (v. 10).

I think more importantly, however, the story reveals the way divine-human reconciliation

is inseparably related to human-human reconciliation. It offers a much-needed correction

to a popular misunderstanding of reconciliation that regards reconciliation as a purely personal transaction between God and individuals, often with no mind given to its interpersonal effects.

The pledge of Zacchaeus (v. 8) is even more shocking because of its stark contrast with

the story of the rich ruler who came to Jesus previously (Luke 18:18–30) and inquired about obtaining eternal life.

This rich ruler prided himself in that he had kept the Ten Commandments from his youth

and gave some indication of his interest in Jesus’ ministry. However, when given the choice

between retaining his wealth and following Jesus, he “became sad; for he was very rich.”

In encountering Zacchaeus, Jesus did not make the same request.

Zacchaeus freely volunteered his acts of charity and reparation after his meeting with Jesus.

His story strongly suggests that a rich person, even one guilty of crimes, can indeed be reconciled to God. In some instances, it seems the camel can pass through the eye of the needle (Matt 19:24)!

What may have compelled Zacchaeus to make such a radical decision? Why did the rich ruler, religious and well-trained in the law, resist reconciliation, while Zacchaeus, an outcast and a sinner, a cheat, embraced it?

The answer is rooted in Zacchaeus’s experience of the costly grace of God demonstrated by Jesus. Zacchaeus saw the risk Jesus took by choosing and fellowshipping with him.

Remember Jesus was already being accused of being a friend of sinners by Pharisees, and Jesus’ decision to stay with Zacchaeus alienates him further from the entire community.

This alienation includes Jesus’ own disciples, because the text notices, “All, who saw it, began to grumble, and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner’” (v. 7).

Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, was intentionally breaking social norms by associating with Zacchaeus. What about our social norm? “A man is known by the company he keeps.”

You and I know that repercussions were sure to follow his action.

The story of Zacchaeus dramatically solidifies the way divine reconciliation occurs and further reveals its appropriate motivations among those being reconciled. Zacchaeus’s pledge was motivated by neither legalism nor desire for personal perfection, but by God’s grace.

We can only understand Zacchaeus’s behaviour if we understand grace, costly grace.

Having been reconciled with God by the costly grace of Jesus, Zacchaeus was now motivated to reconcile with his neighbours and victims, too.

Again, this is evident in Zacchaeus’s decision to give half of his wealth to the poor and to compensate four times what he owed to the victims of his deceit, which far exceeded the legal requirement prescribed by the Hebrew Scripture (Lev 6:5).

We can only understand Zacchaeus’s behaviour If we understand grace, costly grace.

Zacchaeus’s story reveals the heart of grace through its actions: it acts not only to merely fulfill the letter of the law but endeavours to also fulfill the spirit of the law, something that only God’s costly grace can fully and consistently achieve.

As in the narrative, interpersonal reconciliation is not an easy task. Like God’s grace, it is costly.

Imagine with me for a moment how Zacchaeus would have followed up his pledge for generosity and reparation later. How might Zacchaeus’s wife and children have reacted to his decision?

What do you think about reparation?

READ MY LIPS.

There is no justice, restorative justice without reparation.

What can we learn from Zacchaeus’s story for our own tasks of reconciliation with our First Peoples? Our tasks of reconciliation should be motivated by God’s grace and by our gratitude rather than by guilt or shame. Guilt and shame do not move a person toward God, rather, guilt and shame produce procrastination, fear, and paralysis.

I believe wholeheartedly that the power of divine grace is far stronger than the power of guilt, love overcomes fear.

The Day of Mourning allows us to stand together in remembering the truth of our history

and honouring the culture of Australia’s First Peoples, their families and the next generations. 

Let’s also remind ourselves that the Day of Mourning is about truth-telling, lament, reconciliation and the abundant grace and liberating hope of Christ.

On this Day of Mourning, we acknowledge that the work of costly justice and reconciliation with the First Peoples continues.

I pray that our Church and our nation will continue on this journey of truth-telling, reconciliation and working toward just reparation. AMEN.