Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Acting Justly

Trinity 11
1 September 2019
10.30 Eucharist
Revd Nicholas Mercer

Last year I sat through a judgement given by the Chief Justice of the Falkland Islands

It was an important case as it concerned the former Chief of Police

He was standing trial on historic sex offence charges

The Judge delivered an impeccable judgement reminding himself, and the attendant audience, about the burden and standard of proof in English criminal law

At the end of his summing up he acquitted the defendant on all charges saying that he could not be certain so that he was sure that the accused had committed the crime

In other words, he had reasonable doubt over the guilt of the defendant

By contrast, Cardinal George Pell, the third most important priest in the Roman Catholic Church, had his conviction for sexual abuse upheld last month

The Appeal Judges, were certain, so that they were sure, of his guilt

In both cases, the Judges acted in the finest tradition of the English Common Law.

Justice was administered with scrupulous fairness and are both marks of a just society

Justice is a basic human instinct.

As all parents know, one of the first things that a child says or notices about a household is its sense of fairness

“That’s not fair” is often one of the first things a child will contribute to family life

Justice is seen as being at the heart of any society, and the administration of that justice is at the heart of the Old Testament reading this morning

King Solomon asks God, not for great wealth or the death of his enemies, but instead for discernment in administering justice

This desire to act justly rightly found favour with God

The word justice occurs more than two hundred times in the Old Testament and, in essence, means treating people equitably

In criminal matters, it means acquitting or punishing every person on the merits of the case alone, nothing else, and perfectly fits the cases which I cited in my introduction

But justice in the Old Testament means more than just the punishment of wrongdoing

It also means giving people their rights and that includes, not only criminal justice, but social justice at the same time

Social justice is continually referred to in the Old Testament and is typically mentioned, in relation to widows, orphans, immigrants and the poor

In our own times, this would include the refugee, the migrant worker, the homeless and elderly.

The onus to act justly therefore falls, not just on the King, but on society as a whole

This therefore begs the question as to whether we too are acting justly.

This is a massive question ranging across an enormous spectrum

However, having raised the question three thousand years ago, it is perhaps not unreasonable to ask how we are doing three millennia later?

How would we be judged by God?

I fear the answer is not very well…………………

Take Refugees

Refugees are entitled to special protection under International Law

The legacy of World War II made the International Community determined to provide a safe haven for those fleeing conflict

This was wholly understandable after the horrors of two World Wars

Although the situation has become muddied by economic migration, those genuinely fleeing conflict have been treated very badly indeed by many countries

Our treatment of Refugees has been described by the Red Cross as “damaging, dehumanising and disempowering”

Lord Alf Dubs, himself a refugee from Nazi Germany, secured an agreement for 3000 children to come to the UK from Syria but only 240 places were ever filled

What has happened to us as a society where we treat the refugee with such contempt?

Migrant workers fare little better

They largely hidden from sight and so we tend not to notice but exploitation is widespread across the UK economy

Construction workers, farm workers, car washers, domestic servants, to name but a few, are often abused and underpaid

They tread an awful tightrope knowing that if they lose their contract of employment then they become illegal migrants

And, as a result, the opportunities for abuse worsen and they suffer racism almost as a matter of routine

Unlike migrant workers, the homeless are in full view in our towns and cities, but we still do little or nothing to help

320,000 people are homeless.  A rise of 165% since 2010 -13,000 increase last year  

I read, with considerable concern, a report by the Children’s Commissioner last month

Homeless children are now being accommodated in shipping containers in a space no larger than 12 by 4 meters-

In essence they are being made to live in a parking lot

Next time you park your car, just think about it

The NSPCC said that it was like something out of a Dickensian novel.

Bleak House takes on a whole new meaning

Then look at the way we treat the elderly

A House of Lords Committee report in July said 1.4m older people were denied the care they needed as a result of cuts, means tests and rationing, 

Many were housebound and unable to fulfil everyday tasks like washing or going to the loo.

What must that be like?

We will all of course all find out but we will have failed to speak out in the meantime

Would God find that we had acted justly as a Society?

No – these are the great scandals of our age

But it is not just society at large which insists on denying social justice but the Church itself

The sexual abuse cases mentioned at the beginning of the sermon stand in stark contrast to the conduct of the Anglican and Catholic Churches

The awful case of Peter Ball, former Bishop of Gloucester, revealed a Church which sided with the Establishment and ignored the abused

The recent Historic Abuse Inquiry found that the Church of England, rather than acting justly, had put its own reputation before the needs of victims

The Churches response was marked by “secrecy, prevarication with no concern for the welfare of its victims”

Even the Church’s so called apology “remained unconvincing”

Our own Church has tarnished the establishment of God’s Kingdom here on Earth

In the light of Solomon’s wish to act with justice, a cursory self-examination of whether our own Society is just is perhaps long overdue

However, it is also an appropriate way to approach the New Testament reading this morning

As a Society, as a Church as individuals, we are forever saying “I thank God you that we are not unjust like other people”

We think of ourselves as safe and secure with the Church as our haven

But when we stop and think for a moment, what we can say no such thing 

We all bear a corporate and individual responsibility for the social injustices which I have just outlined but have not even begun to describe

This is not a personal attack but a call to recognise just how easy it is to ignore what is going on around us

It is so easy to convince ourselves that we are acting justly when we are not

And so easy to think that it does not apply to us when in fact it does

It is easy, perhaps too easy, to sit back and say nothing when we should be reflecting our desire for social justice not only in our lives but in our politics

I come out of this no better

I am a priest in a Church which is guilty of a grave injustice wrapped up in our national propensity for snobbery and deference

I am just as guilty as the next man and claim no moral high ground in any of the above

But the readings this morning also give us a clue as to how we should go forward

Solomon found favour with God when he asked for a discerning heart

May we too ask God that we might act justly

May we too seek to act with the scrupulous fairness like the Judges and, above all

May we too ask God to have mercy on us all, as sinners