A busload of politicians was driving down a country road when all of a sudden the bus ran off the road and crashed into a tree in an old farmer’s field. The old farmer went over to investigate. He then proceeded to dig a hole to bury the politicians. A few days later the local sheriff came out, saw the crashed bus, and asked the old farmer where all the politicians had gone. The old farmer said he had buried them. The sheriff asked the old farmer, “Were they all dead?”
The old farmer said, “Well, some of them said they weren’t, but you know how them crooked politicians lie.”
How many of you say grace at meals? Nobody needs to have a set formula for it. We can say whatever’s on our heart. Sometimes prayers are detailed, such as “thank you for the chicken, thank you for the rolls, thank you for the milk.” And sometimes we can just get a brief statement of thanks.
There are also lighter table blessings you may have heard about: “Good bread, good meat, good Lord, let’s eat.” Or this: “Thank you, Lord, for this meal. We know you are the giver. But thank you, Lord, most of all, that we ain’t havin’ liver.”
Most of us at some time learn this prayer: “God is great, God is good, let us thank God for this food.” Any of you use that? Short, simple, good theology. And when you’re done, the potatoes are still warm, which is always a blessing.
In our three week message series, we are seeing how God is a glad God, a good God, and a great God, in that order. I want us to go in this order because I’m putting the easiest idea last. It’s not as easy to see God as a glad God as it is believe God is a great God. The issue of whether and how God is a good God is also not as easy.
Now of course if I were to ask whether you believe God is a good God you would almost reflexively answer, “Yes.” We know that’s what we’re supposed to say. And of course, it’s easy to say “God is good” often in our life.
Now there are three ways one can look at the thought that God is good. The most often one is how God is good to me, good to people. This is what people mostly talk about when they say God blesses people, and watches over me. Also, it’s thought of when we say things like the Bible teaches that God is morally upright and pure. God is just and righteous and holy.
A second way less often thought about is God’s goodness in relation to all the badness we see around us. This is heard in the question, “If God is good, then why does bad things happen?”
We wonder, “If God is good, then why this?” Why this illness, why this painful relationship, why this financial problem, why this loss, why this disappointment? And so, even if we keep saying to ourselves and others that God is good, there might be a nagging voice in the back of our head that says, “Really?” “Is God really good?”
But ultimately both of these ideas about God’s goodness are viewed on a personal level. Even after a rough season in life, so often things do right themselves for us, blessings do come upon us again, and even our tough times can be seen to have held a silver lining for personal, spiritual growth.
God is good, on a personal level. But today I’m not looking at this issue from a merely personal level—because God is more than that.
I remember when I spent the spring semester studying in Alicante, Spain. I was 20 years old, and had a blast. But I was young, and I’m sure naïve. I had never seen poverty close up, certainly not much.
There were always people begging in the streets. I had gotten a good exchange rate for my US dollars, and so I was pretty flush with pesetas. I can remember handing out a lot of money, time and again to all these men, women, and children begging.
I’m sure I helped ease some burdens momentarily for some of those people. But I also know I couldn’t keep that up beyond the little bit of time I spent there with my favorable exchange rate-based generosity and charity.
When we say God is good it has to mean more than that God is good for me and to me; and even more than God is good for you and me. God has to be good in a more important, deeper sense than just for you and me.
Today, I want you to hear that God is good because God is just. And this goodness is the basis of our ability to live in a world with hope that truth, justice, and good things will prevail, even though our world is often troubled and disturbing.
The truth is when we talk about God’s goodness on a personal level we don’t have to talk about God being good to us out of rightness, righteousness, or justice. They’re simply not necessary for the idea that God is good to us. Instead we base this on the idea that God is good to us because of God’s love for us.
But the problem with this idea of God’s goodness is that some people need more than love. Some people need more than prayers. Some people need for things to be made right.
Many, many millions and even billions of people around the world need a God whose goodness includes justness, justice, rightness, changing things to make them good for them, or healthy for them, or livable for them, and drinkable for them, sustainable for them, and even humane, fair, and just for them.
If there’s no good God to turn to, if God isn’t a God of social justice and righteousness, then where can people look in order to find hope to build a better world?
In 2004 Victor Yushchenko stood for the presidency of the Ukraine. Vehemently opposed by the ruling party Yushchenko’s face was disfigured and he almost lost his life when he was mysteriously poisoned. This was not enough to deter him from standing for the presidency.
On the day of the election Yushchenko was comfortably in the lead. The ruling party, not to be denied, tampered with the results. The state-run television station reported, “Ladies and gentlemen, we announce that the challenger Victor Yushchenko has been decisively defeated.”
In the lower right-hand corner of the screen a woman by the name of Natalia Dmitruk was providing a translation service for the deaf community. As the news presenter regurgitated the lies of the regime, Natalia Dmitruk refused to translate them. “I’m addressing all the deaf citizens of Ukraine,” she signed. “They are lying and I’m ashamed to translate those lies. Yushchenko is our president.”
The deaf community sprang into gear. They texted friends about the fraudulent result and as news spread of Dmitruk’s act of defiance increasing numbers of journalists were inspired to likewise tell the truth.
Over the coming weeks the “Orange Revolution” occurred as a million people wearing orange made their way to the capital city of Kiev demanding a new election. The government was forced to meet their demands, a new election was held and Victor Yushchenko became president.
The Christian author Philip Yancey writes, “When I heard the story behind the orange revolution, the image of a small screen of truth in the corner of the big screen became for me an ideal picture of the church.
Go to any magazine rack or turn on the television and you see a consistent message. What matters is how beautiful you are, how much
money or power you have. Similarly, though the world includes many poor people, they rarely make the magazine covers or new shows. Instead we focus on the superrich.
Our society is hardly unique. Throughout history nations have always glorified winners, not losers. Then, like the sign language translator in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, along comes a person named Jesus who says in effect, “Don’t believe the big screen, they’re lying.”
Be careful what you believe. Might doesn’t make right, at least not in the Lord’s eyes. Believe in God’s goodness and justice. Believe and give hope to millions of people around the world, people who need more for example than a hand out from a college student with his pockets full of coins because of a favorable exchange rate.
Many times important things in our lives or in the lives of underprivileged or impoverished people around the world are not merely personal. They’re social, and economic, and political. We see this in our reading from Amos. The fifth chapter of Amos contains some of the most striking and famous justice language in the Bible.
As we heard, the Lord rebuked the northern kingdom for turning “justice into wormwood,” that is, for selling “justice” at the gate to the highest bidder by deciding a case not based on fairness and the truth but on size of the bribe, paying no attention to the pleas of the poor. God would turn against Israel because they hated those who spoke the truth, they trampled on the poor, selling them into slavery when as little as a pair of sandals was owed.
The Lord would not defend Israel any longer because the rich were getting richer on the backs of the poor, and the poor were getting poorer by the rich grabbing their land and making them destitute and homeless.
Because of Israel’s social injustice, the Lord despised their religious feasts and assemblies.
What was to come would be a total devastation of the northern kingdom of Israel. Their country was rotting from the inside-out and eventually the Lord would no longer keep them safe.
The only hope for God’s people is that they “seek good, and not evil,” that they establish justice in the gate. Israel must “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” in order to stem the coming disaster.
Some thirty years later, the Assyrians began their conquest of Israel ultimately ending the northern kingdom of the Jewish people’s existence forever, the cause of what we call the ten lost tribes of Judaism.
When we say our God is good, good must include God’s demand for social justice. God cares about justice and the poor, which means each society has to decide if they will stand on the side of God’s will for all his children or not.
That responsibility also falls on us.
Being comfortable, being privileged, creates a blindness in people. Those of us who have can be blinded to the needs of those who have not. We don’t count the cost to others of what we have come to believe is ours to have.
In her book “Healing a Broken World,” Cynthia Moe-Lobeda quotes a Mexican strawberry picker as saying, “Our children die of hunger because our land, which ought to grow food for them, is used by international companies to produce strawberries for your tables.”
The truth can hurt. But God is the God of truth, and as Christ said, “The truth will set you free.”
Watch what you take to be the truth. Be vigilant against believing in something that blames others and relieves you of responsibility. Be willing to believe that the fruits of justice and rightness feed all, and will lead to greater peace in our world.
God is good, so good to you and me. The Lord loves you and blesses you and watches over you. Fill your heart with the joy of God’s kindness to you and yours. But also see how good God seeks to be to those who struggle with things we take for granted—freedom, prosperity, food, water, homes, peace, justice.