Saturday, October 1, 2011

God Expects Justice

Sermon God Expects Justice Matthew 21:33-46 October 2, 2011 “For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” (Is 5:7) Earlier this week I spent three days in Denver at the National District Attorney’s Association’s conference “Strategies for Justice: Advanced Investigation and Prosecution of Child Abuse and Exploitation.” The FBI was the main presenter at the conference. The audience came from all 50 states, and was packed with over 200 prosecutors, law enforcement agents, child protective services workers, and a smattering of others like me who have a growing interest in this topic. Each day workshops centered on different aspects of the issues that face youth throughout the nation who are the victims of sexual and physical abuse and children who have been trafficked – or, to use a, perhaps, more familiar word, pimped. More elegantly put, The US State Department identifies trafficking as: “someone who is coerced, forced, or deceived into prostitution – or maintained in prostitution through coercion.” They add, “It is critical to understand that a person’s initial consent to participate in prostitution is not legally determinative: if they are thereafter held in service through psychological manipulation or physical force, they are trafficking victims.” You might ask, “How many kids does this really affect?” Overall, the incidence of child physical and sexual abuse has remained pretty much the same for the past 10 to 15 years – approximately 1 in every 4 children are affected. Some researchers say the rate may have even declined a bit. “Good news,” you might say. Keep in mind, however, the U.S. Census population indicates that the number of children under the age of 18 has grown 2.6% since the year 2000. You can do the math. Like many others, you might also say, “But that sort of thing doesn’t happen around here.” However, experts state that human trafficking among youth occurs nation-wide. More importantly for us here in the Las Vegas area, Shared Hope International, a non-profit organization combating human trafficking, recently published an extensive study of trafficking throughout the U. S. over the course of the past 10 years. Their data indicates that between the years 1994-2007, 5,122 Las Vegas youth between the ages of 12-14 were arrested for prostitution and reported that they were being managed by a pimp. The only other area in the United States that came even close to those numbers within that period of time was Kansas City, Missouri with a reported 227 cases. Here is a typical case of human trafficking. Alissa, age 16, met an older man at a convenience store in Dallas and after a few dates accepted his invitation to move in with him. But soon Alissa’s new boyfriend convinced her to be an escort for him, accompanying men on dates and having sex with them for money. He took her to an area known for street prostitution and forced her to hand over all of her earnings. He made Alissa get a tattoo of his nicknames, branding her as his property, and he posted prostitution advertisements with her picture on an Internet site. He rented hotel rooms around Dallas and forced Alissa to have sex with men who responded to the ads. The man, who kept an assault rifle in the closet of his apartment, threatened Alissa and physically assaulted her on multiple occasions. The man later pled guilty to trafficking Alissa. “For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” (Is 5:7) What are the issues? What are the issues not only for law enforcement and the courts, but for us here at Grace and for other churches throughout the area; for all of us who claim to be Christians proclaiming the Good News – the Kingdom of God? Indeed, what is the Good News? First the issues: For one, we need to develop stronger community wide partnerships between law enforcement, prosecution, social services, faith communities and other organizations. We need partnerships that will drop a “the law says…,” “this is my turf…,” or “this is the way we do things…” attitude. Would you be amazed to hear that every single FBI presentation included the statement, “We need the help of the faith communities; we can’t do it without them” We need to ask ourselves the question, “How can we work together to find a new and better way of reaching these kids. How can we successfully extricate these children from their pimps and help them re-enter society; begin a healing process that will allow them to flourish in normal relationships?” How can we bring Christ to them?” How do we follow Paul’s example when he says, “…but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward in what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Jesus Christ.” (Phil 3:14) How do we discern God’s call for us in confronting this painful social dilemma? How do we respond prayerfully and practically to that call? In order do any of that difficult but important work we need to have a long, hard look at our attitudes; our attitudes that scream out, “these kids are “troubled,” “criminals,” “prostitutes,” “liars,” and yes, “worthless.” How do we overcome our attitude that leads us to believe that these children are not our responsibility, or worse, beyond help? Now for the Good News: We need to pay Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel. Jesus Said to them "Have you never read in the scriptures: `The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is amazing in our eyes'? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’”When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet. (Mt 21:44-46) The Kingdom of God will not go to those who reject Christ and his message of salvation – it will not go to those who demean and destroy lives. The Good News is that the Kingdom of God will go to “a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.” The Kingdom of God will go to the Christian Church and its practice of righteousness – its participation in justice – social justice – the healing of the sick, the lonely, the outcast – its efforts to embrace all those who have lost their way. The Good News is that we are being called to respond to a national crisis and we have the tools to do the job. We have the opportunity to improve our current system of response to these young people who are currently arrested, placed in detention for three to five days, and then, more often than not, released back onto the streets – back to their pimp, or some other pimp who has “bought” them. In response to Isaiah’s lament: “For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” (Is 5:7) We pray: Turn now, O God of hosts, look down from heaven; behold and tend this vine; preserve what your right hand has planted. (Psalm 80:14)