But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing  stream!”


For the last several weeks, I have been emailing back and forth with the pastor and several of my friends sharing my thoughts and feelings about justice, notably, the U.S. Criminal justice system, in relation to the recent sentencing hearing of my son Fisher.  And in the midst of those emails, the pastor asked me to prepare a message for today’s service.  “Talk about something you know well, feel passionately about and have given a lot of thought to,” he advised, “Your recent emails on justice, for example, might be a good place to start.”


Hmmmm, justice surely is something I feel passionately about, and have given a lot of thought to.  But do I know it well, I wondered? 




I have had a fascination, or some might say obsession, with this notion of justice for as long as I can remember.  But, no, it has not really been justice that has captured my thoughts and feelings so strongly – it has been injustice.  From the time I was a small child, I noticed injustice all around me, and it angered me.  My heroes were those who fought against injustice.  My very first piece of published writing was a poem I wrote in the 4th grade, published by our local newspaper in Barre, Vermont . . . .


If Nancy Hanks came back to see

What happened to Abe and she asked  me . . . .


It began and went on to describe Abraham Lincoln’s great and heroic fight to achieve justice for all. I can pretty much remember the topics of all the term papers and other reports I wrote throughout junior high and high school – the themes were consistent – Civil Rights, the Unjust Treatment of Native Americans, the poor, people with disabilities, sweat shop workers, laborers -  biographies of Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Cesar Chavez. 

The truth is, I have spent a great deal of my life being angry about the injustices I see every day. And anger was, indeed, the first reaction I had to the sentence handed down to my son.  This isn’t justice!  I cried out.  And I was angry.


The desire for justice is strongly connected to desires for revenge and retribution.  Whoever has done wrong must pay. Whether you have broken a rule at home, work or school, broken a law, betrayed a trust, or flown an airplane into a building – YOU MUST PAY! For justice to be achieved there must be payment.  And when someone, or some collective someones – a person, a leader, a criminal, a corporation, a nation – gets away with a wrong committed, that is unjust.  We call out to God to punish those who seem to constantly be getting away with it. 


“Why, O God, Why do the wicked prosper???” – this is a constant refrain found throughout many of the Psalms – Where is the justice, Lord, we seem to say, or in our more whiny moods, “Come on God, It’s not fair!!!”  Remember the parable of the workers in the vineyard {read Matthew 20:1-16} Do you remember how indignant you felt when you first heard that story? I do -  How unfair! Of course, I knew that I would be one of the workers that worked all day.  How dare this businessman treat me so unjustly!


Justice is about payment, evening the score, making things right.  And when it doesn’t happen, I get mad.


When I or my children are the victims of wrongdoing – I demand justice.  When our families, our villages, our countries are wronged – we call out for justice.  Whether we lock them up or blow them up – the wrongdo-ers, the enemies – they must pay.  And when the ones that are wronged are weak, or powerless – I am ready to speak up on their behalf.  I am ready to be angry on their behalf.  I will call out and cry out for justice on their behalf.  Justice for ALL! We demand.  Not just for the rich or the powerful or the strong or the white – Justice for ALL!


I am all about equal justice


Well, unless, of course, I am the one who did wrong. 


When I am the one who does wrong – do I want justice?  Oh no! The concept of justice terrifies me then.  I don’t really want to have to pay the full price for my sins.  I want a discount!  I want special treatment!  I want another chance.  Please God, I want mercy.


Whether it was getting caught in a lie as a child, or facing an employer after missing a deadline at work – I cower at the idea of justice for me.  Justice for all doesn’t really mean justice for me, not when I have done wrong. 


There are other factors, extenuating circumstances, I can learn, I won’t do it again, I promise, please Lord, give me another chance . . . . . Have mercy upon me.


No, I do not really want justice for myself, nor for my children. 


I pray, every day, really, in one way or another, that they will be spared the consequences of their own actions.  That they will not have to pay full price for their sins and youthful indiscretions.  That they will be protected from their own foolish ways and given the opportunity to learn and try again.  I don’t want justice for me, or for my children.  For me and my household ~~ mercy is what I ask for.


And as I stood in that courtroom, listening to the prosecuting attorney read off the litany of Fisher’s crimes, I realized, I did not really want justice after all.  I was not there hoping for justice, I was there hoping for mercy. I had asked friends and family to write letters of support – even to come with us to court, not in the pursuit of justice, but in the hopes that these efforts would influence the judge to show some mercy towards my son. 


But the judge did not – at least not in my eyes, show mercy, but a harsh sentence was handed down. 

And so, after the anger about the failings of our justice system rolled down, my heart was broken and I was overwhelmed with sadness.  Sadness at the lack of mercy. – Its just not fair, I wept. Not fair for the little boy who had been hurt, betrayed, abused – who was calling out for justice for him then?  Not fair for us, his family, his children – all who love him and would lose six long years of time to share the moments – both ordinary and extraordinary – of every day life.  Not fair . . . . . I wept – and a friend wrote me back in an email these eye-opening words:


From day one of his life and the lives of his siblings, it hasn't been "fair". And we can't make it "fair" now either. But we can make it "redemptive" by the Love, Grace, and Mercy of our LORD. That is why you can have hope in the midst of it all, isn't it?!.


Justice . . . . mercy . . . . redemption . . . .hope .. . . . .



He didn’t deserve mercy, the prosecutor claimed, because that would not be fair.  It would not create justice for the victims – the people hurt, the trusts betrayed, the laws violated, the hearts broken by his actions over the years –these required justice, not mercy.  He had to pay.


Justice requires a payment . . . . after all . . . . . and then I received another email from a friend who came to court with us:

I had an incredible experience at Fisher's trial.  She wrote, As the judge was reviewing his criminal history I had the experience of standing before God reviewing my life.  I was struggling not to cry as I realized that everything Fisher had done, I was also guilty of.  I may not have attacked anyone but I have hated in my heart.  I haven't forged but I have lied.  I haven't done drugs but I have idolatry in my heart.  I was overwhelmed with my guilt but also with the incredible grace of God to forgive me and die for me all the while knowing how unfaithful I am.  What kind of love is the unbelievable love of God !!!!!! 

I didn't so much hear Fisher's sentence as I heard that this young man if he chooses can live that freedom in Christ even while in prison.

We all have our own prisons.  We all face our own demons.  We all have to deal with the tug of war that the demands for justice and the cries for mercy play on our hearts and on our minds.

How do we get from justice to mercy and back again?  How do we become as concerned about mercy for those who do wrong against us, as we are about mercy for ourselves?  Where do we get the strength to keep fighting for justice AND mercy for those whose voices are smaller, quieter, weaker than our own? 


He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly, and to love mercy

And to walk humbly with your God.


What does the Lord require of us?

1.  To act justly – We may not always like justice when it is applied to us, yet we must remember to act justly.  Never tire of seeking justice for those who have been treated unjustly.  Never stop speaking up against the injustices in our communities, our nations, our world.  Injustices brought about by the fallen nature of mankind – by inequities in the distribution of resources, by racial discrimination, political oppression, mistreatment of children  – we, as followers of Christ, must “act justly” – we must be the radical role models of justice in this unjust world.  We cannot lose the fire of anger when we see injustice.  We must cry out and call out for the day when justice will roll down like a river, like a never failing stream – not justice for some, but justice for all.


What does the Lord require of us?




2.  To Love mercy – yes, our fight for justice must always be tempered by mercy – God calls us to “love mercy” and not only for ourselves – but for our enemies too – not only for our children, but for the children of our enemies – remember the parable of the unmerciful servant – {read Matthew 18 verses 21-35} “Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant just has I had on you?”


What does the Lord require of us?


3.  To walk humbly with our God – justice and mercy can seem to be opposites. In any situation, it may seem that we can have either justice or mercy, but not both.  How can we reconcile the two?  It can be easy to get caught up in our anger over the lack of justice in our lives or our world, or to get overwhelmed by sadness at the lack of mercy shown to our sons and daughters, or the children in North Philadelphia or North Korea or Northern Iraq,

but we can overcome both the anger and the sadness with genuine hopefulness because of God’s grace. 


It is grace that allows us to walk humbly with our God. It is the grace that God has given us that allows us to extend mercy to an enemy instead of raw justice.  It is the humbleness we feel when we are truly amazed by grace that allows us to keep seeking justice for the oppressed and mercy for the downtrodden.  It is God’s amazing grace that causes us to fall on our knees in gratitude that God did not subject us to justice – we did not have to pay in full for our sins, we not only got a discount, we got a free ride!  We got mercy beyond our wildest imaginations!  And through God’s grace, we can offer that mercy in small ways, every day, to the others we encounter. 


When I was a new believer, I was having trouble grasping the concepts of justice, mercy and grace.  I remember a wise friend sharing this explanation –


Justice is when you get what you deserve – good or bad, exactly what you deserve, nothing more, nothing less.


Mercy is when you DON’T get the bad stuff you DO deserve.


Grace is when you DO get the good stuff you DON’T deserve.


Act justly – treat others with fairness and dignity, be the voice calling out for justice in an increasingly unjust world


Love mercy – remember, God has spared us from the bad stuff we so often deserve – love mercy, it is such a great gift, share mercy, restore mercy to our broken world


And knowing that God, in his amazing Grace has given us so much goodness that we do not deserve – walk humbly, and joyfully and hopefully with our God.