W ELL, IT’S BACK-TO-SCHOOL TIME. Time to start again with a new teacher, new friends, for some even a new school, perhaps in a new town.
In school you learn and you practice what you learn. You watch the teacher make the letter “a,” then “b,” and on. Then you practice making those shapes. You learn the rules of math. Then you practice those rules adding and subtracting, or finding the square root. It’s that way with reading and history and art. It’s that way with recess and team sports. Learn, then practice. Every hobby, every level of education, every level of job training requires us to learn and then practice.
At church we also learn and practice. We learn basic truths and practice them. Love one another. Pray for one another. Mission and ministry is practicing what we learn.
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ISAIAH, AN OLD TESTAMENT PROPHET, writes that we are to learn to do good. Other writers say the same thing: “Trust in the Lord, and do good.” (Psalm 37:3) The early Christians are encouraged don’t “grow weary of doing good.” (Galatians 6:9) Not be good. That’s often all we teach. When you go to Johnny’s you be good (or behave). Do good.
We learn what it means to do good; then we practice doing good. We practice and practice and practice. Just like we practice writing or practice the piano or practice soccer or video games. The more we practice, the better we get at it. All along the way, God cheers us on and celebrates as we get better and better doing good.
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WHAT IS DOING GOOD? It’s about how we care for others. In big and bold letters Isaiah says, “treat people fairly”. I don’t know anyone who wants to be treated like they don’t matter. Anyone who enjoys being called demeaning names. Who wants to get treated like they’re less than a person? No one wants to get bullied. No one wants to be left out, hit, yelled at or abused. Treat others the ways you want to be treated — with decency, understanding and compassion.
Treat people fairly. Fairness doesn’t mean equality. I’ve talked about this before. Equality means sameness. Equality means everybody gets the same thing whether they need it or not. Fairness means everyone has access to the same opportunities.
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LOOK AT THIS PHOTO. On the left everyone is treated equally. They all three have a same size box on which to stand to watch the game. One kid still can’t see over the fence. On kid is just right. The other can see but does he need a box? One the right is fairness. The shorter kid gets two boxes on which to stand. The middle kid has one. The taller boy gets nothing. In this picture, all three can see the game. That’s fair.
We understand this. Equality means every child in school has to pay for lunch or every child gets a free lunch. But we know, not every child has the money to pay for lunch. We know some families have plenty of money to buy lunch. So, some get free lunch and some don’t.
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WE ALL, EVEN CHILDREN, understand fairness, but at times we forget to practice it. Isaiah names three groups of people that it’s especially important to treat fairly because we can easily overlook them.
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SOME OF YOU remember Mike and Monnie Anderson. Mike was interim pastor here before I came to Swift. Monnie has been on a humanitarian trip to the border between Texas and Mexico. She and others spent a few days working at the Catholic Charities Respite Center. Asylum-seekers from all over Central America come to the border. There INS or ICE processes them and drops them at the respite. There they move from station to station getting their names put into a computer, receiving clothing, toiletries, and food. Monnie was shown the nuns’ process for making ham-and-cheese sandwiches. When they leave the respite, they are given the bags for traveling containing three bottles of water, four sandwiches and chips.
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THE ORPHAN. We don’t have many true orphans anymore. A child without any parents. We do have many neglected children. Children who have parents at home but those parents are more interested in other things than caring for their children.
Kalon had been in foster care since age 2, until a judge sent him back to live with his mom when he was 17. When his mom kicked him out of the house, he spent winter nights sleeping in a park while trying to finish high school. Smith had no bed, no documents, no shower — and no food. He went back to his old neighborhood and knocked a door, hoping to get something to eat. The woman who answered didn’t just give him a meal and send him on his way. She took him into her home, where he had warm food and a roof over his head. She also set him up with the church down the street, which helped him find a job and apply for a Social Security card.
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THE WIDOW. Timothy, in the New Testament, recognizes fairness over equality. He says not every widow needs special attention, but to give proper care to widows who are in need. In our world and culture, I think it appropriate to also add to that single-parents. Often — particularly moms with children — they struggle.
Emma gave up her 12th birthday by asking people to make donations to single mothers and their children instead of giving her gifts. She invited single-parent families from her school to the party. Emma set up craft projects for the kids and after giving the parents a gift card, provided two hours of free babysitting.
Isaiah doesn’t give us a complete list of who needs special focus. But these three groups recur again and again throughout the Bible. God especially cares for the oppressed, the orphan and the widow. We do good when we care for them also.
— Keith Cardwell