Why Justice Matters

July 10, 2015

On Thursday 2 July, we invited Traidcraft supporters to join us for a service to reflect, pray and act for justice in international trade and business. It followed an afternoon during which Traidcraft campaigners visited three government departments to call on them to put justice for victims at the heart of the governments plans on business and human rights.

You can read more about the campaign event over on our campaign blog.

The preacher at the service was Martin Charlesworth, executive director of Jubilee+ and long time friend of Traidcraft.

He preached on Isaiah 42: 1-9, and here are the words of his address:

It is a great privilege to be invited to address you on this important ocasion in the life of the Traidcraft movement and network. Thank you for inviting me.

In a world such as that of Traidcraft there is always a great deal of activism – and for good reason. There is indeed much to do to advance the cause of fair trade through your organization and through the host of affiliated activities, partnerships, campaigns, networks and businesses. Today has been a particularly busy day with travel, meetings, social gatherings and, very specifically, the political lobbying here at Westminster.

However, within a world of activism there is a vital place for reflection and for an opportunity to return to the abiding vision that underlies all that we do. Vision nurtures us and sustains us in the rough and tumble of busyness, pressure, challenge and distraction. Traidcraft was birthed out of a Christian vision for justice and a just world. This concern for justice was applied with specific focus on the vital human activity of trade. It was, from the beginning, a courageous attempt to address the manifest injustice that so often characterizes the terms of trading between richer and poorer nations, companies, communities and individuals.

My text today from Isaiah 42 is the opening prophecy in a magnificent series of prophetic poems known to scholars as the “servant songs” of Isaiah in which this remarkable prophet, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, delineates with penetrating accuracy the character of the forthcoming Messiah and his unique and transforming mission. It is in this series of prophecies that we hear of the compassion of the Messiah, his humility, his forthcoming atoning death, his resurrection, and his mission to the whole world. The climax comes at the beginning of Isaiah 61 when the Messianic “servant” of the Lord announces his divine commissioning and empowerment to bring good news to the poor, to heal the sick, to forgive the sinner and to release the oppressed. This potent transformational ministry represents a powerful mixture of the dimensions of God’s salvation: spiritual, physical, emotional, relational – and economic.

There is no richer vein of prophetic anticipation of the coming of Jesus Christ to be found anywhere in the Old Testament than that found in Isaiah – and particularly in the “Servant Songs”. Significantly, the Gospels bear eloquent testimony to the fact that Jesus Christ identified himself directly and specifically with the “servant” of Isaiah’s prophecies.

So let us turn to our text in more detail, especially the first four verses, which read:

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
 my chosen one in whom I delight;
 I will put my Spirit on him,
 And he will bring justice to the nations.
 He will not shout or cry out,
 Or raise his voice in the streets.
 A bruised reed he will not break,
 And a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.
 In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
 He will not falter or be discouraged
 Till he establishes justice on earth.
 In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

Let us notice here the extraordinary trajectory of these words and predictions. I will try to describe it: God will send his Messianic servant in due time to establish divine justice in the world. Such justice will raise up the “bruised reeds” and “smouldering wicks” amongst humanity and lead to an ever increasing establishment of divine justice across the whole world. This is indeed a breathtaking vision. We find out in the Gospels that God is going to advance this cause through his living church in its holistic mission to humanity. We also learn that the arrival of the “Kingdom of God” in and through the ministry of Jesus was merely a foretaste of the ultimate fulfilment of God’s Kingdom when Jesus returns again.

We live in the age of the church in which God’s Kingdom with its priority for justice has been clearly established but is, as yet, only the prophetic anticipation of the day when the Messiah will fully establish “justice on the earth”.

So let us firmly place again the work of Traidcraft in this broad vision of the Kingdom of God. Let us accept the challenges and cost of being prophetic in a world filled with injustice. Let us renew our vision for the work of Traidcraft within the grand narrative of God’s Kingdom purposes. Let’s nourish our own lives in the riches of Scripture, in the deep well of personal devotion and in powerful intercession of the Lord’s prayer: “Let your Kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.”

Isaiah’s prophecy in today’s text refers poetically to one of the golden threads of the Bible - God’s concern for economic and social justice. We see it in the structure of national life within ancient Israel under the law of Moses. Here there was a focus on the equitable distribution of land amongst all citizens alongside a concern for fair terms of doing business. Practical provisions were put in place to enhance economic justice: reasonable wages, affordable financial loans, accurate measurement of the quantities of exchange, environmental protection for the land and sufficient provision for the poorest citizens of the nation. All this was in stark contrast to the economic structures existing in Israel’s national neighbours.

In due course the Old Testament prophets took up the cause. Their function was as reminders and enforcers of the Mosaic covenant for the people of Israel. Their uncomfortable messages served to bring the people’s attention again to the key demands of the Mosaic law: religious priorities, moral duties, relational responsibilities and the centrality of social and economic justice. The theme of justice within the prophets has often been marginalized in our sometimes hurried and superficial reading of their ancient oracles. So let’s listen again to this theme within the wider message of the prophets:

First, from Isaiah:

“Learn to do right: seek justice.
 Defend the oppressed.
 Take up the cause of the fatherless;
 Plead the case of the widow.”   (Isaiah 1:17).

Then, from Micah:

“He has shown you, oh mortal, 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.”   (Micah 6:8)

Also, from Amos:

“This is what the Lord says:
 For three sins of Israel, 
 Even for four, I will not relent.
 They sell the innocent for silver,
 And the needy for a pair of sandals.
 Thy trample on the heads of the poor
 As on the dust of the ground
 And deny justice to the oppressed.”    (Amos 2:6-7).

Turning to the pages of the New Testament we see the ongoing purposes of God vested in the church whose duty is to proclaim and live out the gospel of the Kingdom of God in its many dimensions. One of those dimensions is the prophetic responsibility to seek to establish justice in the nations of the world through the powerful influence of the church. James 5:1-6 contains a potent example of the message of the early church to those perpetrating economic injustice. 

“Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.  Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.  You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.”

Strong words indeed. James directly challenges those landowners who have failed to pay proper wages and have been unconcerned about the vast difference in wealth between themselves and those they employ. This passage describes a situation not so far removed from the type of economic inequality being addressed day in and day out by Traidcraft and the fair trade movement.

So, in conclusion, let me encourage you – keep up the good work. And whilst we are working for fair trade let’s keep going back to Scripture, back to our spiritual roots, back to a commitment to advance God’s Kingdom - and back to the immense resources of God’s Holy Spirit as he strengthens each one of us to live out the Christian life in all its dimensions. Let us work with a sense of divine calling and blessing as we wrestle with the very practical, and sometimes mundane, realities of working for fairer trade across this world.

 

The prayers were led by Mary Milne, Traidcraft's Campaigns Manager:

The words of Magige, from North Mara in Tanzania:

‘My life has changed a great deal since the death of Ema. He was my eldest son and my family depended on him so much. A lot of things that we had planned failed. …He was going to look after me when I got old and now he is gone.’

We pray for Magige and others around the world who are forced to live in poverty, despite their hard work, talents and resourcefulness. Lord, inspire your people across the world to stand up against poverty and work together to challenge its causes and relieve its consequences.

We pray for people who have lost health, land, livelihoods or loved ones because of the decisions or actions of a UK company. Help us to imagine and understand what they have been through despite the barriers of distance, language and culture.  

And we pray for people who struggle to have their voices and their views heard by those with power and influence. Open our hearts and give us the courage to stand alongside victims of corporate abuse, and magnify their call for justice.

Lord, establish your justice on earth

Response: The kingdom of God is justice and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit Come, Lord, and open in us the gates of your kingdom

Lord God, we thank you for the wealth of skills, talent and inventiveness you have given humankind. Thank you that through international trade and business, we are able to share these with people across the world, and benefit from their skills and talents too.

But in this unequal world, we know that the benefits of trade are too often skewed to those who already have much. And that those with little can end up being exploited or harmed.   

We thank you for companies which are working hard to try to change the way they do business. In particular, we thank you for the Fairtrade movement – for the volunteers and customers, the companies, retailers and producers. We thank you for the vision you gave to the founders of Traidcraft that trade could happen in a different way.

We pray for all companies based in this country, for their staff, directors and shareholders. For people who work within these companies, who want them to succeed, and perhaps don’t always see the human consequences of their decisions.

Lord, establish your justice on earth

Response: The kingdom of God is justice and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit Come, Lord, and open in us the gates of your kingdom

 

Some words from the Forward to the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, published in September 2013: ‘Responsible action by the private sector on human rights is good for business and communities; it helps create jobs, customers and a sense of fairness; it contributes to a market’s sustainability and therefore its potential to generate long-term growth.’

In this place, close to where decisions are made and priorities set, we pray for all members of Parliament, Peers and their staff and officials. Give them wisdom in their debates and discussions, a willingness to listen and courage to do what is right for all people.

We pray for the ministers and civil servants in the government buildings around us. In particular, we pray for those leading the review of the UK National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. Today we have asked them to put justice for victims at the heart of the review and of the revised Plan. We pray that what we have said, and the stories we have shared, will be heard and will influence the progress of the review over the coming months.

Lord, establish your justice on earth

Response: The kingdom of God is justice and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit Come, Lord, and open in us the gates of your kingdom

 

Lord, you are the judge from whom all justice flows. Your justice is the standard by which all human justice is measured.

We pray for ourselves. We are here because we have responded to the promptings of your Holy Spirit that nurtures our desire for justice in the world.

Help us to continue to do what we can to build a more just, peaceful and equal world, where all people are able to live their lives to the full.

We hold up our own lives to your justice and mercy. We ask your forgiveness for our part in a world which seems to value things above people and possessions above relationships. Give us the strength to make the right choices – in our buying, our investments, and with our time, energy and talents.

Help us to do everything we can to usher in your kingdom of justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Lord, establish your justice on earth

Response: The kingdom of God is justice and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit Come, Lord, and open in us the gates of your kingdom

 

If you are inspired to join our Justice campaign, you can add your voice here.