well, welcome everyone. It is so great to be with you today as we conclude our summer series, Oh The Places We'll Go. It's a series where each of the speakers have presented a book that have challenged their perspective have inspired their faith, has moved them in their understanding of how to live out this life
of Jesus. Now I want to agree with something that Becky said just a few weeks ago. I just find it amazing to see how the nature of these books have worked together, to lead us to this place of learning how to more and more love beyond. To love others to step into these places that might be difficult and [00:01:00] go, how do we reflect the love of Jesus there?
These books weren't assigned in any way, and yet they all seem to come together in just an incredible way. And the book we're going to read or talk about today, I believe fits right into that space as well. The book we're gonna talk about is called Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. It's a memoirs of sorts about kind of the formation and the influences of his work and his passions.
Brian's an attorney and he's the founder of the equal justice initiative. Now I first heard of Brian and heard Brian, when he spoke at the 2017 Global Leadership Summit, it was out of that I just felt compelled to want to read this book. And I'm so glad I did. Now this, this title Just Mercy might be familiar to you because, at the end of last year, the movie that this was based on this book was released.
And, I would imagine a [00:02:00] number of you have seen it. Even in the, in the last month it was made available for free. And I've seen that movie a couple of times and I would, I would highly encourage you to see it. It is powerful. It's visually and emotionally disturbing in countless ways. And yet it carries with it a message of hope as well.
Well, like so many movies that originate in books, the movies just don't have the ability to capture the, the context and the content, the way that the book does. And so I just want to encourage you to pick up this book and to read it. Now, let me briefly tell you about Bryan Stevenson. He grew up in a small town in Delaware and though his early years were certainly influenced by segregation and desegregation and Jim Crow.
He was fortunate to have a really great family and a very connected community. His parents were hard working. They were very active in their church and he was heavily influenced by [00:03:00] the themes and the messages he learned from his church as he grew up. He eventually went to Harvard Law School. And while there, he took a course that was about, poverty and race litigation.
And he decided out of that to do an internship with an organization called the Southern Center for Human Rights. An organization that represents death row inmates throughout the South. It was during this work that Brian had an experience that would change the course of his career and his life's work.
You see, before he was even an attorney, he was a part of this group and they sent him to go meet with a death row inmate. So many, they didn't have an attorney for who'd been on the row for like two years and they sent Brian down there to convey to this inmate one simple message. You will not be killed.
In the next year. I don't know about you, but I [00:04:00] can't imagine having to deliver that kind of message to somebody that you don't know that you don't know anything about. And understandably, he was nervous. He was afraid. He didn't know what he would encounter. He had no idea what he would say or how he would say he'd never even been to a prison before.
And when he gets there to his surprise, he meets a young man named Henry who looked remarkably like him. Who had a life very similar to his own, grew up in a neighborhood a lot like his neighborhood. Singing in church and the same way that Brian had sang in church growing up. And yet now he lived under the constant fear that at any moment, a date would be set for his death.
And the tragedy for Brian was that Henry had no one to represent his case. No one to speak on his behalf. And that experience changed the course of his life. You see Stevenson found his career [00:05:00] calling to advocate for those who have no voice. To confront the issues of injustice and poverty, something that affects all races, for sure, but certainly disproportionately affects people of color, but in order to do that, he had to get close.
You see, it was a lesson that he learned from his grandmother that he writes so fondly about it. And she would say this, she would say, you can't understand most of the important things from a distance, Brian. You have to get close. She told me that all the time. And so today I want to invite you to move a little closer to something that for most of us makes us incredibly uncomfortable.
In fact, I think for most of us we want to live as if it rarely exists at all, we want to distance ourselves as much as we can, but that journey, that [00:06:00] movement closer to the brokenness and the injustice of our world is the same journey that Jesus was compelled to take when he left heaven in order to become like us.
To walk in the most lowly of context to get as close to our brokenness as he could. You see, he wanted us to know that he understood what it was like. You see Jesus was well versed in the pressures of poverty and of scandal. He was born under a cloud of suspicion. The whole town knew that Joseph was not his dad.
And they would make that known every time they referred to him as Mary's son, rather than Joseph's son, something that would be culturally inappropriate. He carried the weight of that judgment and shame. He was a Galilean. He was from Nazareth. And who can forget the very first [00:07:00] words that Nathan who are Nathaniel, I mean, who becomes a disciple of his, the very first words out of his mouth, when he hears about Jesus, he says, can anything good come out of Nazareth?
The Galilean region was filled with these different small towns. It was kind of the blue collar region. It didn't carry the, the social sophistication of Jerusalem. And even as an adult after Joseph, his dad had passed, he carries the burden of concern for his mother and her challenges as a widow. But Jesus came for a purpose.
One that was articulated most notably in the announcement of His ministry. You see, it's recorded in Luke chapter four, it goes like this. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up and on the Sabbath Day he went to the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him.
[00:08:00] Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written. The spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
And then he rolled the scroll back up and he gave it back to the attendant and he sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began by saying to them, Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. You see, this was the prophecy of Isaiah about Jesus, about the Messiah, and he announces it in Nazareth in the synagogue, the one he grew up in and notice who he identifies as his focus, [00:09:00] the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the oppressed.
I would say the voiceless. Those who often go unseen, silenced, cast aside dismissed. Certainly those whose cries for help can, can be easily overlooked, but that wasn't going to be the way of Jesus. You see, this was always, this has always been the heartbeat of God. This was a theme written throughout the law emphasizing, emphasized by the prophets throughout the Old Testament. Prophets who often found themselves at odds with the leaders and with the people who would dismiss the profits, if not outright kill them for their message.
Proverbs reminds us of God's priority. The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern. And now Jesus is [00:10:00] announcing His arrival as Messiah with those same words. Now I can't help, but notice that we're in an election season. And I would imagine at this we're like some messianic campaign, how difficult it would be to build your platform on those words.
I mean, this was not the platform of a Messiah. Everyone knew that Messiah was coming to restore Israel to take back control from Rome, to restore the glory of David's kingdom. This was not King worthy goals. Can you imagine if you had like a campaign manager and he pitched this idea to him, you'd go up to them.
And this would be Jesus saying, you know, you know, I really want my campaign to be focused on the poor, on the blind, on the oppressed, on the prisoners. Basically those who have no voice. Can you work with that? I can imagine the campaign manager would be like, [00:11:00] um, uh, hey Jesus, this looks good and all.
It's good. Uh, but maybe we need to tweak your message just a little bit. I don't think this is going to earn much with the major donors. You see, but thankfully he wasn't running a campaign for Messiah. He was the Messiah and He had come to identify with the broken and the hurting, the oppressed and the marginalized and the voiceless.
You see, it was the ones with, with the voice who had forgotten the heart of God. And what God really wanted, or simply just chose to ignore it. I mean, who can forget the lawyer who actually tested Jesus and got the answer, right. I don't know if you're familiar with the story it's found in Luke chapter 10, starting in verse 25.
It says. Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. Teacher he said, what [00:12:00] must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus said to him, what is written in the law? What do you read there? And he answered. You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.
That's the lawyer's answer. And Jesus said to him, you have given the right answer, do this, and you will live. He got it right. They knew what the law required to love their neighbors as themselves. But rather than live that out, that they wanted to, they wanted to qualify who their neighbor was.
And then too often what they did was weaponized the law against those they didn't like. Against the least of these. You see, they weren't interested in the good of the individual, but rather they were interested in perpetuating a system that [00:13:00] benefited their own interests at the expense of the least. The voiceless.
And Jesus came to do it differently to demonstrate what loving your neighbor is all about. And he spent the next three years doing just that. Confronting hearts and minds that were more interested in their own gain and less interested in applying that same desire that they had for themselves, for their neighbors, all their neighbors and Jesus showed compassion for people.
Meeting people where they were at helping them, feeding them, healing, them, advocating for them, calling them to something higher. You see Jesus sought justice and mercy. And that was the teaching that for Brian really shaped him, I think, led him to the work he does. You see, Brian was driven by a [00:14:00] conviction.
One that he writes about in the book, his conviction is this. Each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done. Before I keep going. I just want you to hold on that. I want to say it one more time. I want you to think about that for yourself. Each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done.
He goes on to say my work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice. And it's out of that, that he does the work he does. And so what is just mercy? Well, obviously just as a reference to justice, though, it's used in this cause context, it's, it's an adjective and it literally means behaving according to what is morally right and fair.
Behaving more according to what [00:15:00] is morally right and fair. And of course, when you have an adjective, it is there to define the now and it's associated with in this case, that noun is mercy and the dictionary defines mercy as compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm.
See Brian merges these two. Mercy though, is at the very heart of our relationship with God? It's the byproduct of His love for us, a love that loves us in spite of ourselves that chooses to forge a relationship and act in our best interest. Even though there is nothing within us that deserves it. I think it's best captured in Romans chapter five.
It says this. You see, at just the right time when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person though, for a [00:16:00] good person, someone might possibly dare to die, but God demonstrates his own love for us in this. While we were still sinners Christ died for us.
See that's mercy, God intervening on our behalf. On behalf of all of us. There's no qualifier here. He's speaking for all of us. And is withholding from us what our behavior and actions deserve. Now, to be clear, this isn't to say that Jesus ignores justice for the sake of mercy, not at all. When it comes to our relationship with God, justice was served and He was the one who served it, taking our sin upon Himself.
And when it comes to people, justice still needs to be served. And I think these messages can, can make lots of us really uncomfortable because it's so easy for us to hear that like, hey, let's just forgive everyone. Let's [00:17:00] just love everyone. It's all good. Forgive and forget no big deal. We don't have to hold consequences.
We can overlook crime because of love. Right? No, that's not what is being said here. You see the requirements of justice in a civil society are vitally necessary and must be enforced. But the heart of God, listen to me, the heart of God and the life of Jesus is very much focused on justice being administered justly for all people, honestly, and with integrity and applying mercy to those in which it can and should be applied.
To look at situations through the lens of the cross and all the whole of the individual with a commitment to intercede for those who so often go unseen and unheard. Justice can be administered justly and mercifully. And that is [00:18:00] what Jesus demonstrates. That's what Brian is talking about.
Brian himself says this, the power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving. It's when mercy is least expected, that it's most potent, strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution and suffering. You see that's what motivates his work. The main story of the book centers around the world, his work on the case of Walter McMillan, a black man accused of murdering a young white woman in which there's no possible way that he could have done it.
And yet he was given a death sentence. And it's about Brian's efforts to defend him. But along the way, as you read the book, we're exposed to a whole world of injustices against the lowly and the least of our country. So many of which have no competent representation. Minors [00:19:00] who have been raised in horrific conditions are implicated in crimes that result in life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, even sometimes the death penalty and we're talking kids as young as 12 years old. People with serious mental illnesses locked up in prisons for life.
Some even given the death penalty as well. Talking about women who are born into cycles of poverty and hardship that applies very little mercy in assistance. And not only imprisons them for incredibly lengthy periods of time, but even in prison, exposes them to horrific sexual abuse at the hands of guards with no protection or recourse.
It's heartbreaking. It's convicting it's something in my naive trust I assumed didn't exist. There's a particularly moving story where Brian references, perhaps one of the most powerful of biblical stories, embodying [00:20:00] justice and mercy, which is found in John chapter eight. It's one of many stories of Jesus engaging with people that so often go unseen and overlooked.
I'm going to begin in verse two. It says, at dawn, he appeared again in the temple courts. That's Jesus, where all the people gathered around him and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.
In the Law Moses commanded us to stone, such women. Now, what do you say? And they were using this question as a trap in order to have a basis for accusing him. So this situation is playing right, cut and dry. There's no arguing that she was caught in the act of adultery and that is punishable by death under the mosaic law.
[00:21:00] But when you look deeper here, you begin to see that it isn't as cut and dry. Can I just contend to you that people's lives are always more complex than they appear. And that's the case here. The law requires both the man and the woman to be there. Where's the man in this, the law also requires that the accusation must come from multiple eye witnesses to corroborate the stories.
It also requires that the one bringing the accusation throws the first stone. See the truth is this is not about loss. This is about trapping Jesus. They don't care about her. She's completely expendable. I doubt that moment that anyone even noticed her. Certainly she had no voice in this situation.
Jesus noticed her. Jesus saw her for who she was. Jesus saw the situation for what it was. [00:22:00] It was not about her. It was not caring for her. It was lacking any kind of mercy and care whatsoever. For the crowd and especially the religious leaders, she was barely more than property. And against that Jesus' response, Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.
And when they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and he said to him, let any of you who has, who is without sin, be the first to throw a stone at her. Again, he stooped down and he wrote on the ground. And at this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first until only Jesus was left with the woman still standing there, Jesus straightened up and asked her, woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you? No one, sir, she said. Then neither do I condemn you, Jesus declared. Go now and leave your life of [00:23:00] sin. Now we have no idea what Jesus wrote, but apparently He wrote something that caught their attention. Something that maybe He was writing the 10 commandments or, or maybe being familiar with some of them, He was writing some specific sin of somebody standing there.
I don't know what He wrote, whatever he wrote though. His invitation was this. Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. And one by one, beginning with the older ones, they dropped their stones and walked away. He compels them to consider their own brokenness before condemning the brokenness of this woman, leaving Jesus and this woman alone.
And in that moment he applies justice and mercy. He does not condemn her. He does not condone her. He acknowledges her sin and He calls her to leave her life of sin. But He intercedes to save her life [00:24:00] and offers her mercy and forgiveness. You see, this was not a crime that deserved death. This was a woman who needed mercy, who needed to be seen.
I watch our world today, even folks that I know. And sadly, I see a lot of stone throwing. People who have forgotten their own brokenness who have dismissed, their own forgiveness that they have experienced. Who have covered the faces of people who have no advocate with a label and decided that they are no longer worthy of dignity and respect.
The good news is, there's another way. We could do things differently. You see, the first thing we need to do is we need to drop the stones. I think for so many of us we've forgotten how to see [00:25:00] our own brokenness. We've lost touch with our own need, for forgiveness, for our own understanding and grace that we have received.
We measure ourselves by our intentions and the situations that we are in. And we measure others strictly by their actions, giving so little weight to the whole measure of who they are and what they've experienced. We throw stones out of fear of what we might lose. And yet, how often do we seriously hurt others by stones thrown recklessly at people who so desperately need
mercy. The second is this to become a stone catcher. That's right, Jesus has called us to step into the gap to be willing, to catch the stones thrown by others. To stand up to injustice and meet people where they are. [00:26:00] To defend the rights of the poor and the needy. Can I share with you what Proverbs 31 says, speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly, defend the rights of the poor and the needy. James and his letter writes extensively about not showing favoritism and to love and to act justly. That is what we're called to do. But in order to do that, you have to move closer. You see, you catn't catch stones standing behind the thrower.
You have to move closer. You have to get near them. You have to learn their story. You have to experience their situation to the best that you can. You have to do that if you're going to catch stones. And the third thing is this, is to become a bridge builder. You see our nature is this, is when we [00:27:00] catch those stones
what's the first thing we want to do. We want to haul off and we want to throw them back as hard as we can to the ones who throw those stones. It's just who we are, but that's not what we're called to do. You see were invited to set those stones down one next to the other and use them to build bridges to others, to help other stone throwers recognize that we are not saved by our righteousness.
We are saved by the blood of Jesus. To recognize our shared humanity and our shared brokenness to seek to listen and to understand and to advocate for. To help give the voiceless a voice. You see building bridges takes a long time. It's a slow process. It takes perseverance. It takes persistence, but persistence has the opportunity to bring true justice.
And that's what we're invited to do. You see, if justice we're an equation [00:28:00] I think it would look like this. Justice equals compassion plus persistence. You see compassion is not just feeling sorry for somebody. It's identifying what their situation is combined with action. When we're able to do something about it.
That's what compassion is. And yet it takes persistence. It takes a commitment to keep going. It takes persistence to go on the long haul to serve others. I confess to you that this message has probably been one of the hardest I've ever written. And this book one of the most challenging. This series has been so challenging because in the end I have to make some decisions.
How am I moving closer to be a stone catcher? I would submit to you that Jesus is asking you that same question as well. [00:29:00] You see who are the voiceless in your world? Maybe it's the homeless. In Mesa we've been serving and treating the homeless with dignity for over 20 years. And through that work, we've seen an incredible movement of God and people coming to faith through that. Because people rather than judging have actually loved them with dignity and respect.
Or maybe it's through the prisons where you go and you sit and you listen and you learn and you encourage and you invest in them. And maybe when it's time for them come out, you, you help that transition point. Maybe that's the voiceless in your midst, or maybe it's foster kids. You know, I have a friend, she runs Foster Arizona, and they work a lot with foster kids aging out of the system.
Who don't have families who don't have that support system, that many of us experience and lean into. And they're desperate. They desperately need folks who will walk with them and mentor them to help them learn basic life [00:30:00] skills. And so often though what they get is pushback and opposition, people have defined them as criminals.
And what they're lacking is people to walk and understand their situation. Or maybe it's single moms or victims of domestic violence, or perhaps it's people with special needs and disabilities who face challenges all the time and yet go unseen and dismissed in their challenges. Or perhaps we need to move closer to people who look different than us who sound different than us.
Who come from a different culture, a different place, a different experience than us. Who may not have had the same opportunities that we've had. You see, the truth is there's opportunities everywhere, but before we can catch stones, we have to move closer. Before we could build bridges. [00:31:00] We have to understand the real challenges we have to act, and we have to listen.
You see in the court of judgment, Jesus took our sentence and He paid it. And now Jesus advocates for us before the throne of Heaven. You see, before you throw a stone at another consider the stones that have been caught that were headed for you. And choose to lay those stones down and start building bridges.
And fight for the voiceless in our midst, let's pray. Now Father You've made it clear what Your heart and passion is. You stand up for justice, to apply mercy, to love others where they're at. To journey with them to the best of our abilities. And Lord it's hard. It's messy. It's complicated at times. Lord, give us wisdom to do that [00:32:00] well, but Lord give us a heart of compassion.
To lean in and to want for those around us, what we want for ourselves. To be heard, to be listened to. To be extended mercy to. In those moments, we just mess up. Help us to love that way to be a church that loves beyond. To care for those who are different than us, that have different experiences than us, because that's Your heart.
And Lord we want to live that out. And so we pray this together humbly in Jesus' name. Amen.