This day is called World Day of Prayer - but actually, every day is a world day of prayer. Every day people of different tribes and languages, races and cultures lift their hearts and minds to God in worship, praise and prayer. But today is special because it is a chance to join together here to add to the worldwide voice of daily prayer for a particular theme. That theme is "Let justice prevail" and we acknowledge the Malaysian group who have prepared the material being used, here and all around the world today.
Banner at St Martin's
We've already heard about Malaysia and its large and diverse population - Moslems, Buddists, Hindus and Christians live there under a constitution that guarantees religious freedom. In PNG we live in a country that considers itself a Christian nation, but in all countries citizens of all faiths have to be alert if justice is to prevail. Christians, Jews and Moslems all share a desire for justice, but their sharing begins in scripture - they all share the story of Abraham. As we read from Habakkuk this morning I was thinking that we are a Christian congregation, listening to a Jewish scripture, chosen by people who live in a Moslem country. Moslems also acknowledge some of the teaching of Jesus, including what is known as the "golden rule" from Matthew 7.12: "Jesus said, do for others what you want them to do for you: this is the meaning of the Law of Moses and of the teachings of the prophets." We might also add that this is a good basis for living justly in families and communities as Christians, Jews or Moslems.
Justice is about fairness - it's the proper consideration of the claims of all those concerned in a matter, it's the right response. So, for example, if the punishment for a crime is one year in prison and the judge says one month is enough because the criminal is a wantok, then that is unjust. If a woman is waiting all day to see a doctor and a big man comes in late and jumps the queue, then that is unjust. The Australian phrase, "a fair go" is a good one to have in mind when we start to think about justice.
Our friends in Malaysia chose a passage about justice from Habakkuk - that's one of over one hundred references to justice in the Old Testament. They could have chosen many others, for example from Exodus, "do not deny justice to your poor people"; from Deuteronomy, "do not deprive foreigners or orphans of justice"; from Job, "can he who hates justice govern?"; from Psalms, "the Lord is righteous, he loves justice"; from Proverbs, "the righteous care about justice for the poor"; from Isaiah, "seek justice, encourage the oppressed"; from Amos, "hate evil, love what is right, let justice prevail"; and from Micah, "do what is just, show constant love, live in humble fellowship with our God". Have we got the message? Justice is one of the most important themes of the Old Testament, a teaching given by the Jewish scripture, which is taken up by Christianity and Islam.
As you would expect, Jesus picks up the theme. He's especially concerned when he sees those who should know all about justice not living up to it. So, in Luke 11.42 he scolds the Pharisees: "How terrible for you Pharisees! You give to God a tenth of the seasoning herbs, such as mint and rue, and the other herbs, but you neglect justice and love for God. These you should practice without neglecting the others." Then he tells a story about justice in Luke 16 - there's a rich man and a poor man called Lazarus, who lives at his gate. When they both die God dispenses justice to them both. And then we come to Luke 18 and the second reading chosen for today, the story of the widow and the unjust judge. She knows something is wrong; she perseveres and is rewarded in the end. She is, in the words of today's service, 'a relentless advocate for justice'.
Some of the Participants
So Christianity builds on Judaism's teachings about justice - the justice of God and the need for justice and fairness in our dealings with each other. Simply, Christianity calls us to look at what is going on in the light of scripture and to seek to change what is wrong. And where do you think is the first place to look? It is to ourselves. It's no good being an advocate for justice if we are not facing up to our own sins and failures. We meet for this World Prayer Day soon after the start of Lent - forty days before Easter in the Christian tradition for prayer and fasting, generous giving and self discipline. Lent is for examining ourselves and taking some actions, which will mean repentance. So perhaps there is injustice in our own families to face, perhaps husbands and wives have to face them together, perhaps the welfare and safety of children is what has to be talked about, decisions made and actions undertaken. Or perhaps in our own lives we know we have failed to look after money or are involved in misusing it - if it was the government doing that we'd call it corruption - are we doing what is just, showing constant love and walking humbly with our God? Only after examining ourselves can we look around us. But look around we must.
Our Christian discipleship may be a very personal matter but it is not private and we can't exercise that discipleship on our own in isolation. No, we are the body of Christ; we are to be like salt and light enriching the lives of others. We are to be concerned with the wider society as well as our own lives, for that is God's concern too. So, we have to note carefully Jesus' warning to the Pharisees, a warning about hypocrisy, and face our own failures, but then we have to witness publicly to the scriptural challenge to "let justice prevail". We have to have the courage to do justice as the prayer of Alan Paton said: "Lord, open my eyes that I may see the needs of others. Open my ears that I may hear their cries. Let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong. Not afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich." These are powerful words to encourage us to trust in God and persevere. So if we look around us to PNG society what do we see that needs to change?
Justice needs to prevail in legal, economic and social matters. We have already heard today of the unjust judge in Luke's gospel. A country needs to trust its judges and all involved in law enforcement like the police and CIS. If prisoners are ill-treated, that is not justice, and if victims of crime are not helped equally, that is not justice. If proper wages and entitlements are not paid, that is not justice. If corruption steals money that would have rightly be paid to others, that is not justice. If money buys favours for some rather than a service being given to all, that is not justice. If there is discrimination in access to education or health care because of language group or because someone is HIV positive or has AIDS, that is not justice. Justice is about fairness, about the right response to all people. God calls us to justice because male and female, young and old, black and white, rich and poor are all of equal value in his sight. He calls all people to himself and to be blessed through righteous living and obedience to his just commandments. Living justly is a blessing - that's why God wills it - it is a benefit to all his people. Corruption, favoritism, prejudice, injustice, domestic violence all spoil life and make things worse. That's why we pray with Alan Paton: "Lord, show me where love and hope and faith are needed, and use me to bring them to those places, that I may be able to do some work of peace for thee."
PNG is a Pacific nation but today's theme is making us look in the direction of SE Asia. Our first neighbour in that direction is Indonesia. There is a land border because of the colonial history of the island of New Guinea. West Papuans are still struggling for freedom and there are many reports of repression by the Indonesian state and economic injustice for Melanesians in their own land. I was pleased that Governor Powes Parkop's Christmas message did not forget them and their need for justice. But anywhere in SE Asia and the Pacific where there is corruption, imprisonment without trial, human trafficking, sexual exploitation and imposed poverty then justice is needed. People of many faiths all recognize a God of justice who expects something better from his people, for this is a God of justice who knows what is happening - Psalm 84 reminds us of that:
"My people, how can you be such stupid fools? When will you ever learn? God made our ears - can't he hear? He made our eyes - can't he see? He is the teacher of us all - hasn't he any knowledge? The Lord knows what we think.
Lord, how happy are those you instruct, the ones to whom you teach your law! The Lord will not abandon his people, he will not desert those who belong to him. Justice will again be found in the courts and all righteous people will support it."
Throughout this country and region we need to work with each other and people of other faiths to let justice prevail. In PNG we have a good record of ecumenical cooperation - this is another example of it - but we could do more and do it better. As the Anglican bishop I'm particularly pleased that Fr Denny Guka, our host here today at St Martin's, has recently been elected as the chairman of the PNG Council of Churches. PNGCC and other churches need to make their voices heard, especially in an election year, working with groups like Transparency International and other Civil Society organizations to seek justice and fairness in service delivery and economic benefits for all the citizens of this nation.
The World Day of Prayer is a special occasion to use our ears to hear God's word to us and to use our eyes to see where justice is needed in our families, communities and country. But everyday is a day of prayer for justice, righteousness, love, mercy and peace to prevail and everyday we are called to bear witness to those blessings from God, which he desires all people to receive in abundance.
Anglican Bishop of Port Moresby