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Racine, WI 53405

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The Gift of Justice

What is justice? Too many people mean punishment when they say they want justice. Justice is a righting of the universe, it equalizes, makes safer, makes more compassionate, more accepting. Justice is distributive, restorative, not retributive. Justice helps heal, it is not vengeance (which never helps heal). Justice integrates instead of alienates. Justice shares resources.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once preached, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Oh, we hope this is true, don’t we?

But as the book Living the Questions points out, “[T]hose with influence work to bend the arc of the universe towards privilege, the system is structured to favor the affluent, to the detriment of the less advantaged.”

It seems that if the arc of the moral universe is going to bend toward justice, we need to help bend it. We need to grab onto the end of that arc and pull collectively. It is an active exercise, not a passive hope.

People around the globe working for social justice have known this forever, and so did Martin Luther King Jr. Jesus knew it, too.

Jesus didn’t just talk the talk, he didn’t just hang out having meals with people from all walks of life, he didn’t even just heal people of different backgrounds. He stepped out and stepped up, confronting the powers that be, calling out the religious authorities as hypocrites and whitewashed tombs (spiritually and compassionately dead, but whitewashed over to look good on the outside). He challenged them to look at their Sabbath practices, their inclusion practices, their business practices.

And on what we now call Palm Sunday, we remember Jesus’ not so subtle confrontation of Rome. Borrowing from the Hebrew scripture Zechariah 9:9, he posed as a king riding triumphant into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey. I doubt he wanted to be installed as King of the Jews. I believe he wanted to make a statement that said to the Jewish people “Your heads and hearts must remain first and foremost focused on the Divine One, not on the Kings of this world.” And he made a clear statement to Rome… our God and king is bigger and better than Caesar and your king and is really the only one we owe allegiance to.

While our gospels don’t include the royal army marching into Jerusalem juxtaposed to Jesus’ procession, it is true that at Passover when Jews from all over were making pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Rome sent in extra troops to ensure that there would be no uprising.

Sadly, Rome and the religious authorities effectively squashed Jesus’ growing influence. Rome sealed his death sentence. And, sadly, in the centuries that have followed the Christian religious authorities hijacked Jesus’ purpose and turned him into the savior of sins, muffling his prophetic voice for justice. How many Christians today believe that the cry of “Hosanna, save us” is about saving from sin when it was originally about being saved from oppression?

Today it feels like the cry for justice and using ecclesial power to right the wrongs in our systems and institutions has been all but lost. Churches have been great at treating symptoms of injustice – feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, reaching out to refugees and asylum seekers, and more. All of that is absolutely necessary, but we can’t ignore the systems that create those situations.

There are so many justice issues we still face in this world… the right and access to vote, equal pay, living wage, fair housing, hate crimes, racism, sexism, homophobia, human trafficking, climate justice, access to mental health and medical care, reproductive rights, education, the prison system, immigration, to name a few.

Professor of International Peace building, John Paul Lederach, said that “it doesn’t take 100% of the people to create positive change. All you need are nodes. These nodes are the individuals and communities who are embracing a more peaceful, equitable and transformational world. These nodes are connected practically but also spiritually. Have you ever touched one point on a spider web and noticed how the entire web will begin to vibrate? This is what it is like when we are creating positive transformation. We create nodes of care and compassion, justice, and love. There is a power that comes from individuals and from the collective good we each put into the system.”

I believe Sacred Journeys is a node of care, compassion, justice, and love. We may be a relatively small community, but we’re smart, we’re tough, we’re compassionate, we want to learn and grow and make a difference in the larger community. Let’s continue to learn about the issues of justice and continue to find ways to help people and change the systems that create the problems.

Personally, we can live in justice-minded ways in how we vote, in how we march, in petitions we sign, in money we give, in letters to the editor we write, each time we confront a bully, write our congressperson, or stand in a picket line. Each piece supports the greater good and seeking restoration of balance and wholeness.

Allow me to close with a quote from Joan Chittester’s book, The Time is Now, “We are here to be messengers of God. We are here to be a rudder on the ship of life. We are meant to be heralds and watch guards, lovers, and followers of the Jesus who called all of Israel to remember the poor, save the women, embrace the outlies, consort with the foreigners, and wrestle the Law to the ground of compassion. It is a most exalted – most demanding, most dangerous – call. But without it, we will never become the whole of ourselves.”

Love & Light!