Let Justice Roll Like Streams
This coming weekend, the Gospel reading is one of my favorites. It is the story of Jesus , immediately after his baptism, entering the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth, and being handed the scroll of Isaiah. It says he opened it to the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
After rolling up the scroll and sitting down, Jesus said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4: 14-21; Isaiah 61:1)
This is one of my favorite passages in the bible. I had it framed in the sacristy at the church where I serve, so that it would be the last thing I would see before I walked out to preach my sermon.
Isn’t this what we are all called to preach and teach and live and embody? Isn’t this the Good News that we are called to share with this world?
This week I began teaching classes again at nearby Salve Regina University. I teach two sections of “The Quest for the Ultimate: Dialogue with Global Religious Traditions.” I begin with a film, made about fifteen years ago by National Geographic, called “In God’s Name.” It is an amazing film made by two young brothers, Jules and Gideon Naudet, French film makers who happened to be in New York City on September 11, 2001, making a documentary film about New York City firefighters. There they were, outside with their cameras running, when the Twin Towers were hit by terrorist attacks. Not only did they capture this on film, but they themselves were also caught in the middle of it, running with the crowds through the streets, fearing that they would die. Living through this experience made them ask Life’s Big Questions: “What is this human life all about? Is there a God? If there is a God and this God is good, why did God allow this to happen? Where was God that day?”
They realized, “Who better to ask than the greatest spiritual leaders of our times?” So they set out on a quest to find answers to these questions. They travelled around the world, and spent a full day engaging in deep conversations with twelve of the greatest spiritual leaders and teachers: the Pope, the Dalai Lama, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Ayatollah of Shiite Muslims, the Allamah of Sunni Muslims, the Archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, an Orthodox Ashkenazi Rabbi in Israel, etc.
So I have my Salve students, who have since 9/11 witnessed many more terrorist attacks done in the name of religion, begin their “Quest” by watching this film and asking their own big questions. One of the most common questions which both the film makers and the students asked is, “What are the things that unite all of the worlds’ greatest religions, and why can’t we focus on what unites us, rather than on what divides us?” In fact, that is why I teach this course, because in some small way I feel that learning about the beliefs of people of other faiths helps to create mutual understanding, tolerance, and respect, and in this way, contribute to peace in this world.
The final words in the film, were those of my own former National Bishop, Rev. Mark Hanson, who proclaimed: “There are two things we all share: our common humanity, and this common planet.” The film also emphasized that we all also share a belief in God, and a belief that we live out our faith in the way we treat others: in lives of love and justice.
I told the students that when we, as people of different religious traditions,work together toward a common goal – like protecting our planet, or ending poverty – we set aside our differences, and focus on that purpose which unties us. I told them about the World Council of Churches, and its smaller, local counterpart: the RI State Council of Churches. I told them about the Vigil that was held on Epiphany, January 6, at the RI State Capital, the day the governor and all of the state legislatures were sworn in. Muslims, Jews, Christians of all denominations, Buddhists, Hindus, and Native Americans, all gathered at the State House in Vigil to speak out as one voice to our governmental legislatures against poverty, to “Let justice flow like streams”(Amos 5:24).
Justice goes beyond charity. Justice speaks not only to individuals but to structures and systems. A famous illustration is the story of people in a small village who every day would go down to the stream to gather water, and find wounded or dead bodies floating in the stream. Every day they would rescue the wounded from the stream and tend to their wounds. Every day they would remove the bodies of those who had died from the stream, to give them a proper and compassionate burial. That is charity. But justice entails walking upstream to discover the cause of so many wounded and dying, and to advocate for the end of whatever it is that is causing so much harm.
This day, may we have the courage to walk together upstream
may we have the courage to do justice,
to let justice flow down like overflowing streams,
to see God in all we encounter, and to reflect God to all we encounter.
Linda Forsberg, Copyright January 21, 2016
Photos: Glacier National Park; Rabbi Ben Lefkowitz, with students and scroll; Administrative Building, Salve Regina University; New York City Skyline, Freedom Tower; Hannah with peace doves, Sanctuary Lutheran Church, Marshfield, MA; garden stone at Salve Regina University, Catherine McAuley is the founders of the Sisters of Mercy; waterfall, Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge, OR