Tag Archives: Religion

God’s Love for Justice

The past several years have given us many opportunities to think about the place of justice in our society. This week alone we’ve had a multitude of conversations about how people ought to be treated fairly, who ought to be heard, and what standards we should use for judgement. As I’m finishing up my reading this morning, there is one thing of which I am quite convinced: the God of the Bible is a lover of justice. Not the courtroom drama, sharp and probing question-and-answer that we’ve seen this week, but true justice, the kind that makes societies whole and right and kind. The type of justice that renders courtrooms and lawyers and judges (even good ones) less necessary, and that one day, when it comes into its fulness, will make them obsolete.

He gives expression to his love for justice when he causes Isaiah to write these words:

Is not this the fast that I chose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house,
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

And these instructions to his people:

Seek justice,
Rescue the oppressed,
Defend the orphan,
Plead for the widow.

Over and over and over again, he sounds the call for his people to practice justice as part of their everyday life – from Moses, through the prophets, and in the life and teachings of Jesus – the Bible never stops talking about justice.

Nicholas Wolterstorff explains why, and I’m grateful for his clear thinking and writing this morning:

“God loves the presence of justice in society not because it makes for a society whose excellence God admires, but because God loves the members of society – loves them, too, not with the love of admiration but with the love of benevolent desire. God desires that each and every human being shall flourish, that each and every shall experience what the Old Testament writers call shalom. Injustice is perforce the impairment of shalom. That is why God loves justice. God desires the flourishing of each and every one of God’s human creatures; justice is indispensable to that. Love and justice are not pitted against each other but intertwined.”

Photo Credit: Lorie Shaull

Continue reading God’s Love for Justice


The Great Challenge of the Hour

I have something to ask of you today. It’s important. Today, we mustn’t stop at quotes. Please don’t let today be about memes. Don’t let it be about clipping only the tamest, acceptable sections from some of the 20th century’s most powerful, challenging, and dangerous (to some) speeches and sermons. This is not the day to allow social media to serve up only what is comfortable, only what is agreeable, only those quotes at which we can nod and smilingly approve.

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. And we have serious work to do.

Let’s make it a day of change.

The federal holiday is designed to be a day of service. That’s great. We should go out into our communities, feed people, help people, clean things up. But we cannot stop there. Service cannot, must not, be limited to one day a year. By all means, let’s serve today, and then let’s make a commitment to find a place in service throughout the year.

Today, in 2017, that persistent and urgent question – What are you doing for others? – continues to tug at the hem of our garment. Our communities cry out for care. Love for, and service to, our neighbor is still required of us. There are children who need extra tutoring, immigrants who are struggling to learn English, student athletes to coach, elderly neighbors who would delight in a visit or a phone call or a loaf of bread. We are capable of these things. Dr. King longed to see us, all of us together, seeking after the Kingdom of God through acts of service and kindness.

If you’re not sure where to begin, start here. The need is great; there are more opportunities to serve in your community than you could imagine.

Then, let’s make it a day of learning.

Dedicate some time today to read some of Dr. King’s more challenging works, and let’s not placate ourselves with the comfortable excerpts from speeches that are served up for us on social media. Take the harder path, and challenge yourself with his sterner legacy. Dr. King faced down the racist, violent culture that was woven into the fabric of our nation from the beginning. He challenged the rest of us to face it, too. And he, along with Civil Rights leaders like Rep. John Lewis, put their bodies and lives in harm’s way to make their message heard. Not unafraid, but certainly undaunted. So today, read King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, read his Letter to American Christians, or get yourself a copy of Why We Can’t Wait. These are not easy to read – for those of us in the majority, they are humbling texts that challenge our self-assessment, both as individuals and as a nation. They should cause us to grapple with the hard questions. Who are we called to be as a nation? What do we want the legacy of our time to be? What must we do to make this a nation of justice for all? Today of all days, let’s ask the questions.

Finally, let’s make it a day of self-examination.

We live in a world that we know is not as it ought to be. Our nation has made so much progress in racial justice over the last 50 years, but we know that we have not yet arrived. Some days it seems like we move backwards. Some days it seems like Justice is sound asleep. It takes courage to admit that the world we’ve shaped with our actions is not the way it should be, and a hard-eyed resolve  and tearful repentance to view it as it truly is – a world still afflicted by cruelty, by hatred, and by injustice.

So it’s fitting that we spend some time in personal self-reflection today. Who do I wish to be in the world? How can I embody the kind of mercy, kindness, justice, and love that Jesus calls me to, in a world that outright rejects these attributes, even believes them to be naive and foolish? Let’s gather together as families, as churches, and communities to consider what God is calling us to, and who he’s calling us to be for his Kingdom.

I’ll close with this thought: we live in a world that cries out for just and thoughtful, reasoned leadership. It’s especially fitting that we consider each his or her own place in leadership and service as, this week, our nation engages in a peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next. I’ll leave you with this excerpt from A Realistic Look at the Question of Progress in the Area of Race Relations, delivered in St. Louis in April, 1957. It seems appropriate for the day.

This is a period for leaders. Leaders not in love with publicity, but in love with humanity. Leaders not in love with money, but in love with justice. Leaders who can subject their particular egos to the greatness of the cause.

Oh, God give us leaders.
A time like this demands great leaders.
Leaders whom the lust of office does not kill;
Leaders whom the spoils of life cannot buy;
Leaders who possess opinions and will;
Leaders who will not lie;
Leaders who can stand before a demagogue and damn his treacherous flatteries without winking.
Tall leaders, sun-crowned, who live above the fog in public duty and in private thinking.

And this is the need, my friends, of the hour. This is the need all over the nation. In every community there is a dire need for leaders who will lead the people, who stand today amid the wilderness toward the promised land of freedom and justice.

God grant that ministers,
and lay leaders,
and civic leaders,
and businessmen,
and professional people all over the nation
will rise up and use the talent and the finances that God has given them, and lead the people on toward the promised land of freedom with rational, calm, nonviolent means. This is the great challenge of the hour.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Best Wishes for a Happy New Year

In the turning over of the calendar every year, we strive to leave behind the strife, the grief, and the hardship of the year that has come before, and to experience both physical and spiritual renewal. May it be so for you, for your families, and your communities in 2017.  Happy New Year!

Ring Out, Wild Bells

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

This poem is in the public domain.

Reflections at the Manger

The virgin birth has never been a major stumbling block in my struggle with Christianity; it’s far less mind-boggling than the Power of all Creation stooping so low as to become one of us.

Madeline L’Engle, A Stone for a Pillow

Just ‘cause something’s important doesn’t mean it’s not very, very small.

Frank the Pug, Men in Black

It is Christmas night, and all is dark and quiet. The presents have all been opened, the meal devoured, and bits of wrapping paper and bows are still strewn across the carpet. The shepherds, who have just rushed in from their fields on the other side of the living room in search of the One that the angels foretold, have now made their way to the crèche to find the Christ Child there in his mother’s arms. The three sages are not far behind, and though greatly wearied by their journey, are currently scheduled to arrive by Epiphany. The tiny porcelain manger is faintly illuminated by the light of the Christmas tree, guarded by angels, attended by a few sheep and a solitary heifer.  All is calm. All is bright.

But within the confines of this miniature scene we must understand that there is far more happening than the finite human mind can comprehend.  This manger is a universe in a bottle, a tiny feeding trough with a greater capacity than we can imagine, for this night it contains worlds; tonight the very Creator, the one who set the stars in their places, dozes peacefully there, bundled up in cloths and nestled into straw.

Christmas is a mystery, beloved, and do not believe anyone who tells you that it is not, who would have you believe that it is merely a humdrum holiday about the importance of family, or charity, or generosity, or presents. No, it is a great mystery, and a two-fold one that announces itself from this manger of wood and straw, first en sotto voce that the world is about to change, then thundering from the heavens as the dark cold midnight is shattered apart by ten thousand blinding angelic diamonds, announcing God’s great love for mankind as shepherds cower in the dirt. The first mystery which presents itself to us is this – that a God of infinite worth, of complete perfection and total sovereignty would willingly debase himself and come into the world through the violent, pain-filled portal of human birth. This is not the Christmas story of greeting cards, or even of Christmas carols. It contains no snow-covered pines, no sheep safely grazing, no holly, nor ivy, nor silent nights, but a Savior who comes into the world screaming, covered in blood and placenta, an infinite God shoved into seven and half pound of infant flesh. Messiah appears, yes, but in the most vulnerable form imaginable, who must suckle at his mother’s breast, or die.

And it is a dark and violent world into which this Prince of Peace descends. He is a reconciler under the threat of political assassination before he is even born, his parents on the brink of becoming political refugees under the rule of a paranoid madman. In his humanity, he will touch every kind of physical and moral filth imaginable, beginning here, in a place where animals are kept. Later, he will willingly reach out and place his hands upon a leper and make him whole again, and before this story ends, he will take upon himself the sin of the entire world and call it his own – yes, even those acts so filthy as to be indescribable. He will bear it all, every last repugnant piece of it, because he chooses to, and in the moment of his death, as he reaches out to his Father for comfort, he will find . . . nothing. Only stillness and darkness, grief and pain.

So when I say that the first mystery is that he debased himself, I mean simply that he was under no obligation to expose his holy, pristine Being to the stain of sin that covers this world, let alone take responsibility for it and own it, as if he had somehow committed these sins himself.  Even so, the King of Glory lies as helpless babe tonight, and he does so not because some ancient contract forced his hand, but freely, out of the abundance of his love. The God who walked with Adam in the Garden had a will to pursue mankind as friends, to walk alongside us once again. This not being an end that we ourselves could accomplish, it is the Son who takes on the responsibility to step into our space, to become, not God distant from us, but God With Us. This is the first mystery.

The second mystery, then, is this – that the infinite could ever pour Itself into the mold of the finite, that the Godhead could ever put on flesh, the Maker now contained within that which he made. We marvel that all of the Trinity’s Second Person could find his greatest expression in the form of an infant, but how could it be otherwise? For to show how full was his love for us, he had to express that love by becoming fully human, by completely taking on our burden, and fully living as one of us. God’s love for you was so great, so infinitely vast, that he could only show you its measure by sending his Son, his beloved, to walk side by side with you and experience life as you experience it. Volumes have already been written by Very Learned Men on the subject of incarnation; they have probed it deeply from their pastoral studies and monasteries and seminary libraries, but they cannot understand the Word made flesh in any sense completely, any better than you or I can, for while its secret is contained in this tiny manger before us, our minds cannot expand enough to hold it. Seminarians fall to their knees in worship, same as you, when they encounter the Verbum caro factum, for it is not a philosophy to be unpacked by the mind, but a mystery for our hearts to hold. Mary marvels at it as she reclines upon the straw to nurse, for she and Joseph alone know the secret. Let all mortal flesh keep silent, indeed, and the six-winged seraph cover their faces and cry hallelujah.

And with this second mystery, he asks us to accept a third, greater still. He asks us to believe that our own hearts, sinful, wretched, unkind, could become the home for his immense Spirit, to once again believe that infinite can be poured into finite, but now the flesh that is filled is our own, God becoming one with his people and dwelling among them for all eternity. The story has been leading us this way since the very beginning, beloved, from that first walk in the Garden together and then the Shattering, this Creator has been seeking a holy reunion. He reached out first to a man called Abram, and through covenant called that man and all his descendants his own. Then he spoke through fire and cloud and smoke, thundering from the mountaintop, living amongst his people but separated by a thick temple curtain, teaching through Moses, admonishing through a series of prophets. The days of intimate garden walks, in the evenings when the dew came up and ground was cool, were so far away. But still he longed to be reunited with his people, and with every mouth that he opened to speak on his behalf he invited those he loved to return to him.

It is here, on this night, in the most ordinary of places, in the most humble of circumstances, that the King of Kings is birthed into the world, to walk among his people again and to usher in the kingdom of God. The story begins in a garden, and it certainly does not end here in this manger. Tonight God has taken a step nearer to mankind, pursuing those he loves, to walk in intimacy with them again. This manger is the fulfillment of all of the covenants, all of the prophesies, the answer to an ancient promise made to a heart-broken Eve in a garden long before. It is a cosmic response to a dilemma as old as mankind. But tonight, beloved, all that you need know is that here, amongst the cattle, the Ancient of Days is snuggled into his mother’s arms, warm against her body and preparing for his role in the reconciliation of God and Man. The King has come. Prepare him room.