"But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everlasting stream" (Amos 5:24).
Filtering by Tag: social justice
"Jesus’ point is this: No matter what bible passages you use to excuse yourself, no matter how many televangelists tell you that God only wants a new Cadillac for you, no matter how insulated you remain from the cries of Lazarus one simple reality cannot be changed: The reign of God does not exist where some do not eat.
"We want to welcome everybody to the table—but we’d sure appreciate it if they'd clean up some before they get here.
"We like the idea of welcoming, of being in solidarity with those beat too far down to get back up—but we’d feel a whole lot better about everything if we could tell whether they genuinely deserve the help or if they’re just trying to scam the system.
"It’s tough. We don’t have riots in the streets at this point, but we know that we live right smack-dab in the middle of a world where some have and some do not."
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But in this story from Luke Jesus puts the lie to the notion that faith is best expressed in terms of "having a personal relationship with Jesus." This is a story about politics, about the ways we arrange all of our relationships . . . personal and otherwise.
This is a story, not about the lofty things that might otherwise occupy our religious reflection. This is an ordinary story about people, and lunch, and guest lists, and who gets invited, who gets left out, and why.
This is a story about how Jesus turns our world on its head, putting the first class folks at the back of the plane with pretzels and that little over head compartment that only has enough room for a couple of blankets and a fire extinguisher . . . while the folks who spend their lives sitting in the middle seat between the snorer and the salesman from Des Moines get ushered up to the front.
This is a story not just about how big our welcome has to be if we follow Jesus, but about how crazy and unrealistic it's going to appear to the rest of the world when we roll it out.
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By Derek Penwell
I received a call a while back from someone I’ve known since we were kids. Caesar, lived in the children’s home my grandparents established in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, in 1964. I spent my summers there. I’ve also known his wife, Sophie, from the time she was a baby. She grew up in the home, too.
Some years back, Caesar came into the States illegally to work as a painter in Atlanta, leaving Sophie and their son, Caesar, Jr., in Mexico. Hard life, living in one country illegally, while your family lives in another.
Lonely. Anxious. Scared all the time you’ll be discovered, and sent back.
Out of the blue, Caesar called me and asked if I could send him a little money via Western Union, so that he could help bring his family to Atlanta. He explained to me how difficult it is living without the people you love the most next to you; how uncomfortable it is living in a country that takes every opportunity to tell you how much they wish you’d leave … “after you finish that last job for me”; how painful it is to contemplate having to return home to a country where you’re afraid the violence will swallow your family, leaving nothing behind but shattered lives and spent shell casings.
What’s a man to do? He’s got a wife, a son. All he cares about is keeping them safe, and making enough money to create a future he’s sure is unavailable to them back in his homeland.
Where does one start when speaking of illegal immigration?Read More
By Derek Penwell
I had a parishioner write something the other day that I can’t quite get out of my head. Darla is an advocate in the state capitol on behalf of the rights of the disabled and the elderly, and had a bill go on life support -- the Adult Abuse Prevention Bill. (How do you not support that?)
In her disappointment, she wrote: “I sit here again thinking about exactly where do I want to be when justice does roll down!”
I’ll be honest: That question haunts me. Darla was referring to the famous passage from the prophet Amos, who , in a time where grave disparities existed between those in power and those on the margins, between those dining on bone china and those forced to eat leftovers out back from the dumpster, wrote:
“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream” (5:24).
Apparently, God has become upset with Israel because of the way those in power have treated the folks at the bottom of the food chain. God’s anger stems from the fact that “they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals -- they … trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way” (2:6b-7a).
The irony in Amos, however, is that the people who oversee this oppression labor under the assumption that they’re on God’s side. The oppressors are God’s people, people who long for the “day of the Lord.” They believe that when God sets things right, they’ll be -- as they’ve always been -- on the winning side of things.
But God says something like, “Don’t be so quick to hunger for the day of the Lord. The justice you seek may not be nearly as pleasant for you as you imagine” (5:18).
In other words, the people God is most annoyed with are the people who’ve always considered themselves the heroes of the story, the ones whom God should be grateful to have on the team -- the ones who throw holy festivals, who gather in solemn assemblies, who offer up all the right sacrifices, who sing beautiful songs -- all to God. These are the people who’ve taken care to make sure they believe all the right things, who hold all the correct theological positions and whose liturgical prowess is unmatched.
What is God’s response to these pillars of the assembly?
“I don’t care about your spiritual virtuosity! Fine, you know your way around the scriptures. You know what fraction of an ephah of flour should be used to bake bread for the tabernacle. Congratulations! You have an exhaustive metric concerned with determining who’s fit to bother with, and who doesn’t measure up. Here’s the problem, though: none of that means anything, since you forgot that all that stuff is a tool to make you into the kind of people who seek justice by loving the people I love.”
When my daughter was about 4 years old, she’d just received (at our prompting, of course) the latest in what must have felt like an endless string of apologies from her older brother for hitting her.
“Tell your sister you’re sorry,” we said.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled.
And she said something that still calls out to me: “I don’t want your ‘sorries.’ I just want you to stop hitting me.”
You see, the thing is: It’s easy to do that which seems big and true and righteous, but costs me little. Doing something that costs me, really costs me, is difficult. And I’m not talking about money, except inasmuch as money stands as another way to control the world I live in.
Making myself vulnerable. Voluntarily surrendering power. Placing myself in someone else’s hands. Not getting to be the boss of who’s in and who’s out, who’s worth helping and who “should have known better in the first place.” These things cost me.
Being right isn’t a bad thing. I try to do it regularly myself. But when being right costs you nothing and someone else everything, Amos says you’re bound to get crossways with God -- since God seeks first to love us, and through us to love one another. Even God is less interested in being right than in being loving -- for Christians, that’s what that whole Jesus thing was about.
God says to the keepers of the keys: “For my part, give me justice. Justice. Let it roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”
And for God, justice doesn’t mean simple fairness, flattening everything out so it’s the same. Justice means seeking for everyone what they need to flourish.
So, where do I want to be when justice rolls down? My first inclination is to say: “I want to be on the right side of it.”
If I read Amos anything like correctly, my heart says: “When justice rolls down, I want to be right in the middle of it.”
"The story of Peter and Cornelius is a tough passage just to the extent that it asks us to do the difficult work of continuously discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit. Where is God going? What kind of new thing is God up to? Who is it that makes us uncomfortable, whom God is busy trying to welcome into the fold?
"It’s a lot easier to sit back, point out the rules, and say, 'This is the way God’s always done it before.' But God is bigger than our attempts to box God in. God cares about establishing a a reign of justice and mercy, not about making us feel comfortable."
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So how can we hear what he has to say? How can those who earnestly seek to be his sheep know what his voice sounds like?
You want to hear Jesus? His voice sounds like a hungry child being fed.
You want to hear Jesus? His voice sounds like an undocumented worker being treated like a human being—with kindness and dignity.
You want to hear Jesus? His voice sounds like the hand of an old woman being held as she struggles to take her final breaths.
You want to hear Jesus? His voice sounds like a gay teenager being treated like a normal kid in a world intent on treating him like he’s got something wrong with him.
You want to hear Jesus? His voice sounds like a poor mother finding medicine for her sick children.
You want to hear Jesus? His voice sounds like an eight year-old boy holding a sign that says, “No more hurting people. Peace.”
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