Relearning the Language of Justice

The Other 6
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“I don’t know what to think anymore,” she said, “but I want to know how I should pray. What should my response be as a Christian?”

A young parishioner had found her way into my office while I was working on my Easter sermon. I was preparing to preach about our invitation from the risen Jesus to see the world with resurrection eyes.

She, however, did not have resurrection on her mind. She was thinking about health care. A few days earlier, President Obama and the U.S. Congress had passed a health care reform bill—and she was worried. She’d heard a lot of people talking, a lot of hate and fear expressed on both sides of the debate. This church member wasn’t sure who to believe or what her faith might have to do with it all.

This is how many of us feel when it comes to issues of justice. We know we should care. We get that the issues are complex, but we just don’t know how to answer the perennial question “What Would Jesus Do?” in the midst of “Obamacare,” undocumented workers, the Manhattan Declaration, or climate change.

It’s not the job of pastors to tell people what side of a debate they should be on. But we can and should be providing people with language that helps them speak to these issues. What language do we have?

“We need words,” I told my friend at the Office of Social Justice. Pastors, leaders, and struggling church members all need words to help us speak about justice. I believe that issues of justice, unity, and peace feel taboo in many churches today—in spite of their centrality in Scripture—because they have become unfamiliar themes in our vocabulary for talking about God.

Pastors need to help congregations relearn the lost lexicon of justice. We need to speak the words of our deep-rooted assurance in Christ: The risen Lord we serve cares about peace in Israel and Palestine. He cares about health care for the poorest of citizens. He cares about justice.

 

Resurrection talk about health care wouldn’t be about how big or small you like your government.

Maybe if we were able to root these words in the reality of resurrection, they wouldn’t seem so unrelated to difficult issues like health care. Resurrection talk about health care wouldn’t be about how big or small you like your government. It would be about how deeply you care about the coming of God’s kingdom here and now—the kingdom initiated by Jesus’ resurrection, which changes everything, even our politics.

Sometimes we’ll have the words to help people like my young parishioner. Other times we won’t. When that happens, don’t forget the encouragement Paul gives in his letter to the Romans. When we don’t have words, the Holy Spirit groans for us. When we wonder how to pray about issues that are divisive, contentious, and complex; when we’re struggling to use our resurrection eyes in the face of the baldly political, our groans are enough. And we can invite our congregations to groan along with us.

Maybe the most powerful witness the church can have in this politically divisive age is to give voice to this reality: Things aren’t all right. The kingdom is still breaking in. We just have to speak the words when we have them, and model the groan when we don’t.

About the Author

Ryan Boes is pastor of family and youth at Ann Arbor (Mich.) Christian Reformed Church.

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