After the 10:00am mass today a woman told me, “I’m back at church today for the first time in twelve years because I read the message you sent about the separation of families at the border. I’m here to stay and I want to get involved.” Social justice is evangelical.
It’s often easy to fall into a separation between justice and preaching the gospel. The simple truth is that Kingdom news is Good News for our souls as individuals and, if we live it, it is Good News for the community as a whole. The challenge, in a reactive time, is to figure out what is justice and what is anger. There is, of course, such a thing as righteous anger that can lead to movements for justice. There is also unprocessed anger that continues cycles of reactive blame and retributive lashing out.
Another path is harder. The path of the Church is one in which the whole community is shaped by the regular and rich encounter with Christ in Word and Sacrament and finds their voice in the message and voice of Christ. This takes longer. This requires not just preaching prophetically but listening prophetically – listening to what’s moving in our shared life, our shared burdens, our shared hopes. That sharing is not just between one Christian and another but between the gathered people and Christ. This kind of sharing can break the cycle of violent indifference and indifferent violence rather than feed it.
The discipline of the Daily Office is one way we find this shared voice. It’s amazing to me what will come up in prayers at morning prayer. Often it’s as if the still small voice raises things that I had no idea were there. Or if I did know they were there I find that I was burying them under the chaff of busyness. Yet, when we make the space to listen, the Spirit will move where the Spirit chooses.
I’m always mindful of the example of Jonathan Myrick Daniels who went down to the Deep South in the heat of the movement for integration. He went down because it was in hearing the Magnificat at evening prayer that his heart was warmed toward justice. I’m sure he’d heard those words countless times and yet something in the swirl of the day’s news and the Virgin’s song called him to action – and strengthened him to give himself away for the sake of justice.
It’s one thing to react out of a shallow and reptilian anger or fear. It’s another thing to respond from the deep well of righteous compassion (sharing in the passion, the suffering) that is Christ’s own with the world.
It would be easy, week in and week out, to preach or teach on the latest outrage or secular contretemps. It takes discipline to avoid those for the deeper work of being with the Triune God – to dwell with God in contemplation. It’s that very act of taking in the Word and the Self that enables us to find the courage and the hope to give ourselves away. Week by week we need divine assistance to face the inhuman. We need the strength of broken bread to risk being broken ourselves. We need the blessing of the shared Cup to risk being a blessing ourselves. We need inward and spiritual grace to be an outward and visible sign.
We get pushed week by week to respond to the latest outrage – especially clergy. We are pushed to shape the liturgy or preaching based on the world’s demands. Sometimes what the world needs though is for us to claim a space that is unworldly – that is set apart from the scrolling outrages of social media. Sometimes though the world needs us to step up – to step away from the Rail with renewed strength and to stand and say no more. Sometimes the world needs us to rise up from kneeling before the tabernacle and to lift up the broken Body of Christ that is the caged child and say, “This is His Body.”
If we don’t make space for the peace of God we will be consumed by the anger of the world. We will become numb to suffering because we will find that we can, literally, care no more. This is the devil’s greatest desire – that we get so caught up that we flame out and can care no longer. We need peace that we may make it.
Between the outrages of the world we need to find the peace which passes all understanding. We need that space of peace so that we can see, hear, and know where God is speaking to us. We need that peace to discern what it true, holy, just, and pure. We need that peace to see with the eyes of faith what is blasphemous, unholy, and evil. In an age of fake news we need that space to hear Good News. That Good News is prophetic. It is justice. It is peace. It is mercy. Make space for the Good News – make space for peace – that you may preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are closest to you.