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“But let justice roll down like water
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24)
Several years ago, while I was working on a project for my Doctor of Ministry program, I hosted a missionary who was in the US on home assignment. Together we reflected on the concept of living water and its possibilities for contextualizing the gospel, and he offered thoughts from his own ministry context in Africa and the Middle East. Water, he noted, can be both life-giving and death-dealing, largely because we cannot control where it will go. Flowing downhill, water will find every crevice in its path, and in the case of hurricanes and floods, it can bring incredible devastation. But in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water, people will also perish. Water, though necessary for human life and flourishing, can both bring life and take it away. We know these things full well from recent global and national episodes of both drought and floods.
Justice can similarly be a topic which brings comfort and challenge. We can be very pro-justice when it suits our own cause and purpose, but we become reticent to advocate for justice to be applied to benefit people very different from ourselves or those we perceive to be our enemies.
I’m reminded of the story in 2 Samuel 12 in which Nathan confronts David after David’s sin with Bathsheba and Uriah. Nathan came to David and said, “‘There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb that he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare and drink from his cup and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.’ Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold because he did this thing and because he had no pity.’ Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!’”
For more than a dozen years I have been involved with the World Communion of Reformed Churches both regionally and globally. The WCRC came together in 2010 through the joining of the Reformed Ecumenical Council and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. The focus statement of the WCRC is “Called to Communion, Committed to Justice.” Simply put, the koinonia that we share in Christ must also commit us to pursue justice and peace.
The WCRC’s website summation of its justice work puts it well. “The WCRC is founded on a basis of communion and justice, through the grace of God who has bestowed upon us the deep privilege of becoming co-workers with God in this ministry. In accepting this gift the WCRC acknowledges the privileges and the responsibilities entrusted to us. We recommit ourselves, therefore, to the basic, yet profound principle that in communion we belong to God and to each other and are accountable together for the stewardship of all God’s creation. In this regard we accept responsibility for our part in the problems of the world. We rejoice that we are led on this journey by the God of justice and we believe that we are called to work with God in creating a different world — a world of peace, of justice and of harmony with creation.”
I was taught in seminary that the practice of ministry must be undertaken with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. The corollary of this is that the neglect of one or the other of these can lead to faulty interpretation and practice. Meaningful ministry must take into account the historical gospel with an eye to contextualizing it in new times and situations. We neglect either or both to our peril. To live out the gospel is to look beyond simply making disciples to growing disciples who look outward toward justice for those who are oppressed.
Recently my husband and I took our two grandchildren to the Adirondack Mountains. Along the way saw a sign for a waterfall. We entered the destination into the GPS and followed its guidance. Soon I glimpsed a sign which said “Buttermilk Falls” with an arrow pointing in the opposite direction. We had a choice to make: follow the GPS or the sign? After continuing for several miles, we reversed direction, followed the arrow and hiked down to the falls. The descent was strewn with uneven rocks, but we could hear the falls and were delighted when they came into view. Changing course when new direction emerged enabled us to reach the goal. Similarly, when justice demands a course correction, genuine communion leads us to respond.
Let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream…
May we be people committed to pursue communion and justice, even when it is difficult, and therein fulfill the law of Christ.