Peace, with justice – Dec 8, 2019
Martin Luther King Jr. is quoted as saying: “Without justice, there can be no peace.” With a quick google search I couldn’t find any further information about its context or a longer speech. But maybe it doesn’t matter because the connection of peace with justice has a long history. People protesting all manner of issues can be heard chanting: “No justice. No peace.” Pope John Paul the second is quoted as saying: “There is no peace without justice, and no justice without forgiveness.” Peace and justice are inseparable companions, despite temptations otherwise.
The temptation to disconnect justice and peace can be strong and alluring. There is a temptation to maintain a status quo that often works well for a few, the so-called 1%, at the expense of many. Or there is a temptation to a path of least resistance by doing what’s easy, instead of what is right. Even part of our epistle reading today from Paul’s letter to the Romans could take us down this path with his prayer: “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus…” Live in harmony with one another. Just get along. Make sure everyone feels good, that nobody is upset. And if someone is upset or angry or asks too many uncomfortable questions, bring them back into line with any means necessary… perhaps with an appeal for harmony… for the sake of harmony. In this paradigm, the goal is to manage feelings, instead of identifying and addressing issues or solving problems. Such a version of peace, good feelings without the uncomfortable and disruptive work of justice, is a false peace that will always, eventually, require violence to be maintained… physical violence, perhaps… or perhaps emotional, spiritual or other forms of violence. Peace without justice is no peace.
On this second Sunday of Advent we focus on a different kind of peace, exemplified in our psalm, Psalm 72. Right off the top, the poet pairs justice and righteousness in an “a-b-b-a” form. Ancient Hebrew poetry used a technique called parallelism to develop meaning through repeating words in a particular way. The first verse of Psalm 72 does so clearly: “Give your king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.” Justice and righteousness are first given to the royal ruler by God, and then the leader is expected to rule with the same divine righteousness and justice. “This means,” one commentator explains, “that he must be responsive to the needs of the those most at risk in society…” (Davidson, 226) The king must “defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.” It is only then, in the context of a just society, that there will be prosperity, a rich fullness of life, for all. And it is then, when right relationship and right action – righteousness – flourishes, that peace will abound. It is peace with justice.
This year as a parish, we have joined with other faith communities, community groups and unions to work for such peace – peace with justice for the most vulnerable in our society… our poor and needy and oppressed… through the Calgary Alliance for the Common Good. We began by participating in a listening campaign back in the winter and then in a discernment process where we decided to work together on issues of mental health, social isolation, the environment, and reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Calgarians. We also noticed what was going on down at city hall last summer as council worked to cut 60 million dollars from the city budget mid-year, meaning it was actually a 120 million dollar cut. A campaign to “keep Calgary strong” was born, with the primary goal of advocating for the most vulnerable in our city, our poor and our needy, so that the cuts would do the least harm to the most vulnerable.
That campaign continued intensively this past month as city council debated the 2020 budget and further cuts. This week The Rev. David Pickett of Christ Church wrote a summary and thanks about the campaign for the Diocese. It reads: “As a founding member of The Calgary Alliance for the Common Good, our Diocese stood tall this past week in speaking up for the most vulnerable in our community. A big thank you to all those who showed up at the Cathedral on Monday, November 25th and walked together with our partners to City Hall to raise our concern about the proposed 250% cost increases to the low-income transit pass program. The voice of the church in the public square spoke loudly on Monday, and our collective action made a crucial difference in the process! Our Alliance was successful in protecting this important program. In this action together, we have lived out not only the mark of mission to ‘seek to transform unjust structures of society’ but also our baptismal vow ‘to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being.’ Well done, all, and your continuing prayers and participation are most appreciated! For more information about the campaign at www.keepcalgarystrong.ca and the Alliance at www.calgarycommongood.org”
I can say personally that this new aspect of our work in the past month has made a big impact on me. There are many stories I could share, but for today let me tell you just one. On the evening of Monday, November 25, after having spent much of the day at city hall, I was talking about it with some dancing friends after class. One of them teaches dance at Forest Lawn High School and she spoke passionately about the low-income transit pass: “All my students have them,” she exclaimed, “it’s so important! Otherwise, they are just so isolated in Forest Lawn. They need to get out to experience more of the city and encounter broader opportunities.” She went on to thank us for our action that morning: “I would totally have gone,” she said, “but I couldn’t.” Because she had to work. It was an important affirmation for me about this work of “defend[ing] the cause of the poor of the people,” and “giv[ing] deliverance to the needy.” It is the work of God.
To be clear, this holy work is not about building the church, or this parish. It is, rather, about *being* the church in a powerful way, in the public square. I don’t think that this work that will save the church as an institution. But I do think that it might just save our souls, the soul of the church. And that matters… a lot. It is about re-discovering our calling as Christ-followers, getting over ourselves, and bringing the love of God to the world, to our city. If we want abundant life, prosperity for the people, as Psalm 72 describes today, then working for justice is required. And when we work for justice for the most vulnerable in our society, peace will take care of itself. Or rather, when we work for justice for those who can’t do it for themselves, we will receive peace – true, deep, fulfilling peace – as a gift from God. For when righteousness flourishes, peace abounds. Such is the promise of God. And such is the hope, the peace, of Advent.