“Love, Justice, and All that Jazz.”
-Heartland 25th Anniversary Theme
“I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.”
“Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’
-Matthew 25:35-36, 40
“The church would betray its own love for God and its fidelity to the gospel if it stopped being . . . a defender of the rights of the poor . . . a humanizer of every legitimate struggle to achieve a more just society . . . that prepares the way for the true reign of God in history.”
“I hope my life tries to give testimony to the message of the Gospel, above all that God loves the world and loves those who are poorest within it. “
What is justice? Justice is a word we throw around a lot in church. This is understandable since it is a concept that shows up a lot in the Bible from the prophets of Israel to the incarnation of God in Jesus the Christ. Yet I would guess many of us think of justice in some vague hazy kind of notion of fairness and equality. That is not a bad definition of justice but does not really capture the radical essence of justice expressed in the prophets and the life and message of Jesus.
What is justice? Justice is not a political ideology. Justice is not simply a governmental program or a public policy. Justice is much more than a social concept debated in academic circles during election years. Justice in the Bible is a particular kind of commitment that is embodied in how our communities love the most vulnerable in our society.
Cornel West once wrote that justice is what love looks like in public. I think he expresses something here essential to the Christian concept of justice. Love and justice are intertwined. They are not separate things.
The love of God is expressed in a concrete love of neighbor especially the neighbor who is the most vulnerable. When the Hebrew prophets challenged their government, they demanded justice for the defenseless defined as the “widows and the orphans.” When Jesus called his community to task it was how they treated the least of their brothers and sisters. Radically, he claimed that he was embodied in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. Justice is love of the most vulnerable in our society made public.
Justice has always been an important part of Heartland’s identity as a church from its very beginning. We made clear we would be inclusive no matter age, race, gender, or sexual orientation. We have always engaged Scripture with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other seeking to have God’s Word speak to the words of our times. We have sought out the oppressed and vulnerable from the Homeless Shelter in downtown Des Moines to the mountains of El Salvador. Love and justice is who we are!
This lent we will be exploring what justice looks like if we truly understood that Jesus is present in the most vulnerable around us. I pray you join us in this journey together.
Grace and Peace,