Justice

February 6, 2014

A Prayer for Black History Month

By Upper Room Books
 

God of creation, we bow before you full of wonder, praise, and adoration. Today we pause to remember ancestors who fought and died to change the world for us and for our children. In those days of trampled darkness, you were with us. You ushered in the marvelous light – just before faith died and became a note in the sidebar of our memory journals.

We ask you to wash our tongues when we forget where we came from and are tempted to join the bandwagon of immigrant-bashing. Forgive us when we look down on one another or forget to hold each other’s hands.

We give you thanks for the teachers and leaders, friends and family – even the enemies – who have helped shape us. We thank you for the trials and tribulations that encourage us to be humble and flexible. We thank you alone for transformation. On this day, we recommit ourselves to the struggle for justice and equality – not just for the people we know, but for all who suffer oppression.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit we exalt you forevermore. Amen.

 

Carolyn DandridgeCarolyn Wilson Dandridge  is Communications Project Coordinator for the General Board of Discipleship in Nashville, Tennessee. She is the daughter of a Methodist preacher and a preschool teacher. After college, she worked in the corporate world for 30 years and completed one tour of duty with the US Air Force. Carolyn has been active in community service through ministry to the homeless, serving as a board member for an HUD housing complex, acting as an inspector for United Way, and mentoring public elementary school students. Carolyn is married to John Dandridge Jr., and they have 5 children and 8 grandchildren.
 

“A Prayer for Black History Month” originally appeared in The Africana Worship Book: Year C, edited by Valerie Bridgeman Davis and Safiyah Fosua. Copyright © 2008 Discipleship Resources. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

 
February 3, 2014

A New Kind of Righteousness

By Upper Room Books
 

Disciplines: A Book of Daily Devotions is a beloved resource published by Upper Room Books every year. Each week’s readings are reflections on scripture passages from the lectionary for that period. On Mondays the initial reading for the week will be posted. We’d love to hear what you think about the week’s readings and prayers. Just sign in and add your note in the Comments section following this post.

 

Read Isaiah 58:1-5.

What does it mean to be righteous? How are we to live before God and with others? When the Israelites return to Judah after the Babylonian Exile, they face enormous losses and spiritual confusion. The Temple has been destroyed and God’s favor seems lost as well. What did we do wrong? they must have wondered, and How can we win our way back to God? When confronted by significant loss, we all ask such questions, don’t we?

One way to try to get right with God—and that’s what it means to be righteous—involves engaging in ritual practices that close us off from the world, such as those in monastic orders. While at times such withdrawal is necessary, taken to extreme, we end up hiding from God and the world. Notice how Sunday morning worship in some of our churches takes on a rigid quality as though stuck in a certain period of time and afraid of the Holy Spirit. Hiding in ritual does not draw us closer to God.

Isaiah 58 points out a radical alternative. Getting right before God involves pursuing justice, letting the oppressed go free, and sharing bread with the hungry. These actions follow the ordinance of God; this is what it means to be righteous. Religious ritual makes sense when tied to the work of redemption. God’s presence is alive and real on Sunday mornings when worship celebrates and initiates works of justice and mercy.

In the Russian Orthodox Church, after the congregants have received Holy Communion, the church distributes the leftover bread to the poor—a simple gesture that signifies an important connection. Worship flows out into mission because true righteousness establishes a right relationship with God and with those in need.

O God, keep us from hiding from the world’s needs as we seek to grow in our relationship with you. Amen.

Jerry P. Haas, now retired, served as director of The Upper Room’s Academy for Spiritual Formation from 1990–2011, then as spiritual director of The Upper Room, working in the Interpretation & Development department until his retirement in 2012. He was project coordinator for Upper Room Worshipbook: Music and Liturgies for Spiritual Formation and coauthor (with Jack Hansen) of Shaping a Life of Significance for Retirement and coauthor (with Trevor Hudson) of The Cycle of Grace: Living in Sacred Balance. Jerry and his wife, Donna, now reside in the Tucson, Arizona, area.

 

 
January 27, 2014

Doing Justice

By Upper Room Books
 

Disciplines: A Book of Daily Devotions is a beloved resource published by Upper Room Books every year. Each week’s readings are reflections on scripture passages from the lectionary for that period. On Mondays the initial reading for the week will be posted. We’d love to hear what you think about the week’s readings and prayers. Just sign in and add your comment in the Comments section following this post.

 

Read Micah 6:1-5

We enter a courtroom scene to hear God’s cross-examination of the Israelites. This passage comes after a series of accusations about the economic injustices in the prophet Micah’s community. Starting in chapter 6, God invites the people to speak to the unjust actions identified earlier. God asks, “O my people, what have I done to you?” The defendants are invited to defend their actions before the mountains, which have witnessed generations of divine help. However, God answers the posed question by recounting God’s great deeds: God has delivered their ancestors out of slavery and has saved them from various enemies.

The brief narrative retelling of Israel’s history reminds Micah’s hearers of God’s preferential option for the oppressed. To those who were enslaved, God offered freedom. To those who were besieged, God offered shelter. But here, in this courtroom, God accuses the people who were once delivered from oppression of themselves oppressing the poor among them. The people have no defense.

Today, we have the opportunity to place ourselves in the defendants’ seats. How do we actively participate in the oppression of others? For example, what questions might we raise about the conditions of the people who make the clothes we
wear and the food we eat? The journey we take this week toward doing justice starts with the invitation to introspection. Thus, we can ask what other aspects of our lives need examining and weighing on the scales of God’s justice. Until we see the ways in which we collude with injustice, we cannot reorient ourselves and our communities toward justice.

God of justice, soften our hearts to see the faces of the oppressed around us, and embolden us to call for their just treatment. Be with us through the exercise of examining our conscience. Amen.

 

Craig D. Katzenmiller always assumed he’d end up as a professor, so he went overseas to get the piece of paper that allows one to be such: a PhD. Alas, that did not work out. So, having returned from studies in Germany – where this week’s reflections were written – without a PhD, he has been fortunate enough to find work back in the editorial world, a world he discovered he loved during his time as a temporary employee at Upper Room Books. He currently lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, and is a proofreader for a company that provides online classrooms for brick-and-mortar universities. He also works for TokensShow.com as social media editor and has a Master of Theological Studies degree from Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee.

 

 
January 13, 2014

The Identity and Mission of God’s People

By Upper Room Books
 

Disciplines: A Book of Daily Devotions is a beloved resource published by Upper Room Books every year. Each week’s readings are reflections on scripture passages from the lectionary for that period. On Mondays the initial reading for the week will be posted. We’d love to hear what you think about the week’s readings and prayers. Just sign in and add your comment in the Comments section following this post.

Read Isaiah 49:1-7

I live in the Rocky Mountain Front Range of Colorado. As I drive over a mesa into work each morning, the rising sun illumines the Boulder Flatirons, the foothills, and the Continental Divide to the west. In the right light, I see the layering of these geographic features; I appreciate the depth of this stunning profile. Foreground, middle-ground, background—what majesty!

I’ve come to view Old Testament prophecy similarly. When the prophet receives a word from the Lord, there’s usually a foreground: an immediate application in that specific time and place. The Lord comforts and challenges Israel with a word for its historic situation. It’s the Flatiron formation in my vista—vivid, immediate, and compelling. In our Isaiah passage, this is God’s servant, the prophet, or even Israel personified. He is—Israel is—God’s messenger to the world, God’s light to the nations.

But then, as we read deeper into the Bible, moving into the New Testament, we watch the fulfillment of Israel’s story in Jesus Christ. This is the middle-ground, the Rocky Mountain foothills, in my analogy.

In our passage, Isaiah’s Servant finds ultimate identity for Christians in Jesus, the one described throughout John’s Gospel as “the light of the world” (8:12). As we press on in the biblical narrative, the story moves even further, this time to the background: Jesus Christ, the Suffering Servant of God, the Light of the World, calls his people to join him in his mission. He sends us out, declaring, “You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14).

In Christ, we now proclaim God’s salvation to the end of the earth. As breathtaking as my morning commute is, the biblical vista is even more stunning: In the right light, we see God’s depth of layering, the centrality of God’s work in Jesus Christ, the church’s challenge to take God’s mission to the world.

Lord, thank you for the sweeping story of salvation, for the light of the world, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

Carl S. Hoffman is associate pastor for spiritual formation and discipleship, First Presbyterian Church, Boulder, Colorado.

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

 

 
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