A few years ago I began an exploration on spirituality with members of the church where I am the priest. We asked questions like, “What is spirituality?” and, “What does spirituality mean to you.” Almost to a person I heard, “I yearn for deeper spirituality”. And yet, none of us could really articulate what that meant nor how we’d know if something were spiritual. We came to realize that what makes something spiritual is a very individual experience, what works for one person may not work for another.
One member of the spirituality exploration group said something to me that I hear in the back of my mind every time I prepare a sermon. “Please,” she said, “Be hard on us, make us do something.” This was a plea for me to be more political in my sermons, more focused on social justice and more directive in what people are supposed to do to live out the Gospel.
In this Advent season I am thinking a lot about the Good News, that the Greek word euaggelizo was not a Christian word, but a word that was common in the Roman Empire. It was used to proclaim big events like winning a battle. Christians took over the use of the word, redefining it to describe what God is doing in and through Jesus. For Christians the Good News is God’s justice in the battle between good and evil. Ultimately God’s justice is love, and in the end God’s justice will prevail. However, how and when that happens is up for debate. Some believe that it will ultimately happen with God at the end of times. Others believe that God’s justice comes about all the time because God works in and through human hands and hearts. But regardless of when and how God’s justice prevails there is an ongoing narrative in the Bible from the prophets, through the Gospels, and into the Epistles and the Book of Revelation, that is political.
Therefore I think it’s difficult to NOT preach political sermons because the Gospel is political, and Jesus was political, which is why he was crucified by Roman soldiers. Liberation theologians have long heard the politics in Jesus’ message of love and justice, and in the actions of God in the world. Many more of us today are hearing this message anew as we live in the intersection between culture, nations, the world, and faith. Calling out to us to reconcile the broken places in the world, broken by racism, homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia, elitism, and the lingering effects of these. Calling out to us to dismantle all the systemic and institutional “isms” that inhabit our unconscious and conscious words and actions. The work of justice and reconciliation is ultimately political, because it calls one to take particular stances for equality and justice, in the name of God who created all. If one truly believes that human beings are created in God’s image, then it is also true that every expression of human being conveys aspects of God’s self.
However, when I took up the mantle and preached more “political” sermons, I got an email from another parishioner that said essentially, “I love this church but whenever you preach a political sermon I will leave. I’m not leaving the church but I can’t sit through a sermon like that. The church needs to be a place of peace, a place away from the politics of the world.”
So now I also hear those words in the back of my mind whenever I craft a sermon for Sunday morning. I find myself regularly walking a fine line between addressing the Gospel cry for justice, and yet not so far into what sounds political these days that I make this parishioner leave. I mean, my words will be useless if they aren’t heard.
In and through both of these desires by parishioners is the phrase that I tend to live by, “Justice IS Orthodox Theology.” I first saw this phrase on an old Episcopal Women’s Caucus t-shirt, and it captured my imagination immediately. Of course it is. Justice is the foundation of every action of God in the world since the beginning of time. Justice is bedrock to stories in the Hebrew texts and in the Christian Gospels and Epistles. Justice is at the root of Jesus’ life and ministry. Justice is orthodox theology because justice is the traditional way of knowing God in the world and through the lens of our faith. This is the primary value that unites us regardless of which side of politics one resides, that God’s love calls us to work for a world where we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and tend to the needy, loving all as God loves.
(photo by Terri C. Pilarski)
The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski is an Episcopal priest serving a parish in Dearborn, Michigan. She’s been a member of RevGalBlogPals since 2006 and blogs at Seeking Authentic Voice.
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