St. Stephen's Lutheran Church
First Things: Justice is Refreshing
“First Things” is a time-to-time look at the first reading for this coming Sunday. Next Sunday’s reading is Isaiah 58:1-12, which you can find by clicking here.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we offered some relaxation?
The prophet Isaiah is sharing God’s judgment on a people who are obsessed with doing things right. Right worship, right rituals. Fasting, self-denial. Sackcloth and ashes. The whole bit. God doesn’t buy it. “Why” Isaiah asks, “Do you bother with all the prayers and prostration when God’s really asking for freedom?”
Too often, we see a hurting world and simply fall to our knees. “If only there’s something we can do!” we might say, while ignoring the material needs around us. “Thoughts and prayers" seem a stand in for making change. As if rituals, fasting, prayers, and handwringing solves problems on its own, it can be easy to take on the problems of the world and give them up to God.
In this passage, Isaiah points to an oft-missed point: justice is refreshing. The changes that God calls for in the article are about the removal of injustice, setting free those caught under the wheels of society. God calls for liberation. God doesn’t call for more suffering, rather its end. I’d wager God thinking all the oppression and injustice in the world as silly frippery. And perhaps the handwringing that follows sillier still. This is what justice looks like: the removal of barriers.
When this happen, Isaiah says, great things shall happen. “Your light shall break forth like the dawn and your healing shall bring up quickly,” he writes. Perhaps in today’s language, “Cut the crap, and people will be happy for once.” Loosing bonds of injustice, letting people be free, offering food to the hungry and meeting peoples’ needs all have consequences. They don’t produce needier people; they make people happy.
This passage concludes with images of a flourishing planet, not just people. The image of a “watered garden,” and “a spring of water, whose waters never fail” reminds us of the semi-arid climate of the ancient Near East. To happen upon either would be seen as a rare and precious thing. Gardens and springs would be places of lush green in the sand of the desert. Justice, Isaiah says, gives life. Flourishing life.
This is all well and good — justice good, suffering bad. But what does this mean for us today? I might posit that we do waste too much time naming, diagnosing, and dividing ourselves at the present moment. That we fear the consequences of positive social change, that somehow people might become lazy or greedy on the public dole. Isaiah offers a different perspective: that what divides us is of our own making. It is something to be removed, not added to. And when the poor and oppressed are liberated, the consequences are simple: abundant life.
We Lutherans put the yoke-removing work of God at the center of what we do. Whether its our rich partnership with Greater Woodbury Cooperative Ministries to meet the needs of our community or how our facilities provide a place for the Durand School, we daily do the work of repairing the breaches of society. We are proud to be part of the New Jersey Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, which has a strong and effective advocacy ministry. Justice isn’t merely charity and handouts; justice is change for all society.
God invites everyone to be a part of this life-saving work, and you are especially invited to join us in working for this vision of justice.