Updated: Aug 7
Recently, I participated in the convocation for pastors at Duke Divinity School.
The theme this year focused upon "Creativity and Courage: From Trauma to Tough Hope." Interdisciplinary presentations weaved poetry, dancing, visual arts, and words in ways that led us to participate in discovery and transformation.
For instance, during the opening worship service, Bishop Leonard Fairley shared an inspiring message that presented one way to move from trauma to hope. His sermon sprung forth from the sacred texts of Jeremiah 17:7-8 and Micah 6:8.
"But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit."
(The New International Version of The Bible," Jeremiah 17:7-8).
"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
(The New International Version of The Bible," Micah 6:8).
Later in the day, I had the opportunity to invite Bishop Fairley to share more about a word that is often used today. "Tell me more about what you mean when you lift up the word 'Justice.' "What is justice?" "What does justice look like?"
To paraphrase, Bishop Fairley, responded, "We have to reclaim sacred words that have been coopted by the society in which we live. The church has allowed those who are not followers of Jesus to define words such as love and justice. We have to talk about love, justice, and mercy until we truly embody their cross shaped meaning. The Holy Spirit defines the meaning of love, justice, and mercy by empowering actions of love, justice, and mercy!"
As I further ponder the meaning of justice as inspired by the sermon and conversation I shared with Bishop Fairley, the following reflection pours forth:
Justice looks like all creation, all human beings, living in making whole relationship with the triune God made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth: the Savior and Lord of all! Justice looks like bearing forth Christlike expressions of caring. Justice looks like relationships immersed in the healing waters of baptism. Justice looks like leaning into ways of being we anticipate we will embody when Jesus, the Christ, returns again to bring to complete fruition God's vision of Beloved Community.
"Yes, those words sound good, but what do we do next?"
At the conclusion of the sermon Bishop Fairley shared, he invited each of us to turn to someone seated near us and share three ways we are blessed by each other. I was seated beside of Mrs. Dawn Sparks Fairley, Leonard's wife. What she said brought tears to my eyes, "Bart, your friendship with Leonard has changed his life."
Her gracious and kind words remind me how much my friendship with Leonard has changed my life. Since the day in 1977 when we were roommates at Pfeiffer College, my friendship with Leonard has helped me to become more like Jesus.
"What does the Lord require?"
I think it may be as simple as the answer: Be on the look out to enter into Christlike friendship formation with Jesus' friends! Our friend Jesus will help us open wide our selection of friends across suspicious societal categorizations that place persons in better than/lesser than categories. Holy friends help each other embody the true meaning of acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God.
The cultivation of one simple habit helps this to occur.
At the conclusion of Bishop Fairley's sermon, he invited us to develop the habit of
"Blessing somebody and putting the joy back in their life!"
Referring to the words of the prophet Jeremiah 17:7-8, (to paraphrase), "Even when we feel like the burdens of life are so heavy and we're going through seemingly endless seasons of drought, like trees our roots grow deep in the sustaining Sovereign agape of the triune God; therefore, our leaves stay green. God turns seasons of lament into opportunities to receive blessing and share blessing.
"What does the Lord require?"
God especially wants us to reach out and bless persons who carry the unjust weight of the brokenness of the world: refugees, persons who are homeless, persons who are incarcerated, the uninsured, "the down and out," sisters and brothers who are most vulnerable and exposed; the persons we tend to not see because we are afraid of their tears and our own unexamined tears...
"Dear God, dear Lord, help us learn the meaning of justice by reaching out to bless persons we tend to not see, persons who feel cursed by life. Help us listen to their hurts, their hopes, their dreams. Help us care enough to enter into right relationship with them and discover together what world changing, world making Christlike friendship formation looks like. May we embody Christlike caring and empathy. Together let us discover what justice looks like as we wash the world's wrongs in the waters of baptism spreading seeds of tough hope throughout the land."
The sculpture entitled "Reconciliation" by Margaret Adams Parker located at Duke Divinity School Durham, North Carolina