I was so grateful to spend last Sunday night with the Practice Tribe. This community has been a gift to us and it was such a pleasure to offer the message on our 4th beatitude: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” You can here the talk and its accompanying practice time with Curtis on the Podcast, and the transcript of the message is also below.
Place your hands on your stomach and finish this sentence: I hunger and thirst for a world where…
Now hold out your hands in front of you, offering that hunger, that ache to God. Pray for that cause, that region, those people. And then ask God: What would you like me to do?
We have a deep sense that the world is not as it should be. And we have a deep desire for it to be made right. Which means we have an innate desire for righteousness.
But that word is sometimes misunderstood. Biblical righteousness is not an individual, internal thing someone “possesses”, which is self-righteousness and not what we want at all. But it’s also not about “making the world a better place” in some vague sense.
Biblical righteousness-–this concept of God’s restorative justice–which shows up over 1,200 times in Scripture–is about God bringing all things being in right relationship with one another. And many, perhaps even most, of the aches we feel about the world not being right are fundamentally about a breakdown in relationships.
Righteousness at its core is right relationships…
- Right interpersonal relationships
- Right relationship between those who hold power and those they exercise power over
- Right relationship between humanity and the created world that resources our lifestyle
- Right relationship within our selves about who we are and whose we are
I got back a month ago from Israel/Palestine; it was my first opportunity to travel to the region. And we visited a farm called Tent of Nations. In so many ways, the farm is working to align all relationships—they practice organic agriculture on their hundred acres, to steward with God’s creation. They invite guests from around the world to spend time with them, showing hospitality and reciprocity in learning.
But if you stand on their land and look toward the sea, your left periphery vision is encroached upon by a settlement. Settlements, if you are not familiar, are Israeli communities built in the West Bank. They are large, new suburban track homes, pocketed into the landscape. Meanwhile, Tent of Nations has no running water.
So if you turn left further, and you’ll see not only another settlement, but the pre-construction for, yet another settlement. Turn back right and look down instead of out, and you’ll find, you guessed it, another settlement.
The settlement movement is something that complicates and challenges peacemaking efforts for the region. Our guide likened the growing illegal communities to attempting to split a pizza, but the entire negotiation, I’m eating pizza. On the other hand, devout Jews feel as deeply connected to that land as the land that is officially recognized as the state of Israel. What’s more, they are told, and it is sometimes sort-of true, that the land they have moved on was unoccupied all obtained above board.
It reminded me of the first time I learned about sweat shops in Los Angeles. The next time we drove to the city, the industrial buildings haunted me, though I was young. And honestly, those particular buildings were unlikely to be used for that purpose. But I think it plagued me so much because I knew I had to wear clothing, and I suddenly didn’t know where to buy it from. I had a college professor who said “You can’t buy a righteous pair of tennis shoes.” That’s how it felt. Injustice was all around.
And when you visit Tent of Nations, and hear how they fight to retain their land, you feel surrounded. Surrounded by out of whack relationships with no clear way forward. Overwhelmingly surrounded by injustice.
But Jesus comes to announce the reality — Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be will be satisfied. The eternal winter is thawing and Aslan is on the move.
God is moving to realign all relationships—especially those where power imbalance leads to oppression. God’s glory is on display when all of creation experiences the joy and freedom of this alignment.
And that is what we want so deeply. We long and hope for a communal wholeness, for things to be as they should be, for shalom. It’s right relationships with one another, with God, and with creation We long for right relationships. We long for righteousness.
We have, in our gut, a holy ache for justice.
One problem, there are cultural myths that informs how we respond to that ache. Two in particular run rampant and keep us from moving with God into the work of justice to which we are invited.
First, there’s the myth that attacks us before we really begin to do the work of justice. And it says, “I can’t do anything because it’s too big.”
So we blame the powerful for inaction, whether it’s specifically–Why doesn’t Obama do something?–or blaming a faceless organization, like Congress. We can always blame Congress.
Or we blame the victims for the “wrong-strategy”. I was surprised when I heard one person call throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers an act of terror. Because the thrower was 10 years old.
The other thing that happens when we fall victim to this lie is that we feel shame. Shame that we aren’t doing anything. These issues are often complex, progress is slow moving, and we find ourselves doing nothing at all and then feeling ashamed of our inaction.
After all, if I can’t buy a righteous pair of tennis shoes, then I gotta just put on my unrighteous ones because I gotta get my kids to preschool and then head to work.
So we have blame and shame and no action towards the rightness of relationship that God desires for us.
The other myth we hear is similar, but it attacks us once we do try to move towards justice making. It says, “What I can do doesn’t really count, because it’s too small.”
I think anytime we hear ourselves saying, “I’m just…” it’s a clue that we’ve accepted the myth that our actions can’t impact anything. I’m just a teacher, just a salesperson, just a stay at home parent, just an engineer, just an accountant…. But friends, we are not just anything.
My ache is for people to find their cause. But I’ve heard myself say, “I’m just a mom in suburbia.” And one of the ways that God graciously reoriented me away from ‘just’ was through the idea of experimenting in simple swaps that could help make me an everyday advocate. I made a few small swaps: I updated my Instagram feed to follow the stories of some non-profit partners that I respect, so their work is on my radar daily and I can pray for them. We buy organic Fair Trade shade grown coffee, and I found super cute shoes handmade by artisans in a low-income community in Guatemala, we use cloth diapers, and Sisterhood soap made by refugees in Iraq. Simple swaps. Everyday advocacy.
(We also had some failed experiments–alas bamboo paper towels were a bust and we swapped back to regular. Trial and error. Just trail and error.)
What I marveled at as I visited Israel/Palestine is how many people, on both sides, Israeli and Palestinian, deny the myth that it’s too big to do anything and deny the myth that what they can do is too small. They each do something. Where they are. They embrace the ache and let it move them to action.
Now, back to the sermon on the Mount. One of the things Jesus is doing in these verses is clarifying where God’s presence and action are found in the world. So when we find ourselves in places of ache, Jesus tells us that God is already there with us. We often think we are alone, abandoned in our mourning, our poverty (material or otherwise), our ache for justice. On the contrary, we are not alone; we find God there, blessing us with presence. And then, what’s more, God invites us to partner with him to redeem those things and to act to make those wrong things right.
Friends, the kingdom reality that Jesus proclaims and invites us to live each day is that we are justice making, oppression breaking, freedom ushering, chain loosening agents of righteousness in this very misaligned world.
When we find ourselves sick to our stomachs over injustice, Jesus says, “Blessed are you, because THAT is the ache that God is going to satisfy through the work of righteousness-making; the work of justice-bringing”
Jesus invites us to join him.
So we deny the myths. We believe that what we can do is not too small. We embrace our power, step into action, and walk in the way of justice.