Forming Faith Blog

Justice & Peace (November 12, 2017)

Amos 1:1-2; 5:14-15, 21-24

Free Resource: Justice Experiment (Kids: PK-2nd)

Unit Theme (November 12 – November 26): Promises of Hope

This coming Sunday (November 12th) is the first reading in our unit, themed “Promises of Hope.” The rest of the month of November looks to the prophets for the hope that God provides. This theme looks forward to Advent, the traditional season where we await God’s coming into our world in fulfillment of these promises.

Now we look to Amos, a prophet who addressed the injustice perpetuated in the northern kingdom of Israel, about 100 years after last week’s story set in the time of King Ahab of Israel. It seems that prosperity has come to Samaria, the capital of Israel. Despite the fact that the northern kingdom had rejected worship at the temple in Jerusalem for idolatry (with two golden calves, no less) at the time of the division, the prophetic message to Israel here condemns the injustice being done to the poor and vulnerable.

The development of trade routes brought about new wealth for some of the citizens of Israel. Prosperity did not benefit all the Israelites. Instead, it only widened the wealth gap, leading to further oppression of the lower classes. It is this that God condemns.

It is justice that God wants, but only sees injustice. Now, it is important to define the justice that God desires. In modern culture, the word “justice” tends to be used often in the realm of criminal law, and justice being served is when the criminal gets the punishment they deserve. That is very different than the justice found in Scripture. Here, the concept is closer to the modern concepts of social and economic justice, where all people receive everything they need to thrive. This is different than “fairness,” where everyone gets an equal portion. Fairness is where everyone gets an equal slice of the pie, where justice is where the hungry get more and the full get less. Justice is not where everyone receives equal medical care, but the sick and injured get all the care they need, and the healthy get their annual physical.

Sadly, and infuriatingly, the situation has changed very little in the last few millennia. Human selfishness leads those with money and power (and they are inextricably linked) to design the system to maintain and increase what they have, while those without money have little power and are taken advantage of by the wealthy.

Some may complain that this is teaching and preaching “partisan politics,” but it is really just teaching and preaching Scripture. Ignoring God’s adamant demand for justice (or spiritualizing this into a demand for sinlessness which Jesus took care of for us on the cross), is to manipulate Scripture for our own purposes. Don’t tell your participants who to vote for, tell them how God expects them to live. Also, I wouldn’t recommend treating this text as an opportunity to separate people into “us” and “them,” because in reality, we are all “them” to some extent. Do you really use the gifts God has given you to further justice for your neighbors? I’m afraid that I don’t.

So, what does this all have to do with faith formation? Well, faith formation is about shaping us into faithful followers of Jesus, and that not only includes our love for and trust in God, but our love in action for our neighbors. Faith, as clearly stated in James 2:15-17, is inextricable bound up in how we live.

  • Make it concrete. Justice is an abstract concept encompassing a wide variety of actions. Our younger participants (and let’s be honest, our adult participants as well) need many specific, concrete examples of “justice” that they can actually understand and do this week while going about their daily lives.
  • Make it educational. Of course, faith formation experiences are pretty much always educational in some way, but here there is a likely need to educate participants on local, national, and global systems of injustice. Don’t forget to include successful examples of God’s justice being done!
  • Make it physical. Don’t just discuss justice; lead participants in doing something. It can be acting out how to do justice with role-playing. It might involve doing a group or individual action promoting justice right then.
  • Justice vs. Service. There is undoubtedly much debate over this, but there is a difference between what we generally think of as “service” and “justice.” Works of service provide for immediate needs (e.g. shelter for the homeless, food for the hungry), while works of justice focus on changing the systems that make people homeless or hungry. Service helps in the present, while justice works for the future. They are different, but they are also both necessary.

How are you planning to address this text in your faith formation context?

-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

This week’s FREE faith formation resource is simple activity from our Living the Word: Kids (PK-2nd) product that can be used as part of a children’s sermon, the worship service, or a classroom activity. The Living the Word: Kids (PK-2nd) curriculum provides weekly lessons covering each Sunday of the Narrative Lectionary year with a large variety of activities for different learning and teaching styles.

Be sure to download our free Narrative Lectionary Planning Tools and Scope & Sequence to help in your preparation!