Pray without ceasing for a world of peace with justice
By Pastor Rob Kopp, Walker United Methodist Church, Howard Lake
When it comes to matters of peace and justice, I struggle with my own ignorance.
A couple of years ago, I was on a mission trip to Nogales, Sonora, Mexico with 33 youth and seven other adults. Prior to preparation for and participation in this trip, I knew little of the struggle with poverty that exists in towns on the U.S. border in Mexico.
I start with confessing my ignorance because there are many times that ignorance is a roadblock to peace with justice. If we are unaware of the world around us, it is difficult, if not impossible, to work towards justice, or to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
Yet it is very difficult to find information that is not tainted by the agendas of those presenting it. I have been amazed, listening to shortwave broadcasts from Europe, at the differences in interpretation of the news.
But it is not only the agenda of those providing information that we need concern ourselves about. As we encounter information, we have our own bias and agenda that impact our understanding of the information presented.
In her book, “Life Abundant: Rethinking Theology and Economy for a Planet in Peril,” theologian Sallie McFague explores what we must overcome to bring our world closer to the abundant life of peace with justice that we seek. According to McFague, “The abundant life for us must be conducted with a very sharp eye to the way consumerism (the contemporary reincarnation of the deadly sin of greed) is both devastating the natural world and creating inequities between the poor and the wealthy.”
Put another way, to bring about peace with justice will require less material wealth and resources for us, and more for less affluent countries and people. McFague argues that there is enough for all of God’s creation to live abundantly if it is distributed justly.
These are hard words, and they are difficult to swallow for citizens of an empire which dominates the world, such as our United States. But this is not a new concept, nor is this a new development for the world.
In Jesus’ lifetime, the Roman Empire had completely dominated the land, and Roman citizens enjoyed a lifestyle of material abundance relative to other people of the time. To this world, our Savior was born, announcing the kingdom of God, a world we are called to work towards, a world of peace with justice.
In Micah 6, the breath of God is expressed through the prophet, who asks, “with what will we approach the Lord?” Do we bring our own personal story of success and well being, our material wealth?
What is required for our sin? To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. Put another way, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
As you know, these are the great commandments of Jesus, found in the Gospel. This is tied to my initial confession. I confess that I do not know my neighbor, that my love of neighbor falls short because I don’t truly know them.
One of the experiences on my mission trip to Nogales was to have lunch with people who had been deported from the U.S. back into Mexico. Each of them shared part of their story with us.
There were two brothers, age 17 and 21, indigenous Native Americans who had fled the state of Chiappas, Mexico because of the civil war. They had used everything they had to travel a great distance to cross the U.S. border.
They were apprehended by the border patrol, and dumped off in Nogales with nothing. They were destitute, caught in a foreign land with a foreign tongue.
These are our neighbors. These are our children, who came seeking an egg and received a scorpion. To look into their eyes and hear a fragment of their story broke my heart.
We are accountable. Yet, these are the kinds of stories to be found all over the world, and also in our own back yards. How can we possibly share good news amongst such suffering? Is there any comfort to be had in such a world without ignorance to shield us?
Each and every one of us will suffer. It’s a given part of the human condition. Must we suffer alone, alienated from each other, shielded from each other’s pain?
Let us consider the Gospel Luke 11:5-13. The disciples have just asked Jesus about prayer. Jesus teaches them the Lord’s prayer, then adds today’s passage. The context is prayer, and how prayer speaks to injustice.
We cannot ever truly know all of our neighbors. Even if our children of the human family continue to plead for justice, we will fall short of the mark. The love of God supersedes this mark. Jesus speaks of the exponential difference of God’s love for our neighbor, relative to our own. If we are to seek peace with justice, our primary route is prayer.
On the Nogales mission trip, I got to know two missionaries, Dave and Susan Thomas, and the pastor of the Presbyterian church hosting us, Dr. Pazos. I asked them what could be done about all the injustice and suffering that we were in the midst of.
I found out that the answer is complicated. While $3/day is not really enough to live on, it is a lot more than what is available in many other parts of Mexico for wages. This is why so many people have flocked to the border towns seeking work.
Furthermore, the U.S. companies would not be there were it not for the ability to pay substandard wages. Eliminate the factories, and the people suffer more.
The whole situation has complications such as this, and when I considered the enormity of them, my statement to my new friends was that maybe prayer was our best hope in this situation. They affirmed this, and said that they often ask groups to pray for the people of Nogales when asked what they can do.
It is with prayer we admit our own limitation, prayer that we seek God’s exponential power of love, prayer which reflects God’s love, prayer that applies the Holy Spirit to our effort towards a more just world.
We need to pray, indeed to pray without ceasing, to know God’s kingdom of peace with justice made manifest in our world.