Good News for Justice Seekers – by Rebecca Warren
Rebecca Warren works at the Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life at the University of Alberta. She is also chair of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee of the Christian Reformed Church, a lay preacher, and an active volunteer both in the corrections system and as a workshop leader for families in need.
I saw it in the eyes of those who had worked in social service much longer than I had—a certain kind of grim resignation to keep doing the work alongside a dark futility that it would not make any real difference. Idealism will only carry you so far, will only keep you going so many years, before weariness and discouragement set in. When you’ve worked among the “least of these” not just long enough to see a few success stories, but to see those same success stories turn into backsliding stories—of addictions fought and conquered that return, of determined parents taking workshops who later come up on charges for abuse, of years spent tutoring and mentoring youth only to see them end up with the neighbourhood drug dealer in spite of it all. You expect some of this when you stand for justice, expect that there will be demons to face and darkness to battle. You even expect to be weary of the task. What you don’t expect, perhaps, is that the accumulation of years will make you so discouraged you want to give up. So what I want to offer today to you fellow justice seekers is what my own heart needs most: a word of hope.
If we want to persevere over the long haul, we need to recover a robust sense of the good news we proclaim in Christ. As people of faith we hold out that mess
age of hope for all who are captive to sin, caught in oppressive systems, and longing to be made whole. We proclaim Jubilee for the earth, Sabbath rest for the exhausted, and the joy of a new creation for all who are in Christ. We proclaim this good news to the poor, to the prisoner, to the outcast, to the addict. And then perhaps most difficult of all: we also need to proclaim it to ourselves.
It’s easy when doing the work of justice to begin to see everything in terms of the big picture: large-scale systems that need to be resisted, pervasive problems and wide-scale injustices to be righted. The gift of this perspective is it allows us to step back far enough to name the toxic elements of the narrative of greed and fear and waste we’re surrounded by and replace it with a holy narrative of healing and hope and shalom. But if we grow so used to keeping our eyes turned outward to the big picture, we forget that we also sometimes need to turn them inward to the “small” picture—where our own broken spirits are crying for that same word of hope and newness we offer so readily to the causes we serve.
So let me remind you of some basics again today: The good news is for you. The Spirit’s healing power is for you. The God of all creation has spoken a word of hope and restoration for you. Christ’s resurrection is for you. When your spirit flags and you grow weary not only of doing justice but of the hard heart work that is required to love mercy in the face of violence and hate, there is still one thing you have left: to walk humbly with your God. To embrace the limitations of your own understanding, to believe that God holds this world in love, that no act of standing up for the land, for the voiceless and powerless is ever wasted. To persevere and believe that like the good news spoken by God at the dawn of creation, every one of our actions itself is a word whose sound has gone out into all lands and ripples out to the ends of the earth (Psalm 19:4, Romans 10:18).
The good news is for you, and the good news is incarnate in you. Through your support of organizations like KAIROS, your volunteering for conferences, by engaging in activism and loving your neighbour, you are putting flesh on the love of Christ for our world today. “May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace as you trust in God so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13)—overflow with hope not just for the world-made-new you are fighting for, but for the hope-made-new your own heart needs.