Justice, and Only Justice, You Shall Pursue

“Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16:20) Where is justice today?

I’m embarrassed that I had never heard of The Green Book before I watched the movie by the same name a few weeks ago. The Negro-Motorist Green Book, by Victor H. Green in Harlem, began publication in 1936 to provide an annual travel guide for African Americans in regard to food, lodging, gas, and other services in a segregated America. Some of the annual guides, which were published for thirty years, included these words, “Carry your Green Book with you – you may need it” … to avoid finding oneself in compromising, oppressive, or even dangerous situations.

The movie, Green Book, which is in theaters now, is based on the true story of Don Shirley, a world-class African-American pianist, who is about to embark on a concert tour in the Deep South in 1962. Knowing that he needs a driver as well as protection as he travels through the Jim Crow south, Shirley (played by Mahershala Ali) recruits Tony Lip (played by Viggo Mortensen), an Italian-American tough guy/bouncer from the Bronx. The two men have very different backgrounds, yet they form a deep respect and even friendship as Shirley is continually confronted with racism and danger.

The Green Book told Lip which hotels would and wouldn’t accept blacks, with both men often staying in separate places. Despite the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, which eliminated legal segregation in public education, segregation in many other arenas continued throughout the United States.

The indignities Shirley had to endure as a black man, even though he was a highly educated person and concert pianist, were painful to watch. From being directed away from classical piano, which Shirley loved, to jazz music because of his race; to their car being stopped more than once because a white man and a black man were in the same vehicle; to not being allowed to eat with and use the same restrooms as his white audiences at banquets where he was performing, reinforced the injustice and reality of racism, even today.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God,

we give praise to you for your great glory made manifest in all of creation.

Give us an open heart to embrace all who experience discrimination.

Help us to grow in love beyond prejudice and injustice.

Grant us the grace to respect the uniqueness of each person,

so that in our diversity we may experience unity.

This prayer we make in your holy name. Amen.

“Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue.” Where is justice today? Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is a federal holiday. It’s a time for us to ponder the state of our country, our world, and our own hearts and the fact that we are not done with racism yet. We are not done with inequality yet. We are not done with injustice yet.

Over this past week I was drawn to King’s book Strength to Love. This is a collection of sermons that King began while spending two weeks in a jail cell for holding a prayer vigil outside the Albany, Georgia City Hall in 1962.

  • “The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.”
  • “Courage faces fear and thereby masters it.”
  • “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
  • “We talk eloquently about our commitment to the principles of Christianity, and yet our lives are saturated with the practices of paganism. We proclaim our devotion to democracy, but we sadly practice the very opposite of the democratic creed. We talk passionately about peace, and at the same time we assiduously prepare for war. We make our fervent pleas for the high road of justice, and then we tread unflinchingly the low road of injustice. This strange dichotomy, this agonizing gulf between the ought and the is, represents the tragic theme of man’s earthly pilgrimage.”

When 800,000 federal workers are in their 31st day of a government shut-down and are suffering mightily simply because our lawmakers are not able to come to the table and reason together, where is the justice?

Below: Chef for Feds Relief Kitchen: Feeding federal workers and families in Washington D.C. ©Washington Press. Photo by: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post

God of the widow, the orphan and the stranger,

You have shown us the path of justice.

Help us to follow your way by doing justice as our worship of you.

As Christians together, may we worship you not only with our hearts and minds, but also by our deeds.

May the Holy Spirit help and guide us to work for justice wherever we are,

so that many people may be strengthened through our works.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue. Where is justice today? We are in the midst of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (January 18-25). This is an annual opportunity for Christians the world over to pray for and actively seek the unity that we already share in Christ and also recognize the power of the ecumenical movement. When we are a part of this annual celebration, Christians seek the fulfillment of the prayer of Jesus, the Son of God, “that they all may be one.”

The worship materials for The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2019 were prepared by Christians from Indonesia. Indonesia has a population of 265 million people, 86% of whom are Muslims and 10% of whom are Christians from different traditions, including the autonomous Methodist denomination, Gereja Methodist Indonesia. The prayers in this blog come from the worship materials, which you can access here.

The Christians in Indonesia chose Deuteronomy 16:20 as the theme verse for the 2019 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity because corruption is experienced in many ways in the country: in politics, business, and even the environment. The organizers write, “Too often those who are supposed to promote justice and protect the weak do the opposite. As a consequence, the gap between the rich and the poor has widened; and so a country rich in resources has the scandal of many people living in poverty.”

Then they get to the heart of the matter, the reason why Christian unity is so fragile. “Every year Christians across the world gather in prayer for growth in unity. We do this in a world where corruption, greed and injustice bring about inequality and division. Ours is a united prayer in a fractured world: this is powerful. However, as individual Christians and communities, we are often complicit with injustice, and yet we are called together to form a united witness for justice and to be a means of Christ’s healing grace for the brokenness of the world.”

Where is a united witness for justice be today? How can you and I, along with disciples of Jesus in every corner of the world, live out the words of Deuteronomy 16:20, “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you.” What will you do to be a means of grace and justice today?

And where will justice be from February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis? How will you be a means of grace and unity, as The United Methodist Church gathers for General Conference?

May God embrace you with love and make kindness flow out from you. May God ignite courage within you and transform you into agents of justice and peace.

May God grant you humility and give you perseverance to nurture unity.

6 thoughts on “Justice, and Only Justice, You Shall Pursue

  1. Thank you Bishop Laurie for your insightful comments on racism and injustice from Don Shirkey’s story and the racism and injustice we face today. I hope with you that justice will prevail as the General Conference meet in St Louis.
    Grace and Peace.

  2. Dear Laurie,

    Thank you for once again directing us to look into our hearts and to more
    diligently work for peace and justice to a hurting world.
    Blessings to you and Gary.

    Nel Kastner

  3. The ball is in play, and each one of us is ultimately responsible for what we do to allievate the suffering we see each day. Justice is a right and should never have to be earned.

    Peace,
    Margaret

  4. Thanks as usual for your eyeopening piece, Love ’em. Here’s yet another thought. All the hoopla about transgenders using the correct john – During segregation, there was often only 3 johns available, white women, white men and colored. The powers that be at the time had no qualms about sticking both sexes in the same john if they were black.

  5. Thank you for reminding us that we are often blind to what is going on all around us. The Green Book was a powerful movie, and a great reminder of the injustice and pain we often unwittingly perpetuate because the neighbors suffering are not us. Jesus and Martin Luther King, Jr. have been my light in dark world. Thank you for sharing that light and reminding us that “justice and only justice you (I) shall pursue.”

  6. Thanks, Laurie, for your words! Thanks for turning our/my attention to work that needs to be done in order to live in peace and unafraid. Thanks for the reminder about the movie. I want to see it! Thanks for who you are and how you write and live!!

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