Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

If You Want Peace, Work for Justice.

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Delivered on Peace with Justice Sunday | June 7, 2009

Psalm 34:1-14
Isaiah 58:6-12
Matthew 5:9

On this Peace with Justice Sunday, we begin by asking are you pursuing peace and justice? Are you a peaceful and just person?  Are you a willing advocate for peace in our world?  Do you promote peace in the home, the workplace and the larger community? In what ways are you pursuing peace? The adage is true. “If you we want peace, we must work for justice.” Justice and peace are birds of a feather, so to speak. When we establish justice, peace comes forth with open arms.

Often we speak of creating a more peaceful world but do not address the issue of justice. At the heart of peace is justice. Father Naim Stefan Ateek reminds us that “The door of peace is realized only through the door of justice”. God is a God of justice who is ultimately concerned about how the unjustly treated, that is to say, the poor and the oppressed, are ultimately treated. The prophet Isaiah says,

“Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen; to loose the chains of injustice, and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke.”

God has a heart for justice and exhorts the pursuit and establishment of justice in his word. We see this concern in the early books of the bible, in the messages of the prophets and in the ministry of Jesus whose outreach to the marginalized, disabled and forgotten, was an attempt to restore peace and justice to their lives in the interpersonal realm. Jesus ministry was a ministry of justice to people who had been broken and fragmented by the injustices of their time. By restoring their humanity and sense of self respect to them, he gave to them a chance to find meaning and purpose in their world at that time.

Justice is defined as “Fairness or reasonableness in the way people are treated or decisions are made.” God is concerned for how we treat each other, and adjudicate decisions with, on behalf of each other, and by breaking the bonds of injustice that keep us fragmented and divided as human beings.

If we surveyed the annals of world history, we would discover that millions of people have died violently and unjustly in wars and conflict, and at the heart of those concerns is justice and peace. For every year of war in human history, there has been two minutes of peace. Eight percent of all human history has been peaceful. In the 20th Century alone,  over 203 million people have violently died in wars.

Sometimes war is a means or righting wrong and bringing justice and peace in our world such as stopping the threat of fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism. Sometimes war is itself unjust. It is not done as a last resource but as a first option and thereby unreasonable, myopic and selfish, harmful, destructive and costly.

Lower animals kill out of necessity for survival. Mankind often kills not out of survival but fear, not in self defense but in aggressive offense and sometimes out of malice and greed.

How often does the world cry “Peace, Peace” and there is no peace? Peace treaties are made, but the average peace treaty lasts two years.  It is true, man has a propensity for war, violence, and bloodshed. Man is at war with himself, and has been so since the beginning of time. Humankind still has not found a way peacefully and permanently to coexist. Peace has been difficult to come by on all levels of human existence for we see the devastations and fall out of war not only in the international arena but on the local level. Where is the peace? Entire communities are under siege in our central cities because of the threat of crime and  violence. Is there peace in our communities? No place is immune from violence, war and conflict. As one man said, “The only way to keep the peace is to carry my piece.” Because of man’s unruly nature, the peacemakers are often the threat of violence to keep the peace. But that’s not the type of peace I am referring to this morning, for if every man, woman, boy and girl practiced peace there would be no need for violence and pieces. If every person pursued justice, peace could prevail on earth.

We all live in a world where we have been adversely affected by the violence, injustice and the lack of peace. The truth is we have not found that permanent peace because, in the words of Thomas Merton,

“We are not at peace with others because we are not peace with ourselves, and we are not peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.”

But there are peacemakers in our world, people who valiantly work for it on every level.  The Detroit West District Peace Center housed here at Hope Church, under the leadership of our own Barbara Talley is a case in point. Barbara Talley is a peacemaker par-excellence; an outstanding citizen for peace and justice in our world. The Peace Center just sponsored two forums on Gaza and invited Jews and Palestinians, and Muslims to the table to discuss prospects for peace in the Middle East. Do you know the significance of this? To bring them all to one table is an act of peace. To have them present their various points of view an act of justice and a step toward peace, and to have them all come away from that experience believing that mutual dialogue is possible in resolving conflict is one of the greatest affirmations of peace we can have. Sometimes justice is something as simple as having your grievances heard without judgment of interruption. Barbara Talley and her Team have demonstrated for us and developed a template for peace that can be replicated on a larger level and they should be lauded and commended for their outstanding work.

But each of us can take up the mantle of peace by becoming peace makers. If want to have peace we must also work for justice, for at the heart of every conflict is the concern for justice; at the core of every division are feelings of not being treated fairly. Whether it is feeling that our feelings are not justly heard, or our needs not justly met, or our concerns not justly addressed, or our grievances not justly redressed, the nagging feelings of injustice often drive us into bitter mortal conflict with one another. This is true on all levels of human existence.

The child cries out with the pangs of hunger because he has not been fed. He feels mistreated. Relationships breakdown between persons  who are mistreated. How much of your own conflict and grievances are rooted into some injustice done to you or to others?  Injustice is often somewhere in the mix. At the heart of humankinds’ continuing war and conflict is the reality of injustice, perceived or real.” Until that justice is righted, the prospects for peace are remote. If you took something away that belonged to me, I am not satisfied until what you took away is restored back to me, or the matter is redressed by some other means. This is justice.

Justice is the heart of peace and peace is the hand of justice. In order to create a more peaceful world we must have a concern for peace and justice. We must work for justice on every level of our society. We must demonstrate justice in our homes, communities and world if the reality of justice is to be realized in our world. Peace and justice go hand in hand.

At the heart of concern for World religions such as Islam, Judaism and Christianity is the concern for Justice. In the Judeo- Christian Tradition, we understand the quest for justice and peace as central to actualizing our faith as Christians. We cannot know God unless we come into the practice of peace and justice in our lives and in our world.  We cannot reach our true spiritual potential without justice, peace and truth. We not only believe it but practice it.

There are four basic attributes or characteristics of God that we are called to imitate, demonstrate and display in our daily lives if we are to have peace and justice in our world. Those four attributes are mercy, grace, love and justice. We often think of them only as principles to appropriate and live by. But the truth of the matter is these four primary characteristics of God should be demonstrated in our daily walk as signs of a living and genuine faith.

If God is a God of justice then we as believers are to demonstrate justice in our lives. We must pursue justice, actualize and live justice in its various forms. If God is a God of mercy, this mercy is not just an ethical principle, it is a attribute of God that we are called to practice. If God is merciful then we should be merciful. If God is graceful then we should be graceful. If God is loving, then we should be loving. If God is just then we should be just. We cannot authentically practice the presence of God without these traits. How ever religious or spiritual we claim to be, the ultimate proof of that religiosity and spirituality rests on these four primary characteristics.

Mercy, Grace, Love and justice are not just ethical or religious principles we demonstrate to others as a show of goodness and fairness. Mercy, Grace, Love and justice are attributes of God that we are called to demonstrate as we practice God’s presence in the world. We must move from attribute to tribute. That is to say, the characteristics of God must become living ways that we pay tribute to him in our daily practice. The absence of these realities in our lives may be a clue as to how much God is of us and God is in us. For how can we say we are of God if we show no mercy? How can we say we are of God if we have no love? How can we say we are in God if we have no sense of justice?

Every Christian person, or every person of religious faith, should practice at least these four divine attributes of God: mercy, grace, love and justice. Without them we cannot have justice or peace in our world. Everything else revolves around these four realities. They are the cornerstones and building blocks of just and peaceful relationships which lead to a just and peaceful society.

Furthermore, God’s mercy, grace, love and justice permeate the entire bible and are the foundations of a living faith. Whatever additional attributes, we ascribe to God emanates from these four basic characteristics.

For example, when we say that Christ, the son of God is a healer and savior, this attribute is rooted in one of the four characteristics of God. Christ could not heal without God’s mercy. Christ would not have come to this world to heal without God’s grace. God’s mercy and grace are the sources of this healing and make such healing possible.

As savior, God is loving and just. He has come to save us because he loves us. His saving us is a form of justice because we had no advocate or redeemer. Sin creates its own forms of injustice which splinter our lives from God. Christ steps in to restore our broken relationship with the Father because sin has shattered that relationship. Without Christ, we could not have justice in the sense of being restored back to the Father. So the characteristics of Jesus Christ the son of God as savior and redeemer of the world have their foundations in the mercy, grace, love and justice of God. For Christ himself was merciful, gracious, loving and just. The Father in sending the son to save us is merciful, gracious, loving and just. In fact, he is more than just because we did not deserve his son. Whatever characteristics we assign to God, those four attributes are primary. Each believer then should demonstrate these four qualities in his or her life to improve the quality of his life and the quality of life in this world.

We have so much ill will and strife in our world because mercy, grace, love and justice have been absent in our treatment of one another on the individual and social levels. We want mercy but cannot give it. We want justice but cannot practice it. We want grace but withhold it from the people who are most deserving of it.

You cannot tell me that had we had more grace, mercy, justice and love in our society, we would not be in this current financial crisis. It is because of  the mercilessness, lack of grace, disregard for justice and the absence of love, that we have our current troubles. The people charged with leading us justly and peacefully have not had the concern of all of us they have claimed to have had. They have been shameless in their greed. Mindless in their treatment of the average citizen. Merciless in their blame. They have lacked mercy, grace, love and justice, plain and simple. They have lacked compassion.

Compassion is also an important word in pursuing justice and peace, for it too is rooted in God’s mercy and grace.
The primary characteristic we are called to demonstrate in our daily striving, which was a primary characteristic of Christ himself is compassion. We are in this crisis in part because of a lack of compassion. Compassion has its roots in a God of love, justice, mercy and grace. If you have no compassion then you have no God.

A continuing fuel that flames the perpetuation of war, violence and bloodshed and the absence of peace in our world is the absence of compassion. However much we jump and shout on Sunday morning and profess to be followers of Jesus Christ, if we have no compassion, then we are not authentic in our claims to Christ. However much we claim to be a Christian nation, those claims cannot be authenticated without compassion when we mistreat the poor, and run rough shod over the average citizen and the common man and woman. What compassion is there when we mistreat our own people; use them like dish rags and don’t even hang them out to dry? Is compassion taking billions of dollars and giving it to the people who created this financial mess and then ignoring the every day man and woman on whose backs and brows this nation was built and who must pay for the rescue? Is that justice, to give billions of dollars to people who created this financial crisis and then ask the people most affected by it and even blamed for the crisis to pay for it?  Is compassion the lost and lonely soldier who has fought in this nations wars, giving life and limb, and coming home without health care for his wounds and walking the streets homeless? Is the compassion of a Christian nation?

Furthermore, compassion is not only for the service men and women who have lost their lives in war and the impact on their families, but is also for the one million Iraqi families who have lost children in this war. Compassion is not only for us but for them, understanding that even our enemies are human beings who have incurred the toll of human loss, tragedy and suffering.

When you don’t have compassion for the least of these, the poorest of these, the lowest of these then you have no compassion. Compassion is rooted in the mercy, grace, love and justice of God. Jesus said, “Love your enemies.”

The obstacles to peace and justice in our world is the absence of compassion; a compassion rooted in the love, justice, mercy and grace of God. This is the meaning of peace. The practice of these four attributes of God is the practice of peace, for when you have love, mercy, grace and justice and actualize these realities each day in relation to yourself, your family, your friends; to strangers and even your enemies, this makes for peace and tranquility in our world.

If there is no peace, it may be because grace, mercy, justice and love are absent in presence and in practice, absent in our private language and public discourse.

The extraordinary message of President Obama in Egypt this past week was a honest attempt to heal wounds and lay the groundwork for peace in our world. That he went to Egypt and addressed Muslims in that forum was an act of compassion. That they would receive and hear our President is an act of compassion. This compassion could not be actualized without mercy, grace, love and justice. We may not always agree with every decision the President makes, but one thing we can say is that there is a tone of grace in his demeanor, a compassion for those who are suffering.

Whatever we say and believe about God, without his mercy, grace, love and justice, we are not practicing justice and peace.  And if we are true believers of God and practice a faith that affirms and demonstrates his presence in our lives, we cannot authentically achieve this without mercy, grace, justice and love. These four attributes, which make for genuine peace in our world, are lived out in relation to ourselves, those we love as well as to strangers and enemies.

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall see God. We see God when we practice God.

So If you want peace, work for justice.
If you want peace, have mercy.
If you want peace, manifest grace.
If you want peace, demonstrate love.
If you want peace show compassion.

Remember now, the requirement is not only to demonstrate these things in relation to people with whom we already have peace, but also people who may be our enemies.

Simple things like what we say and how we listen to others can help establish justice and peace in our world. And if we are to have peace with others we must learn to listen to them in accordance to their needs rather than just our own needs. Try that one day. No peace at home? In conflict or dispute, remove your personal feelings and try to listen to what the other is saying from his or her needs. Refrain from implying wrongness. Refrain from attacking the person personally. Refrain from using language that denigrates and demonizes the other. Listen from the standpoint of the needs of that person and not just your own. If two people do this together, they can create a sense of justice in that they are both heard. Both needs can be met and peace can be achieved. Continuing conflict occurs when people feel they are not heard or understood; that their concerns are being ignored, thus they come away from the experience feeling unjustly treated.

“Peace also means that the greatest relationships are those where your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.”

Peace means refraining from denigrating, demeaning language and labels that demonizes them and dehumanizes them. If we are to have peace especially with our enemies we must first choose language that will humanize them as we have humanized ourselves and not language that demonizes them and puts horns on them. Humanize your enemy and let your enemy humanize you. This is lesson of nonviolence. We must see our enemies not as wholly different than we so as to justify our annihilation of them,, but as people wholly like us. It is what Marshall Rosenberg calls using the language of the Giraffe which is the language of the heart, for the Giraffe has the biggest heart instead of the language of the jackal which is the demeaning language of demand.

The child says “I don’t feel like taking out the trash when my parents call me lazy and irresponsible.” Do you feel like doing your homework when you are told that you are dumb and stupid? The philosopher Plato says, mislogos spawns misanthropos and the reverse. Conflict is often instigated by language; You this or you that? You did this or you did that? You are not this or you are not that? Such language inspires defensiveness, division and more conflict. My concern is what you have done to me rather than what we have done to each other, how we can overcome, heal and live with each other.

Ken Sande is correct in observing that in resolving conflict, we must learn to describe a persons behavior and how it has made us feel, rather than attacking the person and calling him or her names. By describing the behavior, it gives the other person a way out and a chance to explain the behavior. But when we attack the person we cause him or her to hunker down, go into a shell and come out swinging because he or she is under attack. And what ensues is more conflict, more violence, more injustice and no peace.

If we are to have peace in our world, we must use the language of the heart. We must sit where our enemies sit and feel what they feel and see what they see. In conflict, when you direct your feelings to what your adversary is feeling rather than what you are feeling you can have compassion and remove yourself from being demoralized by them.

“Peace is daily, weekly, monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers and quietly building new structures.” JFK

I spoke a few moments ago about the forum we had on Gaza. The success of that forum was established by the fact that each person was allowed to share without interruption his or her point of view. They did not agree but agreed to ground rules in sharing those views. This is a good step toward peace; acts of mutual civility; allowing the other to be heard, for the need to be heard and understood is a core value in the realization of peace and justice in our world. This is not naive. We do not dismiss the pain and injustice that people feel. It only means listening to their concerns, feeling their pain and finding ways that true healing can occur.

Why do people cry out?  Because they are not heard? Why do people protest?  Because it is a way of crying out to be heard. Who will listen to me? Who will care enough for me to listen to me. By listening I am saying to you that you are important to me. If we are in conflict with each other, can I care enough for you to listen to you and can you care enough for me to listen to me. An act of justice. An act of peace.

The establishment of Israel was an outgrowth of the holocaust and various injustices against the Jewish people. The establishment of their own homeland was a step in rectifying continuing injustices. In establishing a homeland, people living on that land were displaced and feel unjustly and unfairly treated. True peace will come to the region when Palestinians and Jews can arrive at a solution that is just for both sides. It must be an agreement that is plausible and feasible for both entities and may require an alteration in thinking. But that agreement cannot gloss over the mutual pain and sorrow people feel. There must be bridges to understanding and compassion so that true community can be built among the peoples. This will require acts of faith; acts of moral courage and acts of compassion that work for peace and justice.

Thus in order for true peace to be achieved, they must develop strategies that will consider the needs and concerns of the other, by hearing and responding justly to those concerns will precipitate steps toward true and lasting peace. This cannot occur without mercy, grace, love and justice. This cannot occur without a compassion that considers the needs of the other. This cannot occur without language of the heart. Certainly the Israelis know what the Palestinians are feeling and the Palestinians know what the Israelis are feeling because they themselves have mutually felt the same pain in their glorious but arduous history. This cannot occur without justice for the displaced and oppressed.

This cannot occur without moral courage and the will to peace and reconciliation. Justice and only justice can be achieved. We must move to place beyond labels, beyond wrongs, beyond faults, beyond misdeeds and misdoings, beyond pain, beyond the language of the jackal; beyond injustice, if true peace is to occur.

Thank God for these forums.  Let me tell you my story. Let me tell you my feelings. Let me tell you my hopes and dreams and when I tell you these things, and you tell me your story, we will see that we are so much like each other.

Exodus 23: 1-9 gives us a formula for justice and mercy worthy of practice in daily life. Do not spread false reports.  Do not help a wicked man by being a malicious witness.  Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong.  Do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd. Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Distribute justice fairly to poor and rich alike. Do not put an innocent person to death. If you enemy’s ox wanders off be sure to return it to him. Do not accept a bribe. Do not oppress an alien. Do not oppress a widow or an orphan.

If you want peace work for justice. If you want justice practice peace. If you want peace live justice in every realm of your life. Do not decry injustice in public when you oppress in private. If you want peace, practice, mercy, grace, love and justice. If you want justice, practice, mercy, grace, love and peace.

God does not forget the victims of injustice.
God will not forget the victims of injustice.
God’s character ensures that justice will always win out in due time.


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