Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Story of God | Exploring God's Justice for the World

A Genesis-Through-Revelation Exploration of God's Justice for People and the World

I often think about the disciples on the way to Emmaus. When they were blind to Jesus, he explained 'all the Scriptures.' Too often we don't look at all the Scripture, all of life, and God's comprehensive intentions of not leaving any corner of the earth untouched by his love." Jesus is with us on this road, just as he was with the disciples, and by his Spirit he will provide everything we need to know and understand the interconnected story of Scripture more deeply, to love the world and those in it, and to join him in all he is doing in this world. As we wade into the murky waters of injustice, corruption, and violence, we need to know God's Word in such a way that we are buttressed by its truth in the face of darkness and lies. We need to be immersed in the story of Scripture to see more and more of the God who is leading us and calling us as we follow him beyond the borders of what we know. If we ask God to help us better know the entire story of Scripture, God will show us not only his consistent concern for justice but also his consistent calling to his people to seek justice in the world.  
+ Ruth Padilla Deborst, pg. 16 in The Justice Calling

If you've read up on Emmaus City Church, you have most likely seen or heard that we enjoy learning the Story of God found in the Scriptures. Each human on this earth is a story-formed person. What does that mean? It means some greater story will shape our life, whether it's we only have one life to live and then we die and that's it; or we have many lives to live through reincarnation so if we don't get this one right we'll come back; or there may be some God or truth out there but we can never really know or choose the right way or religion so it's a free-for-all based on preference; or  there is a God who pursues us and comes to us by grace to offer redemption and restoration. Within these stories we find not only our identity, but also an abundance of purpose(s) for life. In The Justice Calling, authors Bethany Hanke Hoang and Kristen Deede Johnson, provide a narrative of all of the Scriptures in what they entitle, "The Whole Story: A Rendering for Reflection" that I am going to provide below, broken into the sections from Emmaus City's symbolic rendering of The Story of God: Creation, Crisis, Covenant, Christ, Church, (New) Creation.

The Whole Story  A Rendering of God's Justice from the Scriptures for Reflection

(1) Creation

God created the world and everything in it with the intention that humans, animals, and the rest of the created world would flourish as they lived together in mutual harmony, justice, and delight. God's vision for the flourishing of all that he has made is a reflection of God's own character of justice, righteousness, and steadfast love. 

The original biblical word for this flourishing is shalom. Shalom is often translated "peace," but it describes a reality much larger and deeper than the absence of conflict or a pleasant state of mind. The word shalom and its biblical counterparts express a holistic vision of the vitality of all of creation  from seed-bearing plants and trees on the land to the fish of the sea, the birds of the airs, the beasts of the field, and human beings. God created humans to live in loving union and harmony with him and to care for one another and the rest of creation in keeping with this shalom vision. God called humans to undertake this stewardship in ways that reflected God's own way of justice, righteousness, and love.

(2) Crisis

Instead of trusting God and remaining in loving union with him, the first humans questioned whether God's commands were intended for their flourishing and made the choice to disobey him. This rupture in the trust and union between God and humans resulted in what we have come to call "the fall" (or crisis) of humanity, a reality with far-reaching ramifications. The fall resulted in disunity between God and the humans he had made, between humans themselves, within each human, and between humans and the rest of the created world. This was the case not only for those first humans but also for all their subsequent kin. God's creation was no longer a place that expressed the fullness of the justice, righteousness, and shalom for which it was intended.

(3) Covenant People

Despite the significance of the fall, God in his loving faithfulness did not abandon his original desire for union with his people and for the flourishing of humans and creation within a harmonious order. God made a covenant relationship with the people of Israel, graciously calling them to live in union with him. In calling Israel to be his holy people, God set Israel apart by their relationship with him and by the way he called them to live, exhibiting justice and righteousness in this world. God provided guidelines and laws for the Israelites to create a society in which they could live in union with God, one another, and the (still fallen) created world in ways that continued to reflect God's own heart for and character of justice, righteousness, and love.

The law given by God made provisions for the ramifications of human sin so that the Israelites could worship God and care for all in their midst, so that everyone could flourish, and so that their kingdom could be a place of refuge and shalom. As the people of Israel lived with justice and righteousness, as they looked after each person in their midst and tended the creation and institutions entrusted them, God intended that they would be a witness to other nations of God's own love, righteousness, and justice. However, in their fallen state, the people of God continually failed to worship God with their whole hearts and love others in the kingdom of Israel. An yet, through the ups and downs of Israel's efforts to live with and reflect justice, righteousness, and shalom, God remained faithful to his people.

(4) Christ

In God's steadfast love he provided his own son, Jesus Christ, who embodied God's justice, righteousness, and shalom in ways that went beyond what anyone could have predicted or imagined. In Christ we can see the fullness of what God intended for his creation and his holy people. Because of what Christ did to set things right through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, we  the people of God  can finally live the way God calls us to as we are invited into and receive God's own justice, righteousness, and shalom, and love through the Holy Spirit.

As both God and man, Jesus was able to live in perfect relationship with God, others, and the created world throughout his life on earth. Through his death, resurrection, and ascension he overcame the consequences of sin on every level. This means that God's kingdom of justice, righteousness, and shalom can and will be made known through Christ. Jesus promised to return to this earth to fully usher in his kingdom, which has already begun but is not yet fully realized in this world.

(5) Church

With Christ as our savior and king, we are invited into a new covenant of restored union with God, one another, and creation. This new covenant ushers in both the kingdom of God and the church  the people of God united to God as his children through his Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The people of God are still called to live as God's holy people in this world in ways that reflect God's own character of justice, righteousness, and love; now that we are united to God through Christ and the Spirit, we receive God's very own justice, righteousness, and love. As we are both justified and sanctified by the saving grace of God in Christ, we are reconciled to God and given the ministry of reconciliation in this world. This is our place in the story now, as we live by the grace of God and in anticipation of Christ's return: through the Spirit, we join in Jesus's ongoing kingdom mission in this world, bearing witness to the justice, righteousness, and reconciling love of God in Christ and anticipating the fullness of God's kingdom when all will be made new. 

(6) New Creation

As we look to the end of the biblical story (which is only the beginning of all things being made new), we remember that Jesus Christ will fully usher in his kingdom of justice and righteousness in the age to come and how this invites us to be a people of persevering hope as we pursue our callings in the midst of injustice.

I pray for for each person God calls to be part of Emmaus City in following Jesus in Worcester that we would have the privilege to seek His calling in our city in the areas of systemic poverty, prejudice, racism, trafficking, mass incarceration, etc., and respond to Him in love, faith, and obedience as we become more like Jesus together, the embodiment of a just community in a world longing for it at every turn.

+ Pastor Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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