by Ken Nafziger
This spring, the MCC Washington Office invites congregations to pray, reflect and act on the theme “Let justice roll down: Trade for the common good.” The suggested Sunday is April 25.
Living in the presence of a prophet is not necessarily comforting. Reminders and warnings come, not as judgments with which one can argue, but as corrections to the course. The voice of the prophet reminds all who hear that when justice is not done, change is necessary.
Words of the Prophet Amos have been selected as the biblical roots for this Sunday designated to focus on trade issues. “Seek me and live,” God says through the Prophet. “The one who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning, and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the Lord is his name.”
“Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you…hate evil and love good, establish justice in the gate,” Amos said. And, calling the people back from a shallow and hollow perversion of a godly life, he said, “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
With reference to the many issues related to trade, we can find in Amos’ words ample reason to pray for those who suffer for trade-related reasons and those who cause the suffering. Everyone of us needs constant reminding that the place where justice rolls down like waters, and where righteousness is an ever-flowing stream is where all of God’s people dwell securely.
The lectionary readings for this, the Fourth Sunday of the Easter season, include Psalm 23 and verses from Revelation 7 (9-17) that speak of a full table spread, no more hunger, and a state of bliss. In other readings for the Easter season, there are powerful and lavish food images: the reading from Isaiah 25 and the memorable seaside breakfast the post-Easter Jesus serves to his disciples, for example.
Alongside these post-Easter food images, it is good to remember these words from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1967 Christmas sermon on peace:
Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that’s handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that’s given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that’s poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that’s poured into your cup by a Chinese [farmer]. Or maybe you’re desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that’s poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that’s given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world.
The service would begin with a breakfast (or brunch) honoring the interdependence with which we begin our day.
- the aromas of the food being prepared
- a spoken acknowledgement of the source of each of the foods being served
- a rousing hymn of thanks, Be present at our table, Lord (HWB 457)
- and maybe an additional hymn, the Haitian song Vin pran, vin pran/Come, take eat (STS 46)
[a note about the menu: For some weeks prior to this breakfast, invite homes in the congregation to track the sources of what they have for breakfast. From this information, a menu can be planned. Where things come from, and the fairness with which growers or producers are treated should determine the menu. Local and fair trade items should be considered.]
STS 190 People of God… (a responsive reading)
HWB 6 Here in this place
HWB 16 God is here among us
HWB 21 All praise to our redeeming Lord
HWB 90 For the fruit of all creation
HWB 170 The King of love my shepherd is
HWB 299 New earth, heavens new
HWB 391 God, whose farm is all creation
HWB 519 Shepherd me, O God
STJ 16 Praise with joy the world’s Creator
STJ 65 Let justice flow like streams
Psalm 146 (the refrain Hush, hush, hallelujah, hallelujah! from HWB 77 can be used as a sung response.)
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise you, Lord, as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
You set the prisoners free;
you open the eyes of the blind.
You lift up those who are bowed down;
you love the righteous.
You watch over the strangers;
you uphold the orphan and the widow:
the way of the wicked ends in ruin.
The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!
[With this emphasis on trade issues, one might use this time of confession to explore imbalances that exist. The rubric here might be ‘making the ephah small and the shekel great,’ from Amos 8.5. With a little direction and imagination, some of the young people of the congregation could turn the web page, Rigged Rules at www.maketradefair.com into an interesting and informative, quasi-dramatic presentation. This interactive page clarifies such issues as dumping, market access, forced liberalization, labor rights and regional trade agreements. Research into how these rules affect one or several of the countries represented at breakfast this morning would make the information even more accessible. Find stories whenever possible.]
STJ 128 God of the weak and the wounded…
[People should be given time to read these words before they speak them. They are heavy words; they should not be spoken lightly. One might assign the people’s part to four separate readers, allowing silence between each of the confessions. Everyone could then join on the final two lines of the prayer. However it’s used, it should be given plenty of time and space and silence.]
STS 33 Let justice roll like a river
[There are stories to be found online, or in the experiences of members of your congregation that can be re-told as expressions of thanksgiving for lives that have been lived comfortably in spite of trade difficulties, or of communities and/or groups that worked together to make lives better and more sustainable for others. To have work with dignity and respect is a shared aim across ages and cultures and livelihoods. I might end this section of story and thanksgivings with this Litany of Gratitude:]
The harvest will be an attitude, not a time of year.
And maybe I’ll be wise enough to feel a sort of litany of gratitude:
For seeds – that, like memories and minds,
keep in themselves the recollection of what they were
and the power to become something more than they are. . .
For soil – that accumulation of lives piled up by death
that gives new life. . .
For the justice of the earth – that gave me
about as many weeds and wilt and scab and bugs as vegetables
but, in the end, gave me enough for what I need. . .
For hands – those miracles on the ends of my arms
that let me tend my vegetables and pull my weeds,
and for mind enough to know the difference between the two. . .
For calluses – life’s defense against that softness
that makes survival difficult. . .
For the ability to work and the will to work
and the work to do,
and the time to do it in. . .
And, finally, for that sense of kinship to it all,
that unity that is the basis of faith. . . .”
Max Coots, Minister Emeritus, Unitarian-Universalist Church, Canton, N.Y.
[A special offering today might be taken to support an organization that works on behalf of Christians to bring about fair trade practices.]
HWB 750 Gracious God, we thank you… (a prayer to be read in unison)
[When people leave the worship service today, it is important to carry with them a thoughtful awareness of the issue, a sense of the inter-connectedness of the human family, the centrality of the work of Jesus and our work with him to bring justice where none is, and our participation in a system that has grown to unbearable proportions for some. I would lengthen this part of the service to include reading and singing together, sharing silences, and hearing words of hope and promise. Here are readings and songs one might draw from to plan a sending section:]
HWB 732 Liberating God, your Son taught us to pray…
STJ 131 Merciful God, we have not loved…
STS 173 Here we are, God – a planet at prayer…
HWB 367 For the healing of the nations
HWB 369 Lord, whose love in humble service
HWB 541 How clear is our vocation, Lord
STJ 2 Hamba nathi/Come, walk with us
STJ 13 My soul is filled with joy
STS 63 Herr, füll mich neu/God, fill me now
STS 114 God has chosen me
STS 115 Beauty for brokenness
STS 124 My soul cries out
closing words adapted from Amos 8.11-15 and Revelation 7.15-17:
God says, I will raise up what is fallen,
and repair the breaches,
and rebuild it as in the days of old.
The time is surely coming
when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps,
and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and all the hills shall flow with it.
I will restore the fortunes of my people;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
They worship God day and night,
and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more,
and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
an he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
STJ 157 Go into the world…
HWB 226 You are salt for the earth, O people
(abbreviations: HWB: Hymnal: A Worship Book; STJ: Sing the Journey; STS: Sing the Story)
Ken Nafziger is professor of music at Eastern Mennonite University and is on sabbatical this semester in the MCC Washington Office