Women's World Day of Prayer 2012

Bishop JanaAddress given at Leicester University Chaplaincy, March 2 2012

by Bishop Jana Jeruma-Grinberga, the first woman Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Great Britain, on the theme: LET JUSTICE PREVAIL.

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

What a marvellous thing the Women’s World Day of Prayer is! Quite apart from the opportunity to wrap the world in prayer for 36 hours (as we sing in the WWDP hymn, As o’er each continent and island the dawn leads on another day, the voice of prayer is never silent, nor dies the strain of praise away – such a glorious image of a continuous voice of prayer, never silent, never losing heart; and this year praying for justice to be granted). That is, in itself, marvellous, and truly something to celebrate. But in addition, each year gives us an opportunity to get to know a new place and culture; to hear about and pray for people in places throughout our world. Thank you, and thank the good women of the WWDP movement, for all the fascinating background information, the hard work and research in depth that goes to produce the WWDP materials each year. Malaysia this year: and the issues that we are presented with here are multi – multiple, multilayered, multifocal; such a complex of issues, challenges, hurts and joys.

·         ethnic diversity, with the possibility both of conflict and of tolerance and growth

·         religious diversity  and discrimination against Christians

·         corruption

·         abuses of human rights

·         discrimination against women

·         although not emphasised in the service, a threat to the glorious biodiversity and tropical lushness of the area

The problem is that sometimes, faced with problems that do have so many facets and layers, it is too easy to get discouraged, to feel that actually we can’t make a difference to these complicated issues, partly because they are complicated, and partly because there are so many of them. How to grasp this? How can we – as individuals, or even as groups of people gathered together, hope to even tackle one thing, let alone all of them? It’s a little like the hydra, that mythical creature – for each head you manage to cut off, two more re-grow.

And yet, the Gospel reading we heard tonight (Luke 18: 1-8 - see below*) tells us that Jesus wants us to pray always and not lose heart; and that persistent prayer, justice and faith are bound up together.

The point is this: in our headline prayer tonight we are saying let justice prevail. We are not just asking for a particular single issue to be resolved, for women to be given equal wages for instance, but we are daring to ask for justice. Our societies have, for very good reasons, emphasised the importance of human rights; and that has made an enormous difference to our world, liberating Dalits in India, offering equal pay for equal work, votes for all, democratic systems and all the rest of it. But justice is a much greater concept than merely human rights, important as they are. As Christians (and indeed this would be true of Jews and Muslims, too) we believe that God is the source of justice; that God’s nature is always to be just; that we cannot measure the justice of God by any human measure, because God’s essence and God’s action define what justice is. So God created human beings in God’s own image, male and female he created them; and for that reason humans, creatures of God’s image, both men and women, have rights and must be treated equally as children of their Creator.  But, as reflections, however marred, of God’s image, women and men  should also behave in ways that are reflective of God’s justice and that mediate justice to the world that we live in. That includes justice in all its varieties: gender justice, food justice, poverty, political and economic justice and all the rest of the ways in which our societies live. To quote Nicholas Sagovsky, “There is justice in the world because God acts justly”.

So, for instance, the UK has in place a lot of legislation that deals with discrimination: and a nation or a society can make laws against all sorts of unfairness – on the basis of colour, of race, of religion and sex and age; but that is like painting by numbers to create a picture of justice. What is actually needed is to understand that we should see all people, every single child of God as deserving of justice, not of prejudice or discrimination. Otherwise the risk is somewhat that we read the laws – we mustn’t discriminate against this group or that because the law of the land says so; but if it doesn’t say that we mustn’t discriminate against redheads, or people from Birmingham, or people less than 5’6” tall, then that must be OK. No!

Of course this is a huge thing to pray for; that justice, not just human rights or fairness, should prevail, and of course, our prayers may sometimes seem to be unheard and futile. What should keep us praying?

1.      Jesus tells us to! In this parable of the widow – the powerless and the marginalised woman – Luke says he is telling us to pray and not to lose heart.

2.      While the world we live in all too often does not act justly at all, we know that God, our God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of our imperfect and blemished world, is just and righteous, sustaining our prayers and our efforts to achieve justice for the weak, the dispossessed, the vulnerable and the voiceless

3.      Injustice is everywhere; we as Christians are obliged to work for its overthrow, and for justice, mercy, grace and peace to reign. How we do this will depend on our own situations; but both churches as bodies, and each of us as individuals are part of the struggle for freedom and justice, whether we like it or not. We are made free by our membership of the Body of Christ, by the submission of Jesus to the ultimate injustice of the crucifixion; and in our gratitude for our liberation, made through God’s grace and his loving mercy, we do what we can to make God’s justice known, and real and living. In Leicester, in London, in Penang and Kuala Lumpur.

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* RELATED READINGS FROM THE SERVICE

Luke 18:1-8

18 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” ’ 6 And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’

Habakkuk 1:2-5

2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,  and you will not listen?  Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?
3 Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.
4 So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous — therefore judgement comes forth perverted.
5 Look at the nations, and see! Be astonished! Be astounded! or a work is being done in your days that you would not believe if you were told.

 Habakkuk 3:2

2 O Lord, I have heard of your renown, and I stand in awe, O Lord, of your work. In our own time revive it; in our own time make it known; in wrath may you remember mercy.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

17 Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights.

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