Welcome. Welcome back. Welcome for the first time. Here we have indeed gathered side by side. And today, today the ever-broadening circle of kinship that we seek has never been more needed nor in all honesty seemed more distant. A true circle of kinship, where we embrace each other as human beings, without regard to race, gender, politics, nationality, spirituality: how on earth do we help people to get there? In these times of such stress, how do we stay on course ourselves?
So much is happening, so much flying at us all at once from so many directions, it can be overwhelming. Politics. Racism. Rampant hatred and fear. Hurricanes one after another. The western third of the U.S. on fire. Southeast Asia suffering monster monsoons with thousands dead and millions, millions homeless. So many need help. Too many. What do we do? What can we do? What’s possible? A circle of kinship? It seems so distant.
There is always the turtle approach, and right now I must admit it can be pretty tempting. Just pull our heads in and try to wait it all out. But if we want to stay engaged, if we believe in staying engaged … where do we turn?
We can search for answers, but frankly I don’t think there are any. Certainly there is no one silver bullet that will solve everything. For me then, our quest should be for guidance, not answers. Guidance. If we can’t solve this mess, this spiritually debilitating mess, then perhaps, with guidance, we can at least find a way to navigate this storm. That’s what I’d like us to consider this morning. A guiding star. Not answers, but a guiding star. Justice.
Certainly our varying spiritual paths have repeatedly pointed us toward justice. Just a few examples:
From the Baha’i: “Justice is not limited, it is a universal quality. Its operation must be carried out in all classes, from the highest to the lowest. Justice must be sacred, and the rights of all the people must be considered.”
From Islam: “Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin … and if you distort justice or decline to do justice, verily God is well-acquainted with all that you do.”
And from the Judeo/Christian tradition: “Thus saith the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor he who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the stranger, the fatherless, or the widow, nor shed innocent blood.”
So. Is justice an end? Should justice be our goal? If so, in this much too human world, can we ever truly achieve it?
But what if we look at justice not a goal but as a guide? What would life look like if we let justice guide us in our decisions as we live our lives? I think this is what our varying spiritual paths have been trying to share with us over the centuries … indeed over the millennia.
Justice as a guiding star, a course heading. What might that look like? Let’s do some imagining.
While I haven’t seen this summer’s blockbuster “Dunkirk,” I remember well learning of it as a child. In short, well over 300,000 Allied troops were trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk and about to be wiped out by Hitler’s advancing forces. The British navy had no way to evacuate the soldiers. And yet, they were evacuated because people in yachts, sailboats, tugboats, rowboats, anyone on anything that could float was sent across the English Channel to aid them. And while many died on the beaches of Dunkirk, most of the over 300,000 soldiers were saved, brought back to England to fight another day.
Now imagine this. Imagine a huge argument taking place on the English shores, not at Dunkirk, but in England, before the ships are ever launched into the channel. Imagine the people in tugboats telling the people in rowboats, “You’re the wrong size. You don’t even have a motor. You’re worthless. Go home.” Then imagine the people in yachts telling those in tugboats, “Your boats are too ugly. You can’t even serve cocktails to the people you rescue. You’re worthless. Go home.” Then imagine people in motor boats telling the people in yachts, “You upper class snobs! What do you know about saving anyone? You’re worthless. Go home.” Imagine no one being rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk because everyone stayed in England arguing over who had the right boats?
I hope this sounds insane, but I mention it because much too often it seems to me this is precisely what we do when we discuss our spiritual paths, let alone our ideology – doctrine becomes our course heading instead of justice. Thus, getting back to the question of “What can we do?” it seems to me that a huge part of our job as Interfaithers is to remind others, and ourselves, that it’s not the boat that counts. It’s not the size of the boat, how attractive the boat is, or whether it moves by wind-power, paddle-power, or engine-power. What counts is getting there, and to get “there” we have to set a course.
Wait a minute, you might ask, “where is ‘there?’” Now this is just one sermon, and I want to admit we’ll be discussing merely one “there” out of many life-goal possibilities. But the “there” I want to talk about is the one that so deeply concerns us as human beings: a meaningful life.
And so we are back to the question we began with: how do we get there? For me, I believe our spiritual paths have from the beginning been trying to point us to a star that can guide us to a meaningful life; a star that can guide us even in the stormiest of times, times like those we face today. No matter how black or bleak the night, seek the star of justice.
Now again, this isn’t the only star in the heavens. Love is there. Compassion. Humility. But today I would ask us to focus on justice as a guiding star. Seek, if you will, a life of love, guided by the star of justice.
Ok. Do justice. Be just. Sounds good. So why isn’t justice our goal? I see justice as a star because I look to justice to guide my actions. I believe that as we pursue our varying goals in life, we are best guided by that star. And if our goal, whatever it may be, takes us away from that guiding star of justice, I believe we are headed for the rocks – even if the goal seems beautiful and desired. Without justice we are heading for the rocks. I believe this to be every bit as true for a country, a people, a spiritual path as it is for each of us as individual human beings.
And if the star of justice cannot guide us to the goal we seek, perhaps we need to reconsider our goals.
And there is another important aspect to this metaphor of justice as our guiding star. As you may have noticed, it’s hard to escape it, we’re all human. All of us! As human beings, the question is not will we make mistakes. The question is never will we make mistakes. The crucial question is, when we make a mistake: what then?
I believe that like the mariners of old who after a storm that has blown them way off course look to the stars to figure out how to get back on course, we can look to the star of justice. For a meaningful life, seek the guiding star of justice. That to me is the great life-lesson: to steer our lives by the star of justice as we search for the kinship we so desire. And when, not if but when we are blown off course by circumstance or our own fallibility, to seek out the star of justice and let it guide us back.
Which brings us back to Dunkirk, if you will. Ask not the size or the color of the boat. Your boat may be that of the Baha’i, or Islam, or Buddhism, or Humanism, or Paganism, or Judaism, or Christianity; your boat may be that of Syria, or Yemen, of France, or Germany, or the United States, or Russia, or China, or Japan; your boat may be a yacht, or an ocean liner, or a kayak, or a creaky old raft. What counts is that we stop staying on the shore, arguing over whose boat is best, but launch our boat, whatever boat we may have and then … and then brothers and sisters, steer by the star of justice.
I hope this makes sense. I very much wanted to talk about it today because in these intensely stormy times, both metaphorically and literally, the stars of fear and hate and doctrine seem to be guiding far too many of us.
Again paraphrasing the words of the Rabbi we quoted earlier: On these three things the world stands. On justice, truth and peace.
What then are we seeking to establish here at Living Interfaith? A safe harbor in stormy times. A circle of kinship that others might emulate if they wish. How do we propose to stay on this course we have set? By following the star of justice. Let us continue to follow that star, even in the storm. Let us be an example of calm in that storm. Let us help each other. Let us be there for each other, as we are there for others in our community.
This we can do.