October 24: United Nations Day
Gospel Text for the Revised Common Lectionary for Oct. 26 United Nations Sunday – closest to United Nations Day, Oct. 24 – is Matthew 22:34-46
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
2008 is the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Recently the ecumenical community at the Church Center for the United Nations held a week of worship and preaching around the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the U.N. community. The goal of the gathering was to build resources to be used in Bible study, preaching and liturgies at local churches wishing to look at anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
While most of those who preached during the week spoke about the indivisibility of the declaration, justice and their own faith understandings, I realized something different. Growing up in the U.S. middle-class, upper-middle-class Episcopal church, I barely heard the word justice, much less anything about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I heard the word Christ, the word light, the word love, certainly, but I do not seem to remember the word justice.
It wasn’t until I went to El Salvador when I was in my 30s and attending seminary that I had enacted in front of me the hopes and actions of justice.
While visiting that country a year after the peace accords were signed in 1981, we listened to many persons whose loved ones had been killed, who had to kill or be killed, who were raped, silenced, who yearned for a life of hope for their families. These persons were deeply and powerfully committed to a life of hope in action for the sake of building their beloved country into a nation with just processes for themselves and their posterity. Their love for their people, their way of life, their families and their communities was powerful to see. Love of country, love of family, love of neighbors, love of community were in evidence in the hopes, the work, the dreams of a people for a just El Salvador.
It was during this time that I began to recognize the powerful indelible link between love and justice. I could not be a lover of the Gospel, a lover of God, a lover of the world unless I witnessed, stood by and refused a world of injustice, and then worked hard to enact a world of justice.
We talk a lot about love in the Christian Church. We talk a lot about loving God and loving neighbor. Sometimes the word justice is raised. Many times, it is not.
My question: Is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as a document about just processes and systems, a document that actually instructs us about what love looks like within society? If it is, why do we not use it more in our churches? What might we learn? What might we find important about love if we did such a thing?
I believe looking at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a way to see love would provoke us to more rigorously define love. It would help us go beyond mere sentimentality or charity, or romantic notions of love into the love that God had hoped – that each has housing, clothing and food on their tables; that each would have a fair process for accusation; that each would have a fair process for “belonging” to nation, to state; that each would be able to determine what is right and what is wrong.
If we did such a thing, perhaps even the martyred understandings of love – those understandings of love that say “suffering abuse is love, would disappear. If we did such a thing, perhaps we would even be challenged to more rigorous understandings of the absolute imperative of just social, political and economic structures to the command that we “love our neighbor as ourselves.”
*The Rev. Kathleen Stone is the chaplain at the Church Center for the United Nations, part of the Women’s Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.