This article is James Childs' address from February 4, 1998,
when he was installed in the newly established Sittler
Copyright © 1998 TRINITY SEMINARY REVIEW, Trinity Seminary.
Used with permission.
From Trinity Seminary Review, Number 20, Spring/Summer
 I am keenly aware that whatever shine is on me is that of
reflected glory and borrowed eminence: from the late Joseph
Sittler, my teacher, friend and mentor and from our guest speaker
Dr. Martin Marty, a recipient of our Sittler award for theological
leadership and of virtually every other award and accolade accorded
 Dr. Marty's participation is a bonus for us all and a
fitting tribute to Joseph Sittler, whose memory deserves more
theological stature than I can provide. I am deeply grateful for
the rich legacy of Joe Sittler and for the wisdom and theological
insight that is ever present in the incredibly prolific work of
Martin Marty. Most of all, I give thanks and draw strength from the
fact that these two men, among the most eloquent and discerning
Lutheran theologians of our century, have been so completely
faithful to the Gospel and so deeply involved in the life and
mission of the church.
 This presentation builds on thoughts and themes that have
developed in my thirty years as a teaching theologian and as an
author. However, it also charts some new territory, which I hope
will be the basis for future work. Though the paper is not about
Joseph Sittler and his theology, I hope it has resonance with some
of his key themes. I want to be in conversation with him as I
attempt to work out my own modest contribution. In this respect,
the focus on preaching feels right, for Joe was certainly, if not
preeminently a preacher who loved his colleagues in that ministry.
The topic of justice recalls his emphasis on seeing the scope of
grace as larger than individual salvation. It echoes Sittler's
strong statement that, "Justice is not an invented and imposed
virtue; it is a precondition for human life." Our theme connects with
his understanding that the ethical vocation of God's people is the
reenactment of God's acts of love and justice. Other points of contact
will emerge as we proceed. To be sure that happens, I have
liberally seasoned this stew with occasional insights and comments
from the speeches and writings of Joseph Sittler.
 As a Lutheran theologian addressing an aspect of preaching,
I operate with certain basic assumptions. First of all, preaching
that is faithful to our calling will be, to use a favorite Sittler
term, "drenched" in the biblical witness. Secondly, faithful
preaching will throb with the pulse of the Law-Gospel dynamic. I
hope, then, that as we proceed, it will be evident that the ethical
vocation of preaching justice is deeply rooted in the traditions of
Scripture and at its truest when mediated by the interplay of Law
and Gospel. I offer five propositions for your consideration. The
first two are foundational. The second two are topical. The final
one is methodological.
 1. Preaching justice is at the core of the church's
"It is the nature of the gospel of redemption that all space,
all personal relationships, all structures of society are the field
of its energy. The gospel of the Word of God made flesh . . . the
thrust of the redemptive action of God is into the structure of
mankind, society, the family, and all economic orders" (The
Structure of Christian Ethics).
 This proposition reflects a recurrent theme and a
foundational principle of my teaching and published work. Still, it
deserves to be reiterated, especially among Lutherans, because it
is not an understanding that all would be ready to embrace in
principle or in practice. Put another way, the difficulty of
clearly seeing the coinherence of justice and justification has
retained a tenacious hold on our theology and preaching.
 Joseph Sittler's concern to see the scope of grace as larger
than the salvation of the individual led him to a Christology and a
doctrine of grace vast enough to encompass concern for the
redemption of society and the whole of nature. This is already
evident in the quote given above and it finds further elaboration
in his famous address to the World Council of Churches Assembly in
New Delhi (1961). He argued then:
The way forward is from Christology expanded to its cosmic
dimensions, made passionate by the pathos of this threatened earth,
and made ethical by the love and the wrath of God. . . The care of
the earth, the realm of nature as a theater of grace, the ordering
of the thick, material procedures that make available or deprive
men of bread and peace - these are Christological obediences before
they are practical necessities.
 In seeing that our Christological obediences involve justice
for the earth and for the human community inextricably linked to
it, Sittler was out ahead of much of the theology that had shaped
Lutheranism up to that time. Christology and soteriology had had as
their referent the salvation of the individual believer with no
apparent relevance to the concerns of justice in human community
such as equality, freedom, peace, and wholeness. Justice was
relegated to the murky precincts of the civil use of the law and
the rather untidy activities of political life in a fallen world.
This outlook is typified by Christian Ernst Luthardt's influential
nineteenth-century essay on Luther's ethics. In connection with
Luther's two kingdoms doctrine, he wrote:
To begin with, the Gospel has absolutely nothing to do with
outward existence but only with eternal life, not with external
orders and institutions which could come into conflict with the
secular orders but only with the heart and its relationship to God,
with the grace of God, the forgiveness of sins, etc. . . . Thus
Christ's servants, the preachers, likewise have no reason to
espouse these secular matters but are only to preach grace and
forgiveness of sins in the name of Christ.
 Most of us who are the "senior citizens" of Lutheranism, or
nearly so, can testify that some form of this dualistic separation
of the personal and spiritual from the social, political, and
material was a staple of our theological formation. I know I was
the recipient of dire warnings about preaching on matters of
justice rather than sticking with justification. Given the
prevailing theological opinion that the two were unrelated, that
admonition was not surprising. When my generation was coming of age
in ministry, one major study showed a strong conviction among laity
and many clergy that the church, beyond a demand for personal
piety, had no ethical advice to direct the conduct of believers in
 Some of Luther's unguarded statements, such as a notable
one from the essay on "Temporal Authority," certainly contributed
to the development of a dualistic interpretation of his two realms
doctrine. "You have the kingdom of heaven," said Luther,
"therefore, you should leave the kingdom of earth to anyone who
wants to take it." Indeed, the very
formulation of two realms or modes of divine rule was probably
destined, by the sheer inertia of twofold formulations, to have a
dualistic spin placed upon it.
 Luther scholars in this century like Karl Holl, Heinrich
Bornkamm, Gustav Wingren, Helmut Thielicke, and George Forell
rescued Luther from himself and from his interpreters and thereby
helped to revitalize the church's commitment to justice. However,
in our present context, though the stated commitment to justice
still stands, such Enlightenment progeny as the separation of
church and state, secularization, and triumphant individualism have
made a mixed marriage with the quietistic impulses of our
theological tradition to produce new offspring deeply invested in
personal spirituality but having little interest in religious
claims about justice.
 Once again, Joseph Sittler's words are fitting: "We are
tempted to regard God primarily as a God for solitude and privacy
and only secondarily as a God for society. We have a God for my
personal ache and hurt, but no God for the problems of human life
in the great world." This traditional,
individualistic religion is with us in new forms. It has a new
face, but the family resemblance is clear. Notwithstanding the
social activism of organizations like the World Council of Churches
and the social statements of mainline denominations, the preaching
of justice in the parishes where preaching is heard is as urgent a
need as ever. Now as then, justice has been a sidebar to the main
text of justification or the spirituality of self-realization.
 Preaching justice will be vital preaching when we clearly
understand that it is at the core of the Christian proclamation of
the gospel. Joseph Sittler tried to broaden the scope of that
gospel promise with a Christology and a doctrine of grace from
whose purview nothing in reality or human experience is excluded. I
have found the strong themes of biblical eschatology which frame
the Bible's vision of justice and the constructive development of
those themes by theologians like Wolfhart Pannenberg and my own
teacher, Carl Braaten, to be most helpful in making the case that
preaching justice is integral to preaching the gospel.
 As the Bible develops its portrait of God's promised
future, sealed by the victory of Christ, we discover a variety of
values that comprise that ultimate good. These values are tightly
intertwined with the aims of temporal justice. These values are the
focus of Christian love as it battles against all that negates them
and strives for all that fulfills them. Love seeking justice in
pursuit of values that are an integral to the gospel promise of
God's reign is bearing witness to that hope; ethics and evangelism
belong together. A few examples should make the point.
 For the prophet Isaiah the reign of God will be one of
unbroken peace (2:2-4) and justice (11:3-5). When Christians engage
in reconciliation at all levels of life, they anticipate the
promise of peace in God's dominion. When in love they concern
themselves with issues of economic justice and equal treatment
under the law, they anticipate the perfect justice of God's reign
that will be beyond the need of coercive law.
 In Christ God has made peace with the world and promised a
world of peace in which hostility and estrangement are supplanted
by community and unity. God has called the eschatological
community, the church, to work at this now (2Cor. 5:19). We do so
in expectation of its coming, even as we eat the meal of the future
in the Eucharist of the present.
 In the reign of God there is equality beyond any
distinctions (Gal. 3:28). When Christians work to break down the
barriers of race, gender, and ethnicity, attacking the "isms" that
exclude and denigrate people because of who they are, they
anticipate this promised equality in the hope of its final
 At key points in his ministry, Jesus identified his person
and work with prophetic expectations for the reign of God. These
expectations include the triumph of life over death, healing of
infirmities, good news for the poor, and the end of oppression
(Matt. 11:4-5; Luke 4:17-21). When Christians uphold the sanctity
of life against all that threatens it, they anticipate the triumph
of life in the reign of God. When Christians not only visit the
sick and comfort the suffering, but seek to alleviate hunger and
actively pursue health care for all, they bear witness to the
health and wholeness of the kingdom foreshadowed in Jesus' healing
works. When Christians identify with the poor and oppose all forms
of oppression, they anticipate the shalom of God's rule where our
final freedom from sin dissolves all oppression in perfect freedom
 In biblical terms, the promise of God's future, revealed
and secured by the Christ, is a promise for the comprehensive
fulfillment of God's intention for the wholeness of the whole
creation. The worldly ethical concerns - concerns of faith active
in love seeking justice - for the spiritual and physical well-being
of individuals, the common good of society, and the care of the
earth point to dimensions of the gospel promise of God's reign. The
church's ethical vocation is the witness of anticipation. As such,
its ethical vocation works in tandem with its evangelical vocation.
In short, preaching justice is at the core of Christian
 2. Preaching justice is not moralizing about
Utopias owe their character and force to the vigor of the
exhortation "see what is possible!" The Christian vision is
fundamentally different; its vision of what is possible is
engendered both by the realities of human existence and the
promises of the God of its faith. . .Its fundamental trust is not
in the allure or energy of the possible (these collapse, wane, and
frustrate) but in the Giver and Promiser who does not abandon what
he has given or renounce his promises. (Grace Notes and Other
 Moralizing does justice neither to the Law nor to the
Gospel. It stirs up guilt without recognizing the depth of human
sin. It utters admonitions which betray too much faith in human
possibility and, therefore leaves us powerless in the end.
Moralizing does justice neither to the Law nor to the Gospel.
Moralizing about justice misses the radicality of God's absolute
demand and absolute judgment as revealed in the Cross. In its
humanistic proclivities, moralizing about justice misses God's
absolute, radical love and mercy, which is the promise of the whole
Christ event. Moralizing about justice leads to despair over
unassuaged guilt or the complacency of denial and self-deception,
not to repentance and not to action.
 Words about God's absolute demand from a remarkable little
Sittler piece called, "The Mad Obedience God Requires," help to
capture what I am trying to say:
Only the absolute demand can sensitize human beings to occasions
for ethical work and energize them toward even relative
achievements. And only such a demand can deliver us, in these
achievements, from complacency and pride, prevent us from making an
identification of human justice with the justice of God. . . . To
live under the absolute demand is the only way, given the human
power of dissimulation and self-deception, to keep life taut with
need, open to God's power, under judgment by his justice,
indeterminately dependent on his love, forgiveness and
 True preaching of justice begins and ends with God's
absolute demand and judgment and begins and ends with God's
absolute grace and mercy. Moralizing about justice begins with an
illusory belief in human potential and ends with the existential
disappointment of human failure.
 It is clearly true that our preaching has seldom been
guilty of overestimating human goodness. In no uncertain terms we
have declared that we are sinners who see the price of our
alienation reflected in the agony and unspeakable brutality of the
cross. However, effective preaching of justice will need to take us
beyond our personal iniquities and beyond using faraway violence
and oppression simply as an instance of human perversity to
illustrate an abstract doctrinal statement about sin. We need to
move to a deepened sense of our own ineluctable complicity and
responsibility - for what has been done and for what has been left
undone - both as individuals and as members of a Christian
community throughout time and space. Helmut Thielicke's poignant
words seem to fit: "So long as we are here below, we are implicated
in innumerable, suprapersonal webs of guilt . . . we are actors in
a thousand plays which we individually have not staged, which we
might wish would never be enacted, but in which we have to appear
and play our parts."
 Effective preaching of justice will look at injustice
through the lens of God's justice. God heard the cries of God's own
people in their captivity in Egypt (Exodus 2:23-24). God called for
a jubilee to reunite impoverished and imprisoned families on the
land they had lost to debt (Lev. 25:8-10), an act to make whole the
broken as radical and unconditional as our justification by grace
alone. God spoke, through the prophet of Isaiah 61, good news to
the poor, the captive, the oppressed and gave that message new and
fullest meaning when it fell from the lips of Jesus (Luke 4:
18-19). In the epistle of James we hear the judgment of God against
the rich who have cheated their employees: "Listen! The wages of
the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud,
cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of
the Lord hosts" (5:4).
 With God, justice begins with the cry of pain and proceeds
with the work of mercy. Too often in our world, our response to the
challenge of justice is not one of mercy but one of calculation;
not a response to the pain, but to the problematic. Thus, we do not
begin with the conviction that all our people in the U.S. should
have health care, including the 33 million that don't; we start by
enumerating all the problems we will encounter in providing it.
Sure, there will be problems, but you deal with them after
the commitment to care has been made. Notwithstanding the
intricacies and genuinely debatable issues of how to craft the
eventual plan, we can certainly preach, without hesitation, that
there ought to be a plan. Moreover, we can give strength
to that conviction and impetus for advocacy among the people of God
by pointing to the evidences of God's mercy.
 If we have failed to preach the full extent of the judgment
of God's justice, we also have often failed to preach the full
scope of God's grace. I reiterate: admonition and prescription
without empowerment leads to self-justification and complacency or
the paralysis of unrelieved guilt - the engine is racing but the
gearshift is stuck in neutral.
 Preaching justice that is not moralizing calls people to do
God's justice in the name of a Gospel that not only forgives, but
makes a new creation fraught with new possibilities. The basis of
our call is that promise, not our own potential. The hope of our
striving is in that promise, not in our own possibilities.
Preaching justice involves doing better than battering people with
what they aren't doing and ought to do; it involves allowing God's
word to stir up their hearts for what, by the grace of God, they
 Similarly, preaching that always goes directly from sin to
justification or from cross to resurrection without ever stopping
off at sanctification or anticipation is missing something of
critical importance. It overlooks the message of the
transfiguration event. Though we have seen the Christ in his glory
on the mountain top, for the time being we must live on the plain.
We have the promise that God's Spirit is with us on that plain,
graciously providing that which we need as individuals and as the
body of Christ to fulfill our calling. The grace of God which
justifies also sanctifies God's people.
 Preaching justice, more than moralizing, proclaims the
power of God's grace to make a people of the new creation and
strengthen them in faith, active in love, seeking justice. St. Paul
was full of admonitions, but he was also always ready to give
thanks for what God had done among the people and assure them of
the gifts they have been given for the calling to which they have
been called. Even in the case of the problematic Corinthians he did
not hesitate to say, "you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as
you await the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also
strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day
of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful. . . ." (1 Cor.
 In preaching justice the imperative and the indicative
coinhere; it comes under the rubric of the still useful phrase,
challenging the people of God: "Be what you are."
 3. Preaching Justice in America means addressing
What I am suggesting is that our church - as no other in
Christendom, an insistor that all things must be understood from
the center of Grace - break that term out of its imprisonment in
sacral and sacramental and too precious spiritual words and
energies and loose it for its light and power in the human world. .
. . It is a grace of God that we should now be troubled by this
anger and bitterness that flings out its voice from men bereft of
full identity in our common humanity. The anguish of hurt is but
God's way of announcing his intended right. ("Inter-Racial
Understanding," an address to the Ohio Synod, May 1964)
 There are many "isms" expressive of the injustices among us
- "isms" that are ideologically hardened and inherently intolerant
and oppressive. All these attitudes and their attendant actions are
the concern of preaching justice. However, racism is such a
virulent presence in our cultural bloodstream that it deserves
special mention and attention.
 Several decades ago, the prominent African American
theologian, James Cone chided the theologians of the white church
for not having taken "the worldly risk" of dealing with the
enduring problem of color. In his judgment this failure was at the
bottom of the fact that America was not producing prominent
theologians. Instead, Cone argued, we were merely writing footnotes
to the Germans, who, in their own contexts had
successfully related theology to social reality. His further remarks on
this subject included this scathing commentary of theological
The seminaries of America are probably the most obvious sign of
the irrelevance of theology to life. Their initiative in responding
to the crisis of black people in America is virtually unnoticeable.
Their curriculum is generally designed for young white men and
women who are preparing to serve all-white churches. . . . Most
seminaries still have no courses in black church history and their
faculties and administrators are largely white. This alone gives
support to the racist assumption that blacksare
 We are all familiar with the explanations one offers as to
why it has been difficult to create needed changes in the situation
Cone described. We are also aware that leaders among persons of
color are not always of one mind about how that change can and
should be effected. However, after all the caveats have been
offered up, it is impossible to escape the central truth of Cone's
analysis and one would also have to admit that, at least among
predominantly white theologians and seminaries, progress has been
painfully slow during the thirty years since those words were
 In some respects, this is not surprising given the deeply
entrenched and sometimes fugitive character of racism in our
society. Even when it seems that we have eliminated some of its
most blatant expressions, like an adroit virus that mutates to
circumvent the latest vaccine, it continues to find new ways of
infecting the bloodstream of our culture. In the first public event
sponsored by Trinity and Capital University's Center for the
Advancement and Study of Ethics, the renowned civil rights
attorney, Derrick Bell, defended the thesis that racism in America
is permanent. Rather than racism being an anomaly on the democratic
landscape of America as Gunnar Myrdal's study, The American
Dilemma, had concluded, Bell maintains that, "Without the
deflecting power of racism, masses of whites would likely wake up
and revolt against the severe disadvantage they suffer in income
and opportunity when compared with those whites at the top of our
 Derrick Bell's claim that whites have bonded over against
blacks to such a degree that they can't make common cause with one
another when they suffer the same economic injustice, may be hard
for some to accept. We have not the time to debate the matter.
However, it is sobering to note that Bell's description of matters
provides a perfect example of what Reinhold Niebuhr called
"tribalism". Tribalism is a name given to the paradoxical and
ironic fact that human beings, despite the obvious marks of their
unity in co-humanity, seem able to recognize a common humanity only
in the unique and distinguishing marks of a tribal "we-group."
Those, "lacking these obvious marks of tribal identity, whether
racial, linguistic, cultural, or religious are treated brutally as
if they were not a part of the human race." America's problem with
race, Niebuhr maintained, is one vivid example of this cruel
 Tribalism as Niebuhr described it appears to run very close
to what Cornel West has called the need for and consumption of
existential capital. Existential capital is what we desire
and require as human beings in terms of belonging and self-esteem.
There is existential capital to be gained from adherence to racist
ideologies; the denigration of the one, through racist attitudes
about appearance, intellect, sexuality, and character, lifts the
self-esteem of the other.
 Bell's thesis that racism is permanent and its close
phenomenal association with endemic tribalism and the racially
permeated drive for existential capital simply serve to punctuate
the assertion that racism remains lodged deep in the soul of
American culture. Thus, we hear Cornel West begin his book
Keeping Faith with these stunning words at the end of the
Preface: "Not since the 1920's have so many black folk been
disappointed and disillusioned with America." For liberal
whites, who devoutly hoped and thought that racism was becoming a
thing of the past, this kind of talk comes as an unwelcome and
disconcerting revelation, often prompting denial or despair.
 However, denial and despair are responses outside life in
the Gospel. Denial and despair are failures of the moralism of
liberal Christianity and its deafness to the profound truth of the
Law-Gospel correlation with its blend of realism and hope. Cornel
West, despite his blunt realism, insists that he is driven by the
love of Christ to continue in hope and to still call for new
alliances and partnerships among people of all races for a more
just society. Credible preaching
of justice that addresses our racism will arise out of
participation in such alliances. This leads us to what we shall
have to settle for as our last point under this proposition.
 In one of his informal discussions with pastors of the
former Ohio Synod (LCA), Joe Sittler observed that all of American
history might be described as a "flight to the suburbs." By this he
meant two things. First, we have fostered the idea that we could
always expand to new frontiers. Opportunity to pursue our
individual ambitions, we believe, is not and should not be limited,
a point relevant to our next proposition. Second, and more to the
present point, it is a way of saying that the overwhelming majority
of the white majority has consistently tried to get away from
people it didn't want to associate with. But, moving away is not
always simply a geographical matter. It is equally a cultural and
intellectual decision. We are back to where we started with James
Cone's critique of theology and theological education.
 Without the intellectual leadership of the African American
thinkers in engendering a more discerning grasp of racism and
without the cultural enrichment of the African American tradition,
our society will not have the understanding requisite to form the
alliances Cornel West calls for in building a truly democratic
multiracial society. If the churches of the white majority turn
their backs on these resources, there will be scant chance of
preaching justice with integrity and keeping faith with the promise
that all are one in Christ Jesus.
 However, our conversation with African American
Christianity offers more than a resource for better understanding
of the race issue. As Joseph Sittler was inspired by the theology
of Eastern Orthodoxy to better understand and express his growing
sense of the expanded scope of grace under the aspect of Christ the
Pantocrator, so we may draw
inspiration and instruction from the African American preaching
tradition. We have only to look at the life and work of Martin
Luther King, Jr. to be reminded that in that tradition, there has
never been divide between salvation and concern for justice.
"Within African American Christianity," says James Evans, "grace
conforms itself to the suffering and shame of the downtrodden, and
grace transforms the quality of life itself, imputing honor in the
midst ofshame." "In the hands of
skillful African American pastors," Robert Franklin observes, "
preaching seeks to empower the powerless by telling the stories of
God's preferential care for the disadvantaged." The empowerment
this preaching gives is the backbone of the political, economic and
civil rights activism so integral to the mission of the Black
 4. Preaching justice means looking at the greed in
our culture through the lens of the divine economy.
Endowed with this magnificent continent, with all the riches and
the possibilities, in three hundred and fifty years we have turned
into a bunch of selfish affluent pigs mostly. The poor are
forgotten, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer . . . [and]
we seldom preach a sermon in which you say Christian faith
engenders a shape of life, a kind of behavior, a way in which you
exercise discipline over your affluence, over your habits.
("Comments on Preaching" Resource Cassette, 1981)
 The story is told of a French winemaker back in the 30's
who lost seventy-five thousand dollars in a speculative venture.
Despite the fact that he was still worth two million, he became so
distraught over this loss that he went down to the local store and
haggled with the merchant over the price of a piece of rope. After
bargaining down to the best price he could get, he then took the
rope home and hung himself. He had the bent of a miser to the
bitter end. This is but one of many stories of the inordinate love
of money in Hirsch Goldberg's The Complete Book of
Greed. They are bizarre and
tragic stories of individual avarice which illustrate the
characterological problem of greed.
 However, greed is not only a matter of personal character.
It is fostered by two features of American cultural orientation
which make the issue of greed an issue of justice. The first of
these is our strong tendency to place the freedom of the individual
ahead of the equality of the many in our social priorities. Whether
wealth interests us or not, we tend to value our freedom to choose
our own course of life more than we value a more equal distribution
of wealth by limiting freedom any more than necessary. The second
is the belief that wealth is virtually always capable of expansion
or growth. We can grant those who wish to amass great wealth the
freedom to do so because belief in the practically unlimited
ability of wealth to expand means that others also have a chance at
greater wealth, if they choose to pursue it. As one news magazine
put it not long ago, "Nowadays there are few voices raised in
challenge to the pursuit of wealth. Americans don't always love the
rich, but they harbor the abiding hope that anybody can become
prosperous." One might nuance that
further by saying that people may not always seek great riches, but
they cherish their freedom to pursue their chosen level of
acquisitiveness without hindrance from morally framed constraints.
It is not so much the size of the wealth as it is the centeredness
of the self.
 The existence of a market economy does not entail either of
these two perspectives and both have a very complex
historical-cultural ancestry. Democratic capitalism is not the
target per se. Nonetheless, these two building blocks of greed have
had a fecund symbiotic relationship with the capitalist tradition.
The result has been a shaping of our cultural attitudes and our
political choices in a way that contributes to serious inequities
begotten of factors other than choice or chance. An unchallenged
individualism of maximized freedom plus an unchallenged belief in
limitless growth comprise the fertile soil of endemic greed.
 This enculturation of greed both stimulates and is aided
and abetted by the tendency for the rules of economic life to
become the rules of life in general. As M. Douglas Meeks has
pointed out, market logic becomes problematic when it pretends to
be the logic governing all relationships and all patterns for the
distribution of social goods. When that happens, justice is skewed
in favor of those who possess the greatest economic power and who
perpetuate the rules of the game.
 In like manner, Hans Küng has recently observed the
danger we currently face ". . . of elevating the sub-system of the
market economy into a total system, so that law, politics,
culture, and religion are subordinated to the economy." In this
scenario, Küng says, ethics "would be sacrificed to power and
money, and be replaced by what gives pleasure." When greed is an
integral part of the order of economic life and the rules of
economic life become the arbiters of all relations and values in
society, there is an inevitable neglect of the common good.
 The church's preaching of justice engages this situation on
three levels: Character formation, cultural critique, and political
- Christian preaching in shaping the character of the people of
God for their public witness knows that the neighbor love Jesus
commanded trumps the self-centered impulses of the prevailing ethos
and points away from a society of self to a society of
- Christian preaching with its holistic vision of God's promised
reign challenges trends toward translating the rich, multivalent
character of human community into the pinching discourse of market
logic, which distorts when it becomes master instead of
- Christian preaching with its incisive understanding of human sin
and finitude will advocate for political measures that curb the
hubris of limitless growth, address the glaring imbalances in
prosperity, and inculcate the sort of corporate stewardship
required for economic justice and global sustainability. In the
Genesis narrative of our creation in the image of God, we receive
the message not only that this image confers special dignity, but
also that we are "image," dependent, finite being. It was the
denial of that limit in the Garden that has introduced the
perduring limitation of human sin.
 Joseph Sittler taught us to respect the integrity and
sustainable limits of our earth long before the rest of us learned
of the necessity to emerge from our anthropocentric cocoons to
engage the whole of the world and rediscover the connection between
nature and grace. Those who have followed in his train now provide
new evidence of the natural limits of finitude and, in the products
of pollution, expressions of the limitations of human sin.
 5. Preaching justice is the voice of Christian
community in dialogue, seeking the will of God.
"My own disinclination to state a theological method is grounded
in the strong conviction that ones does not devise a method and
then dig into the data; one lives with the data; let's their force,
variety, and authenticity generate a sense for what Jean Danielou
calls a 'way of knowing' appropriate to the nature of the data."
(Essays on Nature and Grace)
 If much of what has been said to this point seems more like
an ethical treatise than one on a homiletical topic, it is not
entirely an accident of my discipline. I lift up the ethical
challenge of justice and our call to pursue it as essential to our
capacity to preach it. Every seasoned pastor knows that her/his
preaching gains power and authority as she or he becomes more
deeply involved in the lives of the people. So it is with justice;
it cannot be preached in a vacuum, only in a context of
 I speak here of that involvement in terms of dialogue. I
don't mean dialogue instead of activism, but dialogue as an
essential concomitant of effective activism. Dialogue is not
harmless conversation carried on in relative detachment. Dialogue
requires entering into the reality with which one is engaged. It
includes the dogged quest for truth and an active praxis.
 In seeking the truth of justice for our fallen world,
dialogue runs directly into the complexities and ambiguities of the
tangled skein of public policy options and the seemingly runaway
and random developments of economic life. It is this array of
uncertainties and conflictual choices, exacerbated in their
confusion by the pluralistic cast of our present world, that has
prompted some to suggest that the church has no business getting
stuck in that mire. We have no Word of God for the proximate
decisions of enforcing justice and we compromise the real message
of the Word and our own authority by pretending that we do.
 However, this contention is only a half-truth. It is true
that there is no specifically Christian economic system or
political platform. We have no peculiar expertise for writing
public policy. Yet, it is also true that we are called to preach
and pursue justice, as I have tried to show, and we are set free in
the gospel to tackle even the gnarled, thorny, and imprecise
problems of securing justice, as well as the more straightforward
matters. It is, in short, the same invitation and admonition to
bold sinning that Luther gave Melancthon.
 Now, let me hasten to add that all issues of justice are
not shrouded in the mists of ambiguity. Some things are quite
clear, even when the details of their political solution may not
be. Moreover, our authority is not in certitude, but both in the
assurance of our call from God to speak and in our faithfulness to
the values revealed in the Word made flesh.
 With the freedom and call to speak comes the responsibility
to know - as much as humanly possible. The dialogical quest for the
truth demands openness and every effort to identify as intimately
as possible with the needs and insights of others. We cannot and
ought not speak out of knee-jerk ignorance.
 Christians in dialogue with the world may also discover in
new ways the proximate character of their own insight as the world
fills the forms of love with its demands for justice. New ethical
understandings stemming from the voices of those who suffer and
further informed by the social and political sciences, have
reversed the prejudicial attitudes and practices of the church in
the past and beamed light on its blind spots. We have been given
the grace to receive such revelations.
 Finally, preaching justice is the community in dialogue as
community seeking the will of God. In his article, "Preaching as
the Church's Language," Richard Lischer observes, "[The] church
exists for the world, but it renews its identity when it gathers
for worship. It speaks in the world, but it learns its 'distinctive
talk' when its members come together around word and
sacrament." That is why preaching
justice is so important to doing justice. Preaching is integral to
Word and Sacrament ministry, and Word and Sacrament is that which
shapes us as a people. The grace and community that is ours provide
the wherewithal and the context for the dialogue we need among
ourselves. With the sharing of our manifold talents and
experiences, we profit from an enlarged capacity for discerning the
will of God as God's word intersects with our world.
 There can be no final word for the concerns we have been
considering, not until the fulfillment of history in God's future.
However, the last word for this brief time frame goes to Joseph
Sittler. It is eloquent and suitable as an overarching comment on
all our efforts to be faithful.
The place of grace must be in the webbed connectedness of [our]
creaturely life. That web does not indeed bestow grace; it is
necessarily the theatre for that anguish and delight, that
maturation of longing and hope, that solidification of knowledge
that can attain, as regards ultimate issues, not a clean, crisp
certainty but rather the knowledge that: [in the words of W.H.
We who must die demand a miracle.
How could the Eternal do a temporal act,
The Infinite become a finite fact?
Nothing can save us that is possible:
We who must die demand a miracle.
 As we pursue the cause of justice in the webbed
connectedness of our creaturely life, seeking the grace of God for
the anguish of humankind, we do so knowing, in our longing and
hope, that, in the cross of Christ Jesus the Eternal has done a
temporal act and the Infinite become a finite fact. We who must die
have our miracle.
© May 2002
Journal of Lutheran Ethics (JLE)
Volume 2, Issue 5
 Joseph Sittler, Gravity and Grace,
ed. Linda-Marie Delloff (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1986), 117.
 Joseph Sittler, The Structure of
Christian Ethics (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press,
 Joseph Sittler, "Called to Unity,"
Ecumenical Review 14, 2 (January 1962), 175-187.
 Quoted in Two Kingdoms and One
World, ed. Karl Hertz (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1976), 83-84.
 Lutheran Churches - Salt or Mirror
of Society?, ed. Ulrich Duchrow (Geneva: Lutheran World Federation,
 Martin Luther, "Temporal Authority:
To What Extent It Should be Obeyed," in
 See Larry L.
and Moral Community (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), especially
 Gravity and Grace, 35.
 Joseph A. Sittler, Grace Notes and
Other Fragments, ed. Robert M. Herhold and Linda Marie Delloff
(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981), 77-78.
 Helmut Thielicke, Theological
Ethics, vol. 1 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 496.
 James H. Cone, "The White Church
and Black Power" in Black Theology: A Documentary History, 1966-79,
ed. Gayraud S. Wilmore and James H. Cone (Maryknoll: Orbis Books,
1979), 126-129. This chapter was reprinted from
 Ibid., 128.
 Derrick Bell, "The Racism is
Permanent Thesis" an unpublished presentation at Trinity Lutheran
Seminary, Columbus, Ohio, January 29,1993.
 Reinhold Niebuhr,
York: Charles Scribner's, 1965), 90-91.
 Cornel West, Keeping Faith:
Philosophy and Race in America (New York and London: Routledge,
 Ibid., xvii.
 Ibid., 29,291; see also Cornel
West, Race Matters (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993), 63-67.
 Joseph Sittler, Essays on Nature
and Grace (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972), 52-73.
 James H. Evans, Jr. We Shall All
Be Changed (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), 40-41.
 Robert Michael Franklin, "Church
Ministry," in Envisioning A New City, ed. Eleanor Scott Meyers
(Louisville: Westminister/John Knox Press, 1992), 146.
 Ibid., 147.
 M. Hirsch Goldberg, The Complete
Book of Greed (New York: William Morrow, 1994), 226-228
 "The State of Greed" in U.S. News
and World Report (June 17,1996), 68.
 M. Douglas Meeks, God The
Economist (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), 37-38.
 Hans Küng, "A Global Ethic
in An Age of Globalization" in Business Ethics Quarterly, 7,3
(July, 1997), 31.
 Richard Lischer, "Preaching as
Word, ed. Gail R. O'Day and Thomas G. Long (Nashville: Abingdon,