February 19, 2015 By: Nathan Russell
Jazz inspires me, and I love experiencing it. Dame Cleo Laine, one of my favorite jazz musicians, has the incredible talent of borrowing classical melodies from Mozart to create soulful, vocal jazz, redefining the limits of the standard soprano range. Jesus, too, listened for the Word of God in the prophets like Isaiah, and in his own way, Jesus sang the Word in soulful, prophetic jazz for the world to hear.
Jesus knew these words from Isaiah, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” (58:6-7). One might say that Jesus does jazz with Isaiah when Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled.… Blessed are those who are persecuted for justice’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
I cannot help but imagine what issues of justice God is calling us to champion through prophetic jazz: an end to systemic racism, a deconstruction of privilege, and an uncompromising dedication to the poor.
Be it Ash Wednesday or Easter Sunday, acts of worship without justice have no value in the eyes of God. However, when we live into God’s vision of justice, singing prophetic jazz along the way, Isaiah says, “Our light is going to break forth like the dawn, and our healing is going to rise up quickly; our vindicator is going before us, the glory of the Lord is going to be our rear guard. Then we shall call, and the Lord will answer; we shall cry for help, and the Lord will say, Here I am” (58:8-9a). As always, when God says, “Here I am,” rhythms and melodies change and jazz happens. Common ground becomes holy ground. Oppression becomes liberation. Brokenness becomes wholeness. Scarcity becomes abundance. Hatred becomes love. Death becomes life.
In this holy season of Lent, O God, give us the courage to seek justice and the voice to sing your prophetic jazz. Amen.