|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on January 31, 2011 at 8:54 AM|
Sermon for January 31, 2011
So God, a mountain and the people of Israelwalk into a courtroom. It sounds like a great beginning for a joke, but instead it's the beginning of our words from the prophet Micah that we hear this evening. Because God is taking the people to court.
That doesn't seem quite right from the God we love. Because we know that God loves the people of Israel, but the truth is that they’ve been misbehaving. So God brings charges against the people and asks the mountains to be the jury because mountains are apparently quite rational about such matters. God didn’t want to bring a lawsuit against the people. God wanted that awesome love of God to be enough to keep them on the right track. But it wasn’t. And thanks be to God, we have a God who takes our lives seriously, whose love is so passionate that it’s not willing to let us go in the wrong direction forever. So sometimes God needs to slap a little sense into us, even if that’s not all that comfortable.
But as the mountains stand ready to listen and the case begins, God doesn’t start my telling Israel all she had done wrong- all the worshipping other gods and going their own way and mistreating the poor. Instead, God pleads as one whose heart is broken, “What have I done to burden you? Why are you acting like this? What have I done that’s made you so tired of me?”
Remember, my beloved Israel, I love you and I treasure you. I want nothing but life and abundance for you. Remember when I brought you out of slavery in Egypt so that you could be free? And from one side of the Jordan river to the other from Shittim to Gilgal, don’t you remember how I watched over you- bringing you through the wilderness and into the beauty of the Promised Land? Remember how I was there to guide your leaders and watch over you and protect you? And don’t you know that this love that shepherded your grandmothers and great-grandfathers in the wilderness is the love that I still have for you?
And Israel can barely look at their heartbroken God. Because it’s hard to look at those who we have let down. Those we have disappointed. It’s hard enough to look at our own failures. But when we have to acknowledge that we have hurt those who love us dearly and let down those who only want what’s best for us, it’s too much. It makes us want to crawl under a table and hide or desperately try to do anything to make things right again. To restore that relationship that we’vebroken.
So the people of Israel try to make it up to God. To do something God likes, maybe send up some burnt offerings. God seems to like those. “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams?” they ask. There’s got to be some magic way to make God happy again. Like giving up something really big for Lent or promising to come to church every week or giving a bunch of money to the poor. Come on God, what’s it gonna take to make things right and get us off the hook?
And the reply comes, “God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” The reply comes, there’s no magic way to make things right with you and God. There’s only what you have always known to do. And that’s to walk on the good path that God has always taught you. It is what brings life abundant for you as a community and as individuals before God. That’s how you live in right relationship with God.
God calls the people, calls all of us,back to the path we have always been taught to travel. We are called to do justice. Not to love justice or to think about justice, but to actually do justice. To actively work for fairness and equality for all people. Especially those that don’t have what they need. God calls us to be ones who puts things right. To do that in small ways in our own lives by sticking up for those who get treated badly and sharing our food with the hungry. And to do justice by working for the big changes in our country and our world by writing letters to senators and buying Fair Trade products and working with non-profits that serve others.
Do justice, God says. Be a community of people who cares for each others’ needs. Like my prophets have always called you to do. Like the prophet Isaiah called you to, learn to “do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” Do justice, like God does justice. In a way that seeks the life of all people. In a way that shows compassion. Do justice, for your God is just.
And love kindness, God pleads with us. And yet the Hebrew word hesed is so much deeper than kindness. It’s so much more than smiling at people on the sidewalk and holding the door open for them. That word “kindness” means faithfulness and loyalty and compassion. It’s the kind of love that spouses pledge to each other and parents instinctively have for their children. It means steadfast love, alove that never ends and will go through anything for the others’ sake. It’s the kind of love that God has for us inabundance. And the love God wants us to have for each other.
God isn’t calling us to be nice people,but is calling us love like God, to reflect the same love that our God has forus. To radiate the same compassion and grace that God has poured out on us. Remember, God says, how I have loved you faithfully, no matter what. Remember how that love made me rescue you and forgive you and have compassion for you. Love like that. This hesed that God’s talking about is not a warm-fuzzy kind of love, it’s a commitment to love God and love each other the way we’ve been loved.
And finally, God calls the people to “walk humbly withyour God.” But “humbly” doesn’t really say it right. It’s more like, walk carefully with your God. Walk attentively with yourGod. Walk like it’s a game of Follow the Leader. Keep your eyes always on the one you’re following and be willing to trust God to know the way better than you do. Walk through life looking to God, sharing life with God, chatting with God. Let God call you back when you get distracted by the things of this world. Let God be your constant companion.
That’s how you make things right, God says. Do justice,love kindness and walk humbly with me. Be my people again. There’s no magic thing to do. There’s no list of prayers you need to pray or offerings you need to give. There’s no list of requirements to check off. I want you to know my love and reflect it to the world around you. So do justice,love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.
It’s simple,it’s beautiful, it’s poetic. We love this verse. It's one of the most quoted in Scripture. I have it hanging in a frame on my office wall and Lutheran World Relief even uses it as part ofits slogan. Because we want to live like this- in communion with God and with the world around us. We want to bring justice and love into our world. But then the real world comes and knocks us on our tails.
Because although it’s beautiful, living like this is a lot of work. It’s inconvenient and it’s not always a lot of fun. And I don’t know about you, but I tend to get distracted by all the things that have to get done right now or by the crappy things that happen inlife and I start to walk my own way rather than walking humbly with ourGod. And yet, none of that changes what God calls us to do. How God beckons us to live. None of it changes that look of love in God’s eyes that reminds us of the love we were created in and the love we’re called to bless others with.
The work of following God is hard and that's why God doesn’t call us to do this on our own. These beautiful words are given to the people of Israel-the whole community- together. We’re not called to walk humbly with God on our own. We are called to walk together as a community. That's part of why we gather together this evening- to be a community that lives this way together. We gather among people with the same call. And we gather so we can be people to strengthen each other as we try to follow God.
As a community together, we can remind each other of who our God is and how much our God loves us when we forget. We can call each other back to doing justice and loving kindness and can teach each other how to do that. We can support each other when we stumble and encourage each other when we are tempted. In the midst of a distracting world where it’s hard to follow God, we have our brothers and sisters in Christ to walk the way with us- during this week, this semester, this time in college and through all the times to follow. We have a community to help us to do justice when we are too weak or willful and to love us when we have forgotten how. So that we can all be strengthened to walk with God and to help our neighbor to walk with God, too.
God calls us to a simple, beautiful but impossible task- of reflecting who God is to the world around us, a world that is desperate to know the love and the beauty of our God. And God keeps loving us, reassuring us, challenging us and calling us back again to the beauty we were made in. So that together we might do justice, lovekindness, and walk humbly with our God.