May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen
The prophet Micah lived during a time of great political turmoil and distress. For much of the eighth century BCE the mighty Assyrian Empire sought to gobble up the lives and the land of all of its neighbors to expand its power and riches. The small kingdoms of Israel and Judah were particularly vulnerable. In 721 BCE, Samaria, the capital city of Israel, the Northern Kingdom, was destroyed and thousands of captives were taken away and dispersed into every corner of the known world. Judah, the Southern Kingdom, faced mounting attacks and in Micah’s time, King Hezekiah scrambled with his every resource to keep Jerusalem from suffering the safe fate as Samaria. At the time, the Assyrian Empire was the largest empire the world had ever known. They had a ferocious army with advanced weaponry and military tactics, including psychological warfare. They sent terror into the hearts of everyone around them.
While we cannot compare the events of Micah and ours, we too face a deeply unsettling time. When our hearts are troubled and we struggle to find a place of peace and solace, scripture gives us a place to land and reflect on our own times.
In Micah 6:1, the prophet begins by commanding the people to “rise up!” This command in scripture calls up two distinct images. First the term “to rise up” (quwm koom) is used throughout Torah as God “rises up/establishes” a covenant with God’s people. In this case we are reminded of God’s persistence in establishing a covenantal relationship that thought constantly tested, always endures.
The call to “rise up” also occurs when God challenges the people not to lose heart or give up such as God’s call to Joshua to “rise up” when he falls on his face in fear at the edge of the promised land. Joshua fears that the land’s current inhabitants will “devour” the wilderness wandering people of God, leaving nothing to testify to their existence. But God says “rise up!”
In our reading this morning, God calls the people to “rise up and plead!” God and God’s people are involved in a controversy—in a dispute. The controversies are seen as being a covenantal lawsuit between God and the people. God calls on the people to testify and plead their case for justice. The witnesses summoned are the mountains, hills, and foundations of the earth. We won’t find God’s complaints against the people in the verses from today’s reading. But earlier in the book of this prophet we hear that the people stand accused by God of being greedy and ignoring the needs of their neighbors, of misleading the people through lies and misrepresentation, and loving evil rather than good so that justice is denied.
But God speaks without retribution. Rather in love to “my people” God asks them to offer an explanation of their behavior—“What have I done to you? In what have I wearied you?”
God who is always faithful calls the people to remember what God has done for them. Though the Assyrian threat is very real, God wants the people to remember that God is faithful. God wants the people to remember that God provided for the people out of love and despite enormous odds, God
brought them from the land of Egypt.
bought their freedom from the house of slavery.
sent before them Moses, Aaron, Miriam.”
even used a talking donkey to prevent King Balak of Moab from prevailing against them.
Remember!! Remember so “that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.” (vv.4-5)
To remember is to see God’s desire to continue God’s covenantal relationship with the people.
And the response God requires is not for sacrifice and elaborate worship. Worship is important, but times such as these, call for urgent action. And God tells them the action that is required. God tells them what is “good.”
What is required is to do justice (mishpat). This doesn’t mean rewarding good and punishing evil. Justice is insuring that everyone has what they need to live in God’s promise. To do justice is to build a deeper richer community where the neediest are lifted up–the poor in spirit, those who mourn because life is so harsh, and the meek who struggle every day for the hoped for gift of life and liberty.
What is required is to love kindness, mercy or hesed. Hesed describes the unbreakable connection God has with God’s people and because of that connection, all of us must strive for kindness, mercy, hesed with our neighbors, with the stranger, even with our enemies. If we love hesed, justice will follow.
What is required is to “walk humbly with your God.” Humility is essential to our being with God. But this word also means “carefully” “to give attention to another.” So we can read it as. “Walk attentively with your God.” Strive to be awake, aware, attentive to God’s most essential call to us- to do justice and to love hesed or kindness. God requires this of us because it is essential for our interconnected lives.
The Hebrew verb darash that is translated “required” in the NRSV is not a kind of rule or grading such as “you are required to submit your tax forms by April 15.” Rather darash carries a kind of affection or a healthy form of dependence such as “the child requires his parent’s love” or “the flower requires rain and sunshine.” So when God “requires” justice, kindness, mercy, God is not enforcing a rule. Rather God seeks, yearns justice and kindness from us as God’s intimate partners in God’s work on earth.
Bishop Doug Fisher called us earlier this year to double down on prayer. Prayer keeps us intimately connected with God who is the ground of our being. Prayer keeps us centered in God’s love helping us to live lives of freedom, justice, and mercy–and then to offer these gifts from God to others. He said that we are to pray daily for those in positions of public trust that they may serve justice, and promote the dignity and freedom of every person. We are to pray daily for our new President Donald Trump, and for all leaders at the local, state and national level that their decisions and their actions will be guided by justice and truth, seeking to serve the common good of all people. We are to pray for all the people of our country and our world that they may live lives of peace, freedom, and justice.
In a recent writing, Bishop Doug asked us to add action to our prayers as foundational for seeking to follow Jesus. Following the command of scripture and our Baptismal Covenant we are to respond to the needs of the vulnerable, to stand up for those who suffer and are threatened, to welcome the stranger, and to do all we can to protect our precious earth that affords us life.
Last week, I left you in the loving and capable hands of the Rev. Jim Burns and all of the faithful members of this community to join a few 500,000 of my best friends in Washington D.C. to pledge to work as long as I have breath for human dignity, human rights, and the promises that I believe this society stands for. It was a phenomenal event. People of every age, gender, race, religion, and viewpoint stood packed together expressing hope and resilience. Standing in that astonishingly generous and good humored crowd, I held up prayers for the immigrants we know and work alongside here in the Berkshires that they may find hope and security. I held up people of color who once again feel betrayed by the country they love so much. I held up my granddaughter, daughter in law, and all our daughters and sisters that they will be treated with respect and that their lives and their bodies will be seen as sacred. I held up the many people I love who are gay, lesbian, transgendered, praying that they will be able to live lives of fullness with their safety and their love valued and protected. I thought of all this community has done and is doing to love and serve and I gave many thanks to God that you continue to walk forward in prayer, seeking to care, each in your own way, for all of God’s children.
In this challenging time, turning to prayer, scripture, and action, we are called every morning we wake up, to rise in mercy, to plead for justice, and to remember God’s unfailing love so we may respond by walking awakened with God. I pray that each of us remembering that our God is faithful and always accompanies us, will find the work that is ours to do—and that each of us will find the courage to do it
Let us pray.
God our deliverer,
you walk with the meek and the poor,
the compassionate and those who mourn,
and you call us to walk humbly with you.
When we are foolish, be our wisdom;
when we are weak, be our strength;
that, as we learn to do justice
and to love mercy,
your rule may come as blessing.