Theme: Christian actions meet Christian words
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, we hear your word and sometimes stray from your ways; may your prophets and your son focus our eyes on you and what you wish for us and the world, reminding us how we are charged to make the world a better place, by and through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Jim Taylor opines, “Floods, wars, hurricanes, earthquakes, uprisings -- it’s hard to dig down through the midden of disasters and destruction that passes for news these days to find some good news. I can’t blame the mass media for focusing on tragedies. When dollars get squeezed, it’s cheaper to chase ambulances than to seek out unspectacular acts of generosity.
“Especially in television. The whole world watched floods rip through the city of Brisbane in Australia, tumbling cars down the streets, crushing a complete restaurant under a bridge... But we got only brief glimpses of over 22,000 volunteers who arrived from all over Australia to help flood victims rebuild their lives.”
I remember way back when, I driving from Sacramento to Holy Trinity in Willows. I looked at the dash, too late, to notice that the gas needle was pointing on “E.” I got off at the next exit on I-5, turned right on the frontage road because I saw a gas station after I was contemplating what I was going to after I ran out of gas. Shortly after I made that turn, the car stopped. It died of thirst.
After I started walking to the gas station, a pickup truck pulled over. The driver was a Sikh – the turban was a giveaway. He offered me a ride to the gas station. At the station, I asked about buying a gas can. The person working there gave me a can with instructions to bring it back. (I might not have been the first person to run out of gas on that part of I-5. Maybe it was because I was wearing clericals, but I doubt it.)
The Sikh farmer drove me back to my car and stayed until I started it. He must have known I was a Christian cleric. I thanked him profusely, drove back to the gas station, returned the can, and filled up the car. It was no longer thirsty. I still got to Willows before the Tuesday morning Eucharist, barely.
Jim Taylor continues, “I don’t think these are exceptional acts. They feel too right, too natural. Economist and prolific author Jeremy Rifkin’s most recent book, The Empathic Civilization, and a brilliant animated video, “Soft-Wired for Empathy”, argue that we humans have an innate desire to help each other.
“If Rifkin is right, when we observe another person’s suffering, the same areas of our brains light up with activity as if we were feeling that pain ourselves. It’s more than pity. In some way we share the other’s experience.
“Biologists are more likely to endorse Richard Dawkin’s “Selfish Gene” concept – that our DNA is obsessed only with preserving its own survival. Any apparent altruism is purely a side-effect. Perhaps the “selfish gene” explains the looters in Brisbane, or in Haiti. The misfortune of others becomes a weakness for them to exploit – for profit or pleasure. But it doesn’t excuse them.
“Personally, I like Rifkin’s notion. I find it resonates with both my own instincts and the teachings of my church. That’s why I take offence at those who inflict suffering on others, or who take advantage of people when they are most vulnerable. By betraying their own humanity, they betray all of us.”
In seminary, Micah 6:1-8 was one of our favorite Bible passages, especially verse eight. Micah was a contemporary of the prophet Isaiah in the eighth century BC. It was a time of political and military turmoil. During Micah’s and Isaiah’s lifetimes Israel was conquered by Assyria, the inhabitants taken into exile never to be heard from again, and those armies attacked Judah and its capital, Jerusalem. We have several laments in the Psalms describing the fear and sense of hopelessness that was felt then.
Both Micah and Isaiah criticize Israel and Judah for their unethical and immoral treatment of the poor and the disenfranchised, all against the Law of Moses. They said that if Judah does not reform its ways and turn and worship God, then their fate will be the same as that of Israel.
In chapter six, the setting is an outdoor courtroom. God is the judge – as always. In the heavenly court it is usually the prosecuting attorney who tries a case, in Hebrew the word for prosecuting attorney is satan. The people of Judah are on trial. The mountains and hills are the jury, in other words creation. (This is a significant remark. In ancient times, the king is usually judge, jury, and executioner. Here, there is a jury.) In this case God will be the prosecutor, which may be why God is letting a jury decide the case in stead of God. God has issued an indictment against the chosen people, Israel.
Now God lays out the case against Israel. The sense of Israel here is more than the country of Israel but of Israel and Judah, the people of God, divided after Solomon died. God begins by asking the people what God has done to them that may have provoked them to weary God so much. It seems to be a rhetorical question in that God’s words are being delivered by Micah and Micah isn’t waiting for a reply.
God accuses them of being selfish. They have forgotten God’s generosity. God continues by reminding the people of what God has done for them: “You were slaves in Egypt and I sent Moses, Moses’ brother Aaron, and Moses’ sister Miriam to lead to you out of slavery.”
God is conflating past events into present tense, because the people are heirs of all that their ancestors received. “And remember when you were approaching the land I promised to you and the King of Moab hired a prophet, Balaam, to curse you. And did he curse you? No, he blessed you. And have you forgotten how I protected you after you occupied the land I promised to you?”
Micah, speaking for the people, offer their response to get back into God’s good graces, “What animal should I bring in sacrifice to God while bowing to the Lord Most High? Would a calf do? Does God like veal? Would this appease God and make restitution in this trial? How about thousands of sheep, and maybe rivers of olive oil? Would a sacrifice of our first born children be payment enough for our sins?”
Micah rejects the offers of sacrifices. God has already told us what is required of us that is right and good: do justice, delight in loving-kindness, and walk humbly with your God. God wants us to be a voice for oppressed people, unprotected people, widows, foreigners, the handicapped, minorities, the elderly, and the poor. We are to respond with God’s love for us with love to others. We are to listen to God’s voice no matter where it comes from, even from people we don’t think know God.
Before the Babylonian exile, God’s chosen people literally forgot the events that God reminds them of in God’s indictment. They worshipped the Canaanite gods and the Phoenician gods (who were very similar to each other). The one true God was taken for granted and oftentimes dismissed. (I guess God was not all that true to them.) It was this faithlessness in God that prompted God to send prophets to the people. And sometimes when they didn’t like the prophet’s message, they killed the prophet.
What I’m trying to say is that the Israelites lived in a very pluralistic religious culture. They lived at a time that is starting to get very familiar to us. We don’t have to drive far to go to a synagogue, a mosque, a Buddhist temple, a Hindu temple, a Sikh temple, a Baha’i meeting place (I don’t know if they have a specific name for their worship places) and others.
We don’t have a monopoly on truth. We are flawed beings. In spite of this, God continues to work with us. God tries to speak to us both gently and with jolts to get our attention. What do you suppose Micah would say is more important, to be right or to show compassion? As Christians, we believe we have received the truth, but we are still fleshing that out. (This also keeps theologians employed.) But other religions may have things to say to us if we but listen. But even where we disagree, we can share what we believe to be true with grace. What do we do about a world with countless religions? We should do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.
Text: Micah 6:1–8 (NRSV)
6 Hear what the LORD says:
Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
2 Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD,
and you enduring foundations of the earth;
for the LORD has a controversy with his people,
and he will contend with Israel.
3 “O my people, what have I done to you?
In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
4 For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
and I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam.
5 O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the saving acts of the LORD.”
6 “With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
8 He 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?