January 29, 2017 — Micah 6:1-8
Pastor Monte Stevens – North Riverdale Lutheran Church – Dayton, Ohio
Micah Is Essential Scripture
Some verses of scripture are very important to us and our life with God, essential in fact, and other parts of scripture we would never need to read again in our life. Not all scripture is of equal value.
One of those essential scriptures for me is our first lesson from the prophet Micah. It’s well known for a reason. First, it has three easily discerned sections which make it easy to deal with: do justices, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.
Second, it deals in a simple way with that age-old question, “How is it best to live?” Micah is considered one of the Minor Prophets. We don’t know a whole lot about him except that he was a prophet roughly seven hundred years before Christ; a contemporary of three better known prophets, Isaiah, Amos and Hosea. Micah was a prophet who spoke for the downtrodden and exploited people of Judean society, particularly for the poor farm workers who were suffering at the hands of powerful landlords. Imagine him as an 8th century BC version of Bernie Sanders calling for income equality.
This may help you as you seek to understand the three demands he places upon our lives, “He has showed you, O man, 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?”
Let’s begin with the call to love kindness. Here is the most basic, the most minimal requirement of all religion, that we should treat other people as we would like to be treated. A great Quaker gentleman expressed it well over two centuries ago when he wrote, “I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.” All good religion begins here. We may not be able to agree on everything. Indeed, we may have some areas of our lives in which we are in sharp conflict with one another, but we can at least treat each other with civility, with simple human kindness.
Here is an example that happened at a Blake Shelton concert in Overland Park, Kansas. Jake Connelly is in a wheelchair. All he could see at the concert was a sea of people. Then the most amazing thing happened. Without being asked, two strangers hoisted Connelly aloft on their shoulders and they held him there for over 20 minutes in grueling 100-degree heat, long enough for the disabled man to watch his hero perform.
That’s kindness. To be kind is the least we can do in this often unkind world. Of course, the Bible places no limits on our kindness. We are even to be kind to those who are unkind to us. Exodus 23:5 requires the children of Israel not to oppress strangers with the reminder that they were once strangers themselves.
Jesus, of course, went even farther than that: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.“ (Mt. 5: 44)
There are to be no limits placed upon our kindness. We are to pour out acts of love and generosity even toward persons that we may deem undeserving. Kindness is among the most basic requirements for any religious person, but especially a follower of Christ.
Sometimes our acts of kindness are met with only cold ingratitude from the recipients of those acts. That’s all right. That’s on them. We obey Jesus. Kindness is the first business of a follower of Jesus.
Someone once asked, if you were given a dollar for every kind word or deed which you said or did, and then had to give back fifty cents for every unkind word or deed, would you be rich or poor?
Think about it. We are to love kindness.
We are also to do justice.
Justice is a much larger and more complicated concept than kindness. Kindness is an individual act. I see a person in need and, like the Good Samaritan, I try to help. That is kindness.
Justice, on the other hand, is the passion that the followers of Jesus have to make sure that every person on earth has an opportunity for a healthy, wholesome, rewarding life.
Abraham Lincoln once saw a slave girl being sold on an auction block like a head of cattle. She was being sold away from her family and friends. Lincoln saw the fright and terror in her eyes. “This thing must go,” Lincoln said. He was referring to the institution of slavery, and he dedicated his life to the destruction of that barbaric institution. That is doing justice.
No concept is more Christian than is the demand for justice. Wherever there are people who are oppressed; whether it is political oppression, economic oppression, racial oppression, or whatever form that oppression may take, we must raise our voices.
A Lutheran pastor, Ed Markquart, gives one of the best examples of the difference between kindness and justice that I know of. He reminds us of a story from Charles Dicken’s England some two hundred years ago. At that time, many twelve year old boys were working in coal mines, down in the dangerous mine shafts. Their life was miserable, but that was what was expected of twelve year old boys, in poor families in England at that time; a lifetime of hard work in the coal mines beginning when they were only children.
The church tried to be kind to these poor boys. They would offer presents at Christmas time. Their families would receive charity and holiday turkeys. The church would offer prayers for the little boys working away in those coal mines. However, one day some determined leaders in that island-nation passed a much-needed law. The law said that little boys could no longer work in coal mines. The law also insisted that these boys go to school instead of going to the coal mines to work. There, my friends, is the difference between acts of kindness and doing justice.
Kindness is giving Christmas presents to disadvantaged boys in coal mines; kindness is giving their families turkeys during the holiday season, and kindness is praying for them. Doing justice is working to change the laws so that it is illegal for little boys to work in the coal mines in the first place.
I fear that we in the church are content to be kind. Kindness is great. It is the first step in following Jesus, but it is only the beginning of that journey. It is the bare minimum.
We are to love kindness, but we are also to do justice. Someone has illustrated what doing justice is with another fable. Two people are strolling by the riverside when suddenly they see a baby in the river. They jump in, rescue the baby and turn him over to a kind stranger who rushes the baby to the hospital. The next day they see two babies in the river. Once again, they rescue the babies and give them to 2 strangers who rush them to the hospital. The next day they see many babies in the river. They call the Emergency Medical Service and rescue as many as they can, but many of the babies struggle and drown.
The first man says to the other, “Isn’t it wonderful that through our faith we are here during this tragic time of need?”
“Yes,” says the other man, “but I think we better get moving and go to the head of the river and find out why all these babies are getting thrown into the river in the first place.”
Rescuing the babies is obviously important. It is an act of kindness. But going to the head of the river to stop babies from getting thrown into the river is an act of justice. And we need both. We need to be kind, but we also need to be champions of justice, whether it is in Syria, or the Sudan, or here at home. Where there are people who are being treated cruelly, we have a mission. Doing justice is much more complicated than loving kindness–but it is equally a part of Christian calling.
What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Few characteristics are as appealing in a person as is genuine humility. However, here Micah is talking about a special kind of humility. It is like the meekness Jesus praised when he said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Mt. 5:5).
Jesus was not talking about the shy, timid mouse of a person. Rather he was talking about people who are so committed to serving God and serving other people that they have an astounding impact on our world. The meekness or humility that Jesus and Micah were talking about is the person who has so surrendered his or her life completely to God that he or she develops a fierce determination and persistence in seeing God’s kingdom be realized.
That kind of humility or meekness leads to tremendous transformation in life. Pastor Tony Bland once described such a humble person. Bland begins by telling about a statue, the largest cast iron statue in the world. This statue sits atop Red Mountain overlooking the city of Birmingham, Alabama. What you may not know about Birmingham is that, like Pittsburgh, PA, it once was a major center for the production of iron and steel.
The 56-foot tall statue that sits on Red Mountain depicts the Roman god Vulcan, god of the fire and forge. It is a symbol of Birmingham’s past, reflecting its roots in the iron and steel industry. But there is another statue in Birmingham. Down from atop Red Mountain, in the heart of this industrial city, is a park in front of a church. In that park is a statue that portrays a little man on his knees with his hands raised to heaven.
This man was known simply as Brother Bryan. Bryan had been the pastor of a small Presbyterian Church. Brother Bryan was a humble pastor who was often seen kneeling hand in hand on a street corner praying with someone. He pastored in Birmingham for more than a quarter of a century. He was a servant to all. He was a meek and humble man. But when he died, businesses closed, flags were hung half mast, and the whole city wept in sorrow at his departure. They built a statue to serve as a memorial to this humble pastor.
Tony Bland writes, “When the statue of Vulcan has tumbled to dust, and Red Mountain is worn flat, the witness and work of Pastor Bryan will remain.” Brother Bryan was a humble man, but he moved an entire city through his devotion to serving God and others. That is the kind of humility or meekness that God seeks in us. Whatever else you are involved in, I hope you are engaged in these three simple but courageous activities: doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.
I invite you to explore the many ways we at North Riverdale live out these mandates of loving kindness, doing justice, and walking humbly with God. Amen!