There are countless ways in which the ancient world is not at all like the world we live in today. But the reason why we still read this the reason why our Bible and our scripture is so important the reason why we haven’t given up on it’s because humans remain humans, and powers remain focused on power, So there is truth in our scripture even as the world has changed.
Let’s take Micah for example. Micah was a prophet. There are several types of profits in the scripture. Last week we saw Elisha, who is kind of a prophet that could do magic, miracles, and was also an insider, one who worked inside the structural and power structures of the day but still could truth be truth to those in power. Micah was neither of those. Micah lived far outside of Jerusalem, in a small town, far away from the trappings of power.
Micah was concerned with local issues, rural issues, the consequences of the powerful on the people outside of those systems of power. And Micah was living at a time when the kingdom of Israel, the 12 tribes that David had united, had long been divided. The small nations of Israel and Judah were constantly under attack. Just a few years earlier the Assyrians had just destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel whose capital was Samaria.
The Assyrians weren’t going to stop. They were on their way to Jerusalem. They were heading south until they get to Jerusalem, will hold it under siege and yet, somehow Jerusalem will survive. The cities and towns and villages in between didn’t necessarily fare as well. The Assyrians left destruction in their wake. It’s from those towns that Micah was from.
Everything they understood about how the world worked was falling apart around them. For the Judahian’s death was pounding on their door.
And everyone is trying to understand why God is so mad. Are reading speaks of God’s anger, And that the whole of creation is the jury proclaiming Israel’s conviction. Micah asks what is the transgression the evil the sin of the whole of the people of Jacob all of the tribes because Samaria might have its high place where they worshipped something other than the God that led them out of Egypt but so does Jerusalem.
Since Samaria had already fallen, since, they worship God wrong, since we hate them and they suck, it must be the Samaritan’s fault.
While the world is completely different people are often very much the same. It is Sunday after Tuesday’s election and at least in Wisconsin very little has changed which has probably left everyone just a little happy or a little sad regardless of who you voted for. Everyone’s a winner for a brief reprieve from political commercials although we know they will be back very soon too soon. And if you saw them you know so much of the energy that was put forth was about how the other person is to blame all of the evils in the world, Even things that the person had little or no control over just happened to happen at the same time.
It happens in our own lives. It’s easier to point to the boss who has it in for us or the friend who turned on us or The person who drove us to act this way. If they, whoever they are, would worship our God, or worship God our way, or proclaim the correct truths because we have them and they are wrong… and since they are wrong… we point fingers, we blame, we accuse those who are outside of our in groups of being the reasons the world is a mess.
Whether it is thinking that someone or everyone is out to get you Or that you are never to blame you are always right and everyone else is always wrong one of the things that it does is creates a divide between us. Like the divide between the rural flyover communities that Micah lived in that had to live with the consequences of the city the urban Jerusalem, the place where power was centralized. We, too, have a rural and urban divide in Wisconsin, and across the country. Our divide over politics points to someone else as being awful, that they are the root of the problem as the neglectful of others.
But Micah’s response is not unlike Cassius’s: “the fault dear Brutus lies not in the stars but in ourselves.” Micah tells them their condemnation is not out there, but in themselves, in their failure to live into the covenant. Their destruction would be because the structure that was created that pitted people against each other, that pitted the powerful against the weak, that pitted the rich against the poor, that pitted Jerusalem against the rest of the country was unsustainable, was unstable, was structurally unsound, and would ultimately collapse.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, the prophet gives a word of hope that God is longing for relationship, longing to be remembered, for their actions and choices to focus on the covenant that called them to relationship with God and each other.
The people stand convicted. In the ancient world when one needed to reconcile with the divine are needed to be acts of reconciliation. Even for the ancient Hebrew people that act included sacrifice, the bigger the divide the bigger the sin, the greater the sacrifice. Is the sacrifice of a single animal enough? the sacrifice of thousands of animals with blood overwhelming the sanctuary? Does it require everything? The sacrifice of a child? What does someone have to do to prove they are holy?
It might be seen as hyperbole or as an accusation against other nations but there was at least one king at the time where the story goes he offered his son as A sacrifice.
What are the things people in our time sacrifice in a desperate attempt to prove that they are holy enough or worthy enough?
I think of kids LGBT kids being kicked out of their highly religious homes because that is what righteous people do Sacrificing their children to prove they are wholly enough. I think of some churches’ expectations that you vote a certain way or you’re not considered a Christian. And how not being the right kind of Christian might disconnect you from your family or your community.
With what shall we bring to prove we are good enough? Enough prayers, the right reading.
Micah says you already know, You have already been told
Do justice, that is to do what is good and what is fair and not just for yourself but for Everyone. To love has is sometimes translated as loving-kindness or mercy or Loyal love to love loyal love is to love the relationship and to honor the relationship. And to walk completely with God isn’t just that it’s not about you and I’ll try and attention to yourself but to walk with care carefully and with intention the ways of God.
What does it mean that you’ve already been told? It’s found in the Deuteronomy, in details of how to live in this world. It tells you when your enemy’s ox falls into a ravine, you help him get it out. You do what is right and good and kind regardless.
What will the prophets tell us are the sins of Jerusalem? That they were so busy with the trappings of religion they failed to do The good work of caring for each other.
And there are people out there who are always going to tell you what you need to do to prove
In a world that believes that the most powerful ought to win, that’s strength is the only thing that matters that power is the thing that can change the world, my God tells us to look for the shepherd, the one who is going to come into the world, and care for those who are the most vulnerable. In a world that demands that we prove our allegiances through acts of scapegoating others, of sacrificing the full humanity of another person, of acquiring until we have it all and everyone else has not enough, of showing off how great we think we are, Micah calls us to do the work justice is fairness, to live by the principles, to play by the rules, to get back what you have found that is not yours, to live as respect. Micah calls us to embrace Faithful love, the things that we do that are not required of us, to love the fidelity of relationships, It isn’t just loving being good, it is loving being in a relationship and foster in the kind of relationships with others that we long to have with God. Micah calls us to move through the world humbly and with intention.
It is as simple and as complicated as that. If it were easy, God wouldn’t have had to call the prophets to Keep telling them over and over and over again.
We see it being revealed on our walls reminders of the ways we participate in the works of and often our counter to the ways of the world.
Our Biblical stories are full of people who, like us, see the foundations of the world being torn apart, who fear there is nothing that can bring us together, who see the powerful make decisions that are going to hurt those down the line, who decide what it means to be holy, no matter the cost.
And yet, our stories are full of people who cry out for justice and loving loyal love. Our stories are full of people who stand up to the powerful and demand that they be taken seriously, not forgotten, and that their way of being human is recognized.
The stories in our bibles are stories of generations, of the early church finding its foundation, opposing the empire and societal normals. It’s our denominational ancestors part of the abolition movement and women’s movement and the disability movement. And it’s us apologizing when we failed to live into the covenant with Native Hawaiians. It’s Dorthy Day feeding and housing, offering dignity to those in New York City in the name of God long before she had any approval from the Church, sometimes in spite of it. Its civil rights leaders proclaiming that the time had come to bring justice and fullness of humanity to all people.
And sometimes they failed, sometimes our communities become families and then act like families in the worst way, sometimes the powerful seek to destroy a moment by destroying the people, and sometimes what you have fought for seems further away than when you started. Our stories are of those who get up again, seek justice again, love even more, and move with intention in the ways of God.
Because while the long arch of the universe turns toward justice, it does not do it on its own. It doesn’t have to take much, Dorthy Day started the Catholic Worker in her apartment. Taking a risk and watching it grow. Not waiting for out there to change or blaming others for the terrors of the day.
Micah calls us to examine our own hearts, to change how we live, to put one foot in front of another, to out do each other with fairness and love. Maybe it will change the world, maybe it will bring more love and more justice into this world.
And some of our stories as a community are literally written on our walls. What more can we do? How else can we show and share justice and love?
Letters on behalf of Iranian prisoners: 15,000 imprisoned
We may not get them set free, but we ought not let them go unnamed.
Letters in gratitude for our teachers,
Do what is good and fair and just for the community.
Love loyal love, honor each other.
Move through the world with intention and care.
Do justice, Love loving kindness, walk humbly with God.