The Sunday Sermon: Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 11, 2018
Scripture: Micah 6:1-8
We’ve been on a journey this Lent. We’re always on a journey as people of faith, always seeking to more fully the mystery we know is real. But we’ve been traveling this Lent with the first humans in our biblical story – Adam and Eve, and their descendants; and Noah and his family. This week we’re finally “on board.” With a better understanding of it, we’re starting to address our problem. We’re on board.
We have determined our dilemma – we don’t accept responsibility for our roles as human beings in God’s good creation. We haven’t from the very beginning, symbolized by the first evasions of Adam and Eve in the Garden. (It wasn’t’ me it was her. It wasn’t me it was it …)
We recognized two weeks that our humanity may be the answer to our inhumanity, symbolized by Noah in the story of the flood in Genesis. Noah is the first character, the first human being in the biblical narrative, to be fully responsive to the love-harmony-unity, to the God, of creation. He is the first “model of faith,” scripturally speaking. He “got on board” with God’s intention for creation. And so, last week, we joined Noah and his family, walking up the gangplank and onto the Ark.
We are “on board.” Trying to rise above the sorry situation which we have created with our denials and refusals, discriminations and indifferences, and our ignorance – conscious or not. Trying not to do what we want to do. That hasn’t been working out so well. We’re wondering what God wants us to do.
We are on board, finally, on this Fourth Sunday in Lent. From our vantage point on the deck of this vast Ark, we look out at those places in our lives where death and destruction are raining down, where waters are rising, drowning out the life intended for all creation, and where we’re wondering: What are we supposed to do about it? What do you what from us, God? How do we begin making anything “better?”
Pray with me … And Listen for the answer in the Word of God. Read Micah 6:1-8. (That’s how … but we’ll get to that in a moment. First …) The Word of the Lord … Thanks be to God.
What a fascinating and fantastic scripture passage. The eight verse is the most familiar, no question, but the first seven provide the context and content for the last. They make up two distinct “units,” actually, both in the context of a “lawsuit,” a controversy between God and God’s people, us. This grievance is to be heard in the heights and the depths of creation and it’s absolutely necessary because, as we’ve discovered over and over and over again these past three weeks of Lent, something is afoul in the relationship! It was at it’s worst for us a few weeks ago: Our wickedness was great and our hearts only evil continually. Death was imminent. But we’ve been spared again. We’re safe for now, on board the Ark of Noah, floating on the treacherous waters of own irresponsibility. Whether we deserve it or not, such is the grace of the creative Love-Harmony-Unity, of “God,” that we are once again offered a chance at Life.
But that life is not offered to us without a cost this time around. We have some work to do and there will be no rest for us on the deck of Noah’s Ark in our metaphor. We won’t be allowed to just “ride out the storm” and wait for someone else to do something. After all, that’s what got us into this predicament to begin with. No, now that it has our undivided attention (we have nowhere else we can go), Love itself is calling us to task, not accusing or indicting us, but asking some penetrating questions: O my people, what have I done to you? How have I made you tired of me?
Before we have time to fumble around with a response, God offers up a self-defense in verses four and five, through the recital of a faithful salvation history, from the exodus to the Promised Land. We can go further than Micah as a people of the Second Testament and include the salvation offered us in the life and resurrection of Jesus our Christ. That’s what I’ve done for you, we are told. Just … salvation … over and over and over again.
And then it’s our turn to respond. And we hear, again, the childish refusal to accept our role in the created order that got us in this mess to being with. It’s infuriating. It’s sad. We ask: What do you want from us “God?” In a ridiculously escalating sequence of questions, in the midst of a flood of all we are a part of that is wrong we get even more mean-minded: What do you want from us, God? Do you want a burnt offering? Do you want a year old calf? How about a thousand rams?! With ten thousands of rivers of oil?! How about we give our firstborn?! Will that please you, the fruit of our bodies for the sins of our souls? Honestly … what do you want?!?!
… Silence …
Yes … silence … I think. Silence between verses seven and eight.
What’s boiling within us in these verses is a sense of unfairness. Even as we remember, or as we are reminded of, our own salvation history, from the Exodus to the Promised Land to the Resurrection experience of Jesus, we’re also remembering the death in our lives, our own pain, our own suffering, and our own death – inevitable but so hard to accept. As God lays out the case against us, exposes the undeniable reality that we have created a world never intended, even as we know how we have disappointed creation, we get angry at God. Life’s not fair. What do you want from us?!
So … silence for a moment before verse eight.
We know. God knows, we know. So we wait for a verdict.
This passage is a covenant lawsuit, you remember, very familiar to the Hebrew people, found all throughout their scripture. It begins with a summons, a call to witnesses or judges, a list of benefits the plaintiffs have given to the defendants, a time for the defendants to respond, and finally, as in almost all other prophetic contexts there would come a verdict. Micah, however, takes a surprising turn.
Into the silence, Love-Harmony-Unity, God through the prophet Micah, speaks. And instead of verdict and punishment, instead of responding to our anger with anger, we receive a teaching, what the Rabbis in the early centuries of the Christian era called a “one sentence summary of the whole (Jewish) law. What your pastor in this late century of the Christian era calls “the Way out.”
God’s answer through the prophet Micah in verse eight shows just “how badly we miss the point” (Brueggemann). Harmony doesn’t want from us any of our “stuff.” Unity doesn’t require of us anything visible. And Love isn’t going to punish us. “God” wants and requires from us nothing less that the refocus of our life, from what we’ve become into who we were created to be. This isn’t just a teaching that shows us how to “live right” now. It’s not simply a set of rules to follow so we’ll experience salvation, eternal life, life everlasting, later. This teaching, this “one sentence summary” of how we’re supposed to live on this earth is about salvation now, about eternal life and life everlasting now. We don’t need to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God so we’ll live comfortable in heaven later. We need to do these things so we may live fully on earth now. If we are able, even in some small measure, to live as God in Micah asks, then our questions about what comes next may find some answers:
So, it remains for us, it seems to me, in the last two Sundays of Lent, next week and Palm Sunday in two weeks, to figure out what justice and kindness and humility mean – what they look like in the Kingdom of God – and how far we, personally and communally, have strayed. Here’s a “teaser” for the weeks ahead:
Justice is measured by how well the most vulnerable fare in the community. Justice includes equity, impartiality, advocacy, and passion for the rights of others. How are we doing with that?
Kindness (a rather weak translation of the Hebrew “Hesed,” which includes loyalty and fidelity to relationships) is measured by the faithful love God has shown us, the “loyal love” that we receive and are instructed to pass on, to share, and includes solidarity, mercy, faithfulness, and compassion. How are we doing with that?
Humility is measured by our willingness and ability to surrender to what the God of love-harmony-and unity requires of us. How are we doing with that?
How are we doing justice “less,” loving kindness “less,” and walking humbly “less” in our lives? And how might do, love, walk and live more fully?
We’ll stay on the ark for a couple of weeks, I think. We’ll stand on the deck, in the midst of the flood waters that threaten to destroy us, and we shall change our ways before Easter Sunday. Otherwise, how can we celebrate Resurrection? Honestly …
We now we know who we’re supposed to be. And we now know what we’re supposed to do. No more excuses … Spend this week considering how you are not doing justice in your own lives or advocating for justice in the lives of others. Spend this week considering how you are not loving kindness, living in fidelity to God’s way in our Christ. Spend this week considering how you are not walking humbly with the world. Then come back, and we’ll figure out how we may “live more fully.” New life is our goal – Resurrection life is our destiny. And so our journey continues.
See you next week. Amen.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / March 11, 2018