Fourth Sunday after Epiphany 30 January 2011
Micah 6:1-8 Psalm 15 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 Matthew 5:1-12)
“Doing Justice, Inspiring Hope”
It was one of those childhood games that always caused great torment in me. It always started out as an innocent game at recess. Two rows of children separated by the large blacktop parking lot where the entire school played right after lunch. The children of each row would hold hands and each team would alternate, calling out a child’s name from the other side to run over with the attempt of trying to stop the other person from breaking the row they had formed. “Red rover, red rover!” we would yell, “send so and so over.”
Being one of the taller kids among the boys, very seldom would I be called to “come over.” I would stand there, holding hands with the person next to me, watching and waiting and wondering what really was the point of the game.
Was it to show one’s strength by breaking through with the sheer force of one’s body? Or was it to be caught unable to break the chain only to suffer the humiliation of being aware in front of everyone, of one’s own weakness?
And so, I always held on tightly for dear life, grasping the hands of my elementary school classmate, because I was not sure what would hurt more, attempting to sustain the weight of a kid running full speed toward us, or having to face my fellow classmates if and when I had let a kid break through. And the worst would be, being called over and not breaking through their chain of hands and bodies.
Not one of the choices was a good one, and yet at a young age I had not quite figured out that within each of us is the power to not play the game, to dare to break the rules, to go against the flow. Ohh, but how to bring that awareness to action!
In this scripture passage from Micah, the air is tense for God and for the people of Israel. We are in a court of law to see who is at fault for the fractured relationship. The mountains and hills are the witnesses. Probably not very good to be in controversy with God. God is lamenting: “O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? “
The peoples’ memories have grown hazy. They’ve grown forgetful as to all God has given to them as a gift. They have become willing to bargain and bribe and buy off God. So they begin to scheme, thinking surely God will take their burnt offerings, their young calves. Certainly this will please God.
But Micah so eloquently responds in his prophetic voice: What does the Lord require? Hello, is anyone out there listening? Have you heard even one word I have spoken? Do you see the injustices around you? What does the Lord require? Get a clue—will you? For God has already told you what God requires.
Micah is real clear: what the Lord requires of you is”…to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” I don’t think Micah is a happy camper when he telling us this!
To do justice is neither a romantic ideal nor an abstract concept. Doing justice is excruciatingly hard work. Doing justice asks people to work together, to truthfully critique the present systems and to find new alternatives. Doing justice disrupts, dismantles, breaks down, disarms and transforms systems and people when we dare to see what is really happening here and around the world without growing cynical and closed off. Because we are able to come to an understanding that every human being matters, that God matters is why doing justice is so closely intertwined with loving kindness. For it is in seeing injustice and being moved into doing something about it that we dare to change what is unjust.
To walk humbly is not to be above someone or below someone. To walk humbly with God is to not worry or be bothered by other people’s opinions of you. It is to live with grace. To walk humbly with God is to pay attention to the cries and stories of other human beings and then gathering with other human beings, getting to know each other, praying together, and standing together.
Tomorrow John Nunes, president and CEO of Lutheran World Relief will be here to share stories about people standing together, stories of the efforts of LWR in the work of justice among the most unjust situations and areas of the world, most especially with the Lutheran Malaria Initiative. He will share stories of how LWR works to restore health and inspire hope, and how we can stand together with LWR to make a difference to the world.
Kathleen Norris, in her book, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, relates a well-known story of caring and restoring hope for the most vulnerable people in a culture, when telling of John Newton, best known as the author of the hymn, Amazing Grace. A slave trader, he had grown attracted to Christianity, and one day, when he was in the ship’s cabin reading a sermon of John Wesley, he suddenly saw the evil of what he was doing. He ordered the ship to turn around in mid-ocean, and returning to Africa, he set his human cargo free. When he wrote, “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved; How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed,” he had grasped an understanding of justice and loving-kindness, knowing that what we bring before the Lord is an openness to God’s grace, and our willingness, when necessary, to break the rules and go again the flow, because sometimes that is what we best can bring before the Lord.
Red rover, red rover, dear God, what do I do? Red rover, red rover, what can we do? We begin by breaking the chains of injustice, by restoring health, by inspiring hope. We begin by choosing life for all people, not just a select few. It’s not yet all over. Amen.