Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly: a sermon on Micah 6:1-8
Our sermon series on Why Bay Shore Church brings us to a scripture baked into the DNA of our congregation. Out of the 30,000+ verses of scripture, this is the one we elevated to insert into our Bond of Union, which we read at every board meeting and every time a new member joins the church. We remind ourselves of our role and responsibility in response to God’s grace. It’s a treasured passage in the Jewish and Christian tradition because it simplifies what is important to God: we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.
Context always helps us dig a deeper meaning from a passage. Micah was a prophet about 700 years before Jesus. Prophets weren’t dudes peering into crystal balls divining the future. They knew God’s word, looked out over society, and saw gaps between what God wanted and how people behaved. The prophets intervened to help people get back on the right path.
Micah was one of the prophets who addressed the people during sunny days of prosperity—for the elites. Everyone else limped behind, and the poor were getting crushed. The prophets intervened. They saw the system rigged against the poor, with oppressive taxes, corruption, and judges on the take.
Although the elites worshiped God, giving thanks for a system that benefited them so handsomely, God was not pleased. For several generations, prophets like Micah reminded folks that God didn’t give a hoot about their beautiful services, magnificent sanctuaries, lavish music, and eloquent prayers if their worship didn’t translate into treating people fairly during the rest of the week.
Setting: A Courtroom Drama
To get people to pay attention to his message, Micah invites us to imagine a courtroom drama. Who doesn’t like courtroom drama? Do you want the truth? Can you handle the truth? Buckle up. Because here we go.
The plaintiff is the Almighty. The well-to-do are the defendants. Micah is the judge. The mountains, with all of nature, sit in the jury box.
God opens essentially asking. Why are you the way you are? What have I done to you that you continually go against my will, perpetuate injustice, and don’t care for the poor?
A Petulant Defense
The defense acts like a petulant child. Here we go again! Lord, you are never pleased. Whatever we do is never good enough. What’s it going to take? What? Do you want more sacrifice? How much is enough? Do you want sacrifices of oil? You wouldn’t be satisfied with rivers of oil. You want the rams. How many? Ten thousand? How about child sacrifice? You still wouldn’t be happy.
The reply sounds childish. When my parents tried to hold me to account, I remember pulling out similar lines. “You won’t love me unless I’m perfect—get straight As, never hang out with my friends, never do anything that would make you look bad in front of your friends. You can ground me, but it won’t work. Prohibition didn’t regulate behavior; grounding me won’t work either!” I still remember my mom’s face with that one. The mother’s curse worked. I had kids just like me who pulled the same crap. Maybe you’ve had similar conversations.
Despite its petulance, the people’s response reflects a universal temptation toward seeing God as unreasonable, never-satisfied, and perpetually disappointed in us because we are not perfect.
The Rise of the Nones
Whole religious systems organize themselves around such an image of God. Negative religion. They have long lists of rules. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Or else! They tell you what to eat, what to wear, who to befriend, how much to give, and most pernicious, what you must believe to be accepted by God.
It’s no wonder people are turning in droves away from organized religion. Survey after survey shows that the fastest growing religious preference is the nones. That is, people when asked about their religious preference, check the box labeled none. It’s not that people don’t believe in God or a spiritual dimension. People don’t want that kind of negative, rule-based, angry God faith because it just doesn’t ring true.
Why Bay Shore Church? Because we aren’t about that. We affirm the sacred worth of every individual. We are based on a positive message that people yearn for. Let’s not keep it a secret. Let’s help people who have been disaffected by negative religion to find a better alternative than becoming nones. Let us help them find a loving, supportive community that pulls for them and makes them feel welcome in our community of imperfect people trying to do better.
It reminds me of a woman who read that dogs were healthier if fed a daily tablespoon of cod liver oil. Each day she followed the same routine–she chased her dog, wrestled it down, and forced the fishy remedy down the dog’s throat. One day in the middle of this grueling effort, the bottle spilled. With a sigh, she lost her grip on the dog so she could wipe up the mess. To her surprise, the dog trotted over to the puddle and began lapping up what had been spilled. The dog loved cod liver oil! It was just the owner’s method of application the dog objected to.
Sometimes I think something like that has happened to the good news of the Kingdom of God. It has been so poorly presented to us that we have never been captured by its attractiveness and its power. Church people come across as folks with lists of dos and don’ts. Frowning. Frozen. Acting like they’ve been sucking on sour pickles, afraid that someone somewhere might be having a good time and they do not approve. Jesus had a vision for the world, a dream, a picture of how life is intended to be. Jesus saw a world where God ruled in every heart–a world of life giving, sharing, peace and justice. A world of love, harmony, and unity—unconditional acceptance, forgiveness, love, relationship, a God who works through ordinary people to make a more user-friendly world.
A Simple Formula
Instead of negative shame-based religion, we emphasize Micah’s reply to the petulant people. I like to imagine that Micah looks like Judge Judy in the courtroom drama. She hears the gripe, “Whatever I do is not enough” argument, crosses her arms, and scowls. “O, please.”
You know what God requires. It’s simple. Be a decent human being. Three things. Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.
Justice comes from a Hebrew word that means to make right. Walter Bruggeman says…. Do we advocate for policies that make it fair, to de-rig the system, so everyone has a fair shot?
But we can also think about making things right in our families, church, and communities. Is there someone that you need to try to make things right with?
Do we intervene when someone is mistreated, when someone is treated as less than a beloved child of God?
Benjamin Franklin said, “Justice will not be served until those unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” https://www.goodgoodgood.co/articles/justice-quotes
Archbishop Desmond Tutu reminds us, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” https://www.goodgoodgood.co/articles/justice-quotes
Bishop Peter Storey of South Africa talks about how before the dismantling of Apartheid, US and British visitors would comment that the white people they met didn’t seem evil. They were nice. They didn’t get the hate vibe from anyone they met. Storey explained that they could afford to be nice because they let the government policies do the hating for them.
Justice comes about not when a few activists get riled up, but when the masses remember silence is compliance, and we do our best to make things right. When we do justice and make things right in our context, our spheres of influence, we set a mighty example for our children and succeeding generations.
It’s easy to gloss over the love kindness requirement. Who doesn’t love kindness? As Frank Burns said in M*A*S*H, “It’s nice to be nice—to the nice.” Let’s think about the difference between being nice and being kind. According to the Blackburn Center for nonviolence:
“Kindness is often expressed through actions you take for others, while niceness typically involves more superficial words or simple gestures. A nice person may tell a neighbor they are sorry that they are sick — while a kind person may drop off some soup or offer to pick up groceries for them.” https://www.blackburncenter.org/post/nice-vs-kind-why-does-it-matter
I want to challenge you this week to go beyond nice. During your encounters, pause and think about what would be the kindest thing you could do in that situation. Kindness is a whole deeper tone. To be kind, you have to care about them. Niceness is pleasantries. Sometimes kindness involves things that are not so pleasant. Giving someone bad news. They need it, but not a feel-good moment. Kindness is to be helpful to them out of compassion and empathy.
It is really one word loving-kindness. From the Hebrew word Hessed. Whenever the Old Testament talks about why God does what he does for people, the word Hessed is used. God’s loving kindness, mercy, faithfulness are described as hessed. What this requirement is telling us to do is to do unto others as God has done unto you.
God has been faithful to you — be faithful to those around you.
God has forgiven you — forgive those who hurt you.
God has been patient with you — display patience toward those around you.
God has not held anything back, loving you completely, passionately, —
love others completely, passionately.
God has intervened for you in your time of need — show up for others in their time of need.
What does God require of you?
The word humility has its roots in the word humus, which means from the earth, or lowly. It has to do with staying grounded. Humility doesn’t insist on its own way. In your walk with God remember God’s grace, see it around you. Don’t fill yourself up with yourself. Instead, look for direction. Try to absorb as you do with a mentor. When you walk humbly with God, when you are spiritually connected, you are more likely to meet the first two requirements.
Walking humbly has to do with opening yourself. Even to direction, a relationship or connection to your spiritual side. When you do, you achieve the real greatness of living.