Scripture: Micah 6:1-8 & Matthew 5:1-12
Originally given on 02/02/14 at UPC of Amsterdam, NY
There are, it seems, many opportunities to begin anew offered within our calendar. There is, of course, New Year’s Day, when so many people make resolutions of ways in which they want to be in the coming year. They take the opportunity turning the page in the calendar offers them to wipe the slate clean. In the Christian church we can look to Advent as being the start of the new Christian year. As we prepare for the birth of Jesus, we also prepare to follow him in his ministry and to spend the year contemplating his role in our lives today. And in the smaller church, in the individual church we come each year to this time of annual meeting. Now, this surely does not carry the weight of New Year’s day or Advent but, like those, it provides us with an opportunity to hear where we are in the life of the church, where we succeeded, where we struggled, and where we desire to go in the coming year. But before we begin our meeting, before we begin to talk about where we want to see the church move in the next year, its important for us to check in with the scriptures to make sure that our way is true and our cause, just.
In both passages for this morning, we see the old order of the world become challenged by the new order. In both passages we see people of God, Micah the prophet and Jesus, the special child of God cast their visions over the society in which each finds themselves and really call their followers, all who could hear the sound of their voices, to challenge the powers and principalities of their day. And in each, we hear words that continue to challenge our own way of thinking. In each, we hear words that guarantee that, if we follow them, will place us in the role of challenger, in the role of prophet, in the role of outcast in our own world. Because in this world, it takes moving outside the bounds of proper behavior to do justice. It takes forgoing our own safety and security to be meek and peacemakers. It take faith and faith in abundance to walk humbly with God. To believe that in all things and at all times God walks beside you. It takes faith to be reviled and persecuted for the sake of justice, peace, love. It takes faith to be a follower of Jesus.
In Micah, we see the struggle between the old way and the prophetic way. The old way and the holy way. The old way, the way that things have always been done, the way that leads to the same, safe results, and the new way, the way of God, the walk of God. We see in the prophet Micah, a shaking of the foundations of the earth and of Israelite society. As is oft the case in the Hebrew scriptures, the Israelites find themselves in some amount of struggle. They find themselves in a struggle to maintain their connection to God, their sovereignty as a state, and their religious traditions. And so the wise of their time, the religious leaders of their time ask what they are to do in the midst of strife. “How shall we come to God?” they ask through the voice of Micah. “Shall we come with burnt offerings? That has always seemed to work in the past. With Calves a year old? Will God be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? My own first born? Maybe that will bring about the connection with God that we are desperately seeking. But the prophet rejects the old way. With words of simplicity and depth. Words of hope and encouragement. Words of love and peace. “Mortal, do justice.” Do justice? Do justice? It is pretty easy in this age in which we live where the word justice has become used a lot to miss the power that the word contains. Do justice. That suggests an action. To do justice, you have to do something. We cannot be satisfied with simply praying for those who suffer though that is certainly important. We cannot be satisfied with just giving money to our causes of choice though that is essential. We have to do something. Do justice. We live in a time in which the gap between the haves and the have nots continues to swell as do the numbers of those who lack the basic necessities of life. A time in which our technological accomplishments have far outpaced our ability to figure out how to share within one another so that children, mothers, fathers, don’t go to bed hungry or die from preventable diseases. A time in which there are still too many walls the separate us, one from another and leave us with an ever increasingly alone to face the uncertainty of the future. We live in a time in which children are abused. The poor are abused. A time in which women are abused. We live in a world in which women throughout the world remain the chattel of men, the second-class citizens of each society, the most abused class of person in each society. Do Justice.
“Mortal, love kindness.” Again kindness seems so simple. It is easy to be kind to my family. It is easy to be kind to our friends when they call and need our help. It is easy to be kind to our significant others when they have had a bad day and just need to vent. But what of the person who cuts us off in line at the grocery or in traffic. What of the person who lies in the hospital bed or in prison needing to feel the balm of kindness on the wounds of her life? What of the children, no different than my children who go to bed hungry and sick, who die from preventable disease and lack of clean water? Is it just as simple to be kind to them? And it is not just that we must attempt in those trying times to be kind to one another, we must love kindness. It must become like the air we breathe or the way we feel about those closest to us. It must become our defining action in the world, our one spiritual grain on the scale of humanity. We must love kindness so that when we see it is not present, we ache with spiritual sadness and angst. When we see it called for in response to the brokenness we encounter we must make our stand here and not be able to do any other. We must love kindness.
“Mortal, walk humbly with God.” This is Micah’s word of challenge and comfort to those with ears to hear. It is his affirmation that the people of this world do not struggle against the old order of things alone. We do not challenge sitting powers by ourselves. We do not struggle for justice and kindness in a singular effort. We, the people of this world, the beloved of God, the children of God, walk with God. In this simple turn of phrase, “walk humbly with God,” Micah reminds us that the spirit of God moves through the world. The spirit of God moves through time, bringing about the reconciliation of creation with God. The spirit of God advances ultimately making all things, all people, all creation beautiful and whole and new. “Walk humbly with God.”
In a similar manner, Jesus gathered those who followed him as he stood on a mount and proclaimed a new way to be that assured them a life of struggle within first century occupied Palestine. A way that assured them of their place as the lowest in a society that praised wealth and might. A world in which Roman forces took their place in line with all the other empires that came before them and after them and marched across the stage of the world. A world in which those who got in the way of those forces were summarily executed. And Jesus called on his followers to be meek. To show mercy. To be peacemakers. To be poor. Knowing full well that to do all those things would mean a lifetime of pain and struggle. “Blessed are the meek,” he said. Those who take the violence of the world and return no one evil evil. Those who don’t need accolades or honor because their lives remain deeply connected with the Divine and not with the passing world in which they find themselves. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and don’t we need those today. A world where mass shootings are becoming commonplace. A world where war is the order of the day in far too many places. A world where to be born in certain poorer areas of the world means to become accustom to the sounds of aerial vehicles coming and dropping bombs on your village. We need peacemakers, those willing to work for an end to violence. Those willing to work for an end to abuse of the weak. Those who are willing to stand and be counted when the drums of war rattle our country and our souls. We need peacemakers.
But blessed also are those who mourn and we have a lot of that going on in this place at this time today. Maybe it was for us at this time that Jesus preached those words some two thousand years ago so that in our time of mourning, in our time of grief, we can hold fast to the promises of God, to never leave us when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And so maybe it is as the poet wrote, “In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity; in our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity. in our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.” Blessed are the ones who mourn, for they, we, will be comforted.
In our own time and place we are particularly polarized in our understanding of the world. From our politicians to our religious leaders, from those who would teach to those who would learn, we experience a high level of separation between brother and sister, between mother and son, between friend and friend and we need God to raise up a new group of leaders of her church with the skill and kindness to speak words of peace in the midst of violence, hope in the midst of despair, love in the midst of hate. We need to be shaken from our slumber, from the patterns of the old way in which brokenness continues to cycle unabated and the spirit of God remains hidden. We need voices who will bravely say the thing that will be unpopular, say the next line that will make us squirm a little more in our seats, the next phrase that will stick with us beyond coffee hour or after church dinner or even while we are sleeping. That is how a good sermon is supposed to be. Good sermons are supposed to bother us because they hit a little too close to home. Good sermons are supposed to stick with us long after the last hymn has been sung, and pastors are called to serve that role when no one else will. We follow pastors because they challenge us and comfort us. They challenge us. That is they make us look at the brokenness of the world with honest eyes. But they also comfort us. They remind us that God has the final word on creation. That God, not us, ultimately brings about reconciliation. That God, not us, calls all her children home. That God, not us, is the source and destination of love and peace and hope and grace. And that when we do walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we remain intimately connected with the love of God.
And so, as we sit on the precipice of a new year, as we take the opportunity to begin anew our mission to better and more faithfully become the people that God calls us to be let us take these instructions to heart and to soul knowing all along that to do so is never easy and rarely ends well. Let’s live into these words like they are seared into the foundations of our spirits. Let’s follow in the footsteps of the one whom we have called God’s special child. And as we walk, we do not do so alone. Micah has told us that we walk humbly with God. Jesus has told us that we dwell in the year of God’s favor with those who cry and find comfort, those who hunger and find sustenance, those who seek God, find divine beauty and find it in abundance. God continuously calls the church to be reconciled to the holy in each age. Thanks be to God for this church, for the work that has begun here and the work that will now continue. Thanks be to God. Glory be to God in the highest and on Earth peace among all peoples. Alleluia, Amen.