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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
November 13, 2022
Micah 1:1-5; 5:2-5a; 6:6-8
Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Next Sunday is Reign of Christ Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year. And as we near the end of the church year, the scripture readings are about times of struggle. And in the prophetic writings, like what we read today from Micah, there are proclamations of judgment and consequence.
These aren’t the readings we like to hear. The proclamations of God destroying the earth – or at least the known world – are disturbing and they make us uncomfortable. Even the people who first heard Micah’s words effectively asked, “How do we make it better?”
At the time Micah spoke, the kingdom was divided into Israel in the north – which included Samaria – and Judah in the south. And to put it in the vernacular, the known world at that time was a hot mess. The reigning power was Assyria – it was a brutal, dominating empire and much of the history of Judah and Israel is in its shadow.
There was political intrigue, military conflict, and economic crises going on. The religious leaders had become consumed with how best to worship and honor God, and had gone way beyond what was required. And Micah was responding to all of it. And he was doing it from the perspective of an outsider – he lived in an agricultural area near Jerusalem but not in the city itself.
So he lived among farmers and people who bore the brunt of the decisions made by the people who were in power. And he was speaking to the people of Jerusalem on behalf of the people in his area about a systemic wrongdoing – where the decisions that were made in the places of power affect the people who don’t live in those places.
The leaders of both Samaria and Jerusalem were at fault for what had happened in those areas, and the fallout of their leadership carried to the people under them.
So this is about the entire community of God’s people. Everyone was suffering and dealing with the consequences, not just a handful of people.
But it doesn’t end with God’s judgment and the consequences of human decision-making. There’s hope.
As Christians, when we read the part about a new ruler coming forth from Bethlehem, we can’t help but think of Jesus. So much so, that this part of Micah is often called the Christmas Proclamation. But if we separate it from the idea of the Messiah, the meaning isn’t quite as clear.
Daniel Smith Christopher, a Quaker-Mennonite theologian, offers two possibilities for what it might mean. One is that this text refers back to who David was a boy when he was a shepherd just trying to do right by God. The other possibility is to look for the new ruler from Bethlehem, where the Davidic line is from, but for that ruler to do something different than David ultimately did. To make different choices and find a new way to start over.
And this ruler, whoever it is, will be great throughout the earth – with the might and power of God, not humans – and it will be a person of peace. One who will share their calm with those who are in distress.
Both of those possibilities speak to the hope of new beginnings. Not about going back to the glory days, but about something entirely new being born. Like when the Israelites crossed the Sea as they escaped slavery in Egypt.
And as he speaks of this hope, Micah continues to describe what God will do, and there’s more destruction because so much change needs to happen. And by this point the people are trying to figure out what to do to be pleasing to the Lord. They know something’s wrong and that it’s bad, so they’re trying to make it go away. And their thinking was that if they just sacrifice enough then the problem will be resolved.
And part of what Micah does here is exaggerate what the people had been doing. But even when the sacrificial laws were written – which never included child sacrifice – the idea was never that you’re just supposed to sacrifice more and more and then continue acting in ways that destroy your neighbor or the world.
And so Micah reminds them that the Lord has already told them what they need to do: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. In short, honor the covenant that God has made with you. All the time. That’s it.
And that hasn’t changed. We are already right with God because of God’s grace in Jesus. And in response to that grace, Jesus asks us to do these same things. In other words, we’re not off the hook. 😊
The biblical readings that prophesy about destruction and God’s judgment and the consequences of our actions don’t talk about those things just to talk about them. The hope is that we, humanity, learn from the consequences of our actions. And we know that, sometimes (a lot of the time), consequences are painful.
And so when we read these types of readings, it’s important to not stop or get stuck in the judgment and consequences because the readings don’t stop there. Don’t ignore them, but remember that there is always hope and possibility and invitation.
Invitation to examine where God is calling us to make space for what is new. Invitation to let go of what is useless, to lift up the worries and cares that consume us. Invitation for humanity to transform their lives through doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.
Because when we do that, the dramatic change that’s prophesied – and that’s needed for our world – actually comes into being.
Here in the US, we’re coming out of another contentious election season. And, right now at least, everything points to the next one being the same.
There was another school shooting last week, much closer to home than is comfortable. Inflation has a tight squeeze on pretty much everyone. Anti-Semitic rhetoric is increasing. Racism is still a thing, and so is discrimination against people in the LGBTQ+ community.
As these things build and increase, our tendency is to close in on ourselves and our loved ones to protect each other, and also to seek a quick fix to resolve the issues.
But what Micah and the other prophets remind us of is that who we are and what we do as God’s people is about community. And we know that being part of a community, being in community, takes work. It means looking out not just for the people in our immediate circle, and recognizing that there isn’t always a quick fix for systemic problems.
It’s easy to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God when you’re doing it by yourself or with people who are like you. But it’s a lot tougher when you have to work at these things in a group, which is what we’re called to do.
So it means not blazing full-speed ahead even when you’re 99% sure you have the solution. It means talking it through with the people who are affected, making sure they’re heard, and that no one falls through the cracks.
It takes time and intentional work. But the beauty of doing it in community, as community, is that we encourage one another. We call each other into accountability and relationship, not to humiliate or ridicule, but to build up and ultimately transform the community into who God calls it to be. And the community isn’t just the people who are in the room with you. It’s everybody.
It doesn’t happen all at once. If only it did, right? But the good news is that every day – even every step – is an invitation to seek transformation. An invitation to seek the hope and the possibility that God desires for the whole world.
Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with our God. When we honor this call – people don’t live in fear of anything, and everyone has enough. Because when we honor this call, truly honor it, everyone experiences the peace that God brings every day. Thanks be to God! Amen.