Today’s service – introducing The Micah Initiative – was momentous for our congregation and so our audio includes more than just the sermon. Listen to the Heights High Alumni Barbershop Quarter, the Micah 6 Scripture reading, the sermon and explanation of the initiative by members of the Ministry of Justice and Mission, our congregation singing “What Does the Lord Require,” and finally, the postlude by the Barbershop Quartet.
Do you have a bible verse that is important to you? A kind of “go to” memory verse? I have several but my favorite is Hebrews 12:1 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”
I believe that Micah 6:8 is one of these biblical verses for this beloved community at Forest Hill: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” In this verse we see how we are to live to be in relationship with God and with one another. Do these things: justice, kindness, humility – you will be who you were meant to be.
There is someone I love dearly who had the opportunity to visit a friend’s house in the Hamptons – that very posh seaside community on Long Island where beachfront houses cost $30,000,000. This person I love dearly said: “I was born to live in the Hamptons.” Of course it’s beautiful. But Micah tells us that it is not in the accumulation of wealth, or status, or power, where we achieve contentment and belovedness. It isn’t by shows of largess, – thousands of rams, ten thousands of rivers of oil. We are not made to be more religious than God – following a myriad of rules and judging others. God doesn’t require horrific sin sacrifices of the first born – NO! You were made in God’s likeness and image to:
Do Justice – Be like God in seeking to create a level playing field – be more concerned about the poor than the rich, seek to build a world where everyone has basic needs met. You and I know we aren’t going to solve the problems that face us by just creating more wealth or protecting our own assets.
Love Kindness – You know what it means to be kind, to speak respectfully, honor the other. I am reminded of another favorite bible verse from Philippians 4:8 “whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable…if there is any excellence, and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Next time you listen to Rush Limbaugh or Bill Maher, see if they live up to these words.. and then turn them off!
Walk Humbly – I have always been struck by these words. Humility – comes from the Latin “humus” – earth, dirt, ground. It is very humbling to know that one day you and I will return to the earth – we can’t take anything with us. And how do you want people to remember you – what better than to be remembered for being just, kind, and down to earth, of the earth – humble.
This is all that the Lord requires and it isn’t an “OR ELSE…” Rather, it is a WHY NOT – why not move in the direction of your deepest yearning to be free, to be known, to be you? You will FEEL better.
We make it so hard, when it is so simple. We make our religion full of obligations, and heavy requirement – it is more an opportunity than an obligation. No guilt – but an invitation: to justice, to kindness, to humility.
Last year the Session discerned that it was time to re-commit to our core values of hospitality and worship, of justice and joy, and of encouraging you to grow into your spiritual gifts. This morning Laura Steiner and Jed Koops are going to share with you “good news” about a generous gift and a creative initiative that will help us live into the Micah vision. What you are about to hear is a great story and is an expression of three of our expressed values:
• Formation of small groups
• Encouragement of Spiritual growth
• Expression of Social Justice
It is potentially every bit as big as the BIG GIVE of five years ago, remember that when we gave everyone $50 to invest. Jed and Laura, come forward and share with us the vision of the Micah Initiative!
[Introduction and Explanation of The Micah Initiative by Laura Steiner, Deanne Lentz, Barb Cloud and Jed Koops]
[LAURA] The Spirit has always been alive and at work in this congregation, triggering ideas and inspiring action:
[DEANNE] In the Fall of 1970, the Spirit called us to do something about housing in Cleveland Heights. A group of people listened closely, went out into the streets, and the Home Repair Resource Center was born.
[BARB] In 2009, the Spirit called us to do something about hunger in Cleveland Heights. A group of people listened closely, planted some seeds, and Abundance Acres was born.
[CHRISTINA] In 2011 the Spirit called us to do something about racial reconciliation. A group of people listened closely, started talking, and the Courageous Conversations on Race were born.
[DEANNE] In 2011 the Spirit called us to do something about medical needs and poverty in Haiti. A group of people listened closely, started building relationships, and the Haiti project was born.
[LAURA] So, following the inspiration of these and so many more who have gone before us, we announce today the “Micah Initiative” – a project to empower small groups to listen to the Spirit’s calling and follow the words of Micah 6:8 to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God, right now in this time and place. Last fall, the church received an anonymous, very special donation of $20000, given for the Ministry of Justice and Mission to distribute out into the community. Though the donors did not say where or how the money should be given, they did say that they would be “particularly pleased to see the money used as seed money for Justice and Mission work initiated by members of our congregation, especially work involving two or more members working in community with each other.” Therefore, in that spirit, we gave the first gift to support the exploration trip to Haiti and want the rest to be used by you together in community to help build the kingdom and directly benefit people outside our walls, particularly those experiencing poverty, violence, pain or injustice.
How will this work? Join us, as we envision it:
[JED] We know that many of you feel powerfully moved by injustice that you see in your daily lives, and you care deeply about issues in our larger world. Perhaps you were particularly struck by statistics you read recently about violence or poverty or access to health care or education…or perhaps a relationship you have or would like to have with someone different from you has challenged you to see the world differently…or perhaps the privileges you experience helped you through a difficult time – and you wonder how others make it through similar experiences without those privileges. You may feel overwhelmed at what to do in the face of the pain you see in the world, but you hear the words of Jesus calling you to respond.
[LAURA] We know also that all of you are beautifully gifted and find that life sparkles when you are doing what you love. Maybe you love to make food or write poetry or sing or “tinker with stuff” or play softball or read the newspaper . Many of us know the words of Frederick Buechner that say, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Can you imagine a way that your gifts and joys can be used to bring hope and community where there is pain and injustice?
[JED] We can imagine this – in this Pentecost season and beyond, we can see Forest Hill Church responding with creativity and integrity and love in ways both new and ancient, following the urgings of the Spirit that comforts and agitates us, that calls us to take the truth of everyone’s belovedness out into the world in big and small ways.
[LAURA] Our hope is that this Micah Initiative will be a spark to help you listen and respond to your heart in new ways. Maybe those people who love making food will start having friendship meals with our food pantry guests. Maybe the ones who love to sing will go caroling in nursing homes. Maybe those people who were moved by their visit to the Middle East will come back together to teach us all new ways to take action for peace. Maybe those people who are struck by the Cleveland poverty statistics will join with the ones who love to read the newspaper and together they’ll start a discussion group with homeless men at 2100 Lakeside. These are just a few ideas – we know that many more exciting possibilities will bubble up. Our challenge is that you listen to the Spirit’s urging, discern together in community, and then act…and if and when funds are needed, you can apply for them.
[JED] So here is the process:
You can enter this initiative in many ways. You can identify a group, then choose a project. Or you can choose a project, then identify a group. A group can be as few as two people, as many as ten or twelve – friends, couples, families, social groups, ministries, Pathways classes, the youth group, or just folks who share an interest. We ask that you pray individually and together, then develop an idea for a project and present it to the Ministry of Justice and Mission. If you need some money to help make it happen, there will be a simple application that you can complete, and we will review the first round of applications at the beginning of August.
[LAURA] We have flyers at the door describing the details of the Initiative (so don’t worry, you don’t need to take notes). But you can apply for tiny or large grants as needed – maybe, for example, you just need $50 for food or art supplies, or maybe you need a much larger chunk to make your idea happen. Either way, we do ask that the proposals show the following, in keeping with the spirit of the original donation:
- A small group (2 or more people) working together in community.
- The project idea (and funding) must benefit people outside of the church, particularly those experiencing poverty, violence, injustice, or any kind of pain.
- Tell us how your actions will be “doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.”
- Include a plan to support the projects and small groups spiritually – will you pray together, study scripture, read a spiritual book, reflect together on how this is challenging your faith? This is a final essential part of the process, as we seek to ground ourselves, as John said, to walk humbly with God.
[JED] If you have an idea, but feel overwhelmed or confused by the process – please, please come talk to us or shoot us an email. We’ll be at the kiosk after church today and available in the weeks ahead. We even have nifty yellow buttons on so you can identify us today. We are very excited to see what happens from here – we want to support and empower these ideas and have resources to share, connections we can make.
[LAURA] Now we know that for many of you, life feels too full and busy already to add something more – and this is okay. But, if you feel you can, we do ask that you take time to listen to your heart – is God calling you to try something new? This initiative is not meant to bring burden or guilt, but to empower any of us to live into the unique dreams that we have for a more just and kind world. Don’t get hung up thinking you need to have a big, brand new idea – we envision lots of small, simple actions working together to bring glimpses of the kingdom, as they always have. On the other hand, if you have a big idea, now just might be the time to give it a try. So dream big, dream small, but name your dream – and let’s see if we can make it happen together. In so doing, there will be successes and failures and this is okay – it means that we are taking risks and living boldly, following the Spirit. As we do, we hope that the words of Micah and the example of Jesus will lead us ever further into justice & joy, love & compassion – and as the words of the song said, God (and all of us!) will delight as we help create the kingdom in this time and place.
Last week was Pentecost and I challenged myself and you to pray more for the spirit – to trust even in the messiness of creation that abundance will come. Today I am feeling agitated: because what you pray for, just might happen.
We will be a Micah congregation – let the spirit work. AMEN.