Well, God has a controversy against Israel. And the setting [of Micah 6] is a court room. God Almighty versus the Children of Israel. (Guess who’s going to win?) The mountains and hills serve as the jury; very serious and very formal.
But despite this very serious courtroom setting, I can’t quite shake off the image of God sounding like a stereotypical Jewish/Presbyterian mother: “What have I ever done to you – that you treat me this way? I bring you out of Egypt, I give you leaders, I separate waters, I give you a home… and you treat me like this? You never call, you never write…like Moses or Aaron or Miriam do.”
God is a heart-broken parent. It is too late for flowers, for gifts, for “ten thousands of rivers of oil.” Mother God intones, “You know better! You’re grounded! Maybe even a time-out in exile. And while you are sitting there, consider this; THIS is what I require: Justice. Kindness. Humility.”
So let us, in our collective “time-out” called a sermon – which I know is punishment for some of you – consider these things.
Do Justice : Very prophetic – very political. I love doing justice, preaching prophetically, and acting politically. It is very empowering to identify the “enemy” and go after them. To get all worked up pushing for your just agenda, feeling all righteous and then going home and watching Glee on TV.
I love to get all “prophetic” railing against the powers and principalities and how they treat the poor. And indeed, there is no way around it – Israel was, as every nation is, held accountable by God to how those on the edge, the marginalized, the poor are treated – this is the definition of justice.
Jim Wallis, an evangelical Christian who founded the Sojourners community, remembers a time in Seminary when he and some friends took a Bible and cut out all the passages having to do with God’s special care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, the stranger – those who were on the outside looking in; the result of this experiment? There was hardly anything left…justice was indeed the thread holding the whole narrative together.
Micah tells us to DO justice – not just the idealism of it but the action calling for structural and societal renovation. The Bible calls for more than individual charity, more than personal generosity. There is simply no way around this divine imperative.
The temptation however, is to demonize those who don’t see “justice” the way you do. Everybody from Fox News to MSNBC from the liberal and conservative fringes of the parties, to people engaged in foreclosure issues or Pro-Life or gun control, rejoicing Republicans, and titillated tea party-ites and depressed democrats – are so certain of their righteousness, their own just cause – there is no room for conversation.
God demands justice – but justice tempered by kindness. The Hebrew word here is “chesed” – “loving-kindness, mercy, pity;” A rich and wonderful word of many nuances. Thinking the best of the other – not getting nasty, and not beating yourself up either. Seeing the “other” – even the enemy – as a kindred soul, yes, a beloved child of God worthy of respect. It is not a zero sum game of winners and losers.
We are to “love kindness” – to give your heart to being gentle, affirming, respectful, civil. I am reminded of the exhortation that Paul gave to the church in Philippi (4:8) “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing , whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” That is the kind of deeper kindness that I think God requires of us.
Justice shaped by kindness – a smoothing of the edginess. It is what kept The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King grounded – he refused to give into hate, Bishop Tutu too! Truth AND Reconciliation// Justice and Kindness. I know the tension, I feel the tension, of believing something so deeply (I KNOW I am right!) but we simply have to hold all things loosely.
Justice shaped by kindness is not just an individual choice. For the most part people in Forest Hill disagree about a lot of things but we share our truth in love, we share in fellowship and mission – we are really quite nice to each other, and rightfully so. But here is the next step – we must demand of our leaders the same quality. We cannot be kind to each other in public and in private watch television shows that only tell us what we want to hear and in fact demonize the opposition.
I remember the line from the movie “The Untouchables” – Eliot Ness has decided to get just as violent as Al Capone’s mob. The character played by Sean Connery says to Eliot Ness: “They kill one of yours, you kill three of theirs.” And so that is what happens – but there is a scene where Ness observes a street flowing with the blood of the dead and the voice over intones: “We have become what we have beheld.” We have become what we hear and what we see. Lincoln’s “better angels” I fear have become “sordid demons.”
And that is why the third divine requirement may be the most important:
To be humbled is to be brought down a peg, usually with some embarrassment, right?
Being humbled and being humiliated are from the same root – something to be avoided, if possible. Although we hope that LeBron is humbled on Dec. 7 when he comes back to town).
Jesus had some things to say about humility. “Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of God.” (Matt 18:4) “Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey…” (Matt. 21:5) and “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”(Matt. 23:12)
Our English word “humble,” “humility” and “humiliation” are derived from the Latin “humus” – no, not humus that delightful paste of ground chick-peas that you scoop up with pita bread – but “humus” – “the organic component of soil, formed by the decomposition of leaves and other plant material by soil microorganism,” as the Oxford American Dictionary defines it.
The words “humble,” “humility,” “humiliation” are “rooted” in being grounded, in knowing your own organic composition. To be humble means to know yourself. Humility really has very little to do with being taken down a peg, or belittling your gift. Just the opposite: Humility is power. Being so grounded you come forth from the shadows into the light.
“Know thyself” was the maxim of the great Greek philosopher Socrates – this was the source of liberation. We are reminded again and again in the Bible we cannot really come to know ourselves fully outside of God’s grace and mercy.
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius gives this advice to his son Laertes: “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
To be true to self is to be true to the person God made you to be. To understand our identity as a creation of God, an inspired mud creature (for that really is the Hebrew understanding of how God created humanity – scooped up mud and breathed into it Gen 2:7b)) puts everything else into perspective. The writer of the book of Genesis reminds Adam and Eve “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19b) back to the humus, the soil from whence we came.
I find it compelling that the great 20th theologian Paul Tillich described God as “the ground of being.” Recasting the divine as not “out there!” and beyond human experience, but rather God as the very soil from which you and I come. God is the most basic, fundamental, organic reality.
Justice and kindness spring from this reality of humility – being grounded. For how can we perpetuate systems of inequity when we have come to the realization that at our core we are humus – dust and to dust we shall return, that all share this fate? We are created to share the Creation. In the creation story plants and all the animals come from the ground too – so we share a common identity with all of nature.
Justice becomes an issue of right human relationship, restoring them – economic, ecological justice, is grounded on the soil of humility – we remember who we are. It is NOT about exceptionalism – it is about humility.
I remember a very scary man in a former church – he was intimidating. I tried to avoid him. It was only in his final days when he was breaking down that I broke down myself and visited him – and saw and learned and even loved. Why do we wait for death – to throw that which can be composted – the rubbish, the waste into the heap of reconciliation and honesty and redemption and let the spirit of God refine us and decompose us and make us whole?
Humility – we are who we are because of the rich loam of love. So grounded, rooted in the soil of such an identity we will restore the relationship with God, we will find ourselves afresh and do great things for God’s kingdom: Justice, Kindness, Humility – grounded to be glorified.