11/11/18 – JV – Micah’s Other Words

Jazz Vespers, Nov.11, 2018
Homily Micah 1:3-5; 5:2-5a; 6:6-8
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

 

Micah’s Other Words

Micah 6:8 is probably a very familiar verse: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” It is so familiar it has become almost trite. You see it on coffee cups, refrigerator magnets and bumper stickers. So, let us look at some earlier parts of Micah. Micah, chapter 6 is the next to the last chapter in this short prophetic book.

We start with Micah 1:3-5:

For lo, the Lord is coming out of his place, and will come down and tread
upon the high places of the earth. 4Then the mountains will melt under him
and the valleys will burst open, like wax near the fire, like waters poured
down a steep place. 5All this is for the transgression of Jacob and for the
sins of the house of Israel.”

The book of Micah is filled with unbridled criticism for the nation Israel has become. According to the prophet, Israel has not been toeing the line God had drawn for them. In fact, they are so far from the line they have forgotten where it is. The rich and powerful have run roughshod over the poor and the powerless. Micah warns of God’s punishment which will lay waste the Southern kingdom of the once great nation, Israel. The Northern half has already been conquered by the Assyrians and Micah warns that Judah will suffer the same fate.

Micah speaks to Jerusalem. He addresses the leaders as those “who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong.” He threatens them, “Because of you . . . Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins” Micah also speaks to his colleagues, other prophets, who are not “telling it like it is.” Micah makes this accusation: “They aim their word, not in accordance with justice but with their own advantage.”

Micah attacks the injustice in Judean government and society. Injustice, he claims, primarily shows itself in three sinful deeds:

  • Coveting what belongs to others. He takes the word “covet from the 9th and 10th Commandments. (Ex. 20:17)

“They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them; they oppress a man and his family, a man and his inheritance.”                                                                                             

Perverting justice. Micah speaks to the sin of wealthy and powerful people using their positions of influence and opportunity to deprive the vulnerable of their land, homes and property (2.1-2, 8-9, 7.3) Micah attributes this not only to their coveting, but also their arrogant sense of entitlement. They do it, Micah accuses: “because it is in their power to do so.” Micah also claims: “This city’s leaders give judgment for a bribe;

  • Micah 3:11) He claims that people in positions of authority manufactured approval for their selfish actions by appointing prophets who are “yes men” (2:11)
  • Religious hypocrisy. Micah condemns Jerusalem’s religious leaders when he claims: “its priests interpret the law for pay; its prophets give their revelations for money” He also chastises “false prophets:” Micah 3:5‑7. Micah waves his finger in the faces of these false prophets asserting God will not respond to those who distort God’s word to fit their own advantage or to elicit applause from their audiences. (3:7) In Micah 6, we will read that Micah tells the community leaders who put on lavish feasts and parties to celebrate religious festivals are not truly worshiping God but merely putting on a show to flaunt their wealth.

Then in Micah 5:2-5a, the prophet has a few words of comfort. After Judah is conquered and destroyed, God will redeem the land. Out of Bethlehem, in Judah, will come a new leader who will bring Israel and Judah back to God.

“Now you are walled around with a wall; siege is laid against us; with a rod
they strike the ruler of Israel upon the cheek. 2But you, O Bethlehem of
Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth
 for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient
days. 3Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor
has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.
4And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty
of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be
great to the ends of the earth; 5and he shall be the one of peace.”

As we approach Advent and the Christmas season, we recognize that Christians interpret these words as referring to the coming of Jesus Christ.

It is in referen to hypocritical religiosity that Micah begins his prescription for repentance and redemption for Israel. In chapter 6:6-8 we read:

“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7Will the
Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin
of my soul?” 8He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the
Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with
your God?”

What would doing justice look like in our nation, society and community today? How about loving kindness? Fred Rogers, a Presbyterian minister of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” fame cited three rules for success: “Kindness, kindness and kindness.” How do we walk humbly? Micah would tell us we do this by divesting ourselves of the notion that the world should play by our rules rather than God’s.

This one verse packs a powerful message and challenge. There is so much injustice, unkindness, and toxic selfishness in the world, it seems overwhelming and, at times, hopeless. But, this piece of wisdom from the Jewish Talmud puts it in a manageable perspective:

                            “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now”

If all the folks who claim a religion that believes this passage from Micah to be God’s Word – Jews, Christians and Muslims. Imagine how the world could be transformed! But we are not called to judge others’ compliance, but to do what we know God wants us to do at every opportunity.

Amen. May it be so.

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church
1420 W. Moss Avenue – Peoria Illinois 61606
WestminsterPeoria.org   |   309.673.8501