A sermon by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, based on Micah 6:1-8. "Authentic Faith" ______________________________________________________________________
The setting of our first lesson today is that of a court case. The prophet Micah, speaks a Word from the Lord, which pictures God as prosecutor and judge and the people of Judah on trial as the defendant. Micah calls on the mountains and foundations of the earth to witness this court case. Micah begins the proceedings by speaking for God and providing evidence that reminded the Israelites how God delivered them from Egyptian slavery; provided them with faithful leaders like Moses, Aaron, and Miriam; delivered them from the Moabites; transformed a curse against them into a blessing; and gave them safe passage from one side of the Jordan River to the other, into the Promised Land.
This evidence confirmed that God had been faithful to the covenant with Israel. All of these actions on God's part were reminders to the Israelites of God's saving power and presence; God's sheer and all-sufficient grace working among them. One would think that all of these divine saving actions might have made Israel more faithful to their end of keeping the covenant with God; to responding to God with praise and thanks for all that God had done. But, alas, tragically this was not the case. Rather, the people of Judah drifted away from keeping their end of the covenant; they departed from God and God's ways.
They start to take God and the covenant for granted; to become more selfish, proud, greedy and corrupt. In their business practices, they cheated their customers by tampering with their weights and measures. The wealthy landowners were squeezing the poorer folks out of their property. In general, there was less compassion for the disenfranchised in society. Moreover, according to Micah, even the worship offered by the people had become a sham and mockery. Micah says that even though the people might believe that they were faithful by performing impressive worship gatherings; their worship did not please God. According to Micah, their worship may have been flawless on the outside--but God sees into the deepest regions of the heart and, on this level, their worship was sheer hypocrisy, since the people had broken their end of the covenant with God. God could never be bribed, appeased, cajoled, pacified or deceived by their offerings and sacrifices--especially when they had failed to love their God by not loving their neighbour.
It is at this point that Micah, speaking God's word, calls the people of Judah to repent and turn away from their evil and sinful ways, saying: "He 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?" This is not only what repentance is all about, it also captures the heart and core of genuine, authentic faith for Jews and Christians. It's another way of saying love God and love your neighbour.
The commitment to "do justice" is a very dangerous one. I think that we, more often than not, feel rather threatened by it because we've got a guilty conscience by virtue of being Canadians who enjoy certain freedoms, rights and privileges and a standard of living that others might, at best, only dream of. Moreover, to maintain our standards of lifestyle here in Canada, often means that we, like the wealthy of Judah, exploit and plunder the poor nations. It probably troubles us even more, when we have to face up to the fact that far too many Canadians today are homeless and living in intolerable situations for a country as prosperous as ours. To do justice is dangerous and risky--it doesn't usually win friends and influence people. Especially when we begin to ask questions such as: "How do we compare with the ancient people of Judah? Are we not as selfish, proud, greedy and corrupt as they were? What can we do to fight the root causes of poverty? Is it possible for us to work for the reform of our laws so that the best interests of the voiceless and poorest among us are respected and protected?"
For many of us, justice is far to threatening, because it involves too many radical changes in our lives. The Reverend Dr. David H.C. Read put it very concisely: "To seek justice may not work for me. It may involve voting for measures that will mean that I pay more taxes. It may trouble my conscience when I over-eat when others are starving. It may make me almost as sensitive to wrong done to others as I am when they are done to me."
Micah doesn't stop with justice however, since justice alone may fast become cruelty and injustice for others. The prophet adds to doing justice, "to love kindness." In the Hebrew sense, the word for kindness here is highly relational. It refers to a loyal, loving relationship like that of a husband and wife in a good, healthy marriage. Kindness as loyalty to God and neighbour are indispensable. They indeed do make a difference in people's lives. Lord Shaftsbury, who championed the cause of the poor and oppressed, once said: "During a long life I have proved that not one kind word ever spoken, not one kind deed ever done, but sooner or later returns to bless the giver, and becomes a chain binding us with golden bands to the throne of God."
Kindness, like justice can be dangerous for us, since it might very well lead us to take risks, which threaten our well being. We may feel threatened by kindness too. As the Reverend Dr. Read put it: "To love kindness may not work for me. It may make demands on my time, my money or my natural inclination towards the easy life. But justice and kindness still shine like the stars in this world that God has made, and when I fail to pursue them, I can only say: 'Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.'"
Kindness is taking the time to be patient with that person who annoys you; to listen with care to them and learn from them. Kindness is seeing Christ in our neighbour to serve Christ in serving that person. Kindness is also celebrating Christ's presence in that other person as they serve us.
The prophet Micah adds a third requirement to those who would quest after living an authentic faith. He says: "walk humbly with your God." The word walk here means, literally, "to live." The word humbly in the Hebrew might also be translated as "carefully," or "with care." Humility or being a caring person is not always appreciated or valued in our society. How often have you heard people say? "I don't care," or "who cares!" Walking humbly with our God makes us realize and live with the consciousness of the fact that we are sinners in need of God's grace and forgiveness every day of our lives. To walk humbly means living as disciples of Christ--that is learners, students of Christ. Even the oldest among us still have things to learn. We are always learning and growing in our faith journey.
Frederick Buechner once observed that: "True humility doesn't consist of thinking ill of yourself but of not thinking of yourself much differently from the way you'd be apt to think of anybody else. It is the capacity for being no more and no less pleased when you play your own hand well than when your opponents do."
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, the authentic faith of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God is a life-long journey. Are you willing to travel wherever God leads you on this journey?