One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Micah 6:8: “You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you; Only to do justice and to love goodness and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah was a prophet who lived troubled times: there was oppression within the community of Judah itself, as well as outside forces threatening the nation. Micah spoke eloquently against the social sins of the people, crying out against the oppression of the poor by the rich, the weak by the mighty. Sound familiar?
Micah stressed that ethical behavior is really God’s basic command; practicing kindness, justice and equity is what it means to be the image of God on earth. Micah saw that the people chose instead to hide behind empty religious rituals hoping to please God. But Micah knows what God wants most: repentance and humbling before him. The prophet rebukes them, summing up in one sentence what all the prophets have been telling the people: Please God by doing justice (be fair and do what is right for other people); loving kindness (act with consideration towards others); walking humbly with your God (love God and obey him). We humans try so often to have our own way and then try to “buy off” God with doing religious things. The Micah passage reminds us that God’s grace flows over us, calling us into a personal relationship with God which motivates us to action, action which promote justice, freedom from oppression, merciful and charitable acts, and love for all of God’s people. God’s revelation is not about restricting us needlessly with laws, but about transforming our hearts and minds until we can’t help but do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. Until, in other words, we become more and more like Christ.
In a group of pastors recently, I witnessed an open conflict between two members about a theological issue that turned ugly. It struck me that these people had lots of religious “rituals” in their lives: they spoke Christian words, they could recite biblical passages, they raised their hands in the right places in the songs. But when the disagreement began, it was apparent that some nasty and non-Christian attitudes were lurking in their minds and hearts still. That is, I’m sure, true of us all. This society has become very polarized; to the extent that we sometimes demonize those who disagree with us. Part of the grace we can show one another is to listen respectfully even to those we do not agree with and to wait for our turn to speak. So here’s my Lenten prayer for our country:
God of understanding and love: Help us to remember that you are the holder of all wisdom, not us. Guide us in our search for truth and enable us to hear your voice speaking to us through other people. We have much to learn from each other and we ask for patience and self-control to listen with respect to those who differ from us theologically or any other way. As the God who created our diversity, we rejoice with you in our differences. In Christ’s name, we pray.
Peace, Pastor Cheryl