November 11, 2018 Sermon

“Making Things Right”                                                                                 Micah 1:3-5, 5:2-5a, 6:6-8
Rev. Sean Weston                                                                                                                           
Lyonsville Congregational UCC, Indian Head Park IL
November 11, 2018

Two weeks ago we explored Wisdom through King Solomon of Israel. I mentioned that Solomon didn’t always do a great job of listening to the wisdom God gave him. In fact, he left quite a mess when he died. His son Rehoboam was supposed to become king. He was challenged by a former official named Jeroboam. The kingdom split in two: a northern kingdom and a southern kingdom. The northern kingdom, Israel. The southern kingdom, Judah.

Fast-forward a couple hundred years, to the time of the prophet Micah. Micah lived in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. While he was active, the powerful and brutal Assyrian empire defeated the Northern Kingdom. Judah was tiny and was allowed to exist as long as they paid a lot of money each year. At the same time their economy was changing: people with more money and land abused the system and got even more. Those with less had even that taken away. It was a terrifying time. Everything was changing. Nothing seemed safe anymore.

When times get hard people ask a lot of questions. Why is this happening? Did we do something wrong? Is God angry at us? How can we fix this?

Micah had answers. was one of many prophets active at this time. Prophets are those who speak a message they feel is from God. He was from a small town. He watched as small farms became big farms. He watched as his neighbors scratched out a living while others lived large. He may have known people who fought and died in battle. And he did not like what he saw. He did not like it one bit. And God had given him something to say.

The problem, he said, is us. And God is not happy.

Our rulers give judgment for a bribe, he said. That means if you’re rich enough you can buy anything you want. You can even get your neighbor’s house foreclosed and take it from them.

Our priests teach for a price, he said. That means if you can pay, they’ll say you’re living just fine no matter how many of God’s laws you’ve broken. Our prophets, he said, lead the people astray. They cry “peace” with full bellies, but war against those with nothing to eat. All of those leaders will be punished, Micah says. God has judged us, and we are doomed to be destroyed.

For that reason, most of this book of the Bible hasn’t been terribly popular, except for one verse, which I’ll get to in a minute. Micah is something like this:

It was like that at the time, too. At one point in the book, the land barons who were taking and taking said “do not preach – one should not preach of such things; disgrace will not overtake us.” But Micah responded, saying he could not be silent as long as the people’s behavior was so harmful. But he knew the people didn’t want to hear it. They wanted a preacher, he said, who would lie to them, who would preach to them of “wine and strong drink.”

It’s not the last time in history that people have wished for preachers to preach of happier things. But God’s message isn’t always happy.

Micah did go on to preach about hope. After all the destruction, he said, new leadership will be raised up from unexpected places, and peace shall be established.  But the only way there was through a whole lot of hard stuff.

People don’t much like that. Myself included. The path to hope is often much harder than we would like.

We see that in the final scene from today’s reading. It’s the end of a courtroom scene that Micah paints. God’s courtroom. In the courtroom, God’s people are on the defense, to account for what they have done. The people’s lawyer responds asking: “with what shall I come before the Lord”? It’s another way of asking, “how can we make this right?”

And then the lawyer goes through a laundry list of sacrifices the people could make, each more intense than the other:

  • Shall I come with burnt offerings and calves?
  • Would God be pleased with thousands or rams, with rivers of oil?
  • Would God be pleased with my firstborn child?

What would be enough for you, God? What would make this right?

Then Micah jumps in and offers the one verse in this whole book that gets quoted a lot: “God 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 a beautiful verse. It summarizes the message of many biblical prophets: Do Justice. Love Kindness. Walk Humbly with God.

But it often gets pulled out of context and just dropped out there as if it’s easy and simple. If it were, the people would have already done it. For example, nobody even agrees on what justice means. I believe justice is when everybody’s needs are met so they don’t just live, but thrive. Others believe justice means you should spend decades in prison for non-violent drug offenses. So to “do justice” is anything but simple. The same can be said about loving kindness. What is kind? These things are anything but easy and simple, which is probably one reason that people in Micah’s time were doing anything they could do avoid it.

They wanted to sacrifice something to make it right. But God didn’t want them to sacrifice. God wanted them to change. God wanted them to stop hurting each other, to stop giving the rich what little the poor had left. God wanted the religious leaders to stop blessing all these schemes in God’s name. God wanted the prophets to stop lying and saying everything was a-ok.

They wanted to sacrifice. God wanted them to change.

It turns out this is a pretty common thing.

For example, in relationships of every kind, we make mistakes. Maybe at work we’re always late to complete projects and it messes others up. Maybe we don’t do our fair share at home, or we are mean to each other. At some point, we realize we’ve done wrong and want to make it right. The first response is often to make a sacrifice of some kind: to buy expensive flowers or a gift, or do to everyone else’s chores, or to come in early and do a favor at work. And those things can be fine and good. But they have to be part of a bigger picture – becoming a better version of yourself. But how often do we make sacrifices but keep on doing the same old things? The people around you would rather you change.

(This is especially common in abusive relationships. Abusers will try to “make it up to you” through sacrifices, but the behavior never changes).

This happens every time two or more people are gathered together: whether a church or a nation. In churches, organizations, workplaces across the world life when things start getting hard, what do people naturally do? Buckle down. Work harder. Sacrifice more. And again, these choices can be fine and good. But only if it’s part of being a better version of yourself. That means not just sacrifices: it means change. Only doing those things that make you better and refusing to do things that don’t. Sacrifice might seem easier than change.

Micah knew hope was on the other side of change, but that change was going to hurt. I don’t have to share his belief that God destroys nations in order to recognize that change hurts, whether good change or not. Every time we grow and change we have to let go of something. We have to let go of who we have been to become who we can be. And no matter how good and hopeful that is, it hurts. Think of a parent excited about a child growing up so amazingly, but missing those first days of kindergarten. Every time we grow we leave something behind.

What does God want from us? God does not want endless sacrifices. God does not want us to run ourselves ragged, or to give so much that there is nothing left for ourselves. God has already told us what is good: To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. That may be harder even than the hardest sacrifices. But it is the good path. The path to life and to hope. May we walk along that path.