Doing Justice, Loving Kindness and Walking Humbly with your God

Published: Monday, 30 October 2017

This sermon was presented by Geoff Pound at ABC on 29 October 2017. It is the first in a series on Micah 6:8, in which we are reflecting on our ministries in the light of this biblical vision toward the celebration of our church anniversary and annual meeting on 26 November 2017. The manuscript is followed by questions for personal reflection and group study.

Scripture Reading: Micah 6:1 - 8

God Challenges Israel

Last Tuesday, family and friends gathered at a church in Warrandyte to celebrate the life of Peter Bentley’s father, Ed Bentley.[1] He died at the ripe old age of 99.[2]

Through the colourful tributes from Peter and his brothers, we learned how much Ed loved the word of God and believed in its power, so much so that he cultivated the habit of writing out verses of Scripture on cards.[3]

He kept these in his pocket and whenever people visited or he met people down the street, he’d give them one of these cards with the words, ‘Be Encouraged’.

When his family was cleaning up his room they found a box of more than 1,000 of these hand-written cards, so his grandchildren gave these out to the 400 people attending his funeral.[4]

It was a lovely thing getting something so personal as a hand-written card from the person who had died.

Today I want to give you a Bible verse so that you might ‘be encouraged’. It’s an important verse because it answers a question asked by genuine seekers down through the centuries: ‘What does the Lord require of you?’[5]

 

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?

(Micah 6:8)

This is such a significant verse because many years ago this church began to use this verse to frame everything we do:

Doing Justice (this speaks of our Mission)

Loving Kindness (this describes our Community)

Walking Humbly (this sums up our Spirituality)

On Sunday 26 November at 10am, we’re going to be celebrating our church anniversary and holding our annual meeting. Our Pastors thought it would be good in these Sundays leading up to this milestone to reflect again on Ashburton Baptist’s Magna Carta, to take time to review all our work through the lens of this verse and to be alert to new ministries that might be stimulated by this biblical vision.

First some background to Micah and some context to this verse. The name ‘Micah’ means, ‘Who is like the Lord?’ He lived in the eighth century before Christ. He lived in the little village of Moresheth-Gath in southern Judah.[6]

When you drive to Gippsland or further east in Victoria, you’re very likely to stop off for a cuppa at the little town of Yarragon. Apart from making coffee one café sells souvenirs, and one of their T-shirts has printed on the front: ‘New York, London, Paris, Yarragon’.

The locals have a great sense of their significance and this is necessary to combat the city slickers who think: ‘Can anything good come out of Yarragon?’

Well, Micah didn’t come from Jerusalem like the prophet Isaiah. He came from this little, hic town of Moresheth 21 miles south west of Jerusalem and on the border of the Philistine land called Gath. Like Micah, never despise the day of small things and small places.

That’s reassuring when we think, “What can I do?’

That’s encouraging when we think of the immensity of the need.

Apart from today’s verse (Micah 6:8) we may not remember too many of Micah’s other words but most years at Christmastime we read Matthew’s Gospel in which he quotes from the book of Micah. When King Herod inquired where the Messiah was to be born:

They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

(Micah 5:2; Matthew 2: 5-6)

Micah refers to another significant figure who was born in a tin-pot town and raised in that nothing place called ‘Nazareth’.

Micah went to the big smoke in Jerusalem and from street to street he’d preach to anyone who would listen. He had some colourful techniques.

Mike Riddell was a Baptist pastor in the inner city of Auckland. Many of the people in his community were living in public housing and the Auckland City Council wanted to get rid of these old homes but this move would dislocate and push the poor to the outer suburbs.

Attending one City Council meeting when they were discussing these decisions, this Baptist pastor suddenly stepped out of the public gallery and took off his trousers! Standing there in his boxer shorts, he told these politicians that they were stripping the poor of their shelter and their dignity. This undressing act hit the headlines. It was top of the national news on the television. Mike was criticized for being sensational but when questioned he said he was only doing what the Hebrew prophets used to do.

This is exactly what Micah did in Jerusalem. In verse 8 of chapter one Micah says:

For this I will lament and wail;
    I will go barefoot and naked;

(Micah 1:8)

 

Micah stripped down to his underpants as if to say,

“If you don’t obey God’s word and get your lives in order, you will be as destitute as I am.”

Today’s passage illustrates the colourful language that Micah used.

He says

For the Lord has a controversy with his people,
    and he will contend with Israel.

(Micah 6:2)

 

‘God has a lawsuit against you. Israel is in the witness box. Plead your case before the mountains and hills’.

God, in bringing the case, is shown to be a God of justice and mercy. God’s credentials are being laid out:

For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
    and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
(Micah 6:4)

Micah poses the most important question:

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
    and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before God with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will 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?”

(Micah 6: 6-7)

What must we do to obtain God’s approval?

Bring burnt offerings with a herd of the finest calves?

Will God be happy with thousands of rams in the offering?

What about ten thousand rivers of oil, or in our currency $10,000 in the offering?

Or ten thousand songs of worship singing the song ‘10,000 reasons’ for 10,000 years?

Or

Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

Hey, he’s been reading the story of Abraham called to sacrifice Isaac.[7]

No, Micah says, what we do in the worship place is not enough, and he comes to his climax:

 

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?

(Micah 6:8)

We can offer extreme wealth in worship and that is great.

We can sing loving songs and so we must.

We can pray sincere prayers but all this is no substitute and is completely useless unless we in our daily lives are:

Doing justice

Loving kindness

Walking humbly with our God.

We don’t have time to think of all three dimensions now because these are going to be unfolded in the next three Sundays.[8]

Let’s start thinking about Doing Justice because it helps us to see how Micah was engaged. Micah came from a farming district. The politicians were raising the taxes so high the farmers couldn’t afford it.

When interest rates were raised to impossible levels by the politicians, widows and children became homeless (Micah 2).

Micah doesn’t stay in his town. He heads to Jerusalem to expose this evil. As a farmer, he adopts the language of the abattoir and he says ‘stop butchering my people’:

“You who hate the good and love the evil,
who tear the skin off my people,
    and the flesh off their bones.”

(Micah 3:2)

Doing justice [mishpat] is standing up for the oppressed, the widows, the strangers, the homeless and the poorest people and ensuring that they are cared for.

When Micah was calling for justice locally, I immediately thought of the 35,000 people who are on the waiting list for public housing in Victoria, the 380 homeless people in the City of Boroondara[9] and the housing situation here in Ashburton.

Those 56 Markham Estate post war public houses needed to be demolished but the State Government is taking this land that was used completely for public housing and they’ve planned a private/public mix which will accommodate less people in public housing than before.[10]

The State Government is lured by the prospect of making millions of dollars from building and selling off 163 houses on land they never had to pay for. 163 at Ashburton prices of 1 million dollars+. You do the maths. This is injustice at our own back door.

Micah’s call for justice is not just parochial. It has an international dimension as he speaks against the military might of the Assyrians who were planning another takeover. (Micah 1: 5-16)[11]

I thought about our call to do justice at the global level when this week Tim Costello was interviewed from the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh.[12]  

In the last two months, 600,000 Muslim Rohingyas have walked for 10 days without food, after having their villages burned down, loved ones killed and their women raped. Tim said they have been thrown together in such concentration with rain and 40 degree heat.

He says, “I have been to lots of terrible camps but this tops the list. This is like the gates of hell.” They need immediate aid—rice, salt, cooking oil and clean water—but justice goes beyond charity and call for change to the structures and systems that have created this violence and deprivation.

To these people who are stateless, homeless and hopeless, justice calls for a land where they can be free, for homes where they can be safe and for some bright future for them and their children. It calls for the portrayal of Micah’s positive vision when he says:

They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
    and no one shall make them afraid;

(Micah 4:3 - 4)

Some people will say, “Calling for justice on behalf of the poor, the homeless, the refugees, the discriminated against, the indigenous population and the gay community is not something the church should be getting into.”

This is exactly what the people told Micah. They said, ‘Shut up. Stop lamenting. It weakens the public morale.’

The politicians said to Micah, ‘You have become an enemy of the state.’ (Like some people say, ‘You are un-Australian’).

The priests said, ‘Preach the Gospel.’

 

“Do not preach”—thus they preach—
    “one should not preach of such things;
    disgrace will not overtake us.”

(Micah 2:6)

 

Doing justice isn’t easy. It’s not popular.

It can be overwhelming doing justice at home and abroad.

There’s also the dimension of calling for justice for our environment.

When it next rains, take a walk around our trails along Gardiners Creek. You will see on both banks so much plastic that is choking our waterways. We’ve been appointed caretakers of God’s earth but we’re also called to stand up for the earth when it’s polluted and abused.

We’re also called to Love Kindness and to Walk Humbly with our God.

It’s not one thing but three things. We’re to walk and chew gum at the same time. These three are interrelated. Some ministries may be a little bit of each.

We can’t say, “I’m only into justice”, and then ignore our call to be part of a community that does mercy and shows kindness.

If we only do justice without walking humbly in prayer we will dry up. We may blow up.

If we say, we’re only about prayer and contemplation we’ll become absolutely irrelevant.

The call to walk humbly implies movement. Development. Progress. So, let’s think and pray about changes and how we might go forward in this new year.

So, in these next few weeks, let’s look at our lives through this three-fold lens. Look at your ministry group, the diaconate, the church budget against this three-legged stool.

Put your small group through Micah’s prism. Is your small group doing justice? Is your small group on mission or are you just having a cozy gathering with a nice sprinkling of spirituality?

As I finish, I’m reminded of a family holiday we spent in Bosnia. In checking in to a small hotel in Sarajevo, I opened the curtains in our room. I looked down a few metres below and the roof over one part of the hotel was still broken and buckled from a bomb that had landed on it just a few years earlier.

The next day we saw on so many of the buildings the pock marks from bullets fired when 25 years ago Croats, Serbs, Muslims and Christians battled in that bloody and hopeless time.

In the open square of the city centre there’s a bronze statue, not of a general on a horse or a king on his throne but of an ordinary man, sitting on a café chair, playing his cello.

This statue reminds people of that civil war when everyone became an enemy of someone else. Except one man. Vedran Smailovic, the principal cellist with the Sarajevo Opera Orchestra. When mortar fire struck a breadline in front of a bakery killing 22 people, he thought, ‘What can I do?’ This hatred had been going on for centuries.

The next day hungry people lined up for bread certain they would die if they didn’t come for bread and convinced they would die if they did.

Then it happened. Vedran Smailovic arrived. Dressed in his black suit and white tie, carrying his cello and a chair. He sat down in the square littered with debris and began to play Albinoni’s ‘Adagio’. He came back, shelling or no shelling, for the next 21 days to do the same thing.

This monument of a man playing his cello is testimony to the importance of each of us doing what we can against the noise of injustice and violence.

This national hero is tribute to the beauty that can be reborn in the midst of hatred and death.

The music of his cello is the sound of hope which is not waiting for things to get better but getting going and doing what we can, as we are open to this God who makes things new.

Prayer

Loving God, bless our time of review as individuals and as a church community.

Show us how we can align and realign our service more faithfully with your vision.

Teach us to be sensitive to the ways you are calling us to serve and to be.

Enable us to be hopeful and trusting that the little we do will make a difference.

Thank you for your call to be part of a community of kindness and mercy.

You planted us here more than 80 years ago.

Show us how we can be your instruments for justice locally and throughout your world.

To be people of kindness and mercy.

To be those who walk humbly with our God.

May our worship today in this place energize and shape us for our life and service tomorrow and in this new week.

Amen.

Questions for Personal reflection and Group Discussion

Icebreaker

What information can we amass about the prophet Micah?

Which of his words are most memorable to you?

Can you think of any songs that have been inspired by Micah?

Can Anything Good Come Out of Moresheth-Gath?

Micah came from the rural town of Moresheth on the border of Gath (Philistine region), 25 miles south-west of Jerusalem.

Have you or anyone you know been subjected to the little town syndrome and if so, how have you or they overcome it?

What encourages you about this citizen, Micah, coming from a little place and yet making an impact on his nation and his world?

Consider the Colourful Ways Micah Sought to Captivate His Hearers

 

His use of prophetic symbolism:

For this I will lament and wail;
    I will go barefoot and naked;

(Micah 1:8)

 

Micah stripped down to his underpants as if to say,

“If you don’t obey God’s word and get your lives in order, you will be as destitute as I am.”

His colourful imagery of God bringing a lawsuit against Israel (Micah 6:2) and telling the rich leaders to stop butchering his people (Micah 3:2).

How can we tell the message of Christ in arresting ways?

Micah Questions our Worship

Read Micah 6: 6 - 7 and discuss what questions are being asked about our worship?

Doing Justice

God requires us to do justice. What does this mean? What might this involve?

What are the issues of injustice locally, nationally and internationally that are of greatest concern to you?

As you think about these issues of injustice, how do they make you feel?

How can you turn your thoughts and feelings about injustice into positive and constructive action?

Do you have to have a thick skin to do justice? In what ways does opposition and attack come with the call to do justice?

“Do not preach”—thus they preach—
    “one should not preach of such things;
    disgrace will not overtake us.”

(Micah 2:6)

The Three-fold Calling

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?

(Micah 6:8)

“It’s not one thing but three things. We’re to walk and chew gum at the same time. These three are interrelated. Some ministries may be a little bit of each.”

Which one of these three callings is your ‘home base’ and explain why you are drawn to one more than the others?

“So, in these next few weeks, let’s look at our lives through this three-fold lens. Look at your ministry group, the diaconate, the church budget against this three-legged stool.”

“Put your small group through Micah’s prism. Is your small group doing justice? Is your small group on mission or are you just having a cozy gathering with a nice sprinkling of spirituality?”

What does your life look like through this three-fold lens?

Your ministry group?

Your small group?

Prayer

“The call to walk humbly implies movement. Development. Progress. So, let’s think and pray about changes and how we might go forward in this new year.”

 

[1] A photo of Ed Bentley is posted at this page.

[2] Peter said in his eulogy that the medicos and mathematically-minded in his family had said that if you calculated his age from conception, his Dad just reached his century.

[3] Check out the photos of these cards.

[4] Another of the 1,000 Scripture cards from Ed Bentley.

[5] The notion of ‘require’ can sound legalistic like ‘these are the course requirements’ so you better follow them or you are toast! The Hebrew word (darash) is more about call and yearning as a dog yearns for a pat or a shepherd yearns for the lost sheep.

[6] Moresheth-Gath, Wikipedia.

[7] We have just concluded a series on the life of Abraham and Sarah at ABC concluding with the story of Abraham’s offering of Isaac.

[8] Tri Nguyen is speaking on ‘Doing Justice’ on 5 November, Keren McClelland is speaking on ‘Loving Kindness’ on 12 November and Ann Lock (Director of the WellSpring Spirituality Centre) is speaking about ‘Walking Humbly with Your God’ on 19 November.

[9] On the night of the 2011 Census, there were 380 people in Boroondara who were identified as homeless.

[10] There were formerly 56 x 2 bedroom apartments for a total of 112 bedrooms. The new plans propose more apartments (62) but fewer overall bedrooms 15 x 1 bedroom plus 47 x 2 bedrooms=109 bedrooms.

[11] The Assyrians had already made 13 major campaigns toward Palestine and Egypt.

[12] World Vision Australia’s Chief Advocate, Tim Costello, talks to Fran Kelly about conditions in the refugee camps with the Rohingyas, Radio National, 24 October 2017.