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Do, Love, Walk
The Reverend Krystal Leedy
February 2, 2020
A Reading from the Prophet Micah
Hear what the Lord says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the Lord has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel. ‘O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.’ ‘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? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ 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?
If you have been a part of this community for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve heard this passage. For, Micah 6:8 has been a heart-song of this community for many years. If you’ve gotten one of our UPC t-shirts, you know that they state: Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly with Your God. We couldn’t think of a better tagline to put on our t-shirts, because of how this verse has informed our church’s mission and voice in the community, and by the way, those t-shirts are available from the social witness committee for $20. Cash, text, or credit card is accepted. But I digress.
This text is set up to be a sermon in and of itself. Most prophetic books are. And they are really prone to sound bites like Do Justice, Love Kindness, and Walk Humbly with your God, and perhaps an even better sound bite is: Do! Love! Walk! Yes, that seems an appropriate thing to yell as we are trying to motivate one another. Prophetic books can really lend themselves to really good verses that we can put on our walls and maybe put some flowers around or make into those inspirational posters with a cat hanging on a branch or a sunrise or a team of skydivers grabbing for each other’s arms in formation or perhaps even to stick on a post-it.
These are the bumper sticker Bible verses that you know well, where Do, Love, Walk seems immediately applicable enough to just leave in the abstract. Where our proclamation of the Word becomes: Just, you know, do this thing because God says so. Don’t question or argue about it. Just go and do it.
But that’s not really us.
Because there’s something about digging in here, digging into the deeper story, doing a bit of investigative work that may makes that post-it more meaningful. It might just be that sound bites don’t always satisfy in the way that we think they might. And if we exercise our imaginations in curiosity, we just might find something more than the inspirational poster.
This Micah 6 passage steps into a long line of chapters before it, five to be exact. And into a long line of prophets before it who proclaim that God has explained that the people of God are headed into exile. And this judgement is coming because of unjust economic practices by the rulers and false prophets of Micah’s day. In other words, the leaders of the people of God were messing with the money and cheating other people out of it.
And when powerful people take advantage of those who are underprivileged, the God who is slow to anger and abounding in love, takes some action.
When privileged people mess with the poor, God gets angry. And out comes that Old Testament God that we all fear. This God of judgement and pushing people out and punitive punishment. It seems like this is a far cry from the God of the New Testament. Thank God for Jesus who somehow subsided this anger of God. Except, after knowing what happens in the Gospel of John when Jesus gets confronted with unjust economic practices in the temple courtyard, I’m just glad there weren’t any tables around for God to flip. Driving cheaters and the greedy out seems to be a family trait here.
God moving the people toward exile is the headline of that local newspaper, including many warnings, and not to mention the covenant which was broken by the people of God in the first place, promises made and unkept by the people of God who just keep messing up over and over again.
But even that’s not the whole story.
The exile will involve people conquering the people of God and the people of God having to live in a new culture and learn a new way of living and even sometimes assimilating some parts of the conquering culture into their homes and their workplaces, their everyday lives. But even that’s not the whole story.
Because if we assume that this whole story is simply about us and exile, then we have missed the story. For strung throughout this story, woven in and out of the cages of sin of our own creation, the impossible situations that we have be complicit in and we have benefited from, throughout all of that stuff that leaves us cynical and broken is a word that stands at the heart of our post-it, a characteristic of God that dances with us, an attribute of the Almighty that we can put our trust in. Now, lucky for us, it’s difficult to translate into English, but it appears all over the Old Testament, woven into stories like Rahab and the spies, and the ten commandments. Woven into Naomi and Ruth’s story, and the three kings of the united Kingdom of Israel, and of course into the hymnody of the Psalms. It describes our God in this mysterious way that God loves, mixed with kindness and charity. It’s a word that in places means grace and in other places means mercy. It’s a word that you only know when you’ve experienced it, which I think it’s why it’s so difficult to translate. The Hebrew word hesed has confused us for centuries, leading the King James Version of Scripture to translate it as lovingkindness because they just couldn’t pick one definition, and now that word, lovingkindness is an archaism.
So I can’t really stand up here and tell you what it means, but I can tell you the rabbit trail it led me on was a beautiful one. Because it was running alongside of this word were covenants that God continued to make with God’s people and many times it came shoulder to shoulder with the phrase “slow to anger, abounding in hesed.” This God who we keep disappointing over and over again, who is sovereign above us, is slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness, inviting us into the story to learn what in the world this attribute of God actually means.
In Micah, the headline may have been that the end of life as they knew it was coming, but that wasn’t the whole story. The attributes of God are highlighted, the people are reminded of their God that has been with them throughout the ages and will continue to walk alongside of them even when promises are broken.
And the story of Micah doesn’t stop there. It continues to tell us about the restoration and repair of the world as we know it. The prophet Micah tells us that there will be a Messiah who will bring peace to the people. Spoiler alert: that’s Jesus.
And we don’t have to sit idly by while all of this is happening to us. In fact, we are invited in. We are invited to take part of the repairing of the world. We get to partner with God in the reconciliation of the people back to their Creator, back to the one who has never stopped loving us, even when have royally screwed up. It doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for those actions, because God still must even the scales of justice. Yet, God remains not loyal with a scowl on God’s face, but with hesed toward a repentant spirit, toward a humble people, who understand the gifts that were given to us.
That’s only a little more of the story. It’s still not the whole story because the story isn’t over; it’s still unfolding. The people of God were placed into exile of an Empire, just as God said, and before they went, God had a couple of warnings about the place that didn’t look like home anymore. As God put the coat on our backs to protect us from the wind, and gave us some boots to cover our feet from the cold, a scarf around our necks, and looked us square in the eye, God told us who we are in exile, even in those unknown places, “O my sweet little one, do justice, love lovingkindness, and let’s walk together, you and me, humble and sovereign.”
Because God knew that cold of the Empire just might infiltrate the life as we knew it and it was going to come quickly and we needed to write some really good advice down quickly on our hearts for those moments when we really needed it. It’s one of those pieces of advice that is more than that post-it that you can fit on. Maybe we really need that advice when we are in the room with other Micah 6 church leaders from around the Austin-area and we are deciding on how we are to help the underprivileged. Maybe we really need it when we are walking in a march honoring Dr. Martin Luther King or anytime that we stand in front of powerful leaders. Maybe we really need that advice when we are reading the newspaper and the headline states that the life as we know it is over.
Empire, whichever one, whether Babylonian, Assyrian, Roman, or American, has never been a respecter of persons. It does better when people are cynical and anxious or apathetic and tired. It is only interested in people being crushed, and abandoned, and destroyed, passive objects instead of active engagers.
But just know, that when you see that Empire infiltrating. When the winds are coming from the north and they bite and your breath seems like it just might be gone, you have some protection. The scarf of justice, and the coat of kindness, and the boots of humble walking. It’s a quote with deep roots. Remembering all the mighty and merciful acts of God, you can recall your charge that describes who God wants you to be.
So now you know more of the story of where the t-shirt came from. What you don’t know is how three pastors agonized over the verbiage here. I mean, really: this is what you get when you are working on an incredible team of colleagues: even t-shirts become complicated. And the t-shirt was so hard to put together because it’s so rare for us to deal in sound bites and trite and easy answers. That’s the currency of Empire, and we are a people of nuance and the long game. We are in this relationship for the long haul, hopefully protecting all of us from the cold of the Empire, from that call of greed and easy answers, with the reminder that no matter what you have done prior to this moment, you have an opportunity to join in repairing the world.
Our last session meeting was the budget meeting. No one really likes the budget meeting. It’s not flashy. It’s not breaking news. But we all knew it was coming. Faithful people sat in a room and put money where they felt like it needed to go. And then they brought it to the session that went through it and teased out our story within the numbers. Faithful people thought and discussed. They were passionate about causes and about others. They worked and toiled and divided as best as they could. And I’m running out of verbs because all of this was hard to see all of what was happening. It wasn’t an easy answer. But it was a long and faithful one. Next week, you’re going to see a spreadsheet. Know that it is rooted in the story of the faithful. Know that dear people with stories, committed to this church and justice and kindness and humility asked God for guidance on how we might avoid that whole exile thing. We think we did. Keep an eye out for prophets.
Just because something’s not flashy or can be reduced to a sound bite doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of our attention. It doesn’t mean it’s not important.
So people of God, hear these words that stand the test of time, that are shrouded in mystery and hopefully will be written on your hearts this day: O little one, do justice, Love love and kindness and mercy and grace and charity, and walk humbly with your God.
In the name of that God who is slow to anger and abounding in love,
We have been a part of the Micah 6 coalition of churches for a long time. As legend goes, a group of churches in this area decided that it perhaps wasn’t a good idea for us to all be trying to do the same thing in order to help the poor. Each church was trying to do so much—a food pantry, a clothes closet, a dinner for those who could not provide for themselves. What the churches decided to do was come together, to make an ecumenical covenant with one another, to say to the city of Austin, we are all in the fight against hunger and poverty together. And we are grateful to these folks who had a vision many years ago. We are grateful for our partnership with Micah 6 and that God provided us with the space for a food pantry, and that people can walk out of our doors with groceries and a sense that churches in this area are going to take care of the city in the best way they know how: Do justice through education, dialogue, and advocacy. Love kindness by compassionately serving those who come to us for assistance. Walk humbly with God by providing opportunities for the spiritual growth of those we serve, our congregations, and other community partners. The mission statement of Micah 6 takes the time to flesh out the steps of what this verse means for us.
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