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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Finding Your Direction - Do Justice

Micah 6:8

8 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?

Luke Chapter 18

1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, Grant me justice against my opponent. 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming. 6 And the Lord said, Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?


So, we're doing this series called, "Finding Your Way," about where you find your guidance for life. The thinking is that USUALLY we find our guidance for life from the world around us. After all, our life is housed in the world around us, so it makes sense. You want to learn how to swim, you get in water. You want to learn how to drive, you get in a car. You want to learn how to live, you hang out with people who are, you know, living, on an existential level. And you take your cues and get your clues from other people who kind of look and live like you do.

Your parents. Your husband or your wife. Your ex-wife's new husband. Your boss. Your co-workers. Your friends. The other parents at daycare. The TV people. The radio commentators. Celebrities in magazines who want to show how deep down, they're really just like us.

I wear a black robe. Why? Because it's what other Presbyterian preacher-boys and girls wear. I could NOT wear a robe. And then you'd see that I wear khakis and button-downs, rolled up at the sleeves, just like the other Presbyterian preacher-boys. It's scary. We get in a meeting and we're all wearing khakis and blue button-downs, rolled up at the sleeves. We are the most unimaginative group of dressers since the Amish. And yet, we laugh at Catholic priests for having no variety.

Whether we plan to or not, we wear uniforms. We act uniformly. For heaven's sake, we wear ORANGE. We think we're living dangerously when we wear orange and BLUE. (Well, that's probably true.) But aside from tribal variations, we're pretty uniform. We take our cues and get our clues from the environment where we're kept.

But what happens when our little, serene snow globe environment gets shaken up? What happens when the currents start to swirl and random pieces of stuff start coming at us from different directions? What happens when normal gets stirred up? What happens when our points of reference get flipped around? What happens when the UN-usual and the AB-normal become the new normal? What happens when we're not sure where our direction's going to come or even what direction we're heading?

You see, I think we - and by we I mean pretty much all the world - I think we're in one of those AB-normal, UN-usual stages right now. People talk about the "New World Order." I think you can X-out the word, "Order," and just say, "New World." Because there's not a lot of order to it.

When your points of direction lose their point, where do you find new direction?

That's why we're talking this week and for the next few about Finding Your Way. That's why we're looking closely at the Book of Micah. Because the prophet Micah preached and wrote at a time when God's people had lost their way. God's people had lost their way and the pressure was building and building, and people were getting more and more anxious. The national scene was ugly. The international scene was threatening. It sounds kind of familiar. So that's where our direction is going these next weeks and why.


Last Sunday, if you were here, you know that we actually, physically opened up our Bibles. They're the slightly smaller red books next to the Hymnals. I want you to get one and prepare to open it again. You may have to share. You may have brought your own. If you did bring your own Bible, please share with someone less fortunate than yourself.

Turn to the book of Micah. We talked about how it's about 3/4 of the way into the Bible. If you find Hosea, Joel, or Amos, keep going. It's a short book, and he's a Minor Prophet, so it's easy to overlook...

Here's what I want us to look at today. Micah, chapter 1, verse 1 begins like this:

"The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem."

Read yours aloud with me. It doesn't matter if it's a little different. It's still the word of God.

"The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem."

That one verse is where I want to start today. And it's one of those verses if you read it you usually say, "What the heck?" It's kind of the yada-yada-yada everybody skips over when we're reading scripture. Normal people normally do that. But I'm a preacher. We're not normal. And we find that kind of verse infinitely interesting.

It's kind of like if I said, "Back in the days of Abraham Lincoln," or "Back in the days of "George Washington," hopefully, you'd go, "Oh yeah, I get it. Back when Grampa was a boy." The people of God would hear "The days of Kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah," and they'd go, "Oh yeah. Back when Grampa was a boy."

Bear with me. This is kind of a History Channel moment.

To understand how this verse is worth studying and how it's relevant to our day and time, you've got to put the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah in their context. You've probably never heard of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. But you have heard of King David.

David was the greatest king in the history of Israel. Under King David, life was great. OK. King David died and his son, Solomon took over the throne. King Solomon: what do you know about him? He was wise. King Solomon was the wisest man to ever walk the earth. Solomon built the great temple to God in Jerusalem. Under Solomon, life was even greater. Solomon was great, and wise, and strong. Solomon had 700 wives, and 300 concubines. Solomon was strong. Life in Israel had never been better. There was prosperity. There was safety. These were the glory days.

Then, Solomon died. Solomon's son, King Rehoboam, wasn't anywhere near as smart as his dad. On kind of a dare to prove his manhood, he committed political suicide. He increased taxes and decreased spending. Bad idea. The middle class was decimated. People were suddenly poor and up to their armpits in debt. So, Rehoboam made them slaves. The rich got richer, the poor got poorer. Life was not so good anymore.

Predictably, there was a people's revolt. The leader of the revolting people was an exiled ex-servant of Solomon, named Jeroboam. So, you've got Rehoboam, Solomon's not-so-bright, but very rich son, on one side. You've to Jeroboam and the angry Twitter people on the other side. Kind of like modern Middle Eastern leaders who've found themselves in trouble, Rehoboam runs away. He divides the country in two. You've got Rehoboam, setting up the Northern Kingdom. And you've got Jeroboam, ruling the Southern Kingdom. The Northern Kingdom kept the name, Israel. Its capital was the city of Samaria. The Southern kingdom was called Judah, and its capital was Jerusalem.

Now (dot, dot, dot). A few generations of monarchs after Rehoboam and Jeroboam and the breakup of the kingdom, we get verse 1:1 of Micah.

"The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem."

Moresheth was a city in Judea, so we know Micah was a Southern boy. But Micah prophesies God's word to BOTH the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Israel. In other words, God was sick and tired of Israel and of Judah. God was sick and tired of the division. God was sick and tired of seeing the rich get richer and poor get poorer. God was sick and tired of the way people were treating each other. So God sends Micah to prophesy to BOTH kingdoms with ONE word. Micah was an international prophet, which also is important as we go along. But more on that later.


Micah-slash-God looks at these nations of economic disparity and social division and says,

Micah 1:2-7

2 Hear, you peoples, ALL of you;
listen, O earth, and all that is in it;
and let the Lord God be a witness against you,
the Lord from his holy temple.
3 For lo, the Lord is coming out of his place,
and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth.
4 Then the mountains will melt under him
and the valleys will burst open,
like wax near the fire,
like waters poured down a steep place.
5 All this is for the transgression of Jacob
and for the sins of the house of Israel.
What is the transgression of Jacob?
Is it not Samaria?
And what is the high place of Judah?
Is it not Jerusalem?

So, it's like those God billboards that say, "Don't make me come down there." God says, "I AM coming down there and there's going to be a whuppin'. And I want ALL the earth, ALL Judah, ALL Israel, all its social and banking and government centers to pay attention." God wants everybody to hear this prophesy.

(And remember, prophesy in the Bible isn't so much telling the future as telling the present.)

Then Micah (and I hope you're reading this book at home), goes off on Israel and Judah for the way they're treating the people, and treating each other. It's a beautiful, poetic rant. In our day when minorities are oppressed, they write rap music. In Micah's day, they wrote elevated poetry.

And around about Chapter 6, verse 8, Micah gets to the point. Like most preachers, it takes him a while to get warmed up.

[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?


Now, in this series, we're doing justice today. Next week we'll love kindness, and then the following week we'll walk humbly with our God. We don't want to get carried away and try to do all three at once.

As I look at these, though, I really think Micah put the hardest one first. I mean, everybody loves kindness, right? Who doesn't like it when people are kind? That'll be a short sermon. And walking humbly? If we could ever learn to keep our mouths shut, we'd be pretty much there. But doing justice?

Last Sunday we read a passage out of Deuteronomy. And in this passage, Moses asks the same question Micah raised. "What does the Lord require of you?" And when Moses gets around to justice, he talks about God's justice. Not human fairness, but God's justice.

Everybody knows what it means to be fair. If you had brothers or sisters growing up, you understood what it meant when mom and dad were fair. You put juice glasses next to each other to be sure the levels were fair. Right? Fair's fair.

But justice - and more than that, the God's justice - is a little more nuanced. Moses says this about God's justice in Deuteronomy 10.

17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, 18 who executes justice for... the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.

If you look through the Bible and the descriptions of God's justice you'll find it "associated with nine words: Widow, fatherless, orphans, poor, hungry, stranger, needy, weak and oppressed." (http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_a_micah.htm)

You see, God's justice isn't blind. God's justice isn't based on fairness. God's justice is restorative justice. It's based on lifting up the people the world leaves behind. God's justice is inseparable from loving kindness and walking humbly. God's justice isn't about the rich getting richer because they've clawed their way to the top and they deserve to enjoy what they've gotten, because that's fair. God's justice isn't about being "blessed" because you just happened to be born to the right family on the right side of the tracks. God's justice is about the people down at the bottom who are just trying to make it. Again, God breaks through the usual, God breaks apart our normal. God looks down and says, "Whoa, whoa, whoa. You call that justice? Looks to me like you're headed in the wrong direction."


All of you here today have been touched in one way or another by the national and global recession going on. Some of you have lost a lot. Some of your family members have gone to work and been told to go home because there isn't any company anymore.

If you're retired and you're on a fixed income you probably didn't expect the price of gas to be above three dollars a gallon. You probably didn't expect your prescription drug plan and your medical bills to be what they are. You might have thought your pension would be safe.

We thought we'd get our x-rays at the hospital, not the airport. We expected our kids and grandkids to do better, way better, than we did. If you're in college you probably thought you'd have a job waiting for you when you graduated. You may still think that. Bless your heart.

We're Americans. We thought our government would always work. We thought our schools would always get adequate funding. We thought our teachers would be treated with respect.

But really, compared to other countries in other parts of the world, we have no right to complain. A week in Somalia would cure us real fast. But I think what's happening is that the gap between what we're used to (on one hand) and the poor, the hungry, the stranger, the needy, the weak and the oppressed (on the other hand) - the gap is getting smaller. And that's scary.

But maybe being scared isn't such a bad thing. Maybe we can take that as God saying, "Hey folks. You might want to start paying more attention to those people who need justice before you get to join them." Maybe this is God saying, "Stop worrying so much about what you might lose, and start worrying about what the people beneath you need to gain. So if you're ever in their shoes, you won't be so lost."


In the parable that we read today, Jesus asks a rhetorical question of his disciples. He tells a parable about a widow, who is one of those associated with God's justice. And then Jesus asks, "And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?" Of course not. He will quickly grant justice to them, Jesus says.

But then, as soon as he says this, he adds a "gotcha." And it's directed straight at his listeners. It's directed straight at us. He says, "And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" Faith the way Jesus talks about it, goes hand in hand with justice, goes hand in hand with kindness, and goes hand in hand with walking humbly with your God.

So we, as people of means, whatever our means might be, need to pay attention to those zingers from Jesus, and pay attention to the fear that just might be an echo of Micah. We need to pay attention to those because we're not quite yet the ones who need, really truly need, God's justice.

This month, as we read together, and pray together, from the book of the prophet Micah, I want us to think and to pray and to start to talk together about doing justice from God's point of view. I want us to pray for direction in God's justice. I want us to open our hearts and see where God leads.

Please pray with me.

God of justice and compassion, we live in an unjust world. We confess that we don't know how we contribute to global problems. We buy, we eat, we shop, and we drive without thinking of the people who make it possible. We don't know who our lifestyles make rich or make poor. The world is too complicated. The problems are too big. Empower our weakness as you empowered Christ's. Make us do your justice. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.


James McTyre
@jamesmctyre3 (tw)
865.268.9628 (gv)