Text: Micah 6: 6-8
“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?
7 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?”
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?
Most of us have heard this text a number of times and are probably familiar with some of the implications that it has for our own personal lives, but I’m wondering if we have allowed the magnitude of what this text actually says to fully sink in. I’m thinking probably not, because far too often the church seems to act in ways that are counter to this text; so perhaps it is worth another look.
Consider what this Abingdon Bible Commentary has to say about the text: “The combination suggests that social morality is inseparable from and rooted in religion, and that true worship of God is the service of humanity. The Old Testament has no greater word than this.” That is quite a claim-that in all the Old Testament, there is not a greater word, not anything more important than this particular combination. The combination that is given us, as I read the text, is three-fold, to do justice, to love kindness and to practice humility as we walk with God.
This relates directly to the conversation we have been having over the past few weeks as we have been talking about the decline in membership of the church in general, how we might respond to this decline and the new emerging demographic of those who claim to be spiritual but not religious. Today, I want us to pay particular attention to our message that is out there for public consumption, some of the bad along with some of what I consider to be good. More than anything else, I would like our collective awareness to be increased around the issues that I believe have caused, at least at some level, the abandonment of Christianity by this new emerging demographic that we will be targeting.
Once we understand some of our own shortcomings and failures, I think it will be easier for us to begin to communicate with this demographic is ways that relate to them and make sense to them. This will be our goal in the coming year, to speak the language of the emerging group that self-identify as spiritual, but not religious, while making certain we are true to the combination of tasks given us in Micah 6 – to promote justice, kindness and humility.
So how have we done as a church on the issue of justice? There are any number of places we could look for answers, but a couple of things pop into my head immediately. The first is our history concerning slavery-the church was slow to condemn slavery, some denominations, including the Methodists, split over the issue during the Civil War era and the Vatican did not even recognize blacks as human beings until just over 100 years ago. Not our finest moments in history, but I have a question; if you did not know a lot about the church, does this sound like an organization you would want to join?
Equality for women came even slower in the Methodist church and has yet to reach some others. There are still denominations which deny key leadership positions to women, just because they are women. I find this unthinkable, and yet it exists; let me ask the question again; if you didn’t know much about the church, does this sound like an organization you would want to join?
The church was equally slow to take a position in the 1960’s during the Civil Rights movement. There were churches that aligned themselves with the KKK, churches who supported the idea of segregation and churches who openly discriminated against people of color. I don’t believe we have made as much progress in this particular arena as we think we have; the racism and prejudice is still rooted deep in our history and still rises to the surface in painful ways. If you knew nothing else about the church, does this sound like an organization you would want to join?
The current church is publicly struggling with the equality and acceptance of our LGBT sisters and brothers. Westboro Baptist Church and the late Fred Phelps used to grab headlines by picketing the funerals of prominent individuals who just happened to be gay, and other denominations while trying to move forward, end up splitting down the middle in a public display of hate and intolerance, and the United Methodist Church has yet to create a resolution that adequately speaks to the problem. Again, if you knew little about the church, would this be an institution or an organization that you would want to join?
Songwriter and performer Tom Paxton has written a song that mirrors our struggle for Civil Rights; it is called “Your Shoes, My Shoes” so as we reflect on our past and future regarding Micah’s call for us to do justice, let’s enjoy “Your Shoes, My Shoes”.
The second element of the combination that my Abingdon Bible Commentary spoke of and the second element listed in the text from Micah is that we are to love kindness. It doesn’t seem that hard as people, let alone Christian people, that simple kindness would be an issue. But, I fear it is.
Historically, if the church was suspicious or fearful of a group or an individual, the response was not usually kind. Just the opposite I am afraid is closer to the truth. Some historians place the death toll of the Christian Crusades, for example, at around 20 million people. Roughly four times the number of innocent people killed during the Holocaust. That number of course does not reflect other dark times like the Salem witch trials, the Inquisition or other less than stellar accounts of Christian history. Does that sound like an institution you would like to join?
Not that many years ago the Christian collective thought revolved around a doctrine that was called Manifest Destiny. This idea was that God was on our side as we colonized the United States and pressed westward stealing land and culture and tradition from the Native Americans. With a history trail of broken promises and brutal battles the church lost its way in an effort to follow the words of Micah to love kindness. We were not kind. Does this sound like an institution you would want to join?
I keep asking the question, because I believe we fail to recognize what others actually think of us. In her book, Christianity After Religion, Diana Butler Bass states that in one survey, the word ‘religion’ was synonymous with these other words; cold, outdated, rigid, hurtful, narrow, controlling, embarrassing, and mean. Anybody feel like joining?
At the very least, I would hope we can find ways to see the humanity in the other, without regard for race, color, religion, or nationality or sexual orientation. Songwriter Junee Fischer explores this topic as a pioneer woman and a Native American woman exchange glances as they perform their chores on the opposite shores of the same river. The song is called “The Same River”.
Item three on Micah’s list is humility. You know humility when you see it; this week coach Jeremiah Robbins of the LCSC Baseball team was named NAIA Coach of the Year. He said all the credit should go to the players and the rest of the coaching staff.
The opposite of humility I guess would be arrogance; and we recognize that when we see it as well. When the Columbine shootings took place in Littleton, Colorado I was serving Washington Park UMC in Denver. I served on an interfaith coalition of pastors who were willing to provide counseling and safe haven for anyone who needed to talk. The community came together in the wake of this tragedy.
At one of the Memorial services held in the weeks after, Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, was the officiate. Rather than being sensitive to a hurting community, rather than trying to heal wounds and lift spirits, Franklin Graham spoke about salvation and those who were not saved frying like hamburgers in the pits of hell. I was actually in shock; I could not believe my ears. The arrogance of thinking you posses the single and only truth is stunning. Then to have the arrogance to assume that your truth is so important that it trumps common decency was a blunder so large that I for one have not recovered yet. If Franklin Graham represented Christianity on that day, there were tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands who decided in that instant, they will never join such an institution.
In our own backyard we had an incident where a public servant, an elected official, who is to represent everyone in her district I might add, also displayed mind boggling arrogance as she refused to sit through a prayer offered by another faith tradition. Really? Is that Chrsitianity? It was all over the papers, and if that is all you know, how likely are you to join the cause?
I believe that humility is experienced when we recognize the fallacy of our own position or we recognize that a once long held belief may not have been the best thing after all. We all mature and evolve over the years; we all have the opportunity to rethink our positions. And we often do; except when it comes to our faith, for some reason, we seem more reluctant to evaluate that than any other position we hold. I happen to think it should be the first thing we are ready to re-evaluate rather than the last, but I also think I’m in the minority on that one.
Songwriters and performers Montana Tunesmith chronicle this journey of self-reflection and the discovery of humility in the song “Strips of Wheat”. Here again are Bruce & Debbie with the gift, “Strips of Wheat”.
Our task is clear, but not easy. We must find a way to remain faithful and connected to the positive things our Christian heritage has to offer, while keeping the admonition of Micah in the forefront of our thoughts, our actions and our messages. I struggle with this personally; I find myself at times intolerant of intolerant people, I want to judge people who are judgmental and I must remind myself constantly that God loves them the same as God loves me.
We will begin in small ways; the bulletin insert is an example of some of the messages we will be promoting. Information on our newly designed web site will follow the text in Micah, each Sunday morning the messages will challenge you and push you to think and allow space for each individual to form their own opinions. We will find new ways to connect with our community and strengthen the connections we already have. The Pumpkin Patch will continue, the Salvation Army meal will continue, the small groups and book studies will all continue. But ultimately, my vision is for Lewiston First to be the beacon on the hill that shines as a clear choice. We can meet the needs and spiritual desires of the emerging church, the emerging demographic; we just need to let them know we are here and what we stand for.
Marketing plans and catchy catch phrases can only do so much. By far the most influential and effective marketing tool we have at our disposal is all of you. If each of you could bring one person into our community of faith, our population would double; do it again and our population will increase four fold. We have lots to be proud of, lots to talk about and a greater understanding of why Christianity can be so misunderstood. We are a clear and progressive choice in the Valley – let’s be proud of that and talk to everyone we meet about how important that is.
Go in peace, and go with God. Amen.