Making the Heart’s Song Our Head’s Song

A sermon based on Micah 6:6-8
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on January 19, 2020
by Rev. Scott Elliott

Seek justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with God. Those words from the Bible on the walls of this church are one of the reasons I am came here to work with you in ministry. They are words from Micah 6 that laced both the church’s and my pastoral search documents. They drew our attention to one another. And I was particularly pleased to see them in this sanctuary when I was given a tour during my first interview.
While I do not recall hearing or seeing those words before I went to seminary. They have since become the shorthand summary of my call both personally and professionally– and they summarize this church’s call. Which is a good thing because the Bible tells us that they are literally the sole requirements that God has for humans. As the NRSV translates Micah 6:8,
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?
To those who insist to me that God requires more, I tell them those are literally God’s assertions in the Bible, not mine. So they need to take it up with God. I also note, each of those requirements are met by following Jesus. By that I mean, Jesus call us to love. We are to do love as God does, We are to love God and love others. We are to be the love of God in our actions. All of that love aims us toward peace, God’s shalom, well being for all.
We hear in this church a lot, love is all about desiring and aiming toward the well being of others. That is exactly what seeking justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God does. Those actions are about well being. They are what love in action looks like. They are loving God. They are loving neighbor, They are loving enemy. So Jesus’ Way, when followed, fulfills God’s requirements.
Conversely people and entities veer from God’s requirements when they misuse religion to create injustices, unkindnesses and superiority. Love is none of THOSE things. Well being is none of THOSE things. Justice is none of THOSE things. Kindness is none of THOSE things. Humbleness is none of THOSE things.
My recollection is that way back in 2013 when the pastoral search committee and I talked we had a bit of a chat about Micah 6 and Jesus’ call to love. We talked about seeking justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God stuff – which should not be a surprise, I mean it’s on the walls and was in our profiles and it is all of our Bibles as God’s requirements for us. A part of our discussion was the need and the desire to help the Body of Christ – the church– to be in action working on that well being stuff.
Our seventh year together doing that stuff together is underway. This is my seventh January with you all. That’s pretty impressive. As a rule these days ministers average about four years with a church. There’s also a sense that congregations and ministers who make it to seven years together tend to have an extra special thing going. Which I would say we have had all along. The extra special thing we have is that we have been taking seriously the action part of God’s requirements, the seeking and loving and the walking aimed toward peace. We don’t just talk about justice, or kindness or humbly being with God we carefully act toward those things.
We are not the only ones doing so. And we reach out across faiths and politics to do it . . . and we know it is a huge task. So it is always humbling as we do it, walking with God and with each other. All of these efforts are aimed at bringing in God’s peace, that was Micah’s aim and it is Jesus’ Way. This new year the world started off in a different direction, unpeacefully, with war drums sounding and they drone on still. As the drums sound we should always remember Jesus came to bring peace on earth good will to all. Jesus even declared “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God.” (Mat 5:9).
We follow and honor Jesus the greatest peacemaker in history the Son of God with a capital “S.” In church Jesus and his peace matter. We hope and strive to be peacemakers too, and to bless and honor peacemakers. And it is not just churches and Jesus and God who honor peacemakers. This weekend our nation remembers and celebrates a peacemaker who exemplified just how powerful reaching out across faiths and politics to seek justice and love kindness and walk humbly with God can be. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Worked to effect peace following Jesus’ Way. His own acts, and the actions of those he led toward peace, were so great they caused, and still cause, people to seek justice and love kindness and walk humbly with God. As a peacemaker Martin Luther King Jr. is – as Jesus instructed– a son of God. He was blessed. And his presence on earth and his acts continue to be blessings.
Before I found church, I actually found Martin Luther King Jr. and as a son of God the good Doctor King has heavily influenced my life for more than fifty years. He may be most famous for his non-violent work to end segregation and racist Jim Crow laws. He worked to end racism, but he also worked to end poverty and other injustices and violence and war. A Christian clergyman, Rev. Dr. King used “The Word of God” in all his work to create and put into effect a large scale effort aimed at the desire for the well being of others, and actions to match it, He did this as Jesus taught with love toward all . . . even enemies.
Rev. Dr. King remains the American most celebrated as a peacemaker and I find great hope that he is the honored subject of a secular holiday. Rev. Dr. King and the movement that he led did as God and Jesus did, and do, seeking justice and loving kindness without a sense of superiority over those in opposition. In fact Jesus and Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolence opposition modeled for him how to oppose injustice and unkindness and superiority with pacifism. To those who challenged such pacifistic peacemaking as passive and non-resistent, Rev. King answered:
True pacifism is not nonresistance to evil, but nonviolent resistence to evil. True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power . . . it is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love. (p 103)
The tools of Rev. Dr. King’s non-violent resistence to the evil of injustice, unkindness and superiority included non-violent boycotts; marches; demonstrations; speeches; writings, vigils and prayers. His efforts had components of education. His efforts had components of God, Jesus and the Bible in them. His efforts sought justice. His efforts loved kindness. His efforts expressed love for both the oppressed and the oppressor. His efforts were God-soaked. They were a part of a humble walk with God toward shalom. The. Efforts. Were. Non-violent.
Most of Martin Luther King Jr.’s opponents responded quite differently – quite the opposite – with bombs, guns, clubs, dogs, water cannons, unloving words and threats. And time and again their violent responses were met by Rev. Dr. King with nonviolence and time and again non-violence carried the day. We celebrate Martin Luther King in great part because he triumphed with nonviolence. Jesus did that too, right? It’s Jesus’ Way!
It is almost mystical to us that such a thing is possible. It takes a great deal of courage to resist violence with pacifism, to confront evil with love and act toward the well being of an enemy. There is sadly a sense that violence is the best response to violence. We think an eye for an eye is how to go about it. That thinking ignores Jesus contrary instructions found in Matthew 5 (38-46). The Message paraphrases those instructions of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount like this:
Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty.
That message of Jesus sings like a song in our hearts. But it is not the music we tend to sing in our heads and dance out in response to violence and threats of violence. The songs we tend to sing in our head and dance out in actions at such times are martial. They tend to be violent, “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” responses, like those we have heard and seen from nations on the brink of war. There is no doubt about it that humankind seems to be attracted to violence, not just today but throughout history. Jesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King are bright, and brilliant moments of exception. “Exception’ because violence seems to be our default response to threats of violence, yet Jesus, Gandhi and King’s responses were love-filled non-violence. Period.
Martin Luther King famously admonished:
It is not enough to say “We must not wage war.” It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace.
He addressed the need to revamp our thinking so that violence is not the song we sing and dance out, but rather the song of peace that Jesus sings which sits in our hearts. The song of love that is silenced by the thumping noise of violence in our head songs. Dr. King said:
We must see that peace represents a sweeter music, a cosmic melody that is far superior to the discords of war. Somehow we must transform the dynamics of the world power struggle from the negative nuclear arms race which no one can win to a positive contest to harness man’s creative genius for the purpose of making peace and prosperity a reality for all of the nations of the world. In short, we must shift the arms race into a “peace race.” If we have the will and determination to mount such a peace offensive, we will unlock hitherto tightly sealed doors of hope and transform our imminent cosmic elegy into a psalm of creative fulfillment. (Nobel Speech ‘64)
The paraphrase that I read of Jesus’ teachings on pacifism from The Message make Dr King’s point pithily: “No more tit-for-tat stuff.” Jesus challenged violent responses to enemies telling us to love them, to
“Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.”
Jesus blessed peacemakers. He was one himself.
Jesus first followers strived to be like Jesus and provided pacifistic peacemaker instructions too. Here are excerpts of a few:
1 Thessalonians 5(15): See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.
1 Peter 3 (9-11):Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. For “Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it.
Romans 12 (17-21): Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. . . ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink . . .’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Those quotes are from the first followers of Jesus who showed us how to be like him pursuing non-violent peace. The quotes I have provided from Martin Luther King Jr. are from a modern follower of Jesus, a Christian pastor and theologian who also showed us how to be like Jesus. In he same way . . .lovingly.
It is right and good that we set aside a weekend to remember, honor and reflect on the blessed peacemaker Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But it would be good if we also honored him – and Jesus and God and one another– by striving to courageously confront evil with love. With the power of love we can make non-violent peace not only our heart’s song, but also our head’s song. May we do just that! AMEN.