Over and Over and Over Again

A sermon based on Micah 3:5-12
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on November 5, 2017
by Rev. Scott Elliott

A couple of weeks ago I preached about Jesus’ response to a rhetorical trap by opponents who asked “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” Jesus’ response was two-fold, first he caught the opponents red-handed with an idol on money in their pocket, and then he wriggled out their trap by saying ‘Give . . . to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’”

Part and parcel of that lesson was pointing out the wrong, the sin, of letting earthly power get more than what is due, and as a result not giving what is due to God. What is due God, I noted, as I have done a lot lately, is set out in Micah the book of the Bible our lesson comes from today. What is due is justice and kindness on a humble journey with God. Yes I am pointing out the words on the quilts again. It’s a message found one way or another not just every Sunday on our walls but in the Bible – over and over and over again. It is all that God requires.

Jesus’ opponents were not seeking justice or loving kindness or walking humbly with God. They did not do as Jesus did which included essentially speaking to power, in different words and many ways, the essential truths found in Micah. Instead Jesus’ religious opponents were cow– towing to power for self gain, or at best for survival in the earthly power system. As a result they ceased doing all that God requires, which is just three things! Seeking justice. Loving kindness. Walking humbly with God.
Last week we discussed Luther’s Ninety-Five Thesis which set off the Reformation, mostly because he challenged a corrupt Church practice of assuring those who gave it money that they would get special dispensations from God. Money and greed, or again at best survival in an earthly system, were corrupting those in the faith in Luther’s time. As a result the Church greatly ceased doing all that God requires, which is just three things! Seeking justice. Loving kindness. Walking humbly with God.

So here we are today with a Lectionary reading this one going back to Micah himself. And this time we hear him rasing in different words and ways the issue from last week and the week before and many other weeks. Almost three thousand years ago Micah is talking about greed and survival in the earthly system corrupting those in the faith. That is what’s going on.
This corruption included both secular and religious leaders, all of whom owe an allegiance to God and God’s system first and foremost. Listen again to verses 5-7

Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who lead my people astray, who cry ‘Peace’ when they have something to eat, but declare war against those who put nothing into their mouths. Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision, and darkness to you, without revelation. The sun shall go down upon the prophets, and the day shall be black over them; the seers shall be disgraced, and the diviners put to shame; they shall all cover their lips, for there is no answer from God.

The gist of what Micah is saying in those verses is that

when personal need for necessities starts to drive the theology of a prophet, a seer, the result is loss of sight, darkness, that comes with lack of light. The seer cannot see, cannot prophesy . . . that is disgraceful.

In other words, when we expect, demand or force the speakers of God’s words to utter words that only please those who feed the prophet and their families, the words are not God’s, because they are not said to please God, but to please those who pay for the words requiring allegiance to them, not allegiance to God. In New Testament terms, when Caesar gets what is due God, the consequence is that the Light of Truth does not shine, rather darkness prevails.

See when filling a prophet with food is the end point of the message, the message and the messenger are corrupted. In contrast Micah, as true prophet claims his end point is all together different. It’s to be filled, not with food, but rather with God and justice and strength so as to honestly claim what needs to be addressed on behalf of God. And what needs to be addressed is how the culture – most especially the secular and religious elite– are missing the mark God aims all of humanity at. Missing the mark is what “sin” means.

Listen and we can hear this in verse 8:

But as for me, I am filled with power, with the spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin.

Micah, only after having proven, that he is a prophet and that his words are prophetic, states a prophesy. These are prophetic words Bible Scholars are pretty confident actually going back to Micah in the 8th Century B.C. The prophecy is pretty tough stuff that I will paraphrase in a moment. But first let me re-read what Micah said:

Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob and chiefs of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong! Its rulers give judgement for a bribe, its priests teach for a price, its prophets give oracles for money; yet they lean upon the Lord and say, ‘Surely the Lord is with us! No harm shall come upon us.’ Therefore because of you / Zion shall be ploughed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.

Much of that speaks for itself and we will try to unpack it more fully in Adult Forum. But the gist of Micah’s message is “Look, here are our sins guys! Our leaders abhor justice and pervert equity. They built our nation on blood and wrongs. Judges, clergy and prophets are acting for money, and falsely claim God’s with them and protecting them. Such wrongs will lead our nation to destruction.”

I often hear that the Old Testament is not applicable to today. But I see Hebrew Scriptures over and over and over again applying to us. I mean, really? What could be more applicable than this text today? Think about it! Whatever side of the fence we may be on politically in modern America, aren’t those twenty-eight hundred year old prophetic words applicable to our culture? Our concerns with our leaders and our country?

Don’t we, right, middle and left, perennially say or hear or worry about some leaders in our nation abhorring justice and perverting equity? And we worry too that at least part of our history and some of the threats and misconduct today are about a nation at least partly built on blood . . . and wrongs. We also are concerned about judges, clergy and prophets acting for money with false claims that God’s with them, and protecting them. And we worry, right? And why? Well, for the same reason Micah expresses. Because we are concerned that such wrongs will lead to our nation being destroyed.

Our lesson today and its dovetail with our culture tells us two very powerful things. One is the good news that we as people of God continue to desire to want to hit the marks God aims us at. We don’t want to sin. We desire and long to be compliant with the prophet, with God’s call, with God’s requirements of us. We want to seek justice. We want to love kindness. We want humble walks with God. That is good news. It is awesome!

But the other things is . . . the bad news is . . we know we are not hitting the marks God aims us at. People in both secular and religious power in our history have a bad habit of not working together to lead our culture away from sinning. Throughout our history there have even been those who appear to abhor justice and act to pervert equity, and the result is the well being of all has yet to be accomplished, indeed sometimes it does even seem a purported goal. Liberty and justice for all often appears a platitude, not a serious aim our secular and religious leaders have cared about.

Justice–means getting what is due. In the Bible what is ultimately due is well being. Shalom, peace, means well being. Peace on earth good will to all is not sought, and in our history has not seemingly been preferred by a number of people in power on both sides of the aisles, and in both the secular and religious leadership. America has many great things about it. A great many. But if we are honest about it– dare I say, prophetic about it– parts of our history, our nation, have also sadly been tainted with unjust and unfair and unkind conduct. Ironically this is what upsets us whether we are liberal, conservative, moderate or indifferent in our politics. Because when we are honest about it, most of us think that is not right, that is not God’s way, because the well being due to us all is not being delivered to us all.

We can disagree and argue about how to best achieve liberty and justice for all, but we are by and large all disturbed that it’s not provided, that basic needs are not being tended to, that blood is on our hands. And we worry and lament that at least part of our history, and some of what still goes on, has not been focused on seeking justice, and so the building of our nation has blood and wrongs associated with it. This includes the very un-Holy deeds stamped in our time line of genocide, enslavement, Jim Crow, sexism, imperialism, racism, heterosexism, xenophobia and what I am going call faith-a-phobia. And we fret too about judges, clergy and prophets– and our secular and religious leaders– acting for money with false claims God’s with them, and protecting them. And we rightfully are concerned about all this because of all these wrongs – even if we never considered today’s Bible verses or the one on the quilts behind me– could destroy and cause America to become a ploughed down, heap of ruins.

The fretting is good, it means we want it done right. Our history to date is not all good because it is not fully being done right. So what do we do? Well, like Micah . . . like Moses, Miriam, Jesus, Mary, Paul and every other prophetic actor in the Bible, we need to get prophetic about it ourselves. In America we ordinary citizens have power that the people in Bible times never even imagined possible. We can speak out to power through letters and phone calls and e-mails and at the ballot. We can disagree on details on how best to hit the marks God aims us at, about what political ideas might best accomplish it, but we should over and over and over again oppose actions and actors that are not about, or oppose, or do not stand for, seeking justice or loving kindness or walking humbly with God.

If the well being of all is not a professed goal, if actions toward well being of all have not been affirmatively taken, we need to challenge it. And we need to challenge secular and religious leaders who cow–tow to power for self gain, or at best for survival in the earthly power system, because they very likely are not aiming us to do all that God requires, which is just three things! Seeking justice. Loving kindness. Walking humbly with God.