Sunday, August 1, 2010
ABSORBED; justice, mercy & humility
Old Testament Series – Micah & Zephaniah
This morning our primary text is perhaps a familiar one. As we journey through our Old Testament series book by book – today we pause on two books: Micah & Zephaniah, whose heart beat stems from a call to covenant living. Micah 6:8 reminds us of what God requires: "O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." Another translation puts it this way: "What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God!" Do what's right (justice). To love kindness (mercy). Walk humbly with your God! Justice, mercy, & humility.
When was the last time you stood in a long line? I'm talking one of those lines where you wait and wait and wait… an hour or more, standing and waiting. I've got a picture of a line. When was the last time you stood in a line like this?
I'd like to draw our attention this morning to two sections of Micah. We'll look at chapter 2 and chapter 6. Chapter 2 starts by saying: "What sorrow awaits you who lie awake at night, thinking up evil plans. You rise at dawn and hurry to carry them out, simply because you have the power to do so. 2 When you want a piece of land, you find a way to seize it. When you want someone's house, you take it by fraud and violence. You cheat a man of his property, stealing his family's inheritance. 3 But this is what the Lord says: "I will reward your evil with evil; you won't be able to pull your neck out of the noose. You will no longer walk around proudly, for it will be a terrible time."
I have been reading an interesting book over the past few weeks. Rich Christians in an age of Hunger by Ronald J. Sider is a provocative, convicting read as an American, as a Christian, as a Wesleyan, and as a Nazarene. In it's now fifth edition, Sider clearly writes about poverty, the world's poorest, Biblical principles (found both in the Old and New Testaments) of justice – and how we as worldwide Christians are called to "justice for all"
An interesting addition to this current edition is the look at micro loans and how they have the potential to radically transform lives within the poorest of the poor. Do you know about micro loans? They are tiny loans of $75, $200, $500 to desperately poor people to start their own small businesses and thus provide a better living for their families. Sider notes in the preface that $500 to help a poor family can improve their standard of living by 50 percent in a year.
He goes on to ask: "Could that really change the big picture of massive global poverty? Christians today have a total annual income of more than $16 trillion. On the average, a loan to help a family of five costs $500. Let's suppose Christians of the world gave just 1 percent of their income for micro-loans. Do you know how long it would take to improve the lot of the poorest one billion by 50 percent – using just 1 percent of global Christian income? Less than one year!" (pg. xvi)
Now jump over to chapter six with me. Starting in verse ten: "What shall I say about the homes of the wicked filled with treasures gained by cheating? What about the disgusting practice of measuring out grain with dishonest measures? 11 How can I tolerate your merchants who use dishonest scales and weights? 12 The rich among you have become wealthy through extortion and violence. Your citizens are so used to lying that their tongues can no longer tell the truth. 13 "Therefore, I will wound you! I will bring you to ruin for all your sins. 14 You will eat but never have enough. Your hunger pangs and emptiness will remain. And though you try to save your money, it will come to nothing in the end. You will save a little, but I will give it to those who conquer you. 15 You will plant crops but not harvest them. You will press your olives but not get enough oil to anoint yourselves. You will trample the grapes but get no juice to make your wine."
Micah tells us we will eat but never be satisfied, we'll have a gnawing hunger within us. We'll store and put away, but we won't save. We'll sow, but never reap. We'll tread, but we won't anoint, we won't drink. We will eat but not be satisfied.
He's saying this to the wealthy, to the rich. It's kind of discouraging, especially when you realize who Micah is speaking to today.
Economists and sociologist break the world Gross National Income down into 4 categories, low income, lower middle, upper middle, and high income. The Low income operates on $735 or less while the High income works on $9,076 or more. Now let me remind you – those figures are not what people bring in a month! They are for an entire year. The low income people bring in $735 or less a year! That's not very much money!
I heard of "a state senator from Pennsylvania who once argued that his constituents were so poor that they simply could not afford to pay another cent in taxes. He cited a letter from an irate voter as proof. This good person had written him announcing that her family could not possibly pay any more taxes. Why, she said, they already paid the government income taxes and sales taxes – and besides that they bought licenses for their two cars, summer camper, houseboat, and motorboat!" (Sider 183)
Jesus shares a parable with us in Luke 12 "A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, 'What should I do? I don't have room for all my crops.' Then he said, 'I know! I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I'll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I'll sit back and say to myself, "You have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!" "But God said to him, 'You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?' Jesus says "a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God."
Justice, Mercy & Humility. "O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." Another translation puts it this way:" What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God!" Do what's right (justice). To love kindness (mercy). Walk humbly with our God! Justice, mercy, & humility.
So what does this make you think? What thoughts or emotions are going through you right now?
We live in a consumeristic society. As much as we don't want to admit it – we do! Our culture drives us to buy, spend, use and dispose. Ya we have great campaigns to recycle, but they often come in the form of "when you're done with this or that – put it in the correct disposal bin." Our products are not designed to last. They're created for a minimal amount of time. Our media is designed to spur us on to the next great slightly modified new version of the same product.
Take for instance our automobile industry… each year every car has slight modifications to it – to attract new and return buyers. The director of research labs at General Motors from 1920-1947, Charles Kettering, decided that business needed to create a "dissatisfied consumer." And so, he instituted an annual model change – planned obsolescence. His solution was for the cars to change, to become obsolete.
Our society, our culture, we thrive on self-indulgence and instant gratification. We mock frugal and simple living. We convince ourselves that we need. We want more, need more, we have to have more money to buy more stuff. Success, according to advertising historian Roland Marchard, came to depend on the virtue of qualities like wastefulness, self-indulgence, and artificially making things obsolete. (141)
Micah 6:8 speaks of justice, mercy and humility. An interesting fact: in one year in the 1990's, Michael Jordan earned as much for promoting Nike shoes as approximately eighteen thousand Indonesian workers who made those shoes.
We live in a consumeristic society. We live in a world which is crazy, weird, and to be honest unfair. We live in a nation which claims justice for all – yet regularly promotes injustice. Injustice like one person earning as much as 18,000 people combined.
We strive for the newest and latest in such a way that we stand in lines, like the ones shown in the photos I showed earlier – simply to get the newest iPhone! Those pictures were from the release of the iPhone.
We have such a strong longing within us to collect that we tear down old barns to build new ones in order to store all that we have. Perhaps not surprisingly, according to the "Self Storage Demand Study of 2007" one in ten U.S. households rent a self storage unit.
We have a lot of stuff. We have so much stuff – that some people pay more to simply store their stuff than many in the poorest nations make in a year! We have a lot of stuff… and we live in a weird world!
These facts and stories make me wonder what covenant living really means, what it is really about. If Micah & Zephaniah's heart beat stems from a call to covenant living – what are the aspects of this covenant? What are the aspects of your covenant with God?
What does our covenantal call look like as Christians, Wesleyans, and Nazarenes?
It's interesting to me that we often, in the Evangelical movement, struggle to participate in social justice issues. We seemingly struggle with giving to those with the greatest need – yet it's what our Lord requires.
Having grown up in the church – I've heard it said that "the liberals do that, they do the social justice thing. They care more about the social issues than the gospel." But it seems to me that the Gospel, the whole of the Good News, speaks pretty clearly that we are to "love the Lord our God with all our heart soul mind and strength and our neighbor as ourself!" Our neighbor, our immediate, local as well as global – neighbors! Micah 6:8 reminds us of what God requires – To Do Justice. To love Kindness – and to walk humbly with God!
What does God require? Action. Movement. Intentionality. Passion. Justice, Mercy & Humility!
This message is a hard one. It's not really uplifting. It doesn't offer a ton of hope for us, does it? I am certainly not up here proclaiming a prosperity gospel. This message is kind of heavy. It is like when Jesus told the young man to go and sell all his possessions, give it to the poor and follow him – and what did the young man do? He went away grieving, for he was rich, he had a lot of stuff.
This message doesn't offer our lives a lot of hope does it? The Gospel can be hard and saddening to some, while offering hope to others. It does offer hope! The Gospel offers real hope!
Remember when I said what one percent of the all the Christian's income could do for the poor? In one year it could increase the lot of the poorest by 50%.
Holiness is not self-centered. Being like Christ is not a life of self-absorption! We say it often; the Kingdom of God is upside down. It's different. It's contrary to the ways of the world. The Kingdom looks out for the Widow, the fatherless, the orphans, the poor, the hungry, the stranger, the needy, the weak and the oppressed. These are exactly the people – the community – the family – the Church of the Nazarene is supposed to be about. Who we, as the Church, are supposed to be for!
You'll notice in that list you did not hear the word, "rich." You don't have to worry about the rich, because the rich will be able to afford justice. We have to worry about the widows, the fatherless, the orphans, the poor, the hungry, the strangers, the needy, the weak and the oppressed; the disenfranchised. They don't have the resources to fight for justice. They don't have the means to hope for equality. But, it is these, whom God incarnate came to seek and to save!
There is a story from England some two hundred years ago when many twelve year old boys were working in the coal mines, down in the cold mine shafts. Their life was miserable but that is what was expected of the little boys in England at that time; hard, dangerous work at age 12.
The church would offer presents at Christmas time to the little boys working away in the coal mines. The church would offer charity and turkeys for the poor families during the holidays. The church would offer prayers for the little boys working away in the coal mines.
One day, the law was changed so that little boys could no longer work in the coal mines and the law insisted that they go to school instead of going to the coal mines to work. Justice rang through!
Charity is giving Christmas presents at Christmas for the disadvantaged. Charity is giving turkeys away at sacred holidays. Charity is giving prayers for the little hungry boys and girls. Justice is working to change the laws so that it is illegal for little boys to work in the coal mines.
We have two options set before us. We can either be self-absorbed or we can be others-absorbed.
What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God!
As we partake of the bread and cup of Jesus. His body and blood, broken and spilt for us, may it speak of his compassion, his love, and his justice; reaching out to each one of us. As we break and drink, may we not forget our call to share in God's upside down kingdom of manna and wells that do not run dry, and cause us to thirst – no more!
As you go – be involved in social change, as the Kingdom of God requires. Go and Love.