Micah 5:2-4 and 6:1-8
Twenty Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 9, 2014
First Christian Church
Our long national nightmare is over.
I’m talking about the conclusion of the 2014 midterm elections. For several months we have seen endless commercials on television, our mailboxes stuffed with campaign mailings, our email inboxes filled with several emails a day and so on. Our own mailbox here at church was filled with mailers from a close fought Minnesota House race. Now, we don’t have to deal with that anymore…until 2016.
As much as I detest all the spam that seems to come into my life, I like to watch the returns come in on election night. I remember watching the election returns in 1980 as Ronald Reagan defeated sitting president Jimmy Carter. I remember my first election in 1988 and watching Vice President George Bush become president and I saw the votes come in 1992 as Bill Clinton became president.
I tend to watch the returns of midterms as well. In the fall of 1990, I was in a ballroom in Lansing, Michigan waiting for the returns to decide who would be the next governor of my home state of Michigan. I was covering the event for a number of radio stations in the state. And no one can forget watching in either joy or terror in 1998 as Jesse Ventura became Governor of Minnesota.
Politics can be an exciting thing to take part in. But I’m learning that it also has a darkside. Harvard Professor Cass Sunstein wrote in his blog in late September about how ideology is splitting America apart. Sunstein noted the findings of a test which asked people how people would feel if you child or friend married someone of the opposite political party. In 1960, 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats would be uneasy. Fifty years later, in 2010, the number is now 49 percent of Republicans and 33 percent of Democrats who would have a problem. Political prejudice is now greater than racial prejudice.
Sunstein writes that modern political campaigns are partly to blame for the increase in party distrust and that distrust is starting to spill into other aspects of life- such as marrying someone of a different political persuasion.
And this “partyism” is seeping into the church. In many cases, we have “red churches” mostly evangelical congregations and “blue churches” mostly mainline congregations. Some churches have gone in such an ideological direction that people of the other persuasion now feel unwelcome at church.
I’m telling you this because we are about to look at one of the most well-known passages in the Bible, Micah 6:8. “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love kindess and walk humbly with your God?” it says. It’s a beautiful passage and one that has meaning for me. But I also look at this passage with a bit of hesitation. The hesitation comes because I’ve seen how people use this passage out of context to justify support for certain political causes. People have seen this passage of God desiring a just society to support universal health care or raising the minimum wage. Yes, liberals tend to be most guilty of mis-applying this verse, conservatives tend to take 2 Chronicles 7:14 out of context as well. That verse goes “if my people who belong to me will humbly pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.” Conservatives take this passage and apply it to the whole of American society and not the people of Israel. I’m pretty sure that passage was not written to support bans on gay marriage or abortion.
When we use these passages to justify a public agenda, we miss what is really going on here. We want to place God on our side, instead of listening to what God is actually saying.
The book of Micah was written in an interreggum period between the exile of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom. The Northern Kingdom had been conquered and all that remained was the Southern Kingdom. This is where Micah takes place. The prophet is talking to the people of this kingdom on how they are not pleasing God. As we open up chapter 6, the writer envisions a conversation between Israel and God and God is not happy. God’s people have wandered off and done their own thing. In a mixture of anger and anguish God unleashes on God’s people. ““My people, what did I ever do to you?
How have I wearied you? Answer me!” he says.
Some have likened this passage to a courtroom, but I think that is too clinical. The writings here are more personal, more visceral. In my preparation for the Bible Study on Wednesday, I read a blog post by a Methodist pastor that likened this passage to a parent dealing with a drug-addicted child. “What have I done wrong? Did I baby you too much?” God is asking. “Don’t you remember that I lead you out of Egypt and slavery? Don’t you remember I sent you leaders like Moses, Aaron and Miriam? Is this how you treat your mother?” God is angry, but also sad. God loves the people of Israel and has done much for them. But the response was to ignore God.
Verses 6:6-8 addresses how people are viewing worship in the writers time. Maybe they could offer a big sacrifice in order to please God. The people were interested with acts, but they weren’t think about the heart. Worship was performa for them.
This is where verse 8 comes into focus. God is saying “You know what? I’m not interested in the sacrifices. What I want from my people is for them to act with justice, love kindness and be humble before God.”
Micah 6:8 was not about modern 21st Century America. It was focused on God’s people: the Israelites. But that doesn’t mean it has nothing to say to us. It’s just that the focus is not on how to affect change in St. Paul or Washington. This passage is still geared towards God’s people and that means the church. This passage is for you and I.
None of this means we can’t focus on political issues. It just means that we can’t use this passage for partisan gain because Israel was not a democracy. It was meant for a people bound in covenant with God, at the time of the writing, the Israelites and now, the church. We are not called to support universal health care or immigration restrictions, but as people of God we are called to be just, be kind and be humble. We have to figure out how to do that, but we can’t ignore them.
If we see these passages as intended for God’s people then our prioroties have to change. Trying to follow God as the church may mean taking stands that could bother your friends. If you are someone that adheres to the belief in small government, you might be challenged in how to help the poor. For those who are pro-choice, it might mean feeling more tension with how we view abortion.
One of the things that I struggle with as a pastor is how to engage on public issues without telling people how they should think. Even among this small group, we are different people with different views on the role of government. To focus on only one way is to weaken what really unites us a congregation: being one in Christ. I’m still trying to figure that out, but know that we are called to be just, be kind and be humble. We are called to care for the poor and outcast. It doesn’t matter how that is done as much as it should be done.
On Tuesday night after the votes came in, I did something challenging: I prayed for Senator Al Franken as he was elected to another term. The reason that is challenging is because I didn’t vote for him. I don’t always agree with his policies. But I still offered a short prayer, because let’s face it Washington is not for the weak. I am asking you to do the same thing, especially if that person is from a different political party. It is good civility to do that, but there is a bigger thing at stake: praying for our leaders especially those you disagree with, puts politics in its proper place: 2nd to God. As Christians, God comes before political party.
As our leaders prepare to go to St. Paul or Washington, may we be a church that is an example of unity, a people that are Democrats and Republicans that are united in Christ, being just, loving kindness and walking humbly. Thanks be to God. Amen.