This week, we move from the stories of Joshua, David, Solomon, and Elisha in the Histories, to the Prophets. The people have abandoned God and the covenant God made with them. God pronounces judgment upon their actions, both their idolatry and the injustice they do. But, God’s judgment and mercy both arise from a desire for peace, for a just world governed by the love of God and love of others. God has a plan for peace.
Idolatry and Injustice
The sins that the prophets point to in both the northern and southern kingdoms can be summed up as idolatry and injustice. These two cannot be easily separated. You cannot worship the one true God of Israel and continue committing injustice. And, idolatry often boils down to the worship of the self (as a common aspect of ancient religion was transactional, tit for tat). And, if you are worshipping yourself or your desires, you cannot be just, since justice is about the “other” and not the self.
The Book of Micah spends a lot more time condemning social injustice then idolatry, though that is certainly present (see Micah 5:10-15). And, after reading Micah, it is impossible to state that faith should stay out of politics. In fact, our faith must be active in the public sphere to be living faith at all. This is not a new or groundbreaking statement. Many others have said this better than I could, and many have never stopped doing this.
What Is Good
After a good bit of condemnation for injustice, and the promise of a ruler out of Bethlehem, Micah comes to the passage that is probably the most famous out of this book. Micah 6:6-8 begins with a question of worship. “With what shall I come before the LORD?” It becomes very clear that extravagant worship is not what God most wants from us. God wants, no requires, us to worship not only in a sanctuary but with our whole hearts and whole lives. Our very selves should be oriented toward God and those around us, especially those who cry for justice.
If we follow the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (and Jesus!), we cannot have a private faith. First on the list of God’s requirements for us is to “do justice.” Justice is not a private affair. Working for justice requires activity in the public realm, the realm of politics and government and society. Justice is not about treating everyone the same (though treating everyone with equal dignity as beloved creations of God is part of it). Justice is about ensuring that everyone has what they need. This requires both direct actions for those suffering and working for the transformation of the systems that cause or ignore that suffering.
As I understand, the Hebrew word here translated “kindness” (hesed) is a difficult one to translate into English, as it is not a concept we have a word for. Hesed expresses an idea of love that is defined by God’s promises towards Israel, no matter what they have done. It involves love, mercy, and loyalty which are unconditional and undeserved. One of the concepts in the New Testament that is close to this is that of grace, which might be easier for us to think of. God gives us grace (unconditional, undeserved love and forgiveness) and God calls us to love this grace. We are to be thankful to God for this grace. And, most importantly, we are to share this grace with those around us, especially those who need it the most. How? See Do Justice above.
Walk Humbly (with Your God)
The third requirement here is a call for humility and faithfulness. As we move through life, we should do so in an attitude of humility, a focus outward on others rather than focusing inward on ourselves. This is inherent in the first two commands as well. Doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly all are about focusing on other people and their needs, not our own. But, one critical part of this verse is the very last bit. All this justice, kindness, and humility is to be done “with your God.” These are not things to do apart from God, but with God. And, it is not about a distant God, but your God, a personal and communal relationship with the God who will never forsake us.
What about Us?
How do we deal with all this? First, a theological point. This is not about salvation or earning a relationship with God. This is about how we respond to the grace God gives us. This is what an active faith looks like.
Second, this is a call to action. This is not just something we learn or something we teach, but something we do. I don’t know about you, but this can all be overwhelming. It is a call to change the world and, most specifically, our lives. That is a tall order. How do we know we have done enough? The answer is that we cannot do enough. We will always fall short, both because of sin and human limitations. But, we are enough, for God loves us unconditionally.
Something I personally struggle with is to compare myself and my actions with others. There are many people who are much more active in the work of direct service and working for systemic change than me. But, they are also different people with different lives. I am whom God has created me to be and I live my own life. So, when we think about how we can do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God, here is a useful process:
What do you already do?
Ask this question and look over your life. Where do you show love and service to others? Perhaps it’s within your family, your workplace (or school), or church? Perhaps it’s in acts of kindness with your neighbors or strangers. Perhaps it’s being conscious with your spending, giving, and investing. Perhaps it’s by recycling or planting a tree. Making a list will give us some confidence, and if you share all or part of your list in a group setting, it may give ideas to others.
Where can you grow?
What we do is not enough. God does not call us to sit on our laurels and pat ourselves on the backs. As individuals, as families, as small groups, and as churches, we can do more and do it better. Brainstorm some changes and/or work you can do for others. Choose some small tasks to incorporate into your daily life and perhaps a larger project you can do by yourself, or (better yet) in some sort of group. Be realistic, and then do it!
This exercise is directed more for adults than kids, but it is also important to include the younger disciples in our families and congregations in the ideas, planning, and doing stages of this. Not only will this teach them to work for others, but you might be surprised at the ideas and insight a younger perspective can bring. One way you can do this is to use our free activity this week, “Showing Kindness Together,” which includes a worksheet to guide a conversation. This comes from our Living the Word: Kids (3rd-6th) resource, but it can be easily adapted to different ages and settings and would be especially effective in a cross+generational setting.
Veterans Day Tie-In
In 2018, Veterans Day occurs on this particular Sunday. However one might think of war and military action, we can all agree that many veterans, no matter the age, could use a helping hand, along with advocacy (for better medical care, etc.). You can tie in an observance of this day in any setting and any age, either along with other people who need care and advocacy or by themselves.
-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
If you ordered Fall resources or are interested in just getting started, you can order now for the Winter resources, which start on the first Sunday of Advent and go to Transfiguration Sunday. As soon as your payment is processed, you can download the Winter (and Spring) quarters immediately.
For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!