Israel was undergoing a period of economic growth, there was relative peace, cultural prosperity and religious revival. At all the religious festivals the temples were full to capacity.
Everyone, it seemed was happy ….. except the poor and God.
Their religious fervour was not matched by compassion and justice.
The marginalised and the most at need in society were being excluded.
There were dishonest dealings
“Shall I acquit someone with dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights?”
“Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds!
At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it.
They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them.
They defraud people of their homes, they rob them of their inheritance.” Micah 6:11, 2:1-2
The rich are violent and lie “Your rich people are violent; your inhabitants are liars and their tongues speak deceitfully.” 6:12
The judicial system was corrupt – it was not a question of right and wrong but of who had the most money to bribe the judge.
“Both hands are skilled in doing evil; the ruler demands gifts, the judge accepts bribes, the powerful dictate what they desire—they all conspire together.” 7:3
This idea of bribing the judge says Micha has influenced the way you come to God.
In these opening verses of chapter 6 they rack up their offerings as if the ever-increasing value of their offerings will buy Gods favour.
Burnt offerings of calves a year old
Thousands of Rams
Ten thousand rivers of oil
My firstborn (Canaanites practiced child sacrifice)
What then is an acceptable sacrifice to ensure God’s blessing? This is a question not limited to the time of Micah but one that echoes even today.
The people of Micha’s day believed that God was like their dishonest judges who could be bought with a bribe.
Do you know a sad truth – this is not so far from how many Christians believe and act.
It is an inherent trait in many western Christians that we believe that we can earn God’s grace or that in some way we, by our acts of religious obedience we can maintain that relationship.
We too can be guilty of trying to bribe and manipulate God to do our bidding.
“Come on God” we cry “what must I bring or do for you to bless me”? “I have tithed, I live a good life, I serve at church, I read my Bible, I pray, I…..”.
The answer is you cannot impress God with what you bring but rather by the life we lead, and I don’t mean a pious holy life but one that actually treats other people with compassion, Justice and Mercy.
We can live lives indifferent to those around us or worse, and then piously bring our worship to God and wonder why he seems so far away.
God is never impressed by our religious devotion. He doesn’t care what you wear today, how many times you have been to church this year, how long you spend reading your bible or how many hours you spend praying. He isn’t even interested in how many people you have witnessed to or “won to the Lord”. More, God is not put off or offended by your bad language or by the fact you watch PornHub, that you drink too much or you are a Harry Potter fan.
Here is his question
How have you treated your neighbour?
Not just the person next door but your neighbour. And remember what Jesus definition of who your neighbour might be.
The lonely, the outcast, the one hidden behind the leylandii hedge, the alien (immigrant), the widow and orphan, the vulnerable and the lonely. The kid bullied on social media and the gay guy who is hiding his sexuality at church. The mum or dad struggling with the kids and the kids struggling with mum and dad. Your racist and homophobic neighbour. Your noisy neighbour. Even your rich and comfortable neighbour. Your Conservative, Labour, Liberal, Green and Raving Monster Loony Party neighbour. Your Brexiteer and Remainer, your Democrat and Republican Neighbour. When Corbin is your Neighbour or May is your neighbour, Trump or Obama.
Have you acted justly – treated them, right? Have you stood in the gap, risked your reputation?
Acting Justly isn’t just about the legal definition, it isn’t just about the law courts. Its about our daily acts of kindness and justice to those around us.
Did you see the wedding of Meghan and Harry?
One of the most talked about parts of the wedding has been Bishop Michael Curry
In his sermon he said ‘Love God Love your neighbour and whilst you are at it love yourself’
He spoke about the power of love. But then he went on
A power a real power a power to change the world
He died to save us all.
Sacrificial redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world
Love makes room and space for the other to be. (See 1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
This love, this is the way of Jesus. And it’s game changer.
Imagine our homes and families when this way of love is the way.
Imagine our neighborhoods and communities when love is the way.
Imagine our governments and countries when love is the way.
Imagine business and commerce when this love is the way.
Imagine our world when love is the way.
No child would go to bed hungry in such a world as that
Poverty would become history in such a world as that.
The earth would be as a sanctuary in such a world as that.
We would treat one another as children of God, regardless of differences.
We would learn how to lay our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more.
There would be a new heaven, a new earth, a new world. A new and beautiful human family.
The very dream of God.
Now you see I am a Practical theologian – I even have a master’s degree in Practical Theology and so I am forced to ask the question ‘how’? I’s so easy to speak of such a world of love but how would that work out what would we need to do to make that a reality.
Jesus says we are blessed not by hearing the word but by doing it!
Did you see the faces in the congregation as he spoke – the most engaged was Megan herself.
He quoted 1 John Let us love God for God is love. He that loves knows God. Whomsoever loves God knows God. Whoever you are.
For I desire mercy not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6
For the Lord is a God of justice
Isaiah 30:18 New International Version (NIV)
18 Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!
In the text today we are called to act justly.
What does that mean?
Literally – living with a sense of right and wrong and acting on it.
As I am getting older I find that I am as a friend of mine put it ‘easily triggered’.
Pat says I poke wasp’s nests.
I do it on social media I do it in meetings and even when I am preaching.
Things just get under my skin more – I can’t let things go un-said when people are being hurtful and excluding others.
When I was a young Christian up until I was in my 40’s I hated the idea of a ‘social gospel’. It was all about saving souls, rescuing people from hell.
What I didn’t realise was that people didn’t need saving, they needed setting free.
Isaiah Agenda Isaiah 61:1 New International Version (NIV)
The Year of the Lord’s Favour
61 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
Jesus quotes this passage in Luke 4 then adds
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
How often have we prayed ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’?
That is a social gospel prayer – you see God’s kingdom of justice and love will not magically appear but will be brought about by the people who know him. And others.
Our history is full of men and women who made a difference because they could not be silent to the injustice that was happening around them
William Wilberforce, Shaftbury, the Booths. Even Michael Curry quoted Martin Luther King
These people could not sit back and say ‘God bless you have a nice day’ they had to put their lives on the line to make a change.
How would you feel if you had to buy your young child an SOS watch? One child a week is abducted in Phnom Penh alone.
It shouldn’t be or just be these big issues – ah there’s a thought you could buy The Big Issue.
It is about you giving your neighbour a voice or to join your voice with theirs.
And remember who Jesus said was your neighbour!
It is small acts of kindness and justice that change peoples lives.
It is being willing to be associated with those others shun
It is a willingness to say here I am God use me
Isaiah 11:3-4 New International Version (NIV)
3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Our neighbours are waiting to see if we will raise our voices on their behalf
And yes it takes effort.
One of the great technologies and evils of our ages is Social Media.
But it can be a place to stand up against injustice – just check your facts too
I get flack for posting pro LGBT posts but it has saved lives
Isaiah 58:1-10 New International Version (NIV)
58 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
Now it gets practical
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk, (Social Media)
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry – (That’s effort right there)
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
Jesus said as you have done to the least of these you have done it to me.
Visit the prisoner, clothe the naked, feed the hungry
Our task today, your task as a church is to flesh that out in your situation.
Who are the prisoners in your community, the naked and the hungry – they may not be whom you expect.
Can I just say you are not alone. Look for those who are already doing the work and get alongside them and I don’t mean just look for Christian organisations.
The disciples came to Jesus and said we saw people casting out demons, but they are not of us.
Jesus reply – those who are for us are not against us.
None of this earns our salvation, that has already been given as a gift.
This is the expected lifestyle of those who claim to follow and love God
These are the actions of those who love – we cannot serve out of duty but out of love.
And when Jesus saw the crowd, the widow, the leper, the tax collector the sinner – he had compassion.
I pray today we may know a re awakening of the compassion of God in our lives.
Acting Justly is the way of Jesus.