After years of assisting more senior attorneys at trial, a young lawyer was finally allowed to try a case on her own. Determined not to lose, she prepared furiously. The case went to the jury, which quickly returned with a verdict in favor of her client. Ecstatic, the attorney phoned the firm’s managing partner, and the moment he was on the line announced, “The jury just came back, and justice has prevailed!”The managing partner gasped, stammering, “Appeal at once.”
Some of us still believe in justice, right?
Some judges are really nice, just so you know. Like the divorce court judge who said, “Mr. Smith, I have reviewed this case very carefully, and I’ve decided to give your wife $275 a week.” “That’s very nice, your Honor,” the soon to be ex-husband said. “And every now and then I’ll try to send her a few bucks, myself.”
Would that be considered contempt of court?
I want to talk to you this morning about how God is a God of law and order, or let me say, of justice. How good it is that this is so. Deuteronomy 10:18 says of God, “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing.”
After idolatry, defending the poor is the second most prominent theme in the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament. Proverbs 31:8-9 say, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of those who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
But this isn’t such an easy thing to learn. Some Divinity students at Harvard were preparing for the ministry. Their final exam was on Kant’s Moral Imperative. It was a two hour test during which they were to write
their moral philosophy; halfway through they would get a ten minute break. The students wrote furiously for fifty five minutes. Then the bell rang. They left the room, went out into the hallway.
In the hallway that day there was a man sitting on the floor, disheveled, humped over—a mess. The Divinity students took their break, talking to each other, drinking water, going to the bathroom, and into the classroom they returned for the second hour of writing their philosophy of what it meant to be a moral human being.
Weeks later, they received their test results: All failed.
All of them believed the test was about how well they wrote on Kant’s moral philosophy. It wasn’t. During the ten minute break, the professor had watched them. He graded them on whether they approached the disheveled man on the floor and spoke a kind word or performed some Christian gesture of concern or solidarity. Nobody did. Nobody passed. All failed.
“Houston, we have a problem.”
In Micah’s time, the specifically religious or worship side of the faith of the people was stressed so much that it was conveniently forgotten that God’s order and sovereignty extended over the whole of life. They forgot what they did or didn’t do after worship was over, during the other 167 hours of their week, mattered. Those 167 hours still matter.
Developing an impressive moral philosophy, indulging in religious rituals, mouthing easy platitudes about needing to care for those in need won’t do the trick. Get your heart set on doing some real good. Find a cause for justice that gets your blood rising, and then join in the struggle. Get to work on changing the world, to make it better, to creating what a just God would want to make of his world.
I’ve got a pet peeve when it comes to driving around here. Perhaps to your surprise my pet peeve isn’t fast drivers; neither is it slow drivers; nor is it bad drivers, nor is it even the lack of turn lights being used, or drivers who honk. My pet peeve is the driver who doesn’t turn on his or her lights.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed but more and more drivers aren’t turning on their lights at dawn and dusk. Too many are driving without lights on
when the sun is barely up above the horizon, and maybe not even entirely so. At this time of the morning, the sky is still gray/blue. I see light gray colored cars like mine driven without lights on—they match the sky and pavement perfectly. In the late afternoon, you’ll see a dark blue car or a black truck without its lights on—hopefully you won’t see it too late.
I don’t get it. Is it too much to turn the knob? Are we worried about having to buy new lights? I’ve had my car for almost ten years, I haven’t needed a new light yet.
You probably know this: But turning on lights at this time of the morning or evening isn’t for the one driving. We can see in front of us well enough to drive. It’s not about what you can see; it’s about whether others can see you and your car behind them or around them easily enough, immediately enough. Please, do it to make me happy: Turn on your lights. (Just so you know: In Sweden, cars always have their lights on. They run that way. It’s been proven to reduce accidents.)
I’m not however telling you this just to tell you my pet peeve or to ask you to turn your lights on. No, no. I’m telling you because justice is like turning on your car lights even when you can see. Justice is turning your lights on in the early morning or evening not because you need them but because others need them. Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do for you.”
Our scripture tells us this religion stuff is quite simple. It comes down to three things: Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God. If you think about it, the three aren’t all that surprising but the order could be. You would think the first thing would be walking humbly with God. After all this is about religion and getting right with God, right?
But not here. You see, Micah’s tired of the old song and dance. He’s tired of all the sacrifices, of all of the disposable animals disposed of that are done to impress God with the person’s sincere love and fear. Yawn! Been there, done that for about four centuries.
“Houston, we have a problem!”
Micah knows something “religious” people so often don’t: The Lord can take care of himself. It’s easy to spend all our time “loving God,” and showing just how much the Lord means to us, and then somehow never having enough time or energy or focus on doing justice or loving kindness, on loving others. We ought to put first things first. Build your character of compassion. Put some energy toward the ones God loves.
You know what Yahweh noticed over the years and decades and so on? Israel isn’t a very nice place to live anymore. It is for some but it definitely isn’t for too many. And that’s what really burns him deep down.
The prophet Amos tells us what the Lord God has seen from Israel and what he is judging them on: “Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, … buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat (instead of giving this left over to the poor).'”
That sounds like a seriously tough place to live, raise a family, not fall into debt and be sold into slavery, for a pair of sandals. (Just so you know, Micah wouldn’t have made up this exchange rate of human for shoes. I’m sure he’s heard it done—or seen it happen himself.)
Let’s assume something right now. We’re going to assume there are folks here who are comfortable with what I’ve been saying, for whatever reason. And let’s also assume there are folks uncomfortable with what I’ve been saying or perhaps where they imagine I could be going. So let us get back together on one page.
I want all of us to think one thought right now. I want you to be thankful that God is a God of justice. That’s what I am talking about, and that’s where we need to get our heads and heart. I am glad the Lord God is a God of justice. Would you say with me, “I am thankful God is a God of justice?”
Now since you just said it, let me show you that you are indeed grateful God is for justice. If God weren’t, wow, what a world this would be. What a disaster this would be!
Try to imagine a creation created by a God who didn’t instill a moral order into its heart. Try to imagine the world created by a capricious, unjust Master who cared not what happened to whomever, whenever, or for whatever reason. Imagine if God didn’t place the seed of a moral compass in our hearts and the voice of conscience in our minds. Think about a world devoid of love, kindness, justice, empathy, compassion, sacrifice for others.
You think this world is tough and a bit rough and at times even unfair? Let me tell you this is paradise compared to a world that would result if one were ever created without justice at its core, without a moral order at its heart. So let’s say again with real gratitude, “I am thankful God is a God of justice.” We all depend on God’s justice and moral order.
So here’s the thing: If we believe in the God of the Bible then we have to believe that this God is weighing our society in scales of justice to see if it’s measuring up. Now don’t be surprised. After all, we do the same thing to other societies all the time. We do it to current ones today, and we look back in time and judge others.
In fact, our Constitution starts off declaring this as the reason for forming the United States of America: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice….” Our Founding Fathers judged other countries and nations, judged them wanting in certain ways, and created a political system to be better than they were at establishing justice.
Truly what goes around, comes around. God shows no partiality. We’re under the same microscope, just like all have been and all will be.
I’m not here to tell you we’re doing great as a country—I’m sure many here believe we are. I’m also not here to say we’re doing poorly—I’m sure there are some who see things this way too. Of course I have my ideas, and thoughts, which by the way I believe come straight from God almighty, just like the rest of you do.
But I decided long ago that I will not sit on one side of this church and not on the other. This church is God’s big tent, where each is different and all beautiful, and I will not take sides easily, or foolishly, or generally from the
pulpit. I respect that you may strongly disagree with me on political and economic matters close to your heart.
Still, this pulpit has to have some heart and muscle to it. So this is what I will say: The truth again is we are going to be judged just like every other society, just like we judge every other society. The Lord of justice is watching and looking at the same thing as always: How the poor are treated. God is judging us by how many poor there are, by how they get poor, by how long they stay poor, by what we do to help or what we do that doesn’t help.
There’s nothing we can do to escape this. There is no reason, no idea, no economic “necessity,” no “ultimate” political system, no “most important” social norm can be used to distract the Lord from judging us according to the one and only standard that matters: Whether the poor are growing and growing more desperate, or whether we are establishing justice, living according to God’s moral order, building truly a more perfect community.
Do not be deceived: God loves us but the Lord doesn’t give up his scales of justice nor his passion for a moral order at the heart of this creation for anyone, anywhere, at any time—not even for us.
And for this we are thankful because we wouldn’t want to have God any other way. Can anybody say Amen?