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Some judges are really nice, like the divorce court judge who said, â€œMr. Smith, I have reviewed this case very carefully, and Iâ€™ve decided to give your wife $275 a week.â€ â€œThatâ€™s very nice, your Honor,â€ the soon to be ex-husband said. â€œAnd every now and then Iâ€™ll try to send her a few bucks, myself.â€
Would that be considered contempt of court?
Itâ€™s important to us that God is a God of justice. We certainly want fairness to be on our side whenever weâ€™re not the one making the rules and calling the shots. Thatâ€™s when we think fairness is an attribute that everyone should hold most dear. Deuteronomy 10:18 says of God, â€œHe defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing.â€Â
If we were one of them, we would want God to be defending us. Of course, if we were poor or an immigrant or a refugee we would want the society in which we find ourselves to be ruled by fairness, justice, inclusion, kindness.Â
After idolatry, defending the poor is the second most prominent theme in the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament. Proverbs 31:8-9 say, â€œSpeak 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.â€
It’s clear God canâ€™t do it on Godâ€™s own. Jesusâ€™ brother, James wrote it this way: â€œReligion 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.â€
But this isnâ€™t such an easy thing to learn. In our best moments we think of others. But most of the time we have to keep to the game plan, to take care of ourselves, our families. We need the income to keep up the house, apartment, gas, car, insurance, etc. If there is time left over, then we may come to church.Â
Even religious people can find it hard to get beyond this weekly circle.
A class of Divinity students at Harvard were preparing for the ministry. In one of their classes, the final exam was a two-hour test on the German philosopher Immanuel Kantâ€™s Moral Imperative. Halfway through they
would get a ten-minute break. The students wrote for fifty-five minutes. Then the bell rang. They left the room and went out into the hallway.
In the hallway that day there was a man sitting on the floor, disheveled, humped overâ€”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.
A week later they received their test results: All failed.
They believed the test was about how well they wrote on Kantâ€™s moral philosophy. It wasnâ€™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.
In Micahâ€™s time, the specifically religious or worship side of the faith of the people was stressed so much that it was conveniently forgotten that Godâ€™s order and sovereignty extended over the whole of life. They forgot what they did or didnâ€™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 or following customary religious patterns or mouthing platitudes about needing to care for those in need are ways in which we let God in only for an hour a week in our lives and our world.Â
Find a way to do your Christian faith differently. Get your heart set on doing some real good. Step into 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 this world, even if itâ€™s only a small piece of a really large puzzle.
Iâ€™ve got a pet peeve when it comes to driving around here. Perhaps to your surprise my pet peeve isnâ€™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. Wait, you mean thereâ€™s more. Yeah, my pet peeve is the driver who doesnâ€™t turn on the lights.
I donâ€™t know if youâ€™ve noticed but it seems that more and more drivers arenâ€™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 driven without lights onâ€”they match the sky and
pavement perfectly. In the late afternoon, youâ€™ll see a dark blue car or a black truck without its lights onâ€”hopefully you wonâ€™t see it too late.
I donâ€™t get it. Is it too much to turn the knob? Are we worried about having to buy new lights? Iâ€™ve had cars for up to ten years and Iâ€™ve needed to replace a headlight.Â
You probably know this: But turning on lights at this time of the morning or evening isnâ€™t for the one driving. We can see in front of us well enough to drive. Itâ€™s not about what you can see; itâ€™s about whether others can see you and your car behind them or around them easily enough, immediately enough. (Just so you know: In Sweden, cars always have their lights on. They run that way. Itâ€™s been proven to reduce accidents.)
Please, do it to make me happy: Turn on your lights.Â
Now Iâ€™m not however telling you this just to tell you my pet peeve or to ask you to turn your lights on. Iâ€™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 you to turn them on.Â
Jesus said, â€œDo unto others as you would have them do for you.â€
Our scripture this morning tells us this religion stuff is quite simple. It comes down to three things: Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God. Now these three arenâ€™t all that surprising but the order is. When it comes to religion, you would think the first thing named would be walking humbly with God. After all this is religion weâ€™re talking about.Â
But not here. You see, Micahâ€™s tired of the old song and dance. Heâ€™s tired of all the sacrifices, of all of the disposable animals disposed of that are done to impress God with the personâ€™s sincere love and fear. Yawn! Been there, done that for about four centuries.
Micah knows something â€œreligiousâ€ people so often donâ€™t: The Lord can take care of himself.Â
Itâ€™s easy to spend all our time â€œloving God,â€ and showing just how much the Lord means to us, and then somehow never having enough time or energy or focus or belief that God has requirements in this area to do justice or active loving kindness. Micah says enough is enough: Doing justice comes first.
We ought to put first things first. Build your character of compassion. Think of others. Seek justice.Â
You know what Yahweh noticed over the years and decades and so on? Israel isnâ€™t a very nice place to live anymore. It is for some but it isnâ€™t for too many. And thatâ€™s what really burns the Lord deep down.
The prophet Amos tells us what the Lord God has seen from Israel and what he is judging them on: â€œHear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, â€¦ 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).’â€
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, Amos wouldnâ€™t have made up this exchange rate of human for shoes. Iâ€™m sure heâ€™s heard it doneâ€”or seen it happen himself.)
Now of course we arenâ€™t anything like this but is this good enough? The income inequality in the United States is at one of its highest levels ever.Â
Letâ€™s assume something right now. Weâ€™re going to assume there are folks here who are comfortable with what Iâ€™ve been saying, for whatever reason. And letâ€™s also assume there are folks uncomfortable with what Iâ€™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: God is a God of justice. If God werenâ€™t, wow, what a world this would be. What a disaster this world would be!
Try to imagine a creation created by a God who didnâ€™t instill a moral order at its core. 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 didnâ€™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. We all depend on Godâ€™s justice and moral order.
So hereâ€™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 itâ€™s measuring up. Now donâ€™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: â€œWe the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justiceâ€¦.â€ Our Founders 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. Weâ€™re under the same microscope, just like all have been and all will be.
Iâ€™m not here to tell you weâ€™re doing great as a countryâ€”Iâ€™m sure many here believe we are. Iâ€™m also not here to say weâ€™re doing poorlyâ€”Iâ€™m sure there are some who see things this way too. Of course, I have my ideas, and thoughts just like the rest of you do.
But I decided long ago that this church is Godâ€™s big tent, and a pastor shouldnâ€™t 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 must have some heart and muscle to it. So this is what must be said: 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.Â
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 doesnâ€™t help.
Thereâ€™s nothing we can do to escape this. There is no reason, no idea, no economic â€œnecessity,â€ no â€œultimateâ€ political system, no â€œmost importantâ€ 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 for them and living according to Godâ€™s moral order.Â
God loves us but the Lord doesnâ€™t dispose of his scales of justice nor his passion for a moral order at the heart of this creation for anyone, anywhere, at any timeâ€”not even for us.
And for this we are thankful because we wouldnâ€™t want to have God any other way.Â
Can the church say Amen?