Saturday, 28 January 2017

What does the Lord require of you?

Last Saturday I found myself wandering on the streets of Melbourne but not wondering about issues of justice, mercy and humility.  I was on still on holidays relaxing.  Intruding into my leisurely stroll I noticed a large gathering of people blocking the way just up ahead of me.

Police were there in force as a peaceful parade of people, mainly women, marched by.  As I drew closer I could read the signs that a few of the people were carrying.  They held signs like: “Women’s rights are human rights” and “Love trumps hate”.  The protest was part of an international anti-Donald Trump rally on the day of his inauguration.  And the march went on, and on… and on.  Thousands of people.

What is it that draws people into protesting for a cause? 
What is it that inspires people to give up their time to fight for an issue?
What is justice? What is mercy?
And what does it mean to walk humbly with God?

Over two and half thousand years ago a small town prophet named Micah, a name which means ‘who is like God’, was concerned about the people in power and their abuse of that power.  He railed against their lack of concern for the poor and the suffering in the community and he pronounced God’s judgement against their corruption.

In the passage that we read from the book of Micah today the judgement of God is declared against those who have failed to do God’s will: against those who have corrupted the worship and against those who have oppressed and neglected the common people.

In the midst of condemnation Micah asks the people “What does the Lord require of you?” “What does the Lord require of you?”  His answer is at one and the same time very simple and yet very complex. “Do justice”, “love mercy”, and “walk humbly with your God”.

A few years ago I went to a few protest rallies myself.  We went to voice our concern about the offshore processing of refugees and asylum seekers who were coming to Australia.  We went because of our distress about indefinite detention and the incarceration of children.  When I arrived at the rally a friend had prepare posters and she gave me this one to carry.

These pithy sayings from Micah seem accessible and achievable but the reality is that when we begin to really think about what they mean at any depth they are very challenging.  For the people to whom Micah was speaking doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God would have meant significant changes to how they perceived themselves and how they lived their lives. The same is true for us as well.

I am aware that within the Uniting Church there are a range of views on asylum seeker policies.  As much as I have been opposed to Australia’s policy on this issue and I believe this is an outworking of my faith some Christian people disagree with me.  In fact, some of the people who formulated the policy claim to be Christian.  There are complex issues to be explored but our faith calls us to think deeply and act on issues such as this one because all people are God’s creatures.

The theme of how following God’s ways changes our lives is part of all of the readings for today.  In the letter to the Corinthians Paul encourages the people of that community to consider “your own call.”  Whilst in Matthew Jesus speaks about those who are considered blessed.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
Blessed are those who mourn,
Blessed are the meek
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

What appears to underlie much of what is being said in all of these readings is that as God’s people our first priority is not setting out for our personal gain but to consider the world through the eyes of those who have less or are discriminated against or are suffering in some way.  When we being to do this one of the implications is that it might mean changing our own lifestyle, making sacrifices – even uncomfortable ones.

This is certainly an issue when it comes to welcoming more asylum seekers into Australia.  As we reflect on the last 50 years of Australian history the influx of people from all of the globe has certainly changed our society.

Is this what the Lord requires of you and me? To think deeply about issues of justice and equity and reconciliation and to walk humbly responding to God’s love for others.

Many of you know by now that at the heart of my preaching and faith is the unconditional love and grace of God.  There is nothing I can do to make God love me.  There is nothing I can do to make God save me.  God’s grace is precisely this unconditional, it is freely given. 

Yet Karl Barth, one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century, summarised the paradox of following Jesus nicely when he said there is a necessary response to unconditional grace.

Having encountered God’s love and grace we are transformed by God’s love to live differently.  When we hear Micah’s question, “What does the Lord require?”  I do not see this as an imperative that I must respond to so that God will love me but an invitation to consider my own call and to look with the eyes of faith on the world.

“Do justice”, “love mercy”, and “walk humbly with your God”.

There was another protest march this week.  Another march that many of my friends and colleagues participated in.  The sorry day or invasion day march.  It acknowledges that the 26th of January is a day of mourning for the first peoples of Australia.  Australia day is an event that for most aboriginal people still bears consequences in their lives and continues to unfold in the discrimination and racism they still experience.

When Micah was challenging the leaders of Israel about their behaviours he was in a completely different context yet if we reflect on what is at the heart of his call – reconciliation, restitution, renewal in the lives and dignity of people these themes run through some of the rhetoric around the change the date movement.

When Micah asked the question “What does the Lord require?” it was a question set in the midst of political corruption and machinations that disadvantaged some will privileging others. 

I believe that part of our call as Christians, as followers of Jesus, is to take the time to engage deeply with the issues of our time by considering the world through the eyes of others.  By looking at it not from the perspective or preserving our way of life or our privileges but looking at life through the eyes of those who feel disadvantaged and dispossessed.

It is an act of foolishness to risk looking at the world this way because, and I believe Micah knew this, it means it might change the way I live and the way I treat others, knowingly or not.

The central story of our faith, as Paul rightly points out, is not simply that God in Jesus took the time to consider and look through human eyes as the world but that God in Jesus experienced the violence of human rejection and death in the crucifixion of Jesus: the foolishness of the cross.

To be followers of Jesus means contemplating deeply the question “What does the Lord require of you?” not as an imposition but as an invitation to look through the eyes of others, and to share in Jesus’ life lived for others.

Being Christian involves us in the great issue of our time.  It engages us in the political and social issues of our day just as it did for Micah, Paul and Jesus.  “What does the Lord require of you?”  I wonder what issues burn within you, what it is you might pick up a placard and march about, who it is that you would go into bat for. 

And if like me you marched holding these words how that might begin to change how you live.

“Do justice”, “love mercy”, and “walk humbly with your God”.

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