Conversations with Micah: A Challenge

Grand gestures are an all or nothing proposition. Don’t believe me? Just look at social media or America’s Funniest Videos. If you do, you’ll find video after video of people either succeeding royally or failing miserably. You have the gender reveals revealing the wrong thing. The older brother or sister gets upset because they wanted a brother rather than a sister or vice versa or worse, one of the parents reacts badly. You’ve got the surprise birthday party where the friends and family gather, fill the room with balloons and party decorations, have a great big cake and wait. The birthday person comes in, everyone yells, it seems great. Except for the look on the birthday person’s face that screams, “I hate parties; I really just wanted to watch a movie and eat some takeout.” And then, there are the most painful to watch—or most entertaining depending on your perspective—the marriage proposal gone wrong. He puts together this grand arrangement with the home team’s stadium. The couple looks out at the jumbotron across the field. The words, “Will you marry me?” flash up on the screen while he takes the ring from his pocket and gets down on one knee. The crowd goes wild. The stadium is cheering. The woman walks away. 

Grand gestures seem like a good idea. They seem like a great means of communicating something immensely important, something life changing. There are plenty of gender reveals, surprise parties, and marriage proposals that go well, creating what seem and feel like perfect moments. The people hug and celebrate the moment with each other, the happy couple kiss, everyone is smiling. But there are those times when the room was read wrong, and people are left disappointed at best and deeply hurt at worst. The problem with the grand gesture has to do with how it’s received. If the person receiving the gesture feels the same about the gesture as the person making the gesture, everything is fine. If not, relationships can be damaged, and people left feeling disconnected on all sides.

In our scripture reading today, it strikes me that God is having none of Israel’s grand gestures. God, through the prophet, declares a case against Israel. In essence, God is taking the people to court, lodging a complaint against them before Creation itself. “Hear, you mountains, the case of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth, for the Lord has a case against his people, and he will contend with Israel.” God goes on from there to lay out the case, recounting all that has been done on Israel’s behalf. They have been redeemed from slavery and rescued from Egypt. They were given capable leaders, prophets and prophetesses who spoke the truth of God to the people. They were rescued from kings and protected as they were brought into the very land they now inhabit. All of this “that they may know the saving acts of the Lord.” 

And Israel’s response for God’s generosity? Grand empty gestures. The empty gestures are the kinds of things Israel has done in the past, things that were a part of worship but have become meaningless with rote repetition. It reminds me of something someone said to me years ago about communion, “If we did it every week, it wouldn’t mean anything.” Meaning lies in the heart of the person practicing. I have served in churches where communion happened every week and I never got tired of it. In fact, it became one of the spiritual highlights of my week. But here is Israel lost in their meaningless practices. They are doing the things that they think they have to do to appear to be in right relationship with God. They bring the offerings. They go through the motions of worship. But inside they feel nothing. And so, God says they could bring all the offerings they wanted, in massive quantities, in abundance beyond rational thought and would mean nothing. They could bring herds of first-born sheep. They could pour out rivers of anointing oil. They could go so far as to offer their first-born children, a practice common in the Levant region where Canaan existed. No, no, and no; God is having none of it. 

From the divine perspective, the important acts of worship are not the ones done in the temple but in the village. God, through the prophet, says, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with God. To do justice, to live a life that practices the right treatment of those around you, that sees the humanity in everyone, and offers mercy first, grace second, and peace always. It is to treat everyone as equally loved before God. To love kindness, to express the lovingkindness the psalmists speak of throughout the Psalms, the love God offers to us, offered to others. To walk humbly is to walk the path of life with God, recognizing we have much to learn and much to practice in justice and kindness. We have not, nor will we ever ‘arrive’ where our faith is concerned so we will always be moving toward the next step as we grow. I believe this is the message of Jesus as much as it was the message of the prophets and I believe it should be our message as well. 

So, what does this say to us? What do we take away from this?

I think the big take away has to do with honest worship. Leave the big empty gestures, the rote and trite, and embrace honesty before God. Embrace being willing to live lives focused on the things that matter—taking care of one another in the greater community, showing people God is still here and working in our lives and the lives of others by being the hands and feet of God wherever we go. Strive to not only treat people justly, kindly, and with humility, but stand up for them in the face of those who refuse to treat them as God has called to. 

Be Micah 6:8 disciples and in the process lead others to be Micah 6:8 disciples.