If ever there was a week to hold the newsfeed in one hand and the Bible in the other, with your mind in your heart and your heart in God, this was it. Let’s see what the word of God has to say to us today.
We’ll start with Micah, because I love Micah, the prophet himself and the words, especially Micah 6:8, which feels like a little 8 word gospel.
Micah was a small town guy, if not a farmer then from small farmer stock. I picture him kind of like my dad, short and stocky but brown and strong, with scarred up hands and sun-squinted eyes.
Micah was a mad farmer … not the first and not the last. He was mad people were getting pushed off their land and squeezed out of their markets by dishonest business people. He was mad about greedy priests and crooked preachers. And Micah was furious about a royal regime that connived to further oppress poor people.
I know what you’re thinking. And you’re right.
It’s also good to know that Micah loved his people … and his God. Even though he could get exasperated with them, too. Which is how he sounds here in chapter 6, quoting people who feel put out and ripped off by the never-ending demands of their high priests getting between them and God:
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
Naw, Micah 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?
We can just see him, standing there in a field with his farmer friends. “Let’s keep it simple,” he says. “That’s hard enough.”
So … here is Micah’s call. Not original, but simple enough that even I can remember it. What does God ask of us? That we do justice … love kindness … walk humbly with God.
And when you think about it, this gospel-in-a-nutshell is not too far off what another prophet said about 800 years later. When the Pharisees were making Jesus crazy with questions, he said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind … and your neighbor as yourself.”
There you have it.
Love the Lord your God … i.e., walk humbly with God.
Love your neighbor … i.e., do justice.
Which leaves loving kindness … as loving ourselves?
We all do that, right? Be kind to ourselves? No? Okay. Well … tell you what. We’ll come back to that.
Because we’ve kind of jumped to the end of Jesus’ ministry, and our actual text for today is from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the beginning of his Sermon on the Mount.
The Beatitudes … a set of blessings. Now, like my chef friend Deb, I want to tell you about the food before you eat it, so you can notice the finer points.
- The Beatitudes are declarations … they declare an objective reality, not a subjective feeling. It’s not that we feel this way: it’s that things are this way.
- The Beatitudes are performative. The saying of it, the naming of it actually establishes that it is so. When Jesus says, “Blessed are …” he is making it so.
- The Beatitudes are invitational: we can’t hear it without wanting to live toward what God has declared but which has not come in its fullness yet.
- Finally, the Beatitudes are community language. These blessings cannot be fulfilled outside of the community.
And, like the connection between Micah 6:8 and the love commands, there’s a connection here between the calling of Micah’s mini-gospel and these blessings. Let’s look.
The call is, do justice … Because “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. And “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
The call is, love kindness … Because “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. And “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
The call is, walk humbly with God … “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. And “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
So … here’s my question … what is between the calling … and the blessing?
Well, I think we are. If the calling is behind us, and the blessing is before us, we are right here, in the between.
So, is there something we need to do, in response to the call, to get the blessing?
Yes … and no.
Remember, these blessings are declarations, in fact annunciations of what is, simply because God is, not because of anything we’ve done. Because God is … here and now … love is, here and now, and always.
That is the reality we live in, all the time, whether we feel it or not. The beatitudes are not feelings. They are the reality of God’s love, filling us and finding us always.
So. It’s not that there is something we need to do to get the blessing … it’s now that we know it is ours, what is our response?
Because, as Eugene Peterson, author of the Message Bible translation says, that is your prayer. He’s riffing on Karl Barth, saying “when you pray you don’t ask God for things. You pray to listen, and then when you’ve listened, you can hear God speak, and take you into paths you never thought about. So, God speaks to us, and our answers are our prayers.”
I’m reminded of what Abraham Joshua Heschel said, after walking with Dr. King at Selma: “I felt my legs were praying.”
Are our legs praying? So that God’s love and grace, that goes before, comes after, and flows through every moment, can wash up against hate and division and exclusion?
God’s love surrounds the orphan, the alien, the widow … God’s comfort surrounds the man who’s lost his wife … or his mother … the women and children and men walking in the millions for justice, who felt their legs were praying … the student caught in an airport waiting room … the family taken off a plane after two years of vetting …
the Jesus whose family fled to Egypt as political refugees knows your pain …
the God who lost his son knows your pain …
and the Spirit of this God is with you in your pain, praying with you and for you in groans too deep for words.
That is God’s word to us. Our response is our prayer.
What is our response?
We do justice for the poor and outcast. We love kindness, for the grieving and the aghast. We strive to walk humbly with God, with word and witness and work.
And we can do more, can’t we. Just this morning, many of us are remembering those fateful words of Leviticus 19: 33 When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
Maybe, like me, you had friends who went to airports and said God’s no to oppressing the alien, who risked persecution to say yes to sanctuary and welcome and comfort for all.
Yes, this God is calling us … to make of our life together a sea of love washing up on the shores of a dry and thirsty land, a flow of God’s beatitudes.
What shall we say together?
Blessed are the undocumented … for you shall find a home with God.
Blessed are the unsheltered homeless adults, children and teens … for God shall be your mother eagle, your sheltering hen.
Blessed are the trans folk … for God shall give you an everlasting name that shall not be cut off, beloved Child of God.
Blessed are the queer ones, for God finds you altogether beautiful in your creative joy.
Blessed are the Muslims, for God will reward your faithfulness with courage and mercy and abundance.
Blessed are the Jews, for God never forgets God’s first love.
Blessed are the Black lives and the Latinx lives and the lives vibrant with color and culture, for God has made your sacrifices a living grace for all.
Blessed are the refugees, for God will give you sanctuary … and so will those who love, honor and obey God.
Blessed are the allies, for God is working out your salvation with you through your fear and trembling.
Blessed … blessed are you, for your desire for God, your holy discontent, your wordless longing is your prayer. Walk humbly in it, with God, all the days of your life.