The Quest for Quality Living

Micah 6:1-8
Ordinary Time
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Your word, O Lord, is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.
Give us courage to follow where you lead. Amen.

Socrates said, “To be is to do.” Sartre said, “To do is to be.” Sinatra said, “Do Be Do Be Do” And we say, “Do Be Do Bow…A Do Be Do Bow.

To be do be do bow people is to live the quality life. It is to be the people God has called us to be. Micah saw how shallow the faith of the Israelites had become. They performing their outward religious practices dutifully but inwardly they are not engaged in acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with their God.

The message from God delivered by 8th century BC social justice prophet Micah delivers is that God is upset, disappointed, but by no means throwing in the towel, giving up on the people. God is ready to forgive, ready to give the people another chance to live with integrity. God models the justice and mercy called for in the people. These people lived in a religiously plural society like ours.

So as our text begins, God has, in effect by the words of Micah, summoned the people to account for why they do not appreciate all God has done for them. Then the people respond by pointing out all their sacrifices. Then God says, “Don’t you get it? What I really want is your character to reflect my character?”

Let’s hear through the Word what the Spirit is saying to her church.

Micah 6:1-8
Hear what the LORD says:
Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice.
2 Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD,
and you enduring foundations of the earth;
for the LORD has a controversy with his people,
and he will contend with Israel.
3 "O my people, what have I done to you?
In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
4 For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
5 O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the saving acts of the LORD."
6 "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?
7 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?"

8 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?

To translate it into our congregation’s life, God might be saying, “Hey, Peace, what’s going on with you? Have you forgotten that I pulled this church together from scratch these last several years? Have you not remembered all the blessings I’ve given to you as a church and as individual people? Look around you and see your life. Remember how desperate you have been at times, and how I carried you through the darkness. Come on, people, you don’t even know why you’re carrying a rock in your pocket anymore. It’s a gratitude rock. You’ve forgotten all that I’ve done for you, the Lord says.” Then we respond, “So what was it I was supposed to do? Did I not give enough? Didn’t I bring snacks last week and don’t I put $100 in the weekly offering and am I not serving on a ministry team, giving my time and energy and on top of that I’m teaching a class on Sunday mornings? What do you want me to do – give up my whole life for the ministries of the church? Live at church?

Then God responds, “Come on, people, you know what is good. It’s your character I want to see. It’s not just your outward appearance of acting like Christians and doing church stuff. It’s not about superficial actions, but whether your spirit is connected to mine. It’s whether your heart and mind and soul are integrated enough to act justly and to love mercy. And whether you are walking with me, and turning to me for guidance and correction. A Do Be Do Bow life, a quality life of faith.

Let me tell you the story of someone who got Micah 6:8 – She began by loving kindness, then she pursued acting justly, and then continued walking humbly with God.

In 1982, Karen Olson, marketing executive, passed by a homeless woman and decided to buy a sandwich for her. The stranger accepted the sandwich but asked for something else - a moment to be heard, to be comforted, and to be considered as more than a mere statistic on a cold street corner. She could have limited her mercy and said, “This is a larger problem than one woman and I cannot solve that larger problem.” But she loved mercy, love kindness.

Soon, Karen and her two young sons began frequent trips to New York to hand out sandwiches to the homeless. As she came to know some of the city's homeless people, she began to understand the profound loss and disconnection that homelessness causes. That understanding turned into an enduring commitment. Now she’s moving toward the social justice action.

Olson learned that there were hundreds of homeless people, including families, in her home community of Union County, New Jersey. She turned to the religious community for help, convinced that there were many who shared her concern and that together they could do what they couldn't do alone. Within ten months, eleven area congregations came forward to provide hospitality space within their buildings. The local YMCA agreed to provide showers and a day center for families. A car dealer discounted a van. And on October 27, 1986, the first Interfaith Hospitality Network opened its doors. That network is now known as Family Promise, which has 162 outposts in 41 states, using the services of more than 130,000 volunteers and 5,000 congregations, Peace is one of them. Family Promise provides shelter, meals, and housing and job placement support to more than 47,000 homeless family members annually, 60 percent of them children.

There are other ways to seek justice and love kindness for homeless and hungry people. Bread for the World does it by seeking changes in the laws which will benefit the world’s hungry.

Way back in the 4th century, St Augustine said, “Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.” Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners, a Christian organization shaped by Micah 6:8 themes, in his DVD Course Justice for the Poor has a session called, “Moving from Serial Charity to a Just Society” Some of us at Peace pack food weekly for the people of Beth-El – loving kindness. Some of us go to marches to protest the injustices suffered by poor farmworkers in this country – to try to help Florida tomato growers and food chains understand the need of the picker to receive a fair wage -- a penny more per pound of tomatoes – doing justice. Others of us pray for the people of Beth-El and for ourselves – keeping us walking humbly with God, remembering the reality of God’s justice and mercy for us, as well as for them.

The challenge, church, is to keep all this in balance – as a community and as individual people. Doing-- Loving-- Walking. Service – Compassion -- Devotion. Justice--Mercy--Humility. Doing-- Being--Abiding. Fairness—Kindness—Godliness. Outward- Inward- Toward. Task-oriented-- People-oriented-- God-oriented. Communal integrity – Family integrity – Individual integrity. Act right-- Be good—Bow to God. Justice—Righteousness-- Adoration. All these triads come together in divine tri-unity when we are living the quality Christian life.

Jesus’ life, as God-with-us, gives us a true picture of the do-be-do-bow life. He challenged authorities for their mis-treatment of people and their hypocrisy. He cared compassionately for individual people, teaching and healing them one by one as he traveled through each day, never letting laws stand in the way of love, but reinterpreting law in the way of love. He got away from the crowds to pray. He did not count equality with God a thing to grasp, but humbled himself, even to the point of death.

Now for a little modern Protestant church history: The mainline Protestants churches in the second half of the 20th century took a turn toward social justice and loving kindness, and in my opinion, we ignored the walking humbly with God part. Hey, we were strong in number, people listened to what our leaders said, people joined our churches, we were respected and strong. But we were not humble. Now in the 21st Century our growing edge is toward God – humility, prayer, and more spiritual integrity. We’re coming back to a deeper devotional life and a more evangelical, enthusiastic love for God, and I hope not forsake the other two.

Meanwhile, the evangelical churches began growing in the 80’s and they focused more on loving kindness and devotion to God, to the neglect of social justice. I now see them picking up the social justice piece but I’m worried about their humility as they become the dominant religious group in our country.

And can you not see how Micah 6:8 would help our society, our government and our media. Do right – hold your convictions. But love kindness – respect the convictions of others. And be humble – don’t think too highly of yourself. In most of the social, political, religious, and economic challenges of our day, we would do well to balance justice, mercy, and humility.

There’s a wonderful story of the church in Cordova, TN that welcomed the new Islamic Center which bought an adjacent property. The church was so friendly and the Muslims so grateful, that they eventually were invited to use the church for Ramadan prayers while the Islamic Center was being built. And when this story aired on CNN, a little group of Muslims in Kashmir were so inspired, they went straight to the local Christian church and cleaned it and promised to take care of it for the rest of their lives. The ripple effect: One group demonstrated love of neighbor and people around the world were moved to act justly and love kindness.

In our families as well as our societies, we would do well to balance justice, mercy, and humility. Someone does something wrong or hurtful in the family should be told assertively (not aggressively )and they should be held accountable for their offense (justice). Then there should be mercy, kindness, forgiveness from the family, especially from the one offended. Finally, the both offender and offended turn all their attention to God for the grace to become better people, by spiritual integrity to be more responsible and more loving. It only works in families when everyone is intentional about all three parts.

Great NT family example is the story of Martha and Mary. Martha, the justice-minded one is doing all the work and complains to Jesus that Mary is not helping her. Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, loving him, devoting herself to him that she might walk in his steps. Jesus tells Martha gently to stop worrying so much and says that Mary has chosen the better part. Of course, everybody knows that if Martha wasn’t cooking, they all would have been hungry that night. Again it is the balance of all three emphases – doing, being, bowing.

Here’s the way Eugene Peterson, Presbyterian minister who wrote the The Message translation, a modern colloquial version puts Micah 6:8:

It's quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don't take yourself too seriously—take God seriously.

This is our quest for the quality life – doing right, being kind, and bowing down. Or as it says on our screen, acting justly, loving tenderly, and walking humbly. Doing that with God, never thinking we can do it without God.

Let us bow our heads and our hearts in prayer: Holy God, it is You who have showered us with the blessing of your justice and mercy that never fail. So why wouldn’t we be delighted to walk humbly with You? To spend time with You, to be guided and corrected by You. Lead us into a deeper quest for the quality Christian life, a life marked by the just and merciful character of Jesus Christ, our Savior.