30 January 2011/Epiphany4A - Micah 6:1-8/Psalm 15/Matthew 5:1-12
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Mount Calvary, Baltimore, MD
What Does The Lord Require Of You?
Often overlooked in the Hebrew Scriptures is the basic description of God's character: "...a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishment." (Jonah 4:2, Micah 7:18, Psalm 86:15, Numbers 14:18, etc)
So it is an extraordinary occasion to find the prophet Micah, preaching around the 8th century bce - roughly the same time as Isaiah, placing the people Israel on trial by such a patient and longsuffering God! Note that the jury box is occupied by creation. Hear God's plaintive cry, "O my people, what have I done to you? In what have a wearied you? Answer me!"
Of course it turns on what we have or have not done. They have not remembered a story. Seems like a minor infraction, but it is an important story - that of King Balak of Moab, a gentile who gave the people a blessing before they entered into the Land God had promised. Balak represents for us a gentile who although a foreigner pledged to utter only the words of YWHW, the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus. This "forgetting" of the story amounts to forgetting what God had done for them, falling out of right relationship with God. And the importance of including outsiders like gentiles as agents of God’s will.
Important for us, however, is how the people propose to make things "right." They seem to believe that what YWHW is most interested in is offering the Temple sacrifices in just the right amount and right manner, even proposing to offer their own firstborn! They seem to believe that meticulous worship and sacrifice is what most interests our God.
And it would make sense, if only this merciful God, slow to anger and abounding in love had not repeatedly outlined in covenant and subsequent Word what really matters: to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. This confirms the declaration of William Temple, the late, great Archbishop of Canterbury: It’s a great mistake if you think that God is primarily interested in religion.
Our God is interested in how we treat one another - all others - long before He gives how we worship a second thought. This is worth pondering given recent events throughout the Episcopal and Anglican Church.
This sentiment of Micah is echoed in Psalm 15: O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your Holy Hill? That is, no matter where your sanctuary may be, O Lord, whether on the move in a tent in a field, or in the Holy Temple on top of Mount Zion in Jerusalem, who is qualified to enter before your Holy Presence?
One notes, again, no mention this time of anything at all to do with proper worship. Rather, what we do is of utmost importance: walk blamelessly, speak the truth, do not slander, do no evil to your friends, do not reproach your neighbors, fear the Lord, stand by your oath, do not lend money at interest, do not take bribes against the innocent.
Instead of right worship we are given a moral code of right behavior. No mention of tribe, ethnicity, religious affiliation, gender or any other sort of qualification. Hmmmmm.
"Those who do these things shall never be moved!" saith the Lord your God who is slow to anger, merciful, abounding in steadfast love and ready to relent from punishment! Not being moved is a good thing. You are in God's tent, you are in God's covenant community, you are in God's commonwealth, you are in God's kingdom if you do these things. Who would ever want to be moved from such a solid relationship with God and with others – all others?
Look and see, listen and hear, what our Lord and savior Jesus Christ has to say on the mountain top to anyone and everyone willing to listen. You are blessed if you fall into any one of these categories: poor in spirit, in mourning, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, or persecuted by those who fear these core qualities of God's people.
There is an underlying assumption of humility here, over against a self-assured religion of exclusivity.
Note, those who receive God's favor and blessing are not the privileged classes of the Roman Empire, or the aristocratic priestly elite of the Jerusalem Religious Establishment. Jesus is talking about common people who already embody the core moral code that both Micah and Psalm 15 have long ago put forth - Justice, Loving Kindness, and Walking Humbly with our God.
In all of these revelations, one is struck by the simplicity, hopefulness and compassion embodied in God's expectations for all of us. It is also striking that we are asked to be something and to do something – we are asked to be a people of moral character and act in accord with God’s moral will. It is a matter of character shaped by what some have called “a Be-Attitude” – an Attitude of Being!
All of this is set in contrast to the social, political, and religious context of the present time, whether that is the corrupt elitism of the eighth century bce world of Micah, the Roman Occupation and Empire of Jesus' world, or our present situation.
So here we are, a small yet faithful community struggling to see and hear what God has in store for us next. We need not draw the lines and connect the dots to see where this is going. And we need not worry about anyone else but our selves here and now.
It does not take too much prophetic imagination to figure out what the outcome would be were God to put creation in the Jury Box and put humankind on trial today.
The good news is that our God throughout the past three thousand years has been consistent in what He requires of us - Justice, Love, Mercy and Humility. It is pretty easy to see where that can be found. We give thanks for the God who has brought our small and humble community of Christ together at this time in this place.
What does the Lord require of us? An attitude of Being that reflects God’s character: "...a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishment.” Amen