Complementary Text: Matthew 9:13
Preaching Text: Micah 5:2-4; 6:6-8
+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +
Listen to this, you leaders of the family of Jacob, you rulers of the nation of Israel! You hate justice and pervert all that is right. 10You build Zion through bloody crimes, Jerusalem through unjust violence. 11Her leaders take bribes when they decide legal cases, her priests proclaim rulings for profit, and her prophets read omens for pay. Yet they claim to trust the LORD and say, “The LORD is among us. Disaster will not overtake us!” 12Therefore, because of you, Zion will be plowed up like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins, and the Temple Mount will become a hill overgrown with brush! (Micah 3:9-12, New English Translation)
This is just one small portion of the harsh word spoken by Micah of Moresheth, the prophet chosen by God to announce judgment upon the people of Judah during the reigns of Jotham and Ahaz in the eighth century BCE. No one could deny that things had fallen quite a long way since the days of David, the “man after God’s own heart” who had come to represent the model king. In the years following David’s death, the kingdom had descended into division and dispute, and with few exceptions the descendants of David who had ruled over Israel and Judah after him had earned a reputation for disregarding the divine call to uphold justice and righteousness in the land. Like many of the other prophets whose messages are preserved in the Hebrew Scriptures, Micah testifies to a crisis of character that had spread to every corner of society: justice was being perverted, the poor and vulnerable were being oppressed, and all the wrong done by those who were called to leadership was thinly covered with a veneer of religiosity.
It doesn’t take a great stretch of the imagination to see echoes of Micah’s situation in our own current national climate. Politicians across the ideological divide find themselves utterly incapable of working together for the good of the nation, while poverty and hunger continue to affect our community and countless others around the nation, the threat of war and conflict rages around us, justice is deferred and denied for too many of our fellow citizens. Whether we’re talking about Israel in the eighth century BC or the United States of America in the twenty-first century AD, the problems that plague human leadership and the way that leadership often clashes with God’s will for the world is plain to anyone who is paying attention.
With this reality in mind, we turn to this morning’s reading, which features two distinct passages from the book of the prophet Micah. At first glance, these two passages might appear to be somewhat disjointed, but when taken together they help us to make sense of what Micah was trying to communicate to Israel (and what he might be saying to us in the present).
Faced with the announcement of God’s judgment on the people, Micah anticipates one possible response to the problem at hand: ignoring the root cause and simply offering an empty religious response. 6With 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? 7Will 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?” (Micah 6:6-7, NRSV) As far as Micah is concerned, that response is totally inadequate; the proper response is to look back into history, to call to mind how God has guided the people to live in the past, to remember what God has already said about living rightly in relationship with God and in community: 8He 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? Like the people of Micah’s day, we often want to fall back on what seem to be tried-and-true methods for solving our problems. Perhaps we also need to be reminded that the problems that face our community, our state, our nation, and our world cannot be solved with worldly power, or more money, or more sophisticated technology, or by simply pretending they don’t exist. Micah’s reminder that the people already know what is good can also lead us to consider what we might do to transform ourselves, our families, and our community as we live out our calling to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly before God.
The other important part of Micah’s prophecy is a call to look forward rather than backward. If the passage we just digested could be summarized by saying, “Remember who you are and what God has commanded you to do”, then the other half of this morning’s reading might well be summarized, “Don’t lose hope, for a better ruler is coming.” It’s hard enough to do what God asks of us without thinking that somehow we have to do it on our own. Micah’s prophecy about the Messiah’s coming is vitally important because it points us to the one whose power and presence make our efforts possible. Yes, we are called to act with justice, to love tenderly, to serve one another, and to walk humbly with God, but we also know that we can’t do it by our own strength or power or knowledge. Micah’s prophecy reveals the truth: that as human beingswe are incapable of fixing the problems that face us without help. Even more important than remembering who we are and striving to do what God asks of us is trusting in the promise that God will not leave us alone to struggle with the forces of sin, death, and the devil. That is why this prophecy is worthy of being celebrated: Micah calls the people (and us) to look to the future in hopeful expectation that the Messiah would appear to bind up our wounds, heal our hurts, and set us free to love and serve one another again. As Christians, of course, we believe that the Messiah has already come in the person of Jesus. These words often appear during Advent as we look forward to celebrating the Messiah’s birth among us. But as people who live on this side of the resurrection, we also have the promise that the Christ who once came to Bethlehem will come again to rule over us, to address the problems that afflict us, and to restore the world to its intended beauty and glory.
Brothers and sisters, like the people of Israel, we live in a time in which brokenness threatens our society and our well-being. In the words of Micah, we are presented with both challenge and promise. Rather than seek to ignore our problems or grasp for easy solutions, we are called to remember who we are as we engage in the hard work of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God, trusting that it is this work that helps to lay the foundation for healing and wholeness for us and this world. More importantly, however, we are called to live today in light of the promised future, a future that has already begun in Jesus and will be brought to completion when Christ comes again to bring all things to himself. This week, let us pray that God will grant us the clarity to remember who we are, the courage to live out the faith we have been given in Jesus, and the eyes we need to look with hopeful expectation for Christ’s coming presence among us. For the prophet Micah and a vision that brings our past, our present, and our future into God’s light and life: Thanks be to God! Amen.