Rev Dr Noel Preston has forwarded his homily for Sunday 19th May. It is a timely presentation as the Federal Election and political discourse has refocussed many minds on the teaching of Micah … acting justly, loving tenderly and walking humbly (Micah 6 v. 8. and vs. 6-16.)
It is a message for politicians and for all of us who are deciding who to vote for, as well as a message for the whole population in our individual journeys.
Comments can be left here at “Reply” or directly to Noel.
We have heard the reading from the Old Testament Book of Micah – one of the “minor prophets”, together with Hosea and Amos and part of the book of Isaiah. These prophets were around 8 centuries before the Christian era. As prophets they were not foretelling the future so much as declaring Yahweh’s judgement on the way the nation was going. In other words they were speaking truth to power in their own times, a prophetic word of the Lord. Jesus and the Gospels were strongly influenced by these 8th century BC prophets.
Micah was speaking for the poor and spoke as one of them. He is horrified at the luxurious , degenerate and corrupt life of the city, and realises that he and his fellow peasants are paying for it. In another age he might have led a Peasants’ Revolt though his message is more than political. It is about right relating with each other and with Yahweh, their God – interesting challenges the day after a national election!
These days it is rare to hear a preacher announce a single Text to preach on but that is what I am doing today. This text is bracketed within Micah’s declarations about false worship and a denunciation of corrupt dealings. Let’s look at this text, not in the translation of the Good News Bible we used in today’s reading but in 3 other paraphrases or translations from different versions.
You may know “The Message” – this is how our text reads there:
…..what God is looking for in men and women is quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbour, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously…..
And maybe some of us who are old enough have heard of the J B Phillips version of the Bible:
…..For what does the Lord require from you, But to be just, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God…
And now the version I am most familiar with, known as the The Jerusalem Bible:
….This is what Yahweh asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God….
It is this latter version which guides my preaching this morning – the words for today (and everyday) are
Living the Gospel = loving justly, tenderly and humbly
I am going to reverse the order of these injunctions – so walk humbly with your God
Walking – we are all on a journey aren’t we? We don’t know where or how it will end but we know that, in the company of God who is Love, God’s Spirit will guide our journey. This suggests a prayerful approach to daily life…..
Walking humbly – that also suggests to me “living by Grace”, knowing that nothing can separate us from the Great Love. Furthermore, we are called to live graciously, sharing that Love unconditionally.
Let me add another thought – walking humbly is a rejection of self-righteousness. We are to be careful of how we speak and think about “knowing or doing the will of God”.
Walking humbly empowers us for the life of love and justice to which the rest of the text points.
So now, love tenderly……
To me, “tenderness” is virtually a synonym for “compassion” . “Mercy” is another like term which some translations of this text use. Practising “mercy” is also about sharing “grace”, again “unconditional love”, which never deserts us even when we fail to live that way.
Tenderness is often a characteristic of those who themselves have been hurt or damaged. Such tenderness is the style of the wounded healer or suffering servant. It will be tinged with a forgiving, empathetic and merciful spirit.
It is in caring for the “little ones” that we learn to love tenderly -(the anawim of the Hebrew scriptures or Jesus’ reference to “the least” of our brothers and sisters, as in Matthew 25) – the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned, the naked. In our time we must understand “the least” or “the little ones” in a total ecological sense. In caring for the Earth, threatened species and their environments, we will learn to love tenderly. So, I am talking about eco-justice which is nurtured by a comprehensive tender love.
Some years ago I wrote of “tender loving” in my journal, particularly in the context of recovering from serious illness. I was inspired by the words of an American medico who wrote a book with the wonderful title, “Love, Medicine and Miracles”. I wrote in my diary as I contemplated my wounded body: such “loving is the life-stream which combines wholeness, healing and holiness.”
Then, we are called to Act Justly……….
This is the hardest word to hear….this is the message for followers of the Jesus way, especially it is what we needed to hear as Australians in the last few weeks facing an election and what is needed as we move on as a nation. Justice is not about personal needs primarily, but about the common good, and why the Gospel is a call to SOCIAL justice.. We all belong to the human family, indeed the family of all living beings. When we are grasped by this insight, the burdens of others are not so heavy to bear – for they are the burdens of our brothers and sisters.
Of course “justice and love” are closely related. Indeed, it has been said that social justice is love distributed. This is why the biblical message is full of references to living justly. One of the strongest is in the Book of Jeremiah – “To know God is to do Justice”. Essentially, the biblical idea of justice is about “right relating” to each other, to our God, to all who share this planet. We are a Covenant people called to be faithful to all – this is what Jesus said in the Synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4) where he named his mission. So the Biblical notion of Justice goes beyond the way some of our leaders use the word, “fair”. Biblical Justice has a bias to correcting injustice. It suggests that we must be constantly, and courageously, ready to change not only our minds but our actions. Social justice is more than simple charity. It gives a priority to the marginalised, the vulnerable and the powerless. We see that clearly in the Jesus Story.
It’s worth wondering how we develop our sense of justice and fairness. Let me share an autobiographical reflection.
I was a five year old in my first grade, walking home from school. The entertainment for the afternoon was for a group of us boys to tease a little migrant Scottish girl. I’m talking 1947 when Scottish migrants were the outsiders, the Asian migrants or asylum seekers of our time. We called her names and threw stones at her. My father found out about this incident. He was very angry with me, righteously wrathful in fact. He did not hit me but gave me a piece of his mind (and heart) and insisted on taking me around to the girl’s house to apologise. This I did very tearfully. My father had opted to take the side of the aggrieved and ostracised migrant girl to correct the hurt and injustice we boys had perpetrated. The whole encounter made a profound impression on me, searing into my self (my emotions, my will my mind, my spirit) a sense of injustice, righteous anger and empathy on behalf of the vulnerable and victimised. For me, that encounter was a lesson in right relating and I’m sure my father’s response did something to empower that migrant family. On reflection, for me it was a lesson on how just or right relating may correct the imbalances of power in our society and world.
In a nutshell, empowering justice requires us to reflect ethically about economic issues from the standpoint of the poor, not the rich; or race relations from the standpoint of the oppressed race; or environmental questions from the standpoint of the most vulnerable species and so on. There is no better way to learn what social justice is than to identify with the victims of injustice, as far as that is possible. In my adult years my own understanding of justice was fashioned by a decade of close involvement with aboriginal peoples in the seventies.
One of the great contributions of the Uniting Church has been a readiness to take a stand for Social Justice. And to tackle issues directly, not just speak vaguely about social justice matters.
When the UCA was formed I was the Assembly Convenor for Social Responsibility. With others it was our task to design “A Statement to the Nation” – written in 1977 it still has currency and meaning. I want to share 3 paragraphs…..
We pledge ourselves to seek the correction of injustices wherever they occur. We will work for the eradication of poverty within our society and beyond. We affirm the right of all people to equal educational opportunities, adequate health care, freedom of speech, employment or dignity in unemployment if work is not available. We will oppose all forms of discrimination which infringe basic rights and freedoms.
We will challenge values which emphasise acquisitiveness and greed in disregard of the needs of others and which encourage a higher standard of living for the privileged in face of the daily widening gap between the rich and poor.
We are concerned with the basic human rights of future generations and will urge the wise use of energy, the protection of the environment and the replenishment of the Earth’s resources for their use and enjoyment.
(Can give you a full copy of the Assembly Statement)
Now back to our Text. “Act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God……”
That is a great guide for living. That is a great motto for a congregation to adopt or for our Uniting Churches in the Redlands to make their chief guideline in the current planning for a shared future.
Let us make these matters of prayer for others, especially the marginalised. Let us join action with our prayer. AMEN