Social Structures – 06.27.2021
[Micah 2 and 7]
Once upon a time there were two men riding a tandem bicycle together. You’re familiar with the type of bike, a tandem bike is the one that’s longer and has two seats and two sets of peddles. They rode together for a while, and then they met a huge, incredibly steep hill. It was extremely hard work, but by pushing, and struggling and sweating – they made it to the top of the hill. To be honest, it was harder than they expected. When they got to the top of the hill they paused, and the rider up front said, “Wow, that was a tough ride,” to which the second rider replied, “sure was, and if I hadn’t kept the brake on the whole way up we might have slipped backwards.” [laugh]. Today is part three of our sermon series “Minority Report” – and as many of you know, this month we’ve been working our way through some of the Minor prophets to see what lessons we can find. We’ve been through Amos – where we saw how luxury is a good thing, but it can be a distraction that keeps us from helping other people, and then last week we were in Obadiah – and we saw almost the same thing about pride. Pride keeps us from helping people. But this morning we are going to turn to the book of Micah, to learn a little something about justice and working together.
But, of course, before we get to the text – we need to pain the picture a little bit. What was the setting for the book of Micah? A long time ago the country of Israel was split into two kingdoms – the northern kingdom was called Israel, and the southern kingdom was called Judah. You might remember from the book of Amos – when things were good, the people lost all their morals. Comfort and luxury destroyed their moral compass. They were wealthy but they didn’t take care of the poor, and so they were conquered by the Assyrian Empire. And it happened in stages. First, prophets like Amos show up and say, “hey, if you don’t stop sinning, if you don’t start loving people and taking care of the poor – you’re going to get conquered.” They don’t listen, and so the Northern Kingdom gets conquered. Then prophets like Micah show up in the Southern Kingdom, Judah. And they say, “hey look, one down – one to go. You saw what happened to the North, You don’t want that to happen to you, so you should start loving people and taking care of the poor.” This is where Micah shows up – bad stuff happened, bad stuff is coming – please pay attention and change your ways! It’s like when the oldest child is jumping on the bed. And you warn them, “careful, you’re getting close to the edge of the bed. You don’t want to get hurt.” But they don’t listen, so they fall, bump their head and they’re crying. So you look at the next child, “see what happened? Don’t jump on the bed little monkey.” I don’t know about your experience, but in my house – if big brother does something, even if it makes him cry, little brother’s gonna give it a try too.” The country of Judah is no different.
To make matters WORSE, because Israel got conquered, things are harder for Judah. First, there’s all these refugees coming in from Israel, fleeing south. Judah is trying to build up their weapons and fortifications – that’s costs money. PLUS, Judah still exists as a country but now they have to pay tribute to the Assyrian Empire. The world got a lot more expensive when Israel was destroyed. BUT what we see in Micah is that the poor people paid a LOT more money towards the tribute costs, than the wealthy people did. The wealthy people knew all kinds of tricks to get out of paying their share for their country. Good thing that was a long time ago, and we don’t have those kind of problems anymore. So what we find in the book of Micah is that he cared a LOT about ordinary citizens. He cared a lot about Justice, and watching the rich guy pick on the poor guy has made God angry.
For example, chapter 2 [read v.1-5]. It’s pretty straightforward. You were mean, and now you’re going to get punished. Justice is coming for you man. And they whine about it. [read v.6]. [laugh] Prophets job is to tell people what God told them, and Judah says “don’t tell us that.” You know that moment when you get pulled over, because you’re driving too fast and the officer hands you a ticket. “You were driving 15 over the speed limit.” And you respond, “I don’t want to hear that. Don’t tell me that. How dare you point out what is true?” Like that’s not how this works friends. You can’t just stick your head in the sand and avoid consequences. And Micah calls them on it, he tells them more stuff they did wrong. [read v.7-10]. Micah says, “you did bad stuff, and so punishment is coming.”
Our second scripture reading is almost identical. The first six verses are all in that same vein, “you did bad stuff” But then in verse 7 the tone shifts. Chapter seven is the end of the book of Micah, and he gives them a little hope. It says [read v.7-9]. Bad stuff. Punishment. And the last piece we find in Micah is hope. He says, “I will wait confidently for God to save me and my God will certainly hear me.” And I want you all to remember chapter 7 verse 8. Highlight it, circle it, memorize it because these are some good words. [read v.8 again]. Our God cares about ordinary citizens, and our God is a God of justice.
Here’s my problem though. I read this and it’s pretty basic. People of Judah did something bad, they get punished, then they get a little hope at the end. And so when I read this in the modern world, I know the prophets were calling out sin – and so I want to go through and figure out, what did they do wrong? What were their sins, and how can I avoid doing that stuff? And so I started looking a little closer, and you know what I found? Nothing! None of these sins make any sense to me! The stuff they’re getting in trouble for doesn’t apply to my life. Chapter two, that I read earlier, Micah is all mad at the rich people because they took someone’s house by fraud and violence. Anybody in the house take somebody’s house by violence? No? So we’re good on that. It says in verse 8, “you steal the shirts right off the backs of those who trust you.” Anybody ever steal someone’s shirt while they were wearing it? Forceably changing a toddler’s spaghetti covered clothes doesn’t count. You see what I’m saying – it’s hard to connect with this, because these sins don’t translate into the modern world very well. And so I was sitting there, struggling with the text last week – what do we do with Micah’s accusation, because it’s pretty easy to say “well, I don’t do any of that stuff.”
Then I realized something. Micah is not talking to the individual. Micah is talking to the whole group of people. He literally opens up in Chapter 1 verse two with this line [read 1:2]. In the modern world, we love to talk about individual sins. Stuff that we personally deal with. We think our faith, our following God is all just between me and God. That other stuff? That’s not my problem. We don’t really talk about communal sins. When we’re looking for sin, we focus in the mirror because then if it’s our fault – it only hurts us. We can just deal with it all personally and we never have to look outside the mirror. That’s not how community works, and it’s definitely not how church family works. We want to say, “if it’s not my fault, it’s not my problem” – but that’s narcissistic faith. We are not a series of islands that exist totally independent on one another. We are one group, living and working together. Micah is not just calling our individual sins, but rather the pointing out the problems of an entire community, and that echoes right up into the modern world. Focusing only on the individual helps us avoid blame. If it’s not my fault, it’s not my problem. But justice is a communal activity. “not my fault, not my problem” is not how justice works – and it’s not how love works either.
In Youth Group we’re doing a lesson all about justice, and we’re studying the story of Joseph and all the terrible injustice he went through. And one of the key points a couple weeks back was that a good definition of justice is “love in action.” Justice is love in action. Justice is love in community. When we expand our bubble, start caring about more than just our personal problems – we start to love as a community and that’s how we find justice as a community. Justice is what happens when we start trying to love God and love our neighbor, not just personally, but by working together as a community. Justice is love in community.
Think about it this way. It is tempting to say “it’s not my fault, it’s not my problem” For example, I think about the poverty in Flushing. Couple weeks ago we saw that 15% of Flushing lives in poverty. And you might look at that and think, “Well I didn’t steal anybody’s money. It’s not my fault. I have a full time job, or I’m retired – I don’t have to worry about it.” It’s not my fault, it’s not my problem. But the reality is that increasing poverty affects local business, it affects our schools, property values, taxes. Another example, pollution in the Flint river. Maybe two towns up their dumping garbage into the water. It’s not our fault, not our problem. Except I want to take my boys fishing. And I don’t want to come back from that fishing trip radioactive. Or even inside the church, you might see a need in the Children’s ministry. Like VBS or Sunday School, and you might think to yourself – “my kids are grown up,” it’s not my problem. And that mentality is how you kill a church in a single generation. We are not an island and justice is not just about individuals. Justice is love in action, justice is love in community. “It’s not my fault, not my problem” doesn’t work.
I mean, imagine if God looked at us and said that. We sin, we fail and we fall. God could easily look at each of us and say, “that’s your fault.” It’s not my fault. You’re the one that sinned. You fix it. He could say that to us, but the good news this morning is that God cares, like, a LOT about justice for the ordinary guy. Sin is our problem, not God’s problem – and yet because he loves us, he made it his problem. And God stepped into this world. He took our sin, all the mistakes and terrible things we have ever done. He put them on the cross, and let them die. He took the punishment of the grave, not for his sins (he didn’t have any sins), but for your sins. Jesus loves you and offers you forgiveness. Jesus looks at you and all your struggles, all your insufficiency, all your worries and he says, “this stuff? Your problems? They’re my problem now” and then he wipes the slate clean for you. And if you are here this morning, and you’ve never accepted Jesus into your heart. This is an opportunity. Take all your problems, and take all your sins and offer them to Jesus. You can give your whole life to Jesus right now this morning, and he will take all the garbage from you, and it will be his problem. And if he can do that for us, we, as Christians, can do that for the world.
Now we’ve kinda been jumping around in the book of Micah, but to close out I didn’t want to miss the most famous verse in the whole book. Chapter six verse 6 says, [read v.6-8]. Other translations say, “this is what he requires; Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” This is the challenge for us today. Micah pushes us beyond ourselves. If we want to be people of justice we have to look outwards at our community. We need to get out there in the world and do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. Basically what I’m saying is that I want you to get out there and make it your problem. Look at the world around you, at all the problems – and make it your problem. We need to look at the world with the attitude, “it’s not just your problem anymore, it’s our problem now.” DO justice. When you see injustice that’s not your problem, you can do justice by making it your problem. Love mercy. When you see a lack of mercy, and it’s not your problem. Love mercy, by making it your problem. Micah shows us that God walks with people in their problems. God makes it his problem. So if we want to walk humbly with God, we will find ourselves walking with people in their problems. In life, in community – we are not a bunch of separate bikes heading up the hill. We are on a tandem bike, and it’s no good for some of us to pedal extra hard while others are sitting on the brakes. It might not be our fault, but loving God and loving our neighbor requires us to make it our problem. Justice is love in action. Justice is love in community. And so I’ll leave you with this – May we all thank God that he looks at us and all our problems, all our struggles and our trials, and through Jesus he says, “it’s my problem now.” And may we take that example, turn to the broken world around us with all their problems, their struggles, their trials and say, “it’s my problem too.” Amen.