Saturday, January 28, 2017

Year A, Epiphany 4, Micah 6:1-8, “Justice, Love, and Humility”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen

Imagine a Church where people weren't very "religious", didn't spend a lot of time worrying about heaven, but instead devoted themselves to just three things:
-- Doing Justice
-- Loving Kindness
-- And walking humbly with God

I want to be part of that Church.
Do You?

A while back, during one of my visits, I was asked a question.
“Pastor, what is your vision for Peace Lutheran?”
I hesitated to give an answer, for at the time I didn’t yet have a well formulated answer to give.
And besides, I’m still new here, and for a vision to have a real impact on our life it has to be a shared vision.  Perhaps that’s the challenge for us during this first year of my ministry.  Can we cultivate a common vision for the life of Peace Lutheran that will shape our life together in the years ahead?
And then, l preparing for this week, I read again these words from the prophet Micah: 
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?

I love that verse.
I have a carving of it hanging in my office.

Micah’s vision for the people of Israel is that this is how they would respond to the saving acts of the Lord. 
They would give up all their “religious acts”, their sacrifices and offerings.
They would abandon all their attempts to justify themselves before God.
And instead, they would strive for these three things:
·         Doing justice
·         Practicing loving kindness
·         And walking humbly with God.
I want to be part of a Church like that.
I really do.
And so I’m asking myself, and I’m asking you, is this vision that God has for his people, a vision that can shape our future as a congregation?
Can we, as a congregation, commit ourselves to those things that really matter?
And not worry about the things that don’t matter?

One of the funniest moments for me in worship came during a children’s sermon that my youth director was giving.
She asked during the sermon, “What do you have to do to get to heaven?”
The response from one young boy was priceless:

Out of the mouths of babes.
The thing is that he was right and she was wrong.  There is not a whole list of things that we must do to get to heaven.  God has taken care of that.  That’s what Jesus did for us.
We die.  We go to heaven.  Simple. 
She couldn’t grasp that.
But when all we think about is how we are going to get that ‘final reward’, there is a lot we forget.
We are so consumed with ourselves, that we forget that we are called to love one another.
To do Justice.
And simply to be in a relationship with our God.

Another story:
While I was in seminary, we took the confirmation class on a tour of the state capital in St. Paul, and then right down the road, to the St. Paul Cathedral.  It was a rainy day, and I was wearing a hat.
As we walked about the cathedral, looking at the statuary, I noticed a little old lady come walking slowly across the sanctuary.  She eventually passed by me, and without stopping or even looking at me, she said:
“Hat on in Church, not much sense.”
It’s a curious thing, our religious inclinations, our pious actions.
Men are not supposed to wear hats in Church.
Women, on the other hand, are required to cover their heads.  Apparently, you women out there didn’t get the notice.  Seriously, when we went to Russia Karla was required to have a scarf to cover her head.  And if women didn’t have one, the Churches provided one.
Religious acts.
The truth is that these things don’t matter.
They simply don’t matter.
Adiaphora is what Luther called them. 
Truth is there are a lot of things that we do that simply do not matter.  Religiousity, piety, behaving in certain ways in Church, and other ways at home.
God doesn’t care about your hats, or how you fold your hands in prayer, or whether you bow before the altar, or even what you have to offer.
Do Justice.
Love one another.
And have Jesus as your constant companion along the way.
That matters.

The difficulty is that doing justice, loving our neighbor, and walking with Jesus, gets messy.
There is a refugee crisis in our world.
People are fleeing war torn countries.
Whether it’s from Syria, or Africa, or Central America, people are fleeing for their lives.
The Pope has repeatedly advocated on behalf of the refugees, saying in the strongest of terms that caring for them is a Christian moral mandate.
Most recently, the Lutheran Immigrations and Refugee Service has come out against the new policies of our government.  I quote:

“At a time when so many people are fleeing unspeakable violence and persecution to seek refuge in the U.S., today’s decision is a drastic contradiction of what it means to be an American. As the world has its eyes on us, it is imperative that President Trump uphold the values that America has always lived by: compassion, empathy, family, human rights, and protection for those seeking a safe haven from danger and persecution,”

I shared this information on Facebook this last week and one of my friends responded:

“I am rapidly getting tired of the blatant bias coming from the leftist church organizations.”

“I guess I am just tired of the politicalization of the church period”.

This is the thing, though.

Our faith OUGHT to shape our politics.

Our politics, however, ought NEVER, shape our faith, for to allow that is to worship another god.

(An aside. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services has long been an unsung hero of our Church. Many of you may recall that during the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the US government turned to us for help resettling the refugees of that war, and congregations across the nation accepted Vietnamese families into their communities and helped them adapt to life in a new country.)

Loving Kindness.
A Biblical Mandate.
Things that really matter.

And what does it mean “to walk humbly with our God?”
First of all, humility is the recognition that it is not all about us.
It is, however, about God.
It is, however, about Jesus.
It is about what God is doing to save this troubled world.
One of the hardest lessons I learned was offered to me by my Bishop early on in my ministry.
“Dave,” Bishop Ramseth said, “this is not about you.”
This is not about you.
It is about Jesus.
We say that our congregation’s purpose is to welcome, love and serve all in our local and global community. 
Humility recognizes that we affirm that, not because WE are so good at welcoming, loving, and serving, but because Jesus is.
To walk with Jesus,
·         Is to welcome as Jesus welcomes
·         To serve as Jesus serves
·         And to love as Jesus first loved us.
We are to do justice, not because we are just, but because God is just.
We are to show love and mercy, not because we by nature are so loving and merciful, but because Jesus is.
We are to be gracious, not because we are so compassionate, but because God is.

Imagine a Church where people weren't very "religious", didn't spend a lot of time worrying about heaven, but instead devoted themselves to just three things:
-- Doing Justice
-- Loving Kindness
-- And walking humbly with God

That is the type of Church we are called to be.
And not just us.
But every Church.
To be the Body of Christ, is to embody Christ.
And so we are just, and loving, because Christ is just and loving.
It’s that simple. 


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