January 30, 2011
"Controversy in the Church"
David A. Davis
Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God. Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God. Be fair. Shout out for kindness. Think of God before you think of yourself. Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God. You can say it with me, can’t you? Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God. Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God. It’s a memory verse among memory verses, isn’t it? But it does come with some history, easily lost with its “memory verse status”. The verse has some baggage that comes with it, a context, a bit of flesh to put on the bones.
It is a court room drama. The Lord calling upon the people to defend themselves in the court of creation. Plead your case before the mountains. Let the hills hear your voice; hear what you have to say. The Lord establishes the mountains themselves as the jury. You’ve been around forever. You’re the very foundation of the earth. So listen. You hear my case; the controversy of the Lord. You hear the case; my contention with my people. For the Lord has a controversy and it is with God’s people. Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God. Who knew the memory verse comes out of a biblical episode of “Law and Order”; a court room of cosmic proportion?
God offers the opening statement. “O my people, what I have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me, please? Answer me, this! I brought you out of Egypt. I redeemed you from the house of slavery. I sent you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. Remember how Balaam had an answer for the King of Moab, remember what happened as you crossed the Jordan, from Shittim to Gilgal, how your crossed to the Promised Land. Do you remember any of that? Do you remember all of that, all of it, that you may know the savings acts of the Lord.”
God pleads for an answer from God’s people, as if God is yearning to understand. The Lord sounds more disappointed than angry. The opening statement is more of a plea than it is a list of charges. If the mountain jury was expecting specifics about the controversy, such details do not appear to be forthcoming. Elsewhere the prophet Micah describes violence, cheating, prophets, priests and rulers being bought with a price, and a people following the ways of evil, earthly kings. But here in the courtroom, the Lord describes the controversy as God’s people neglecting the saving acts of the Lord. The Lord’s people turning away from all that the Lord has done. God’s people not remembering the saving acts of the Lord. God’s people not remembering salvation history. Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God. The memory verse comes in the context of God’s people not remembering.
The voice of the speaker changes, then, as the Lord, not being able to hide the disappointment, now falls silent, waiting for an answer. The voice of God’s people comes through an appointed spokesperson, or perhaps here in the court room, the people simply speak with the collective “I”. “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before God with burnt offerings, a calve a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgressions, the fruit of my body for the sin of soul? “
No explanation. No apology. No mea culpa. No seeking forgiveness. The immediate reaction is to ask what to do, how to make it right. How can we make this go away? What do you really want? The escalating, exponential amounts of sacrifice, some might hear it as appropriate and reflective of the urgency of the situation there in the court room. Others might hear sarcasm and a bit of attitude? What, you want the perfect calf, a gazillion rams, you want my own flesh and blood? Would that make this right, God? At the very least, humanity’s legal response, the official reaction, is to turn to that once and future and always present dynamic in the divine/human relationship. The speaker attempts to bargain with God. And as would have been before that court room, and forever after that courtroom, folks like you and me confuse asking forgiveness with keeping score, reducing a life of faithfulness to God to little more than the practice of religion. Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God. The memory verse comes out of humanity’s timeless tendency to equate God’s desire for us with our own self righteous piety.
At this point in the court room, after the people’s question-filled defense has been registered before the jury of creation, another voice is heard. It must be the voice of the prophet rising up. “The Lord has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you?” It is hard to detect the tone now, from the words of the one giving voice to the prophets and the wisdom and the matriarchs and the patriarchs and the preachers and the choirs of angels from every generation. Is it yet another plea? Oh my people. Is it more exasperation? How many times do I have to tell you. Or is it a reiteration of “behold the kingdom of God is at hand”? Like the epistle of I John, “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.” “God has told you, what is good. What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God. The memory verse rests at the very core of the prophets’ ageless call to the people of God, a call to a faithful and faith-filled life, walking in the Light of the Living God.
Do justice. Love Kindness. Walk humbly with your God. One of the reasons to memorize it is that there’s not much more to say about it. It has a certain refreshing self-explanatory ring to it. A self-evidence to it. A plain sense that isn’t always present with other parts of scripture, even parts we memorize. When you heard Micah 6:8 as a child, that’s what you hear now. What you understood about Micah 6:8 in a children’s time many moons ago, is pretty much what there is to understand now. What you thought about Micah 6:8 when you underlined with a yellow marker on a youth retreat early one morning in 1973, is what you ought to think about it now. What struck when you first heard the prophets words read in a worship service last year, is what ought to strike you now. If this morning’s children’s time was the first time you ever heard this memory verse, your reaction, your thoughts, your understanding of it, its pretty much all right there. That’s why we memorize it, because you really don’t have to say anything more. Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God.
But it does come with a history. This verse. Micah 6:8. It comes with salvation history. The verse has its baggage. The baggage is the controversy. The Lord’s controversy with the Lord’s people. People love a good controversy. It’s human nature. And if the controversy is in the church, well, that’s even better, isn’t it. Church’s can be really good at elevating making controversy out of really small things. In my first congregation, many years ago, I started to invite people to hold hands during the benediction. A community building, connecting kind of thing. Ray Bracken came to see me and told me he would leave the church after 40 years if I kept making him hold hands with strangers. “At my age, if I catch a cold, I could die” he said. Controversy in the church. The peace and unity of a congregation is fragile thing.
The controversy that comes with this memory verse, it’s the Lord’s controversy. A controversy with God’s people. Yes, they have broken covenant. Yes, it is about violence and cheating. No doubt their worship of other gods and other kings has made a mockery of “thou shalt have no other gods before me.” There in the court room, however, the controversy is not just about their behavior. The controversy is that the people don’t remember what God has done, the saving acts of the Lord. They aren’t remembering and they are unable to see how their own behavior has everything to do with God’s story, God’s own history. The people’s unfaithfulness mocks what God has done. Whether they know it or not, their unfaithfulness is a part of God’s history. God’s history. Salvation history. Their lives, the lives of God’s people, for good and for bad, in faithfulness and unfaithfulness, for better, for worse, the lives of God’s people are part of something bigger.
Controversy in the church comes when you and fail to realize that we are part of the very mission of God. Controversy in the church comes when you and I fail to see that every time we do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with God, that we are making history. We are part of God’s salvation history. From Moses, Aaron and Miriam to Christ Jesus himself on the throne at the right hand of God, from the prophets’ proclamation of the kingdom of God to Jesus teaching, and healing, and welcoming, from God’s steadfast love and liberating power to the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, from God’s Spirit moving over the waters of creation to the Holy Spirit interceding with sighs too deep for words, and right there in the midst of all that, right there in salvation’s story, comes you and every effort, every commitment, every step, every act, every time you try to be fair, and to shout out for kindness, and you think of God, even before you think of yourself.
Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with God.
(audio to come)
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