Sunday, April 29, 2018

"Micah Calls BS" (Micah 6: 6-8)

What is a prophet?
Let me tell you what a prophet is not. A prophet is not someone who’s primary task is to predict the future. That’s what you thought, huh? But it’s not true.
A prophet’s primary task is to describe the present. A prophet is someone who “tells it like it is.” A prophet is someone who sees the current situation through God’s eyes, and describes it to people who do not or cannot or choose not to see things as they actually are.
In other words, prophets are truth-tellers.
And because prophets spoke the truth about what was going on in society, they often meddled in politics.
That’s why Micah - chapter one, verse one - says that the prophet Micah lived and prophesied during the days of King Jotham, King Ahaz, and King Hezekiah. These three kings are mentioned right off the bat, so we know that Micah is going to do some meddling. We know that these three kings are going to have some truth told to them.
Micah was fed up with the politics of his day. In fact, Micah found things offensive. God had opened Micah’s eyes to see an economic system set up by these kings that was designed to help the few in power while neglecting the people.
Micah was what Walter Brueggeman calls “the voice of the village peasant against the rapacious power of the state.” The kings of Micah’s day built up their military and built up their urban centers of power at the expense of everyone else. And Micah was called by God to challenge this unjust economic and political system.
No one else - and certainly no one in government or with connections to government - would say the things Micah said. For them, times were good. The economy was growing. The stock market was up. Their savings accounts were full...
So they tried to discredit Micah. They pointed out how prosperous society was, the rising GDP, the rising stock market.
But Micah knew this economic growth came at a price. The ruling elite were very eager to increase taxes on the peasants to pay for their prosperity. They spent money on military might, and on their own lavish lifestyles, crafting economic policy in their favor… and making the poor pay for it all.
It’s exactly like our own government, slashing taxes for the wealthy, then saying there’s not enough money for social security, not enough for medicare, not enough for welfare. They take the money from the poor to pay for the deficits they create. They talk about improving the economy, but the economy only improves for those at the top.
As a result, the poor are suffering. Micah chapter 2 says that the rulers “covet fields, and seize them; and houses, and take them away. They oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance (2:1-2).” All to pay for the favors granted to the wealthy.
As a prophet, Micah sees the truth of what’s really going on, even when others don’t. Micah uses vivid imagery to describe the economic cannibalism of the kings and rulers.
In chapter 3 Micah says: “Listen, you rulers of Israel! Shouldn’t you know justice? You hate the good and love the evil! You tear the skin off my people, and the flesh off their bones! You eat the flesh of my people, flay their skin off them, break their bones in pieces, and chop them up like meat in a kettle, like flesh in a cauldron!” (3:1-3)
This shocking description of people eating people is Micah’s metaphor for the shocking situation that is taking place. Micah says “Look. This is how things are. This is the current situation.”
In chapter four, Micah describes God’s vision of how things should be.
Micah says people “will beat their swords into iron plows and their spears into pruning tools. Nation will not take up sword against nation; they will no longer learn how to make war. All will sit underneath their own grapevines, under their own fig trees. And no one will come along and terrorize them. No one will come along and take away what they have worked for.” (4:1-4)
Micah condemns the rulers for not making this vision a reality, for not carrying out justice. Micah also pronounces doom on the nation, and especially on Jerusalem, the city of kings and rulers.
This isn’t really a prediction of the future; it’s just the honest truth that such economic cannibalism, such economic inequality, such a top-heavy concentration of wealth, cannot last forever; that an unjust economic system will eventually come crashing down. With such an oppressed, dissatisfied population, an uprising is inevitable, either from within the nation or without. God won’t let injustice and inequality persist. So a society built on injustice and inequality is doomed….
Then, at the beginning of chapter six, something interesting happens. A hypothetical person speaks to the prophet.
This hypothetical person is a defender of the way things are. He mockingly says to the prophet: “Ok then; what would you have us do? Shall we bow down before God? Shall we bring burnt offerings - calves, thousands of rams, ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall we offer our first born son? Come on, Micah, you’re being ridiculous. We go to worship, we say ‘God bless,’ we speak in all the religious code words… what else is required of us?”
But Micah sees through their false piety. Micah knows that their religious speak is all self-serving. Micah says: “God has told you, you human being, you child of Adam; God has told you what is good and what is required of you…”
Micah is exasperated. Micah is fed up.
“God has told you! But I’ll tell you again what it is that is required of you: seek justice, show love and kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”
According to the prophets, this is why kings and rulers exist. This is their purpose. The rulers of the world are to do justice, act in ways of kindness and love, and walk humbly with God.
But, as often happens, they have forgotten their “why.” At the very least! They have forgotten why they were called to the position they now hold. Even if we graciously give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that their motives, at least in the beginning, were pure, somehow these kings and rulers have lost their way.
They no longer serve the people. They no longer seek justice. They no longer rule with love and kindness. They no longer walk humbly with God….
They had lost sight of why God had called them into positions of leadership and authority. They got so caught up with what they were doing, that they stopped asking why they were doing it. They forgot all about their God-given purpose, their mission.
I’m giving these rulers the benefit of the doubt. Maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe they really were just evil people, evil rulers, who hate everything good and love everything evil… Maybe they didn’t just forget their “why.” Maybe they were intentionally ignoring their “why.”
But maybe they weren’t. Maybe they just needed to be reminded, forcefully, of their “why.”
I think of our main political parties in the United States, the Democrats and the Republicans. Both of these parties were started for noble purposes; and many of those who started these parties did so with noble intentions.
And many who enter politics today do so for all the right reasons. They have ideas, they want to change things, they want to make things better… and they want to serve the people.
But our political parties have forgotten their “why.” Isn’t this why so many people are fed up with them?
It’s no longer about making things better. It’s no longer about doing what’s right for the American people.
Just like the kings in Micah’s time, America’s political parties have lost sight of justice. It’s hard to find in their policies anything kind or loving for the American people. And the parties do not humbly serve the American people. They serve themselves. They serve their donors.
Micah said that the rulers in his day “give justice for a bribe,” and the same is true for many of our politicians today.  They legislate based on what’s good for their donors, not what’s good for the people. It is not what is right that influences their decisions, but what will fund their campaigns, what will keep them in power. They deny justice; yet they proclaim that God is with them, God has blessed them, and God will keep blessing them.
To this, Micah calls “B.S.”
And what does BS stand for? Well, the “S” - in ancient Greek - stands for skubalon. And skubalon has the same meaning as that English word I’m using it in place of. Exactly the same.
And since I know you are now curious, I’ll tell you that skubalon does appear in scripture. Not in Micah, but in Philippians 3:8. Our Bibles have it translated as “rubbish,” “sewer trash,” or “dung.” But it’s all skubalon.
And Micah isn’t taking any more of their skubalon. Micah confronts the rulers. Micah sees how they claim that they follow God and that God is with them, all while denying justice to the people, and Micah says “No! You don’t get to claim that! You oppress people! You hate what is good! you love what is evil!… How dare you say God stands with you, when all the work you do is contrary to God’s will!”
In the same way, Jesus confronted the leaders and rulers of his day, leaders who had forgotten their “why.”
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” Jesus says. “You do not practice what you teach. You tithe, you present offerings to God, but you have neglected the more important things: justice. Love. Faith. These are the things you should practice, without neglecting the others.”
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” Jesus says. “You clean the outside of the cup, but inside you are full of greed and self-indulgence. Clean the inside of the cup first.” In other words, clean yourselves, get your lives right with God, and then let your rituals and customs reflect that.
Tithing and washing of cups were holy rituals for ancient Jews, but they needed to reflect holy lives. If you forget that, then the rituals are meaningless and offensive. If you forget their purpose, then you end up performing the rituals instead of doing what pleases God. Yet the “why” of the rituals - the reason the rituals exist - is to remind you to be holy in your living.
Elsewhere, we read that religious leaders like Pharisees were widely respected for their good example of faithful living. But Jesus got upset with them because they forgot the reason for what they do. They forgot their “why.” They were doing things, and teaching others to do things, without understanding or remembering why they should be doing those things. And the laws and rituals, which were supposed to help people live better, freer lives, instead became a burden placed on them.
That’s the danger of forgetting your “why.”
The “Why” that Micah presents is to do justice, show love and kindness, and walk humbly with God. That’s what following God is all about.
Some years ago, Bixby Knolls Christian Church adopted that as its own mission statement, which is why it appears at the top of your bulletin. Our “why” is rooted in doing justice, showing love and kindness, and walking humbly with God.
And every decision we make, every project we undertake, is done with this in mind. When we start making decisions but we forget our why, then we become like the kings of Israel, or like the scribes and Pharisees. The things we do become more of a burden to people, instead of something that frees and liberates.
If church life becomes a burden, then it’s probably because the church has forgotten its “why.”
Do justice. Show love and kindness. Walk humbly with God. It is what God has shown us; it is what is good; it is what the Lord requires of us.

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