by Pastor Sarah Stadler
In our reading from the prophet Micah this morning, God instigates a case with the people of God.
God wants to know why the people have wandered from God’s way when God had delivered them from slavery and saved them. In response, the people wonder how they might repay God—with burnt offerings, with calves a year old, with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil, with their firstborn children…? Seemingly exasperated, the prophet Micah reminds the people: God 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? Extravagant gifts are not needed, simply justice, kindness, and humility.
Micah 6:8 more than any other verse in the entirety of the Bible is, for me, the very center of my faith practice. Justice, kindness, and humility. But in these days, it is far easier for me to see with clarity what is not just, what is not kind, what is not humble.
The continued construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline
The closing of the Flint, Michigan water investigation
The closing of EPA and other environmental governmental groups’ outside communication
Stopping refugees from coming into the US
Building a wall between the US and Mexico
These actions are not just. These actions are not kind. These actions are not humble.
But neither is demonizing another person.
In these days, I am not sure what to think. I am not sure what to think about our new president and his actions. I am concerned about the executive orders he has and will sign. I am concerned about the people he has appointed to serve in his administration. I am concerned about the person he will nominate to the Supreme Court. But me assuming that all he does is bad or wrong is not just or kind or humble either. Me making fun of him as a person is not just or kind or humble. Micah 6:8 complicates our understanding of the world because justice stands side by side with kindness and humility.
On Friday morning, while contemplating my sermon, I was talking with a professor. She thinks deeply about most things as academics do and was commenting on how those who teach theory are often divorced from the practical ramifications of their discipline. For instance, she studies border issues but had to scramble during her first year of teaching when a student asked her opinion about immigration policy. And we discussed why this void exists: whatever our discipline is, whenever we really dig down and tear apart an issue or a problem, it is far easier to see the problems and the questions than the solutions. It is far easier to say what we are against than what we are for. The world is not actually black and white. Good and bad are not so easy to distinguish. Right and wrong are complex.
For instance, though I have been trying to bike and limit my driving, I do own a car, a Toyota Prius which is a hybrid. Four years ago, because I couldn’t imagine not having a car, I wanted to own a car with the highest possible gas mileage so that I would contribute as little carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as possible. I remember the used car salesman pulling up this 2008 Prius, assuring me it was a certified vehicle, me saying: “I’ll take it,” and the salesman laughing. “Don’t you want to test drive it or look it over?” To stop him from laughing at me further, I did. But for me, this was a black and white decision; the gas mileage was the only thing that mattered to me: 50 miles to the gallon. I wanted to do justice for the environment. And of course, I still do. But for the past few months, a friend has been commenting about the environmental damage done in producing the Prius, that Prius manufacturing is more damaging to the earth than the manufacturing of standard vehicles. And so, this week, I read a couple articles looking into the reasons why that is, namely how difficult it is to mine nickel, copper, and other rare earth metals which are needed for the hybrid battery and especially the lack of environmental care required by the governments in the places where these metals are typically mined, namely China. Over the lifetime of the vehicle, compared to other vehicles, the hybrid is still the more eco-friendly choice because of its high gas mileage. Yet the production of the vehicle itself is damaging to the earth. And so, if my desire is to do justice, the answer may not be as easy as purchasing and driving a hybrid car. The answer may be more difficult: like trying to find an alternative form of reliable transportation entirely.
God’s command through the prophet Micah is an oft-quoted one, one that is easy to say and mean, but it is much more complicated than it first appears. What is truly just? As we travel down the rabbit hole of examining all aspects of our lives, all aspects of our world, we wonder: where does it end? At what point do we know we’ve arrived at justice?
Of course, there is not an easy answer to these questions. But I think the latter two portions of God’s command help us interpret the first part. If justice, kindness, and humility stand side by side, then, we may only arrive at justice if we are walking humbly, if we are willing to admit that we may be wrong, if we are willing to listen to the thoughts of someone who disagrees with us, if we are willing to discuss things that are important to us and still hang onto these beloved people in our lives. Micah 6:8 is not for the faint of heart and not because it gears us up for a fight but because justice cannot be won without deep kindness and humility. Not pity for other people. Not assuming we know best. Not surface level information. But a deep listening, an openness to learning that our opponent may be right about some things, a deep love for the other person, embracing kindness towards others even when that kindness is not returned. (For clarity, kindness is not allowing people to walk all over you for to do so would be unkind to yourself. But there is no reason to treat a person with anything other than respect, no matter who they are or what they’ve done.)
Doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly, these are not neat and simple commands of God but instead messy and complex. The people of God who first received these commands from the prophet Micah had been reminded of God’s action in their lives. Though God had delivered them from slavery in Egypt, though God brought them through the disastrous era of the judges, though God had provided leadership in King Saul, King David, and King Solomon, not to mention numerous prophets, though God had walked with them through the Babylonian Exile, the people still wanted to buy God off, to make their devotion to God a matter of how much instead of taking a long, hard look at their lives. The good news about our God is that, in our hard-headedness and our hard-heartedness, God does justice, shows us kindness, and even walks humbly beside us in Jesus. Justice, kindness, and humility are the ways of God as God lives in relationship with us, and no matter what we do, justice, kindness, and humility are God’s ways. Period. So, in that, we rejoice: Thanks be to God! Amen.