Operating Instructions, a message on Micah 6:1-8

I had the good fortune to spend yesterday in a seminar with Sara Miles. Sara is the author of three books that give an account of her faith journey, which began when she walked into a church one Sunday as a 46 year old atheist. She is now a staff member at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. This church feeds 450 people each week; and you’ll be hearing more about that from me another time. While Sara’s ended up in an amazing faith community, doing amazing work, what I want to mention this morning is the form of worship that converted, equips and inspires her.. Their Sunday services consist of a 48 page liturgy ritual where everything is sung—except the message, and the final hymn is danced around their altar. You can find some videos of this place on Youtube if you’re inclined. But yesterday, we did all some sung liturgy together and that really inspired me. Don’t worry; we’re not going to dance. I do want to incorporate a call and response into this message as a way for folks to stay engaged. We use this sometimes when we do intergenerational worship as a way of encouraging the children to be a part of worship. This morning when I say “What does the Lord require of you?” Our response together will be “Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God.” Let’s practice:

It’s a long way from singing the scripture, but we need to start somewhere.

ln her article about Micah 6, Barbara Lemmel quotes Anne Lamott from her book

Operating lnstructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year,  where Anne describes the

afternoon she misplaced her father. His brain cancer had progressed to the point

where he was functioning much like an eager-to-please three year-old. Lamott had

brought him along with her one day as she ran errands. Just before she ran into the

local bank, she gave him a candy bar and strapped him into the passenger seat.

“Of course there was a huge line, Lamott recalls, “so every so often l’d run to the back

of the bank and look through the window to make sure he was still there (as if

someone were going to kidnap him)..

The last time I looked, he wasn’t there – the car was empty! I felt like adrenaline had

been injected directly into my heart, and I turned to stare out the windows behind the

tellers just to collect my thoughts, and through them I saw this crazy old man pass by,

his face smeared with chocolate.. – . He was just walking on by, holding his candy bar,

staring up at the sky as if maybe his next operating instructions were up there.

Lemmel goes on to say: “I’ve often envied those folks scattered through the scriptures

who find their operating instructions from God full-formed in the sky above. Like Paul at

Joppa. Or Elijah, who knew enough to ignore the thunder, fire and earthquake but paid

close attention to the still, small voice. Or Moses, who didn’t find instructions in the sky,

exactly, but received more detailed directions than he wanted from a burning bush.

I’ve always had to eavesdrop to find the instructions I’m seeking. When God’s word of

wounded grace moves Micah into a penitential frenzy, my ears perk up. What shall I

offer for my sins? Would my firstborn (horrors!) be offering enough? What can I do? It’s

an honest question, wrenched from a sin grieved heart that yearns to reunite with the

Heart of All. I’ve asked it more than once.

And then the operating instructions come: “Do justice. Love kindess. Walk humbly with

your God.” So simple. So complex.”

Micah’s words come from the same time frame as the first part of the book lsaiah.

There has been a fairly long period of prosperity and peace in lsrael. And Micah’s

words are aimed toward those in Israel; a word of warning that during this peaceful time, the people have grown away from their covenant with God. That they need to return their attention to this covenant if they are to going to remain strong and safe, serving as partners with God.

The reality is that fairly soon after Micah’s words the nation of Israel began to fall apart… Micah’s warning in our scripture this morning takes the form of being presented in a court of law, with God as prosecuting attorney and judge, and with Israel as the defendant. After God declares the charges, Israel speaks up asking what offering might be presented in worship to placate the Lord. ln verse 6:8, then, the prophet tells the people how they might work to restore the Lord’s favor, by pointing out the 3 virtues that we recited together a few minutes ago.

 “And what does the Lord require of you?”

“Do justice. Love Kindness. Walk humbly with your God”

For us today, these are reminders, or “operating instructions” as Anne Lamott would

say; calling us, compelling us, to live into the relationship that God desires with each

one of us, overwhelming and abolishing our disconnection, inviting us to live into our

place as God’s partners.

“Doing Justice” -what’s that mean? Pastor Edward Markquart suggests that “There are

nine words that are associated with the word, “justice,” in the Bible. Widow, fatherless,

orphans, poor, hungry, stranger, needy, weak and oppressed. ln this list of words, you

did not find the word, “rich.” Rich is often associated with injustice. You don’t have to

worry about the rich, because the rich will be able to afford justice. Worry about the

widows, the fatherless, the orphans, the poor, the hungry, the strangers, the needy, the

weak and the oppressed.” Enacting justice requires the fair treatment of all people; it

means the full inclusion of everyone in the life of the community. I met Sister Helen

Prejean when she came to speak at Wilmington College fifteen years ago. Do you

know who she is? You may know her better from the book she wrote “Dead Man

Walking”, which tells the story of her experience as spiritual director and friend to a

man condemned to die in the electric chair. Out of that journey she learned about the

injustices in our system of capital punishment. She has continued to work and

advocate for other death row prisoners, some unjustly accused, convicted, and put to

death. Sister Helen Prejean is doing justice!  

“And what does the Lord require of you?”

“Do justice. Love Kindness. Walk humbly with your God”

We all know what kindness is: mercy, compassion, sympathy, gentleness,

benevolence, helpfulness. The word the Bible uses –“hesed”– also implies being

steadfast; never wavering in our practice, the same as God is toward us. We are

instructed to deal with others, not as they treat us, but as God cares for us. I recently

heard a story about theological students at Harvard. These theological students were

taking their final examination on the topic of Kant’s Moral lmperative. Kant is spelled, K

A N T. Kant was a French moral philosopher. The final examination for this class gave

the students two hours to write their philosophy with a ten minute break in the middle.

The students wrote furiously for fifty-five minutes. Then the bell rang; the students all

took a break and went out into the hallway. There in the hallway was another student,

not part of their class, sitting humped up on the floor, disheveled, looking like a mess.

The theological students were busy in conversation with each other, getting a drink of

water, taking a bathroom break, and into the classroom they returned for the second

hour of writing their philosophy of what it meant to be a moral human being. Weeks

later, the theological students received their test results: they had all failed. That is, all

the students thought that their test was what they wrote for two hours in the classroom.

The professor meanwhile was standing out in the hallway during the ten minute break

and grading them on who approached the man humped down on the floor and spoke a

kind word. Nobody did. Love Kindness….

“And what does the Lord require of you?”

“Do justice. Love Kindness. Walk humbly with your God”

I remember a song that one of my favorite local country bands used to play at every

show I ever saw them do-this was in my wild and crazy college days. It wasn’t original

to them-Mac Davis was the one who first recorded it, but this band liked to sing it and

it was catchy enough I can remember the chorus 35 years later:

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way

I can’t wait to look in the mirror ’cause I get better lookin’ each day

To know me is to love me I must be a heck of a man,

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble but I’m doing the best that I can.

Now that’s humility-NOT!

A commentator I read this week says: “True humility makes justice and mercy possible. When we oppress and mistreat others, we act as though we are superior to them in a fundamental way. This shows a lack of humility, “a failure to accept our true standing in relation to God.” In truth, we are utterly dependent; for “our talents, our opportunities, our material resources, our loved ones, are all gifts from God.” None of these provide us a basis for thinking more highly of ourselves than others.”

 

 Walking humbly with God is living from that place where we recognize who or what are -no better, no worse. Jesus showed us what humility meant when he called his friends together for that last time, and then took a basin, filled it with water, wrapped a towel around his waist as if he were a slave or servant, and then washed and dried his friends’ feet. Then he says: “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what lam. Now that l, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is  greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”

So, one more time:  

What does the Lord require of you?

All: To do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God.

These words are important for us to know, so that we then can live into them.

Knowing, however, is just the first step. This scripture only takes hold as we ACT in

accordance with the reality that we know is true. Piety is not the problem-one can

know scripture by memory, and show up in worship every week and pray loudly daily. God’s kingdom- God’s reign does not come about by doing good deeds, or doing MORE things at all; it IS by being the transformed people that God brought into existence that God’s world comes… those who do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with our God. So may we be and do and love and walk.

Remember-we have our OPERATING INSTRUCTIONS!