Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.
4th Sunday after Epiphany
Epiphany… What is good? What does God require of us? To do justice. To love kindness. To walk humbly with our God. Here is the point I want to make today: that when we do justice and love kindness, we participate in the world as God made it to be. And when we participate in the world as God made it to be, we are in the flow, we are in the Kingdom of God, and life is better… for everyone. And when life is better for everyone, life is better for each one of us. That is God’s intention for creation, and that is God’s hope for the world.
Today I want to talk about justice and kindness. Micah, the prophet, will be our guide. We listen into a conversation he is having with the people of Israel. They have become confused about their relationship with God. They have fallen into a self-centered mindset where when things weren’t going well, instead of trying to discern God’s will in their life, they would kill a ram or offer some oil… as if they could be in quid pro quo relationship with God.
Here is the trap—in believing that by their efforts they could control and manage the actions of God, they actually became slaves to raising rams and drilling for oil.
And the life they were trying to get out from under by getting God to do the things they wanted God to do only became worse; and, paradoxically, God seemed more distant the more rams they sacrificed and oil they offered. So, what did they do? Raised more rams and drilled for more oil. They did more of the same expecting different results! As my son would say… that’s insane asylum.
Micah tried to return them to their right minds by recalling their minds to the story of Balak and Balaam. You may or may not know the story. It goes like this…The Israelite’s had been freed from slavery in Egypt by God. For forty years they wandered in the wilderness, learning what it means to be in relationship with God. A generation of people passed on. Moses passed on, but before he did he passed on the mantel of leadership to Joshua.
Now the Israelites were ready to enter the Promised Land. They approached from the east, toward the Jordan River where the Amorites lived. War ensued and the Israelites soundly defeated them. The Moabites, who lived across the Jordan River, on the west bank heard what happened and heard that the Israelites intended to cross the river and settle in their region. So the king of the Moabite, Balak, gathered the elders of his tribe, and he asked them for money to pay a soothsayer named Balaam who lived on the Euphrates River, to curse Israel.
Balaam was big league. He had a reputation for wielding a wild curse that sent a pylon of fear quaking through the souls of those who received it. But it was costly. So Balak raised the money and sent a messenger to bring Balaam to Moab to curse the Israelites. It sounded like a good plan.
But the night before they were to return to Moab God spoke to Balaam and said,
“Don’t’ go with those guys because I’m going bless Israel.” So Balaam sent the messenger back, refusing the invitation.
Now Balak thought this was just a negotiating strategy, so he sent more distinguished messengers with more money; in fact more money than Balaam could refuse. So he went, arriving on the west bank of the Jordan River ready to hurl the nastiest curse you could imagine. He took possession of his last payment, I am sure, then climbed a hill, planted his feet, threw his head back, and with a voice that carried on the wind like thunder let rip a curse to shame all curses. But the words that spat forth from his mouth came out as a melodious blessing; a blessing upon Israel and their settling in the Promised Land.
Balak, the King of the Moabites, needless to say was disappointed. Not only had this been a waste of money, but it sent a pylon of fear through the soul of his army.
And all Balaam, the soothsayers, could say was, “God seems to have a different plan. Maybe you should spend time figuring out what that is.” And he left to go back to the Euphrates River.
Micah references this story because he wants the people to Israel to recognize that God has a different plan for them; that God wants to liberate them from being slaves to raising rams and drilling oil; that God’s hope for them is to live in the flow of the Kingdom of God, where life is better for everyone.
Micah makes the invitation by asking: What is good? What does God require of us? And answering: To do justice. To love kindness. And to walk humbly with our God.
So now let’s take a look at these two divine expectations, kindness and justice.We’ll start with kindness. Let’s make it simple: Just be kind all of the time. You know what that looks like. You know what that sounds like. You know what that feels like. It is not complicated. It doesn’t cost anything. No instructions are needed. Little kids know how to do it. If you don’t know how to be kind, ask a child. It is small thing to be kind, and it is what God expects of us. So love kindness.
And do justice. Justice has two legs, action and relationship. For justice to run swiftly both legs need to be churning. I heard it in a conversation between Eula Bliss and Krista Tipp on the radio show, On Being, that made me think of the churning legs of justice.
There was a group of parents at a predominantly African American high school, who wanted to have a gifted program at their school. So they petitioned and got one. Students had to take a test to qualify. One was given. When the class was chosen all of the students were white. That didn’t make since to anyone, including the white parents whose children got into the program. Why? Because of relationship; Because they knew the school. They knew the families. They knew the children, and they knew something was wrong. Something was wrong with a system that chose only white students for a gifted program in a predominantly African American school. And so the white parents said, “We won’t have this. This is unjust. This test is bias. “Give us another one. Those white parents did not horde their privilege. They did justice with both legs churning; relationship and action.
And so I ask us today, are the legs of justice churning in our midst. Do we do justice? Well at Epiphany we clean apartments down in the Rainier Valley and tutor children up at Madrona Elementary School. We feed homeless youth in the University District and buy fresh fruits and vegetables for people in transition at the East Cherry Street YWCA. We house homeless men at Christie House on Friday night and feed pets of people who live on the street.
That is a lot of action and some relationship. Could we do more? (Yes?!) Why?
Because it puts us in the flow of the world as God made it. And things are better. Our angst goes down. Our sense of human goodness goes up. And we become kinder.
And doesn’t that sound like the kind of world we want this to be? It does to me. So we do justice and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.