The prophet Micah had stern words for the people of Israel and Judah. In our passage today Micah provides a warning about being complacent in the face of material gain, when others are suffering. It is a major call to the way we live our lives and where we place our priorities.
Text: Micah 3: 5-12
Called to Account
There are more ways to get the news than I can count. For some people, they like to wake up in the morning, turn on the television and find out what’s happened overnight and what the day has in store. Others prefer the 7 o’clock evening news and still other think the 11 o’clock has the best updates.
Still others read the paper each morning. In Cobourg, we have two choices of paper to read, on top of the national papers. Others read the paper online or subscribe to particular publications. Myself, I use an app on my phone which searches for stories that are of interest to me. It searches hundreds of publications for these stories and sends them to my phone.
No matter the source, none of us is getting all the news and the news that matters is different for all of us. If you are sports fanatic, news for you is the latest trade rumour. But you might not like all sports, so you only follow hockey and perhaps you only really pay attention to one particular team. In other words, we filter out news and information that we do not think is relevant to us.
Our interests and our bias determine what is important and what we spend our time reading. We watch one networks news coverage over another because the stories reported confirm to our interest and bias. Often with news, this is done based on political affiliation.
We are inundated by news. We will hear of one story and receive two different accounts, we will hear two truths about one story. Which one is true? Who should we trust, where do we turn?
These questions become more relevant and pointed given the times we live. When the leader of a nation can declare the news to be fake and people believe him, where are we getting our truth? To what narratives about life are we listening to? How do they help us? How do they improve the world? How do they work for the kingdom?
The passage from Micah serves as a warning to preachers, be careful of what you preach. Be careful how you are leading God people. However, it also serves to provide a wider warning to the church and all who seek to lead and counsel, not only God’s people, but all people. God takes great offense when people are led astray by false motives. When this happens in the church and outside its walls we need to be concerned.
Catholic theologian Daniel Maguire observes about Christianity [what] is true of every faith tradition: ‘From the beginning, there has never been just one Christianity.’ Multiple Christianities coexist and often conflict at times irreconcilably so. Moreover, because religion is about power, about the source of life and hope, and about meaning and possibility, such power can be used for great good or can be misused, thereby causing enormous suffering and harm.
If I ask what does it mean to be a Christian, each of you may respond differently. Walk down the street to Calvary Baptist and again a slightly different answer. Each faith tradition has its own particular focus, none of them wrong, each representing a piece of the larger picture. Is one answer more correct than others?
The same questions can be asked about what it means to be a Canadian? Do I have to play hockey to be a Canadian? I hope not because I don’t play hockey. Or do I have to like the music of The Tragically Hip, I can check that box. Do I need to be bi-lingual? I can’t check that box. What does it mean to be Canadian? What does it mean to be a global citizen? We would answer very differently from someone born in an African nation or from someone who hails from Asia.
No answer is wrong, but a critical eye is needed to understand the perspective that is being presented. Part of what Micah is talking about is how easy it is to fall into a rut and get comfortable with the truth that is presented to us. That without critical questioning we may miss vital opportunities. That without humbling ourselves and our perspective we may remind blind to another’s truth.
Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Part of that humbling may involve examining the ways in which we are embedded – both individually and collectively – in systems that reward us for our compliance. As long as we keep our confidentiality agreements at work, we can count on our annual bonuses. As long as our churches stay out of county politics, we can count on good relationship with our local representatives. While there is nothing inherently wrong with choosing to do either of these things, Micah suggests that there is plenty wrong with making moral decisions based on the benefits we receive from them.”
Micah is calling for justice and peace, no matter the cost. Can we, as the church, imagine this? If we can, we are heeding Micah’s words. If we cannot, then Micah has some things to say to us and we need to decide if we are listening. Micah writes about prophets that lead the people astray. In today’s world, we might say that prophets no longer belong solely to the religious world. Society heralds many people as prophets. You might call the character Tom Cruise plays in the movie Jerry Maguire as a prophet, someone who points to truth within an industry. The same might be said of other leaders in industry, entertainment and politics. People who speak truth to power, no matter the personal cost.
Then there are others who speak the message that they believe people want to hear. They do so for the status, the money, the power. You name it. But it is highly self-serving.
Educator Tom Tate explains that, “Prophets are truth-tellers and mirror-holders more than they are future-predictors. Mirrors help us see ourselves. What we do with those reflections … affects us long into the future… Prophetic voices rarely garner the support of the powerful in the community, rarely gather dollars from those in the corporate and business structures, rarely find elected officials openly supportive. By their very nature, prophets push the status quo, challenge the way things are, and set forth a vision of the way things ought to be. Prophets rattle cages and take outlandish action.”
Tate’s view of a prophet is in line with the prophets of the Old Testament, like Micah, who hold a mirror up to society and ask hard questions. There are many things wrong with the society of which we are a part. The predominant culture is not perfect, it seems more and more to be self-serving and protectionist. Private interest interferes with the creation of community. All the while we isolate ourselves and feed ourselves with information which affirms our own point of view.
This morning we remember. We remember a war which ended almost a century ago. Since then there have been other wars, conflicts that men and women from nations around the world have felt called to fight. We create a narrative around these wars, of heroes and sacrifice, of terror and triumph.
In World War II we fought against what can only be described as a clear evil which came out of Nazi Germany and the genocide of a whole people. We know that this was wrong, we participated in a war to stop it. Since then there have been other genocides, in Rwanda the world watched as Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire was left powerless and without a mandate to intervene. Currently, the Rohingya people in Myanmar are being killed in the thousands, but there is no intervention.
It leaves questions unanswered. Are wars no longer fought for ideological reasons of protecting innocents? Are only economic and geo-political interests enough to merit war? Do we commit to war for purposes of revenge or for a pre-emptive first strike?
If we follow the Prince of Peace, but acknowledge that at times conflict may be necessary for a greater good, then what is that greater good? It seems that our narrative has become muddled, we used to know why we fought and as Christians could justify the action. The overwhelming response of the Presbyterian Church in Canada to World War Two was positive, we understood that we should go and fight. A former member of this congregation received the highest honour in the commonwealth for his actions at Dieppe.
But today we aren’t so sure. The message isn’t as clear. We see issues which should get attention and nothing seems to happen. I believe that Micah is speaking to the church today to bring a voice of clarity and morality to the leaders of industry and nations about what is important. About a sustainable planet, the end of exploitation of workers and the preservation of human rights for all people. This applies inside of conflict zones and without.
We say, we will remember them. They who shall not grow old. If we are going to say that, then it has to mean something. It must be more than just empty words. Micah challenges the church to ensure that we don’t just give lip service. That God’s narrative of peace, justice and righteousness for all people is preached. Not just by me, but also by you. Because it is God who calls you into his kingdom and glory. Amen.