Last week, we talked about King Solomon…but he ended up being the last king to rule over all of Israel. His sons were a mess…and under them, the kingdom of Israel splintered. There are now two kingdoms — Samaria in the north and Judah in the south…but both ended up having centuries of mostly corrupt leadership by the wealthy and elite. And at the time of Micah, both kingdoms have been overrun by the brutal Assyrian Empire.
However, the elite and the wealthy aren’t paying the price like everyone else. Because they live in Jerusalem…a city on a hill, protected from the worst of the violence. Instead, it is the folks outside of Jerusalem…the ordinary, small town working folks…that are suffering the brunt of the violence. Micah is from those rural areas…and he is looking at a world that is in chaos. That is the context of the readings today.
So the first part of our reading…from the first chapter…speaks of God’s judgment in the midst of this situation. It speaks of God’s anger with those people in the “high places” – the wealthy and elite in Jerusalem who shield and protect themselves from the suffering of the rest of the people… who think only of themselves and care nothing about how others are affected. It is their sin that has brought all this about…and Micah warns them that God is coming. And in the face of God’s power, he says, that secure little mountain you’re sitting on will melt like wax..because God is not just for those in the high places. God is the one who will always walk down from the high places into the places where people are hurting in order to love the very people who so often are seen as “expendable” by the powers that be.
Micah knew the God he believed in. A God that cared for all people…not just the rich and powerful. We recognize Micah’s God in Jesus. Jesus’ mother sang that he would be the one to bring down the proud and lift up the lowly. John the Baptist said that he came that the valleys would be filled and the mountains brought low. Often, people have the illusion that their security and wealth are signs of God’s blessing…and they see those who are desperate and hungry and afraid as a threat…or people who are getting what they deserve. Micah says God is going to burst that bubble. It will melt like wax.
The second part of our reading might be more familiar to you. In our Christmas pageants, this is the passage that Herod’s advisers read to him when the Magi came asking where the new king would be born…and they followed this prophecy to Bethlehem, where they found baby Jesus. However, for Micah, writing this, he is most likely remembering King David who came from Bethlehem, a small backwoods town. And he is reminding the powers that be that this is how God chooses leaders…not based on their connections and charisma….not based on their wealth or power. Rather, God chose a young shepherd from the middle of nowhere…who would have the courage to face giants with a slingshot because he simply trusted that God was big. Micah is reminding them who God is and how God works…and that their security will never be in mighty armies or strong borders or powerful leaders…but rather our security is in trusting the God of the small, of the underdogs, of the outsiders and strangers. And Micah here imagines God starting over in Israel…a “do-over” from Bethlehem.
We believe that Jesus is God’s “do-over”. We believe Jesus is the one who rules the way God intended…not with armies and political power….but like a shepherd, leading us in the way of peace despite the chaos around us. Jesus’ rule takes shape with healing and forgiveness, and is not accomplished in the halls of government, but on the dusty roads of our ordinary lives…in the lives of lepers and fishermen, of women hauling water and servants washing feet. Jesus ushers in God’s kingdom…but not with a bloody battle for power. Rather, Jesus ushers in God’s kingdom by giving up power…and humbling himself…even to death on a cross.
But, if we believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy…then we also have to acknowledge that it took 700 years from the time of Micah until Jesus came. 700 years. Micah’s words were not fulfilled in his lifetime…or even his grandchildren’s lifetime. And honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about that. That’s a long wait. And, of course, even after Jesus came, the injustice and suffering of the world continues to persist. Our world is not so different from Michah’s. We still have invading armies in Ukraine, starving families in Haiti, imprisoned women in Iran, and millions of desperate refugees from corrupt and violent nations. It seems nothing has changed. We still live in a world where the rich and powerful call the shots and others pay the price. We still live, as Micah did, in a world that seems to be in labor…awaiting the birth of a new beginning. Awaiting change. For most of us…the waiting is hard. It is hard to wait and to trust in the God of Bethlehem.
But maybe that brings us to the third part of the reading. So what do we do while we wait? How do we live in this messed up world in the meantime? This is probably the most familiar passage from Micah — you can find it on wall hangings or t-shirts or coffee mugs. But it is, simply, the how-to guide for living in this world…where governments come and go and nations rise and fall and suffering and pain are all too prevalent. What do we do? Well, we do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God. In this midst of all that is wrong in the world…God is not looking for over the top displays of religious devotion — or holier than thou morality. That’s not what makes the world a better place. God is simply wanting us, day to day, to treat people with fairness and to take delight in acts of kindness. And instead of being arrogant and self-absorbed…to take God’s hand like a child, trusting that God is our security, our safety in the world.
So what does that look like? Well, when we do justice, we care about those who are overlooked…the kids in Haiti…the kids at YES…the folks who have no place to live..the folks who struggle to get through the day. We don’t treat people cruelly because they are different than us. We affirm that the lives of ordinary folks and small town folks matter just as much as those who the wealthy and elite and powerful in a world where they are so often not valued that way. And in the same way, we affirm the lives of black and brown folks matter just as much as white lives in a world where they so often are not valued that way. We do justice.
And when we love kindness, we notice the people around us and show them they are seen…they have value. Simple acts of kindness — Making soup. Writing a card. Inviting someone to coffee. Offering a ride — can be revolutionary.. Despite the way it is scoffed at by those in power, kindness is not weak or small. Rather, it is brave and beautiful. And it has the power to change people. Simple kindness can have a ripple effect that brings light in even the darkest places. Kindness can defy the power of Iranian religious leaders and Haitian gangs and Russian armies…because there is nothing they can do to stop it. Kindness persists and transforms every corner of the world where it is shown.
And when we walk humbly with God….we give up having all the answers or being sure that God is “on my side”. Because that’s not the way of hope in this world…rather, that kind of arrogance most often leads to the very evil that pervades this world — the evil of crusades — of violence and oppression…of cruelty and self-righteous judgmentalism. Walking humbly with God is remembering that our being right is not what saves the world or what makes us good. Rather, it is trusting God to be God. And trusting that God holds our hand in the darkest nights and will never, never let us go.
Micah knows what God he believes in…even in the midst of a world gone mad. This morning…may we affirm the God WE believe in…the God of Jesus who lifts up the lowly and heals the broken. And may you be led by his peace and empowered by his spirit to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with your hand in his…trusting that he is the way, the truth and the life. Amen.