“What does the Lord require of you
but to do justice,
to love kindness
and to walk humbly with your God?”
That verse from the Old Testament is one of the
and most often preached about
parts of the Bible.
I’m sure Jesus heard those words
in the synagogue when he was growing up.
The prophet Micah said those words.
Micah was one of the most insightful and powerful
prophets of the Hebrew Bible.
A prophet was not somebody who foretold the future.
A prophet was a man of deep spiritual and moral insights who addressed
the social and
the religious issues of his day.
We get the idea that the prophets could foretell
the future because the prophet Isaiah is
quoted as saying that a young woman
would bear a son and would
name him Immanuel.
But the word for “young woman” some scholars,
years ago, translated as “virgin.”
It’s from that prognostication that we get the doctrine
of The Virgin Birth of Jesus.
Today we know better.
We know Isaiah was not talking about a virgin giving
birth to a boy in the future.
We know now, Isaiah was talking of a young woman
giving birth - a sign that God was with the people and had not given up on them.
We also get the idea that the prophets foretold the
future from the strange books of Daniel and
The Revelation of John.
These two books, more than any other parts of the
Bible, have caused trouble and
have led people astray.
Our televangelists use these books of the Bible to
scare people by predicting doom and disaster.
They warn us that God will punish us and
they blame us for the hell that awaits us.
It’s bad enough that we see these books as foretelling
the future; it’s even worse that we take them
literally and get pictures of God that are
evil and unloving.
No, the prophets didn’t dabble in the future.
They stirred up public issues ... and everything that
affected the welfare of humanity in their day.
The prophets speak to us today,
not because we live in their future,
but because the problems they dealt
with then, are the problems
we’re facing today.
In Old Testament days, in Jesus’ days, today,
society was, and is, often unjust, unfair.
A good example of a prophet in action is Amos.
At a time when things seemed to be going well
God called Amos to preach harsh words to
a comfortable, complacent people.
Amos blasted the people for several things:
for their trust in military might,
for their cruel injustices to the poor,
for their disgusting sexual immorality,
and for their shallow, meaningless piety.
Of course, that made Amos unpopular with his people.
That’s how it was with most of the prophets.
The prophets didn’t tell about an inescapable future;
they warned about a conditional future.
That’s to say, they promised that if the leaders of the
political, economic, and social aspects of the
country continued in their greed and
corruption they and the whole
nation would collapse.
They cared about the whole community.
They didn’t speak out simply
to criticize one person
or to blame one family
or to bemoan one tribe.
They were concerned about what was happening to
the entire nation.
The early prophets weren’t solitary figures,
isolated in ivory towers from the real world.
They were members of the community living in the
midst of all its struggles.
Their main concern was the relationship of their people to the Lord God.
These prophets didn’t try to foretell the future.
They were concerned to tell what
God’s will was for the people of God.
The prophets usually predicted God’s judgment
on the nation when it did wrong.
But the judgment they predicted was not about
God laying an unavoidable
divine punishment on the people.
No, the prophets warned of God’s displeasure
so that the people would turn back
to a good relationship with God.
Yes, sometimes the prophets warned of terrible
things in the future, but always there
was the expectation that the people would return to God.
The prophets always had hope for the future.
They had hope for the future because
they believed in Yahweh, the God who loved the world and cared for the people in it.
James Michener in his book, The Source, tells about
a Canaanite village 2,200 years before Christ.
The people of that village worshipped sexy and
amazingly well endowed fertility idols.
They sacrificed their first born sons to make
their families and their land more fertile.
Temple prostitutes acted out fertility rites with men
to encourage better crops and more children.
One wise wife scoffed at her husband who
sacrificed their first born son and had
intercourse with temple prostitutes.
She knew the fertility was not
in sacrifice or in prostitution.
The fertility was in her and in her husband.
She felt, rightly, that if her husband believed in
a different god he’d be a different man.
The character of the God we follow determines
our characters as people of faith.
It’s our trust in The God revealed in Jesus,
which makes us the persons that we are.
The God of the Bible is a just God.
God’s justice is not retributive justice;
God’s justice is not based on revenge.
God’s justice is distributive justice;
God’s justice is distributed to all of us to share.
God’s concerned about equality and fairness.
God doesn’t want to punish or seek revenge.
A violent God begets a violent people.
If we learn violence we’ll use violence.
If we learn equality and love
we’ll seek equality and love.
Albert Schweitzer was a modern prophet and he said,
“I don’t know what your destiny will be,
(I don’t know the future) but one thing I
do know: the only ones among you who
will be really happy are those who have sought and found out how to serve.”
This business of service, rather than revenge,
is no easy thing.
For example, consider Isaiah 53:10,
“It has pleased the Lord to bruise the servant.”
Isaiah saw the Jewish nation as The Suffering Servant.
Certainly they were, and are, a bruised people.
Yet from them has come all the goodness of
The Old Testament or The Hebrew Scriptures -
the very Scriptures Jesus learned.
Jesus responded in love to
the bleeding woman,
the cheating tax collector,
the mothers who wanted their babies blessed,
the blind men who wanted to see,
the crippled woman who needed straightening.
It’s no accident that Isaiah 53 and the song of the Suffering Servant (the Jewish people) is quoted
in the New Testament more than any
other part of the Old Testament.
Not only that, the most glorious music of Handel’s
“Messiah” is based on Isaiah 53.
Isaiah’s telling us that suffering comes before service.
We must be crushed before we can care for others.
Jesus calls to those who would follow him,
“Repent, and believe in the good news.”
When we repent, we turn around, we leave behind
destructive, violent, unjust practices so that
we can become partners with God in
seeking justice and love.
Several commentators play on this image.
One states that “to repent” means “to crumble.”
Another says repentance is like roto-tilling the heart.
When we repent our hearts get softened by tears.
Another commentator points out that the Latin behind the word “compunction” means “punctured,” a punctured heart.
The prophets were those leaders who pierced the hearts of the people and made them break because of the injustice of the nation.
God brings justice through our broken hearts.
Psalm 51 declares,
“A broken and contrite heart, O God,
you will not despise.”
When our hearts are broken we can work for justice.
What breaks your heart?
What brings tears to your eyes?
Poverty - living below the poverty line?
Abuse - physical, mental and sexual?
Disease - Cancer, Polio, Ebola?
Substandard housing - mould, poor insulation?
Capital punishment - killing the innocent?
War - destroying and punishing the civilians?
Illiteracy - keeping uneducated people in the dark?
Greed - stealing from the poor to enrich the wealthy?
Perhaps God is calling you to do something about it!
God, through the Jews, didn’t deal with abstractions.
Instead, God called the Jews to deal with
widows and orphans,
The prophets went to the slums to demand justice.
They didn’t sit with the wealthy and say to the poor,
“Go in peace; keep warm; eat your fill”
and then do nothing to help them.
We can sound loving and concerned ...
but then do nothing to correct injustice.
Christians must be men and women of action -
action on behalf of the poor and forgotten.
One theologian has declared that religious people
are divided into two different camps.
One group asks,“What can God do for me?”
Those people expect these answers:
“God can save me.”
“God can give me victory.”
“God can make me prosperous.”
“God can make me successful.”
The other group asks,
“What can I do for God?
What gifts do I have
to serve the poor,
to upbuild the depressed,
to teach the unlearned?”
On several occasions Christians have asked me,
“Have you been saved?”
They’re really asking me,
“Have you had a personal experience of God’s
grace in your life so you can accept Jesus as
your personal saviour and get to heaven?”
What they don’t ask me is this:
“Have you been in a relationship with the poor, the handicapped, the victims of hatred? Are you feeding the hungry? Are you helping the forgotten? Are you seeking justice for the
oppressed and maligned?”
They don’t ask those questions because
they’re not doing those things.
Sure, some of us give money to the poor, but
we do nothing to change the systems
which keep those people poor.
Our whole system is structured to favour the rich.
We favour the rich to the detriment of the poor.
Many rich people give big gifts to help the poor.
But many rich folk do nothing to fix a system
which charges the rich lower taxes
than it charges the poor.
A theologian has warned us that whenever Christians
become concerned primarily with helping a few
poor souls at Christmas, they’re saying that the social system is O.K.
Nobody ever attacks the rich for helping the poor.
But sometimes, when the poor can’t live any longer
on the minimum wage that the rich legislate, they rebel and try to destroy the system.
Right now we know that the rich are getting richer
and the poor are getting poorer.
We also know that it’s the 1% who own most of the
wealth of the nations.
The 99% can see there’s no justice in that.
Ours is not a just society.
So we get upset when the Occupy movement takes over or when the First Nations are Idle No More or when thousands march against Global Warming.
The system’s broken; it’s not just; it’s not of God.
Some people give up in hopelessness.
Others use violence to express their frustration.
But all it takes is a prophet - perhaps you -
to work steadily toward justice.
All it takes is one person to stand against the system.
Elizabeth Warren, the senior Senator for Massachusetts, has written a book, “A Fighting Chance,” which is all about how she became a prophet in the U.S.A.
As a professor of bankruptcy law, she heard many
stories of how people had lost their homes and
had gone bankrupt because of the things
the big banks had done to them.
So cold, cruel and criminal were the big banks, that
she felt she had to speak out on behalf of the
victims of the evil bank practices.
She worked in government agencies but realized that if she were to protect the people from the banks she’d need to get elected to the senate.
She ran for the Senate and won in 2012 because the
little people supported her against
the injustices and
the illegalities of the banks.
One person stands up to send forth a ripple of hope.
Another person joins that one and hope expands.
A group emerges and the ripples become a wave and waves change things.
No prophet is perfect and can never be perfect.
One man declared he could not stomach a modern prophet on the side of the poor because that prophet criticized Capitalism.
There’s nothing sacred or perfect about Capitalism.
Communists, nihilists, atheists all have things for us to consider even though don’t agree with them.
The prophets called the people of God to wake up to the injustices being perpetrated in their midst.
The prophets challenged the people who
were for justice and love to stand up
and put their faith into action.
The prophets didn’t have all the answers.
But they recognized injustice when they saw it.
They stood up, spoke out and provoked change.
Christians can never be content with the status quo.
There are always improvements to be made.
We can band together
to present petitions,
to support those who care for the poor,
to peacefully demonstrate our views.
Often even more is demanded of us.
We must put our money toward the goal of justice.
We must invest our time to cause justice.
We must work hard to make justice happen.
I’d prefer not to have to do anything.
But when I see our Native people being diminished,
our sick being victimized,
our poor being neglected,
our weak being downtrodden,
then, by God, I must act.
That I believe because I trust in God,
the God of justice, hope and love.