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Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly

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Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly

Posted on Sun, Feb 3, 2002

Mel Williams


If you asked for a clear, concise mission statement for this church, I would quickly tell you that we could do no better than to adopt the words from Micah 6:8. Our mission is to "do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God."

These words are at the heart of religious faith, a summation of prophetic, biblical faith. To show how important these brief words are, a group of churches in Maine held a three day conference on this one verse of Scripture. Three days on one verse! Thatís concentrated Bible study! We donít have three days now, but we can make a beginning.

Micah was the last of four great eighth century prophets, the others being Isaiah, Hosea and Amos. Micah came from poor and oppressed farming stock, in the little village of Moresheth, some 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem. It was probably his own roots among the "economically distressed and oppressed" that gave him his passion for social justice. He also had a disdain for religious ritual that excluded Godís concern for covenant (I will be your God, you my people) and justice for the poor.

This one verse, Micah 6:8, is the climax of a passage that is presented as a covenant lawsuit. God is the covenant partner, and God is bringing a lawsuit against Israel, and indeed all humanity. God is saying, "Rise and plead your caseÖ" And here, God is both judge and prosecutor. Israel is being accused of unfaithfulness.

In verse 4 the plaintiff lays out Godís charge, appealing to the memory of Israel. The people have forgotten the mighty, saving deeds of God; they have failed to remember how God freed them from slavery in Egypt and brought them into the good land they were promised.

In verses 6 and 7, the defendant, Israel, gives a feeble plea, a weak defense. "What sacrifice do you want, God?" Since their religion was based on a sacrificial system, they were trying to pay God back for their failures. "Shall we offer sacrifices of burnt offerings, year old lambs, first born children?" But God says, "You are offering empty religious ritual without a change in your behavior. You canít go to church every week, going through the motions, without living the justice, love, and peace demanded by the covenant. Otherwise, your religion is all sham. Itís all "show." (from Thomas Groome, "Walking Humbly with Our God," in TO ACT JUSTLY, LOVE TENDERLY, WALK HUMBLY, Paulist Press, 1986)

Then we come to our verse---"do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God." Walter Brueggemann suggests that these are not three "virtues." These are not three "things to do." But these are three dimensions of a life of faithfulness. Each depends on the other and is reinforced by the other. (See p. 15, TO ACT JUSTLYÖ.)

1. TO DO JUSTICE is first of all an issue of economics and privilege. This phrase means that we cannot separate faith from economics. We know that the world is not fair. Travel from one side of Durham to the other, and see the disparity. Some people have a lot of money, a lot of resources, while others have little money and few resources. We see the same thing that Micah saw in his day---a disproportionate gap between the rich and the poor. In the face of this disparity, biblical justice means "giving things back." Brueggemann says, "Justice is to sort out what belongs to whom, and to return it to them." This understanding of justice implies that there is a right distribution of goods and financial resources. God intends all people to have enough; and if we have more than enough, our task to make sure everybody has what they need. (from Brueggemann, in To ACT JUSTLY, LOVE TENDERLY, WALK HUMBLY)

We know that some of us have more than others. America has 6 percent of the worldís population, yet we have 40 percent of the worldís resources. If we as a country want to do justice, we will concentrate our efforts not so much on being a dominant military superpower but on being a generous, moral superpower, making sure everybody has enough. If that happened, I suspect that the amount of resentment and antagonism from other countries toward America would decrease. Do justice.

2. TO LOVE KINDNESS means to enter into relationships of lasting solidarity. If we are going to do justice, we must discover what it means to "love kindness"---or as it is also translated, "love mercy" or "love tenderly." Justice and love go together. If we love with tenderness, we have to open ourselves to the pain of our neighbor until we are willing to do something about it. When we love kindness, we enter into relationships of solidarity with those who suffer, those who are poor. (See Brueggemann, p. 15)

What would happen if each of us made an intentional decision to build a relationship with one person who is from a lesser economic class or a different nationality? What would happen? We would have the opportunity to practice "lovingkindness." We would have the chance to love tenderly.

Krister Stendahl once challenged the students of Harvard Divinity School to spend Lent in "forty days of tenderness." What difference could we make if we gave ourselves 40 days to practice tenderness toward every person we meet, especially those who endure economic hardship! When we develop relationships of solidarity with friends in Kostroma, Russia or El Charral, Venezuela, or Walltown in Durham, we will likely find that kindness and solidarity lead us back to the justice question Ė finding ways to balance out the distribution of resources, so that everybody has enough.

Every time we have sent from this church mission teams to Venezuela, Brazil or Russia, they have come back with a commitment to send economic resources to these impoverished friends. Relationships of loving-kindness move us toward justice---addressing the imbalance of resources between us and them.

This call to mission was at the heart of the life of Nannie Mae Herndon, whose funeral was held here yesterday. Nannie Mae wanted our friends at our Russian sister church to have a better life. She sent her money to them and she encouraged us to the same. She believed in doing justice and loving kindness. But both of these are deeply connected to our walk with God, our relationship with God.

3. What does it mean to "walk humbly with God"? This is a delightfully ambiguous statement. But taken in context of doing justice and loving kindness, we can assume that walking closely to God means to live in sync with God, in tune with God, in solidarity with Godís agenda. That means that our job, as one friend said it, is to be "a decent companion for God." Maybe the goal of all our spiritual practices is that we become "a decent companion for God." Walking humbly with God is a daily practice; it means that we wake up in the morning, worrying about the things God worries about. To walk humbly means to cast off pretense, privilege, and power, to stand shoulder to shoulder with our sisters and brothers who are the least privileged. In the process, it is likely that we will discover that Godís very character is justice.

God is a lover of kindness and a lover of justice (Ps. 99:4). And we are created in the image of God. Our job is to continue Godís mission. Our job is to lovers of kindness and lovers of justice. Itís all a part of walking humbly with God. Itís all a part of becoming a decent companion for God.

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