What God Requires

On November 12, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

What God Requires Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Micah 6.8 Let us dwell together in peace, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. The prophet Micah asks rhetorically: How shall I worship God? Shall I give burned […]

What God Requires
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Micah 6.8

Let us dwell together in peace, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen.

The prophet Micah asks rhetorically: How shall I worship God? Shall I give burned offerings? Maybe a calf? Should I worship God with a barbecue? Does God like veal?

You know what, I bet that’s not enough. How about I worship God with a thousand rams? How’s that God? You want some rams?!

Wait? You know what’s better than rams? Oil. I don’t mean a little…I’m talking rivers of oil. The expensive stuff. That’ll get God’s attention.

No, shut up. I’ve got it. How about a child? I could give God my first baby.

The prophet’s audience probably thought that calf thing was fine. Doable. Why not?
A thousand rams sounded silly. Who’s got 1000 rams anyway?

Rivers of oil? You ain’t got no river of oil, and no one has enough money to buy that much oil.

But now child sacrifice? That one must have gotten a collective gasp. Micah has taken a flying leap into the middle of Lake Foolish.

But now that Micah has their attention, he gets serious:
You know what God wants. You’ve always known what was right and good. All that God requires of you is to do justice work, show kindness, live humbly.

Now, when we hear this, we usually hear it like this:
What does the Lord require of you but to DO JUSTICE, love mercy, and live humbly with God.

We hear it like it’s a command to do justice work, and then as icing on the cake Micah throws in, “and be nice and a little humble.”

But I don’t believe “love mercy and live humbly” are decorations or after thoughts…I think they are the plan for how to DO JUSTICE.

Oh, we’ve got justice work to do. But we can’t do it, we can’t even have the will to do it, without mercy and humility.

Mother Teresa said, “Justice without love is not justice; and Love without justice is not love.”

Philosopher/activist Cornell West said, “Never forget that Justice is what love looks like in public.”

We can talk about policies, social problems, inequities, systemic oppression, and inherited prejudices…and we have, and we should, and we will…but we won’t do a darn thing about any of it until we care about the people who are hurting.

Without compassion, kindness, empathy…we can’t do justice. We can’t even acknowledge that injustice is real if we don’t care about those who suffer from injustice.

So, mercy or compassion or kindness is a prerequisite for justice work.

If we don’t care that transgender people are routinely dehumanized then why would we work to protect them?

If we don’t care that, even still, same-gender loving people are booted out of their homes and families and churches, then why would we stand up for them?

If we don’t care that Christian theology has contributed to anti-Semitism and the suffering of Jewish people, then what would motivate us to deconstruct the language and attitudes that still hurt Jewish people?

If we don’t see Muslims as beloved children of God, then how can we be allies to them when they are targeted and vilified?

If we are disinterested in the brutal mistreatment of African Americans in this country for centuries, then how can help address the deadly racism of our own day?

Before we can make a difference, we must care. We have to see our fellow human-beings and wish for them all the good fortune we wish for ourselves. So, yes, do justice – but without compassion and empathy, we can’t.

Other biblical contributors were also singing Micah’s song.
You know that 1 John 4 tells us that God is love.
But you may be less familiar with 1 John 3.14 that tells us, “We know that we are fully alive because we love our brothers and sisters.”

We aren’t our best selves until we care about the Other. Not just our friends and the relatives we get along with…but people very different from us also. We live most fully when we care about more than just our small circle of friends.

The Torah instructs us in Deuteronomy 10: “What does God ask of you? To revere and love and serve God with all your heart and soul.”

It takes heart, and soul. Revere and love and serve God. How? With heart and soul. With mercy and empathy. Do justice, love mercy, live humbly.

The prophet Zechariah said, “Show kindness and compassion toward one another. Do not oppress widows and children, aliens in your country, or the poor.”

It’s like Zechariah read the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, the Christian Science Monitor, Teen Vogue, listened to NPR, and watched a few minutes of CNN and then responded directly to us: Don’t oppress the vulnerable and disadvantaged.

But when we are operating from love, from compassion and empathy…no one has to tell us that cruelty is wrong. And if we aren’t operating from love, compassion, and empathy…no prophetic exhortation will move us.

In the early days of AIDS, the liberal church was silent, and the conservative church preached blame and condemnation. The Queer Church and the unchurched had to be Christ while the larger church was unwilling. Many churches eventually did better once they realized it could be their siblings, their children, their grandchildren, their dearest friends dying alone. They didn’t change their behavior toward people living with AIDS until they saw them as people. We cannot do justice until we love mercy and live humbly.

About living humbly…Sometimes we equate humility with shame or defeat or low self esteem. That’s not righteous humility.

The humility that supports justice is empathy.
Those lacking empathy are incapable of true justice.
Justice is restorative and healing, and without compassion or empathy, such justice isn’t possible.

C. S. Lewis wrote, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; its thinking of yourself, less.”

When we care about the poor as well as our own comfort,

When we care about a national pathology that allows over 300 mass shootings in 10 months,

When we care about the health and welfare of every ailing or injured body,

When we care about families even if they practice a religion different from our own or if they don’t speak our language or if they came here seeking refuge by desperate means…when we will not abandon people to the hells they risked their lives to escape…that’s biblical humility, empathy, imagining ourselves in the other’s shoes and responding with the kindness we would hope to receive.

We can talk about doing justice, ushering in the kin-dom of God…but without love, without doing unto others as we would have them do unto us…all that justice talk is just talk.

Religion isn’t meant to damn people.
Religion is meant to encourage people to give a damn.

What God requires of us is to care about the person who is hurting. We don’t need to judge their suffering…the church let AIDS patients suffer because it judged them as deserving their plight. The church was wrong.

The church closed its eyes toward slavery. The church was wrong.

The church was silent as indigenous populations were decimated. The church was wrong.

Let us not be so wrong again. Where there is suffering, let us try to offer comfort…compassion, not condemnation.

God loves us, and wants us to share that love with the world. And as we love, we will do justice, because true justice comes from love. This is the good news. Amen.

I am now ready ~
To receive and to share ~
Mighty miracles.
Let the dew of healing grace fall on us all.

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