November 15, 2015
Remember those WWJD ("What Would Jesus Do") bracelets that were hot several years ago? Did you know that they actually started here in Michigan? A youth director in Holland, Michigan wanted to provide something to remind her youth to follow Jesus in their actions. They were everywhere for awhile, but there was one problem: they didn't demand that we DO anything! They only asked us to contemplate what Jesus would have done. Keith Drury, a professor at Indiana Wesleyan University, says that one reason why WWJD was so fleeting was because we've bought into the notion that "To know is to do." You may admire the accomplishments of an artist. You may love listening to a gifted musician play an instrument. But your listening will never make you play a note. Only daily practice, daily exercises, daily drills will make us into musicians.
To know is not to do. Knowing WWJD is only half the challenge. The other half is doing it. The WWJD movement was right in telling us that God wants us to become like Christ. What was missing is the other half of discipleship: enabling people to actually do what they know is right. Discipleship is about doing what we know.
Charlene Bailey of the Kansas Conferences reports spotting a new, potentially more useful acronym: WWJHMD. It was a tattoo. When she asked what it stood for, she was told: "What Would Jesus Have Me Do."
What Jesus would have me do, I believe, is what God has wanted all of us to do from the beginning: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. I want to explore these once again, as we think on this scripture in Micah.
Have you ever noticed how much we're into lists? Back in the late 70's one of the most popular books around was "The Book of Lists." And there have been thousands of books published like it since. I did a search on Amazon.com and came up with 229,000 matches of books with the word list in their title.
These books contain such fascinating lists as:
17 Questions You'll be Asked When Applying to Become an FBI Agent,
9 Visitors Who Died at Disneyland,
16 Movies Banned in the US,
11 men who have cried in public,
7 famous people expelled from school,
11 prominent people who died while exercising,
6 ways cats talk with their tails,
19 innocent Americans who were almost executed,
9 people misquoted by Ronald Reagan,
12 museums of limited appeal.
We have a fascination with lists. And we all have ongoing To Do Lists, don't we, whether we write them on scraps of paper, or keep track of them on our iphone.
Even the Bible has lists: The 7 days of Creation, the 10 Commandments, the 12 Apostles; you get the idea. Today as we contemplate what Jesus would have us do, we're going to look at God's short list for a faithful life.
In Micah 6, God calls Israel to law court to indict them for their sin. When the Northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrians in the eighth century, B.C., the leaders of Judah made deals with the Assyrians to allow them to continue to live as a kingdom. They made compromises, they intermarried, and they often worshiped the gods of the Assyrians to keep their land safe, the very type of activity that the Northern Kingdom had done, and had now fallen. Micah sees the same fate for Judah. The judgment scene takes place in the context of cosmic realities. The Lord asks the people what has been done by God to weary the people. A recital of God's saving deeds in Israel's life is given. Yahweh God has delivered them from Egypt, given them leadership, blessed rather than cursed them through Balaam, and led them across the Jordan into the land of promise. The Lord has delivered, led, and saved the people. Why are they now not living faithfully as God's people? A voice responds to God's controversy against the people. The voice questions what it is God requires and lists cultic and religious acts that may be performed. But the response to the question states clearly God’s list of requirements. God has shown us what is required: the people of God doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with their God. Our God requires that we give ourselves as an offering to God, by giving of ourselves for other people in the community.
DO, LOVE, WALK. That's God's short list. Notice, they're all action words. They're all verbs and imperative verbs at that. They're verbs that inevitably ask the questions What, How and Who. What are you DOING? How and who are you LOVING? And How and with Whom are you WALKING?
A. Do justice. What is justice? And how do you do justice? Joseph Fletcher said, "Justice is nothing other than love working out its problems."
Benjamin Disraeli said, "Justice is truth in action."
I think justice is doing what is right simply because it's right, even if it's uncomfortable or not popular.
Justice concerns the passion that you and I must have to see that every person everywhere has a decent opportunity for a healthy, wholesome, rewarding life. It is the passion that Abraham Lincoln had when he saw a slave girl being sold on an auction block like a horse or a cow. She was being sold away from her family, and he saw the fright and terror in her eyes. "This thing must go," Lincoln said. He was referring to the institution of slavery. And he dedicated his life to the destruction of that barbaric institution.
No concept is more Christian or more American than is the demand for justice. Wherever there are people who are oppressed, whether it be politically, economically, racially, or whatever form that oppression may take, we must raise our voice.
Many years ago Albert Schweitzer told a beautiful parable concerning our responsibilities to others. He told about a flock of wild geese that had settled to rest on a pond.
One of the flock had been captured by a gardener, who had clipped its wings before releasing it. When the geese started to resume their flight, this one tried frantically, but vainly, to lift itself into the air. The others, observing his struggles, flew about in obvious efforts to encourage him; but it was no use. Thereupon, the entire flock settled back on the pond and waited, even though the urge to go on was strong within them. For several days they waited until the damaged feather had grown sufficiently to permit the goose to fly. Meanwhile, the unethical gardener, having been converted by the ethical geese, gladly watched them as they finally rose together and all resumed their long flight.
Schweitzer's point, of course, was that we are responsible for one another. Whether it be in Ethiopia or India, South Africa or Afghanistan, Nicaragua or Chile, where there are people who are suffering, we have a mission. That mission has to do with the souls, minds and bodies of God's less fortunate children. If we offer them bread without Christ, we are at fault. But, as the Epistle of James reminds us, we dare not offer them Christ without bread either. Doing justice is much more complicated than loving kindness, but it is equally a part of Christian witness.
For many years we lived in the community of a University. Drew University, in Madison, NJ, brought many international students, graduate students, and families to a community that, for years, was a bastion of white privilege. They had successfully kept the growing African-American population in “the hollow,” where life was quite different from the rest of town. The growing influx of international students presented a challenge to the community. Many arrived without any resources to provide sufficient housing for the family. Many got caught up in having to be in court to face charges of breaking laws they were unaware of. The congregation I served decided that someone needed to stand with these folks in court, in furniture stores, in various places to help these new arrivals to get acclimated to these strange surroundings. Individual members “adopted” individual students and families to help them feel welcomed and at home. In an age when other churches were taking up offerings and sending money to agencies to help, some of our folks were standing side-by-side with others in an act of justice and friendship. They were “doing” justice.
One of the mistakes we make is in thinking that life has to be fair. Justice is not about being fair. Johnny Carson once said: "If life was fair, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead." Justice isn't about being fair. Justice is about DOING what is right in God's eyes.
We cannot depend upon life being fair and just for all people. We are called as a church to be present in courtrooms, in city councils, in decision-making legislative bodies to speak and act on behalf of those whom society has labeled, marginalized, and categorized as “less than us.”
We're also called to love kindness, or love mercy as some translations have it. You can't have justice without mercy
George McDonald wrote in Discovering the Character of God, "I believe that justice and mercy are simply one and the same thing; without justice to the full there can be no mercy, and without mercy to the full there can be no justice."
The story has been told about a man who was caught and taken to court because he had stolen a loaf of bread. When the judge investigated, he found out that the man had no job, and his family was hungry. He had tried unsuccessfully to get work and finally, to feed his family, he had stolen a loaf of bread. Although recognizing the extenuating circumstances, the judge said, "I'm sorry, but the law can make no exceptions. You stole the bread, and therefore I have to punish you. I order you to pay a fine of ten dollars."
And then the judge continued, "But I want to pay your fine myself." He reached into his pocket, pulled out a ten-dollar bill, and handed it to the man.
As soon as the man took the money, the judge said, "Now I also want to cancel the fine and remit the sentence to time served." That is, the man could keep the money and go free. "Furthermore, I am going to instruct the bailiff to pass around a hat to everyone in this courtroom, and I am fining everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a city where a man has to steal in order to have bread to eat."
The money was collected and given to the defendant. I love that story, because it's a perfect example of justice being meted out in full and paid in full, while at the very same time, mercy and grace were also enacted in full.
You and I are called to act in the same manner as that Judge. We're called to not just do mercy and kindness but to love kindness, and to love mercy because we have experienced both through the outstretched hands of Jesus on the Cross.
A. And finally we're called to walk humbly with our God. Actor Tom Selleck says, "Whenever I get full of myself, I remember the nice, elderly couple who approached me with a camera on a street in Honolulu one day. When I struck a pose for them, the man said, 'No, no, we want you to take a picture of US.'"
To walk humbly with God is living in fellowship with God in modesty and without arrogance. This is at the very heart of everything in God's purpose for us, that we live in close relationship with God. To walk humbly with God means we must understand that God is in control. It means we have to understand that we're all sinful human beings who've made wrong choices but have been forgiven. We deserved justice but through Christ's sacrifice on the cross, we've received mercy. How we live is in response to our experience of God's Mercy.
B. Comedian Bob Hope was accepting a plaque at an honorary dinner. He listened as his many contributions to humanity were lauded. When it was his turn to speak, he said that he had stopped letting such honors go to his head. "I just got a call from a fellow who said I'd been named Man of the Year by their organization because I was America's outstanding citizen, greatest humanitarian, and so forth. It was going to be the biggest dinner, biggest civil reception ever. I told him I was sorry, but I was going to be tied up that night. There was a long pause. And then the caller said, 'By any chance would you have Red Skelton's phone number?'"
It's an honor to serve God. It's an honor to be called forgiven and child of God. But we can't let it go to our heads. We have to seek God's will and walk humbly with God.
Few characteristics are as appealing in a person as is genuine humility. Newscaster Tom Brokaw tells a good story on himself. He said that when he first went on the TODAY program as cohost, he felt he had reached the pinnacle of success. One day he was wandering around Bloomingdale's in New York and he noticed a man watching him closely. The man kept staring at him and finally approached him. "Oh well," thought Brokaw, "such is the price of celebrity." The man pointed a finger at him and said, "Tom Brokaw, right?" Brokaw answered, "Right." The man continued. "You used to do the morning news on KMTV in Omaha, right?" Brokaw said, "That's right." Brokaw was kind of enjoying being recognized now as a national television celebrity. "I knew it the minute I spotted you," the fellow said. Then he paused and added, "Say, whatever happened to you?"
We all have our crash landings, don't we? We love genuine humility in a person. But Micah is talking about a special kind of humility. It is like the meekness Jesus praised when he said, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." Jesus was not talking about the shy, timid mouse of a person who is content to serve as the world's doormat. That most humble man or woman, the meekest man or woman, from a Biblical standpoint, is the person who has surrendered his or her life completely to God. "It is not I who lives," writes St. Paul, "but Christ Jesus lives in me." That is true humility, true meekness, to live as Christ would live. That kind of humility or meekness leads to tremendous power and effectiveness in life.
Pastor Tony Bland, of Birmingham, Alabama, once described such a humble man. He writes:
"On top of Red Mountain overlooking Birmingham, is a gigantic symbol of the wealth and riches in the great Jones Valley that stretches below. It is an iron statue of Vulcan, the god of fire. All the basic ingredients needed to produce steel are found in this valley dolomite, coal and iron. During the 19th century, the great industrial complex and the wealth it brought were developed here. The economy built around the steel industry is symbolized by the statue of Vulcan.
"Down from atop Red Mountain, in the heart of Birmingham, is a park in front of a church. In that park is another statue, the figure of a little man on his knees with his hands raised to heaven. He had been the pastor of a small Presbyterian Church. Brother Bryan was a humble preacher who was often seen kneeling hand in hand on a street corner praying with someone. He pastored in Birmingham for more than a quarter of a century. He was a servant to all. When he died, businesses closed, flags were hung half mast, and the whole city wept in sorrow at his departure. They built a statue to memorialize this servant.
"When the statue of Vulcan has tumbled to dust, and Red Mountain is worn flat, the witness and work of Pastor Bryan will remain."
That is the kind of humility or meekness that God seeks in us.
To walk humbly with God. Now the key word here is "walk." It suggests that the whole orientation of life centers in a daily walk of faith with the God. This call to walk is similar to Jesus' invitation to the disciples, "Follow me." Jesus seldom asks us "to believe," but rather to "come after me." One who so walks with God will not be exempt from the dark places of life, but that person lives each day in the assurance that he or she will never walk alone!
It is here that Micah's words really come alive for me in describing the kind of God with whom we walk each day. All that Micah has said about justice and about love helps us to grasp something of the greatness of this God we know in Jesus Christ. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once wrote these meaningful words: "The greatness of God lies in the fact that God is both tough-minded and tenderhearted. God has qualities both of austerity and of gentleness. The Bible expresses God's toughmindedness in his justice, and God's tenderness in his love and grace. God has two outstretched arms. One is strong enough to surround us with justice, and one is gentle enough to embrace us with grace. I am thankful we worship a God who is both tough-minded and tenderhearted. If God were only tough-minded, God would be a cold, passionless despot sitting in some far-off heaven. But if God were only tenderhearted, he would be too soft and sentimental to function when things go wrong. Thank the Lord for a God who is tough-minded enough to transcend the world, and yet, tenderhearted enough to live in it!"
DO, LOVE, WALK. It’s God’s short list of how to live, but all three are connected in an unbroken circle of life. We cannot do the real justice God demands, and God’s people deserve, without walking humbly with God. We will not extend ourselves unendingly in lovingkindness to the world unless we walk unendingly humbly with God.
Now, I challenge each member, and the leadership of our church, to provide us with opportunities for us to be about the work of doing justice and loving kindness in our community. We need to identify places where we can stand with folks who need a presence of justice and love in their lives. It is what God requires of us!
When you are not sure what to do to be faithful to God in your life, remember that God has told you, friends, what God requires: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. The real task is to just do it!