Great Expectations - A sermon for Epiphany 4A (Micah 6)
Don’t let the sermon title fool you. This is not a sermon about the famous Charles Dicken’s novel that some of you read during high school, but which I seem to have avoided. Nevertheless, according to Scripture, God has placed great expectations on God’s people. God is gracious and merciful, but God also sets a high bar for us. Here in the sixth chapter of Micah, an eighth-century prophet who lived outside Jerusalem, reveals God’s Great Expectations.
The words we find in the eighth verse of this chapter are well known to us. They tell us what is good and what God requires of us. According to Micah, God would have us “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
We hear these words in the context of a divine lawsuit that God brings against the people. The jury for this case is the mountains and the hills. Nature itself will hear and decide God’s case against Israel.
When God stands before this jury, God asks the people, whom God had rescued from slavery in Egypt, through the ministries of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam: “what have I done to you?” “How did I weary you?” Do you hear in this reading a bit of divine frustration?
After God lays out the prosecution’s case, the defense responds. They seem to acknowledge their guilt because they ask what they can do to resolve the case. What do we owe? What do we need to pay so God can be appeased? How about burnt offerings? Is that sufficient, or what about the sacrifice of a family’s firstborn child? Will any of these sacrifices suffice? In other words, how can I be more religious?
My friend Brett Younger suggests that the defendants in this case “are religious, but their idea of what religion means is far from God’s hopes for them. They think that religion consists of worshiping ‘correctly’ and staying away from those who do not” [Feasting on the Word, p. 293]. Or, we might think of the Godfather, who goes to church, has his children baptized, and then orders a hit on his enemies. He’s very religious, but also very evil.
Being religious, doesn’t necessarily absolve us from our responsibilities before God? We can’t sweep bad behavior under the rug, because on Sunday we serve as a Sunday School teacher, an Elder or Deacon, or even a preacher!
Over the previous three Sundays, we’ve heard words about being agents of light from the Book of Isaiah. While Micah doesn’t speak of light here, his message is a continuation of what we’ve heard from Isaiah. God has commissioned God’s people to be a light to the nations. That is, God has commissioned us to be agents of God’s compassionate justice in the world. This involves doing justice, loving-kindness, and walking humbly with God.
There’s another way of saying this. A lawyer asked Jesus what it would take to gain eternal life. Jesus responded by asking what was written in the law. The lawyer pointed to two commands: Love God and love your neighbor. Jesus then answered: “Do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-29). Of course, that’s not the end of the story, because Jesus will go on to share a parable about a Samaritan. But, for our purposes, the lawyer got it right. In Deuteronomy 6 we’re told to love God with our entire being. Then in Leviticus 19, we’re told to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. This is the path to eternal life.
Rabbi Akiva, one of the great sages of Judaism, taught that the command to love one’s neighbor summarizes the essence of the Torah. Rabbi Reuven Hammer writes that “by choosing a verse that specifies that one must love others, Akiva makes clear that in all cases love is the requirement. It is not enough to insist that we treat each other as we want to be treated, since some people disdain themselves. It is not sufficient to say that all people are created equal. Love is the basic requirement” (A Year with the Sages, p. 157).
Jesus’ message about God’s realm stands in line with the prophetic tradition. It’s rooted in the Torah. As followers of Jesus, God has great expectations of us, which are laid out for us in Micah 6. So, do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
Now, does that mean our worship is irrelevant? Is Micah saying that Judah should close up the Temple and cease the sacrifices? I don’t believe so. The problem isn’t the offerings made in the Temple. The problem isn’t coming to church and singing songs of praise. The problem has to do with how we live out our relationship with God in daily life. These expectations aren’t that controversial, but we may find it difficult to put them into practice.
The question for us, as followers of Jesus, concerns how we live out the expectations Micah reveals to us in answer to God’s lawsuit. We could focus on a number of areas of concern, but I thought this would be a good opportunity to speak about the way we use social media. Even if you don’t own a computer or a smartphone, you’re probably still impacted by social media. It’s in the air. We can’t get away from it. Since I’ve been looking for an opportunity to explore our use of social media after reading Angela Williams Gorrell’s book Always On this past fall, this seemed like as good an opportunity as any.
As I read this book, I began to examine how I use social media and how others use it as well. It’s hard to believe that public access to the internet is only about twenty-five years old. Maybe you remember a movie starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan titled You’ve Got Mail. It came out in 1998 and featured a relationship that was carried out through an email platform. Back then most of us used dial-up to access the internet. You may even remember the sound that dial-up access made. It was quite distinctive. A lot has changed over the past twenty-five years. New platforms emerge every day. I remember reviewing a book by Christian and Amy Piatt titled My Space to Sacred Space: God for a New Generation. That book came out in 2007 when My Space was all the rage. While My Space is still around, it’s been supplanted by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and a multitude of other sites. Though Facebook is still the largest social media platform, depending on your age, you may prefer some other form of online communication.
Whatever platform you use, and right now this sermon is going out into cyberspace through Facebook Live, the question is how should I be present online? More specifically, how might I fulfill Micah’s declaration that God would have us do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God, through my use of social media? What rules should apply?
Angela Williams Gorrell’s book offers some really good advice. She even provides some rules and spiritual practices that can guide us along the way. She proposes five questions that can help us decide what to post, how to reply to posts, and how to produce content on social media.
- “Is this information true?” In other words, does it pass the Snopes test?
- “Even though I find this funny, is it mean, hateful, racist, marginalizing, and so forth? Does it qualify as harassment, bullying, gossip, or lying?”
- “Am I OK with my coworkers or peers, potential employers, family, and friends viewing this?
- “What is my tipping point when I see something bad happening online?”
- “Am I affirming information or actions that are good and true?” [Gorrell, Always On, pp. 155-156].
I think these questions resonate with what Micah is saying. He might not have had access to modern social media, but the point about justice, love, and humility transcends time and place. If we follow the command to love our neighbor, then it too applies to the way we engage with social media, whether it’s email or Instagram or some other platform. To borrow from Paul, we might ask whether what we post is edifying to others. Does it build up or does it tear down?
We know that it’s very easy to share untruths on social media. We can do this without even knowing it. When things go viral, we can get caught up in the cycle and pass on misinformation and not even realize it.
Since I’m a pastor who has a public presence on Social Media, I always keep in mind my position. I assume that what I post will be seen by members of the congregation. I don’t worry whether someone might disagree with what I post. That’s a given. But, if I’m not comfortable with members of the congregation or my family seeing what I post, then perhaps I shouldn’t share it. Social media offers us many opportunities to be God’s light to the nations, but we must use it carefully and prayerfully.
Micah has told us what God expects of us as we go out into the world as agents of God’s light. He tells us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God in every area of our lives, including what we post on Social Media.
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
February 2, 2020