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Sermon for Lent 1 Evening Prayer Do justice

January 28, 2016

do justceDo justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God – words from our first reading

In the name….

During Lent, St. Basil the Blessed went to see Tsar Ivan the Terrible. He gave him a gift: a great slab of beef. The Tsar protested – not because it might be horse meat – but because it was the Great Fast and he could not eat it, Basil replied, “Why, then do you devour human beings?”

Micah was a country boy, furious with all things urban. His language is sharp and pointed, particularly when it comes to the evil of Israel’s cities. Samaria, capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, will be made “a heap in the open country” 1:6 These “pampered children” 1:16 have “devised wickedness and evil deeds on their beds” 2:1, evil that includes the “oppression of householder and houseas well as the coveting and the taking of the fields of others 2:2

This is echoed in Cranmer’s Commination service for the beginning of Lent, which pronounced: Cursed be he that moveth his neighbour’s land mark.’ Your field was your business. Today, Micah would be condemning tax-evading multinational companies that put small businesses out of work.

Micah came from the small town of Moresheth, on the border between Judah and the land of the Philistines so he was well aware of the territorial ambitions of kings to the west and south, as well as of the Assyrians to the north east. Any attack on Jerusalem by forces from any of these areas would be known in the vicinity of Moresheth. And Micah was well acquainted with the effects of conflict on the poor people of the region. He castigated the Judean leadership about the exploitation of the people by unscrupulous traders. His own background as a trader makes him focus on unfair trading in the city market place 6:9-12 For Micah, the exercise of justice in people’s lives, especially those in powerful positions, is an essential ingredient of doing God’s will.

It seems that Micah was successful in his prophetic work. Jeremiah says it was Micah who influenced for the good one of the most morally upright kings of Judah, Hezekiah Jer 26:17-19.

In our first reading, Micah’s imagines a gigantic courtroom. The word translated “plead your case” 6:1 is the Hebrew rib, a word always used in the context of the court. Picture the scene. The bailiffs escort the defendant, Israel, into the room. Her hands are bound, her feet shackled, as she shuffles up to the box. On Israel’s left is the jury, and a most peculiar one it is! Sitting in the jury box are the vast mountains of the earth, the hills that have stood the test of vast time. (Who said that creation theology is new? Micah knew that what we humans do affects the whole ecology of our planet) They sit in their earthy splendour, covered in trees and soil, cocking their dusty ears toward the prosecuting barrister who is none other than God. Silence.

Then God speaks the words we might know as the Reproaches of the Good Friday Liturgy, Often sung to the music of Victoria during the veneration of the cross. “O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery….I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam….Have any of these deeds led you to the monstrous evils you have done in my land?” How could any people experience such acts of grace filled power, and then become what you have become?

And the defendant speaks. Israel does not admit guilt; nor ask for forgiveness. She merely wants a way out; she wants to know what this angry God really wants from them. Burnt offerings? (especially valuable because they are total – nothing left over to be consumed by the priests) Year-old calves? (the most expensive) Or how about sacrificing our first-born sons like the Canaanites do?

Worship is not your problem, says God: different liturgies, livelier songs, well-tuned organs. Very good but there is more

First, “do justice.” This word is always found in a court of law, but for God justice is always dictated by the concerns of those to whom justice is denied.

Second, “love mercy” if you genuinely love mercy, you will do justice.

Third, “walk humbly with your God,” Better translated as “give considered attention to God.” Be attentive to God’s call for justice and mercy

Court is adjourned, and the verdict is rendered. Guilty, announces the judge. You are guilty of misunderstanding what God requires. Justice as well as worship. Justice, not oppression.

Our reading is one of the most well known passages in the prophets. Other prophetic passages often have layers of Christian interpretation surrounding them that often tend to obscure the original meaning of the text itself, but this reading has been more or less consistently interpreted since the early history of the church.

Two hundred years ago in Charles Dickens’ England many twelve year old boys were working below in the coal mines. Their life was miserable but that is what was expected. The church would offer prayers for these little boys, would give them presents at Christmas. One day, the law was changed so that little boys could no longer work in the coal mines. They had to go to school instead. Charity is giving Christmas presents. Justice is working to change the laws

Justice is working for the little people of our society and world, working for the widow, fatherless, orphans, poor, hungry, stranger, needy, weak and oppressed, so they get their fair share.

Justice for the poor involves our social, professional, and economic relationships, as well as our personal relationships. Treating lower-wage workers as equals, supporting political candidates who redress the needs of the poor and marginalized, not supporting businesses when they are involved in unfair practices, volunteering with relief organisations that help the poor are first steps toward embodying justice.

God calls us “to do justice,” not merely desire it, hope for it, and appreciate it when it occurs. Justice is something we do. This Lent?

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