The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

Act! -- A Sermon on Micah 6

I preached this to the good people of Davis Lutheran Church and Lutheran Church of the Incarnation at their midweek Lenten Evening Prayer. The theme for their Lenten season is "Continuing the Covenant of Baptism" and the focus for this week was "creating justice and peace throughout the earth." The text Jeff and Dan selected for me to preach on was Micah 6:6-8. Funny how the Spirit moves, sometimes.

I went to college at California Lutheran University. It’s a great institution, and I’m so proud to be an alum of an ELCA college. While I was a student there, I worked in the library as a Writing Center tutor. I helped undergrads and grad students write papers, and plan research and presentations. I did this because I love words, and because I am a grammar nerd. So when I looked at this passage from the prophet Micah, I was struck by the punctuation. 

In these three verses of Micah, as translated by the New Revised Standard Version, I noticed that there are five questions. There is not one declarative sentence. There’s one independent clause, but it’s attached to a question via a semicolon. “God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

There’s a lot to question in this world. In this prophecy, Micah speaks on behalf of the people, asking their questions. The first four questions are about what to give to God. What to offer? What is enough? What will please the Lord? I have sinned, and now I need to remedy that. The questioner is, seemingly, distraught. But as the prophet replies on behalf of YHWH, with, I assume, a light chuckle, the questioner already knows the answer. “God has told you, O mortal, what is good,” he says. Sure, we know, but we don’t always do.

As Martin Luther would remind us, we are simultaneously saint and sinner. We have sinned against God and against one another, probably today. But Micah, prophet of God, says to go forward, treating one another justly, kindly, and with humility. It’s a new day.

Yesterday morning, I saw on Facebook a photo of an ELCA colleague of mine, Sylvia, wearing a clerical collar and holding up a sign that says “Love, not Hate” and she’s standing next to a woman with a sign that says “do justly, love kindness.” They’re at a protest outside a Donald Trump event on the campus of Lenoir-Rhyne University, an ELCA college in Hickory, NC. They and hundreds of other Lutherans and people of faith gathered to sing hymns, and to pray, and remind us all--like this text from Micah does--of our simple responsibilities.

Inside the event, a Christian minister spoke in advance of the candidate, calling out Democratic Socialist candidate Bernie Sanders’ Jewish identity. He said that Senator Sanders “gotta meet Jesus” and “gotta get saved.” [1] This is not okay.

We cannot, ever, disparage our sisters and brothers of the Book--Jews or Muslims--for their different relationships to the God we know.

We cannot, like many preachers have done and will do, use this Micah text or texts like it to disparage our Jewish sisters and brothers.

We cannot read texts like this and claim superiority over their covenant, over their sacrificial history.

Jesus the Christ told us that he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. We have a tendency to erase the entirety of the Mosaic tradition by lumping it all under animal sacrifice and considering ourselves far too sophisticated for such a thing. We have a new covenant, after all, that does not demand such activity.

In our modern expression of Christianity, even if we are going to ignore most of Jewish Law, we are not free to ignore the History and the Prophets. Here, Micah tells us exactly what activity God still demands.

Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly.

It is our right as Americans to speak freely in public. It is our responsibility as Christians to speak freely and boldly in public against bigotry and hatemongering, wherever we hear it. As we do justice, as we love kindness, as we walk humbly, we must act when our words are unjust, unkind, unhumble. We must.

In this season of Lent, Christians have been reflecting, thinking, reading, praying, fasting. We have tried to look at ourselves through different eyes, considering our shortcomings and working to reorient ourselves toward God.

I’ve endeavored, these 40 days, to consider the spiritual discipline of joy. I’ve been working hard at enjoying myself. You heard that right. Like I told the LEVNeers this Monday, anything can be a spiritual practice if you put your spirit into it. The reason I made this choice this year is because I spent the first several weeks of 2016 in a near constant state of lament. The world is a mess. It is so easy to look at the morning’s headlines and crawl right back into bed.

Consider these, which I read just this morning:

  • “White House announces new North Korea sanctions”
  • “Mitch McConnell says he'll continue to refuse to support any SCOTUS nominee President Obama puts forward”
  • “Zika mosquitos may spread to New York and LA this summer”
  • “FIFA admits to accepting bribes for World Cup hosting”
  • “Over one million refugees have entered Greece since 2015”
  • “Two suicide bombers kill 22 near Boko Haram stronghold in Nigeria”

Let’s take a deep breath.

In the interest of not ignoring and, in fact, diving deeper into the traditions of our Jewish roots, I present to you my favorite commentary on Micah 6:8. The Talmud says: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

That’s the key, my friends. It is not that we need to pretend that the world is perfect. The rabbis who wrote the Talmud acknowledge that the world’s grief is enormous. And they wrote it more than 1500 years ago, during which time the world’s grief has only grown. The acknowledgment of the grief, the lament, is not the end, either. We are called to act.

Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now.

I happened to be driving.

Rejoice! — A Sermon in the Mud