December 6, 2011

Got Static??

Advent 2, Year B, RCL December 4, 2011 

Click here to listen to it all (With sound effects!!)

In case you’ve never experienced it, it can be really difficult to speak when you are unconvinced that your audience is paying attention. When I was in my first summer as a camp counselor, I called my parents one weekend when we were on break, and I was saying to them how most of the campers to that point had been really great, but this past week, I’d had a cabin full of 7th & 8th grade boys and I’d say something to them about where we needed to be next or picking up trash or asking whose random sock was in the middle of the cabin floor and they’d look at me like I was speaking Swahili or something and then they’d just go right back to doing whatever they were doing… After a second or two of silence, my mother said, “Mmm. Well. Now you know what YOUR middle school experience was like for us!”

That frustration, that “speaking to the wind” feeling might give us an insight into what the ancient prophets must have felt like. With the exception of Jonah, where the people of Nineveh actually repent and return to the Lord, more often than not, the messages of the prophets went unheeded, if not mocked, until doom and destruction was imminent and the people said, “Hmmm. Maybe that crazy guy who’s been yelling at us was right…”

The burning question for us today is this: “Who are the Prophets of our time? And are we willing to hear what they have to say to us?”

I would venture to guess that each generation sees its own prophets, people who have spoken the Word of God when it was very necessary, though not at all popular with the masses. Three women, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee (both of Liberia) and Tawakkol Karman (of Yemen), were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 2011 "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work". These were not popular messages in their respective countries, but Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee, both proud and devout Anglicans, knew that the rebuilding of their nation would not and could not be done by the men who had perpetuated the destruction.

Right now, delegates from around the world are meeting in Durban in South Africa as part of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change. What they are saying about caring for the environment and the world that God has created and left in our care is critical to sustaining the world’s food and water supply not only in vulnerable areas of the world, but even in the bread baskets of the world.

We ignore these, and all, prophets at our own peril. We have to pay attention.

I know: it’s hard to hear them sometimes. We are a busy, distracted people. There is static and noise everywhere we go. We turn on the TV in the morning, have the radio on in the car, check our cell phones constantly, are always looking at the latest thing on the internet, we’ve got the buzz of life in our work environments, our kids’ sports events, caring for aging parents, over-burdened calendars, and whatever else that creates the static that keeps us from hearing God’s messengers in the 21st Century.

Two of our Scripture passages this morning are about voices in the wilderness and straightening out the highways and pathways for our God. How in God’s name can we make a straight path if we can’t even hear the voice calling us into action?

It’s not much of a rhetorical question. The answer is, We can’t… It’s not possible. If we allow the static of our lives to pull us in every direction except towards the Holy One, then we cannot do the counter cultural work Christ has given us to do in the world: to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and proclaim release for the captives. If we let the hectic-ness and the craziness of our day-to-day routines get to us, especially this time of year, we miss out on the stories of people who are being God’s hands and feet in the world: Young people like the cheerleading squad at Pleasant Valley High School in Bettendorf, Iowa, who work and cheer side-by-side with teenage girls with special needs . Further evidence of the radical inclusiveness of our God.

We’d miss out on people like John Hoffman, a North Carolina man who found a wallet on the side of I-40 near Hickory earlier this year. He returned the wallet, and all $1,600 that was in it, to the local police who found the wallet’s rightful owner . Doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God.

If we pay more attention to the static than we do to the voice of ones crying out in the wilderness, then we can’t ever know how or which path to make straight. And no, we would not be the first generations of God’s people to be deaf to what God’s prophets have to say to us.
But the call remains the same. And if we ignore it or use the excuse that we couldn’t hear it because our lives are soooo hectic, we are no less liable for what those prophets are calling us to do, whether that is to care for our planet or our neighbor or those who society considers outcasts.

It’s easy to want to ignore the prophets or to turn away from them because they often give us news we don’t want to hear. They tell us things about ourselves both individually and corporately that we don’t want to admit is true.

But the message from the prophets in today’s readings, Isaiah and John the Baptizer, is different.

There are some important parallels between Isaiah and John the Baptist: 

  • Isaiah was preaching to a community that had been carried away to a foreign land; John the Baptist was preaching to a people who had foreign occupiers.
  • Both were looking for hope in a desolate situation.
  • Both allow God to speak through them to the masses.
  • And both certainly had people who didn't want to hear, let alone, believe, what they had to say.
  • Both knew that a better world was just around the corner. 

Theirs is a message of hope. It is a message of good news. It is a message of restoration and redemption. It is a message of the arrival of God’s kingdom and the end of any separation we may have had from God.

(And notice that I’m using the “present tense” and not the past, because their message is as poignant today as it was in their respective times.)

In the Second Letter of Peter, he writes: No prophecy of Scripture represents the prophet’s own understanding of things, because no prophecy ever came by human will. Instead, men and women led by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:20-21, CEV).

I don’t believe in ”not possible.” More importantly, I believe it’s not only possible, but healthy and holy, to see and hear beyond the static in our lives for where God is speaking, how God is speaking, and through whom God is speaking.

Maybe the Collect of the Day, that prayer that was prayed just before we heard the reading from Isaiah, needs to be our prayer every day. Maybe we need to pray that we hear and heed the warnings of the Prophets God continues to call so that every day, every waking moment, we can be prepared for the arrival of Christ into our hearts, our lives and our world:

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives in reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.

And all God’s people said, “Amen.”

November 6, 2011

I Sing a Song of the Saints of God

All Saints' Sunday, Year A

The thing about this book (Holy Women, Holy Men) is that you have to be dead to be in it...

Click here for the audio. And if you have a hankering to hear the whole hymn, here it is.

And here is more information about the various saints mentioned:

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Ross Tubman (July 20)
Thomas Galludet and Henry Winter Syle (August 27)
David Pendelton Oakerhater (September 1)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (April 9)

October 25, 2011

A Prayer for Ronan

I am enthralled by a child who lives across the country, a child whose story I only know through the internet, and who may very well not make it to his 3rd birthday. His name is Ronan, and he has Tay-Sachs disease. I’m not sure why I am so suddenly and unequivocally attached to this little boy. Maybe it’s because I first read about his story in the New York Times on my son's third birthday. Maybe it’s because his smile looks just like Ollie’s when the O was that age. Maybe it’s because his mom’s name is Emily and she’s about the same age as my own wife, Emily. Maybe it’s because it’s just so damn unfair. And maybe it’s because it scares the fool out of me. For whatever reason, Ronan and his mom and dad won’t leave my consciousness or my prayers.

I follow Ronan on Twitter. I am a fan on Facebook. I follow his mom’s blog. Part of me feels that I should stop. I mean, every time I look at a picture of that sweet face knowing how much his mom and dad love him, I break down and cry. I sat at a beautiful spot called Sanders’ Point last week and read a recent blog post about Ronan’s therapy team meeting with his parents. They were talking about all the things they (parents and Team Ronan) could do to help make Ronan more comfortable and to stimulate his ever-decreasing brain function. I sobbed. Thank God I was by myself because I’m sure I looked like a blubbering moron. Especially as I stomped my foot in the soft sand and said to, or rather shouted at, God, “What are you doing to this family??

But there is something about this situation that draws me back in. I go back and look at the pictures. I read up on Tay-Sachs. I read another blog post. I cry a little more. I laid awake the last few nights, thinking about what Ronan’s parents, Emily & Rick, must be going through. I have given thanks to God that Ollie is healthy, and then seconds later felt like a selfish s.o.b. for giving thanks that I’m not in someone else’s shoes. I have prayed for comfort and peace for all three of them. I have prayed that Ronan’s short life will mean something. (Part of that prayer has been answered: His life means something to me; I just have to figure out what it is.) I have given thanks that Ronan’s parents love him so much and are willing to be public with their daily loss.

(I've also thought to myself: Surely I am not the only one so deeply affected by this. I was relieved to find so many comments on the blog and on Facebook about others who have been so moved by this story.)

What came to me the other night as I prayed for Ronan, Emily, and Rick was that God has put this little boy and his family, who live nearly 2,000 miles away from New Bern, NC, in my path. As I continue to pray for them, I know God will reveal to me why they are in my path.

I will continue to give thanks for Ollie's health, and I will continue to give thanks that Emily and Rick love Ronan so much. I will continue to pray for Ronan's peace and his comfort, and I will pray for Emily and Rick.

I pray that you will join me.

October 23, 2011

"I've seen the Promised Land."

Proper 25, Year A, RCL

Whether he wanted to or not, Moses had to entrust the journey of his people to God. Because in the end, they were, and we still are, God's people.

Click here for the audio.

A few images for you.

Do you believe in Miracles? YES!!

Mason Temple of the Church of God in Christ, Memphis, TN

Dr. King speaking at the Mason Temple on April 3, 1968

October 2, 2011

Clay to Bricks

What's the clay God has given you that you can
turn in to bricks to help build up the Kingdom of God?

Click here for the audio.

Here are some images that go along with it...

September 18, 2011

Can you say, "Thank you, Lord!"

Proper 20, RCL, Year A

If you have successfully given thanks to God more than 10 times in the past 24 hours and complained about something not going your way less than one time, then you can skip to the next sermon because you've already got this stuff down...

Click here for the audio.

August 27, 2011

For those who cannot make church because of Hurricane Irene

Prayers and Scripture for Sunday, August 28, 2011
Collect of the Day (Proper 17)
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.
A reading from Paul's Letter to the Romans (12:9-21)
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Psalm 91 Qui habitat
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High,* abides under the shadow of the Almighty.
He shall say to the LORD, "You are my refuge and my stronghold, * my God in whom I put my trust."
He shall deliver you from the snare of the hunter* and from the deadly pestilence.
He shall cover you with his pinions, and you shall find refuge under his wings;* his faithfulness shall be a shield and buckler.
You shall not be afraid of any terror by night,* nor of the arrow that flies by day;
Of the plague that stalks in the darkness,* nor of the sickness that lays waste at mid-day.
A thousand shall fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand,* but it shall not come near you.
Your eyes have only to behold* to see the reward of the wicked.
Because you have made the LORD your refuge,* and the Most High your habitation,
There shall no evil happen to you,* neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.
For he shall give his angels charge over you,* to keep you in all your ways.
They shall bear you in their hands,* lest you dash your foot against a stone.
You shall tread upon the lion and the adder;* you shall trample the young lion and the serpent under your feet.
Because he is bound to me in love, therefore will I deliver him;* I will protect him, because he knows my Name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;* I am with him in trouble; I will rescue him and bring him to honor.
With long life will I satisfy him,* and show him my salvation.
A reading from the Gospel of Matthew (16:21-28)
Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you." But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
"For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."
A Collect for the Anxious by the Rev. David Somerville (St. Paul's Chapel, New York, NY)
Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested: We know from the example of your Son that the call for us, the baptized, to minister your healing presence never ceases. Grant, that as we face today's reality, you will, as we cry hosanna!, calm our anxieties. Empower us by your Spirit to be focused in the gift of mindfulness that can enlighten us with a clear vision of your presence beyond all threats, be they natural or borne of malevolent hate. Let us not forget those who are alone. If it be your will, curb the wind and the water in our lives, that we may clearly see them for what they truly are: the tools of your on-going creativity. Let them simply remind us that while we are called to be stewards of your creation, we are not in charge of every outcome. Though many of our worship places will be closed tomorrow, let the prayers coming from your faithful in their tabernacles of refuge, remind us that we, the Church, are not a place, but a pilgrim people, and in our future, the arrival at the final sabbath rest is assured. Grant this through Jesus, our savior, who, as he led our spiritual ancestors through the waters of their time, will also take us through the waters of ours. Amen
A Prayer of Blessing for Firefighters, Police Officers, Medical Workers, and All Who Serve Us in Times of Crisis
Blessed are you, Lord, God of mercy, who through your Son gave us a marvelous example of charity and the great commandment of love for one another. Send down your blessings on your servants, especially firefighters, police officers and other emergency workers, who so generously devote themselves to helping others. Grant them courage when they are afraid, wisdom when they must make quick decisions, strength when they are weary, and compassion in all their work. When the alarm sounds and they are called to aid both friend and stranger, let them faithfully serve you in their neighbor. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
A Collect for Sundays
O God, you make us glad with the weekly remembrance of the glorious resurrection of your Son our Lord: Give us this day such blessing through our worship of you, that the week to come may be spent in your favor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A Collect for Grace
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

August 21, 2011

Interaction between the human and the divine

Proper 16, Year A, RCL (Choose Exodus for the OT scripture)

"We are who are many are one body in Christ and individually we are members of one another," St. Paul writes. Transformed people create a transformed community.

Click here for the audio.

July 31, 2011

We have enough!

Proper 13, Year A, RCL

Whether it's being a Sunday School teacher or being a part of one of the other life-giving ministries that happen both inside and outside the walls of this place, God gives us the tools and skills and people to follow through in the building up of God's Kingdom.

Click here for the audio.

June 26, 2011

Abraham & Issac

(Click here for the audio)

My friend James and I were on our way to the mall. Being that we were in 7th grade at the time, someone had to drive us. This time it was James’ dad. James was in the front seat. I was in the back and his dad was moving along at a pretty good clip. (He had what some would call a “lead-foot.”) We had to go over some railroad tracks on our route to the mall, and these particular tracks did not have crossing arms. He was in a bit of a “no-man’s zone” when the lights on the railroad crossing started flashing. He either had to slam on the brakes and risk getting rear-ended (which he did not choose) or punch the gas and fly over the tracks. I’m not sure how fast the train was moving, but it was close enough when we went over the tracks to scare our 12-year old selves. When we reached a stopping point, James’ dad looked at James and said simply, “Let’s not tell your mother about this, OK?” And he said to me, “your mom, either, alright?”

I only tell you that story because I imagine that a similar conversation happened several thousand years ago when Abraham and Isaac were on their way down from the mountain, both of them very relieved that God had provided a ram for sacrificing and not Isaac.

What do we do with this story about Abraham & Isaac? It is very troubling to me. Always has been. It has also been a source of great comfort in several very trying times in my own life. I’m not sure what it says about a God who has kept a promise to give Abraham the child of his very own that he has so long desired, only to then say, “Go and offer him as a burnt offering.” There are so many layers to it that to call it an onion wouldn’t even begin to describe it.

We have these layers of what we might call “blind-faith” on the part of both Abraham and Isaac. The only reaction we get from Isaac is a question about where the sacrificial lamb is going to come from. Other than that, Isaac, the potential victim in this story, is silent.

It may be helpful to go back and hear the reflection on this story by one of the great 20th Century American prophets, who wrote:
Oh God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son"
Abe says, "Man, you must be puttin' me on"
God say, "No." Abe say, "What?"
God say, "You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin' you better run"
Well Abe says, "Where do you want this killin' done ?"
God says. "Out on Highway 61".

~ Highway 61 Revisited: Bob Dylan

Abraham’s trust in God is so deep, that while he cannot explain God’s motivation to issue this call, he follows it with great precision. He cuts the wood for the offering, he takes his servants, he takes his knife, and they walk for three days, not fully knowing where they are going except to the land of Moriah. Along the way, his eyes are opened to the mountain he and Isaac are to climb.

Here’s what we learn about Abraham’s faith in God:
  1. He goes. God said Go, and Abraham went.
  2. While the reader and God know this is a test for Abraham, he himself doesn’t know that much. Yet, his faith that both of them will come back down the mountain is evident when he says, "Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you."
  3. While he did not fully know where he was going, he kept his eyes and heart open and followed to “the place where God had shown him.” He didn’t try, at least not according to the tradition as we’ve received it, figure out on his own where to go.
  4. Isaac’s only question, “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” is met with a certain response by Abraham: "God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son."
I don’t know how much you’ve read about Abraham and his faith, but he doesn’t always have a stellar record of trusting God. But this time, his faith has grown. It is drawn out in this story. And more importantly, that faith is rewarded.

While this very famous, very well-known story, sheds some serious light on Abraham and his relationship with God, it sheds even more light on God’s relationship with Abraham... and us.
This is a story about God’s desire for knowledge about humanity. Walter Brueggemann, an Old Testament professor (and genius) at Columbia Seminary in Atlanta, said about this passage: “This is not a game with God; God genuinely does not know what is going to happen next. The flow of the narrative accomplishes something in the awareness of God. God didn’t know at the beginning, now He knows.” In other words, the test is as real for God as it is for Abraham.

This test isn’t designed to teach Abraham, or even Isaac, a lesson. It is designed to confirm a simple and deep truth: That Abraham trusts God and that God has Abraham’s best interests at heart so much that he will follow where God directs. The only one who is said to learn anything in this passage is God: “Now I know that you fear God…” (v. 12).

It’s a case of God needing the reassurance that Abraham’s commitment was unwaivering. Fidelity was not an option for either party in this. God has promised to make Abraham’s off-spring more numerous than that sands on the beach, and while God had been faithful, Abraham has had a few shaky knees here and there. So God could not use an unfaithful or disloyal Abraham to continue carrying out the divine plan. Which brings me to the next thing we learn about God in this story.

This story tells us a lot about God’s willingness to be vulnerable. We often talk about God's vulnerability around the Nativity and during Holy Week. But this is a great Old Testament story about God's willingness to be vulnerable. It presents a test not only of Abraham’s faith in God, but of God’s faith in Abraham, in the sense that Abraham’s response will have a direct effect on God’s next move. God is willing to lay the Almighty cards out on the table and see what Abraham does. God places the shape of God’s own future in Abraham’s hands. Eugene Roop commented that “God took the risk that Abraham would respond. Abraham took the risk that God would provide.”

So we’ve talked about God’s desire for human knowledge and God’s amazing willingness to be vulnerable. Both of those points lead us to talk about God’s trustworthiness. If God is willing to tell Abraham to offer his own son, whom he loves (and those words are used at least three times in the passage), the son that was promised to Abraham and Sarah by the three mysterious visitors we meet in chapter 18 of Genesis, it raises the question of whether or not God can be trusted. Yet, Abraham, without any recorded conversation with God, departs for the place of sacrifice, the place God will show him, because Abraham believes God can require Isaac of him; and yet, he trusts that God will find another route to fulfill the promises made to Abraham. Abraham shows his trust in God at verse 3 by getting up and going; and shows his trust in God growing with each step on the journey.

What we have in this story is a God who is far more willing to be vulnerable with us than we are with God. We have the story of a God who is far more willing to trust humanity with important decisions than we seem willing to trust God with our important decisions. And we have a God who desires nothing more than to know us better.

Wow. It started out as such a quaint little father and son road trip, didn’t it? But somewhere along that journey, whether it’s on Highway 61 with Bob Dylan or somewhere else, we learn a lot about ourselves and even more about the God who created us, redeemed us, sustains us, and loves us more than we can imagine.

June 12, 2011


Let the Spirit fill your sails and take you where God needs you to go!

Click here for the audio.

June 2, 2011

Ascension Day

The Feast of the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ

No text. Went off the cuff. Click here to listen.

And enjoy the pictures along the way.

My bike then (or something similar):

My bike now:

February 1, 2011

He has told you, oh, Mortal...

4th Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

Axl Heck -- "What is it that you want from me?"
Mike Heck -- "How about dinner with your parents."

God tells us in Micah what is required of us. The question is how much we are going to welcome God as our partner and our strength on that journey.

Click here for the audio and here for more images from "The Middle."

Micah 6:1-8

One of my favorite TV shows right now is “The Middle.” It’s on ABC, Wednesdays at 8pm, and while they did not pay Christ Church or me for this publicity, I’m going to give them a plug anyway.

It stars Patricia Heaton (from “Everybody Loves Raymond”) and Neil Flynn (he was the janitor on “Scrubs”) as Francis & Mike Heck. They live in Orson, Indiana, and are the parents of three kids: A very moody high school-age son, a clumsy and awkward middle school-age daughter, and a bookish elementary age son. All three kids have their own quirks, and all three drive their parents crazy. (But I’ll come back to that in just a minute). Each of the three kids (Axl, Sue & Brick) has their own expectations and needs and demands on their parents. They want their parents to be there for their every whim, beck and call, but they also want to make sure it’s on their own terms and not Mom & Dad’s terms. This, of course, can and does drive the parents daffy, as any one who has parented or otherwise worked with children age, say, 2 and up can attest.

Lest you think I’m setting up these two parents as flawless victims, I am not. They certainly have their own quirks that drive their kids crazy, often justifiably. But I want us to hang on this image from “The Middle,” and these three distinct young people, beloved offspring of their parents, and the demands and expectations of and from their parents.

By the time we get to the 6th chapter of Micah, the prophet has declared what tragedies would befall Israel for turning away from God, promising that things will get better after the difficult times have passed. Like the works of most prophets, Micah’s book ends with images of hope, and it is hope that has the final words. Chapter six, especially here in the eight verses of today’s reading, is a conversation between God and Israel. The voices in this passage are those of God, Israel, and Micah. God starts the conversation. Israel quips back, and God responds, through Micah, with the simplest and yet most poignant of answers.

God starts off by saying, “What have I done to weary you?” You can almost hear the exasperation in God’s voice and yet, like so many parents, the source of that exasperation is not the child’s actions, but the love the parent has for the child. God reminds them of their own salvation history, periods where God was closer and God’s activity is seen more clearly. God has done all these things and yet asked for seemingly so little in return.

There was this one particular episode of “The Middle” where the parent had bent over backwards and driven Axl all over central Indiana. Axl, in return, cannot be bothered to speak to his younger sister in public or even sit down for dinner with his parents. Axl says, in a voice dripping with teenage angst and rebellion, “What is it that you want from me?” His dad looks him dead in the eye and says, “How about dinner with your parents?”

In a similar way, thousands of years ago, a prophet recorded the words of a pesky and ornery people who said to their God, their creator and their redeemer, “What do we have to do to make you happy? More oil? More money? More sacrifices? Our first born?”

In the midst of this outcry comes the voice of Micah to answer the people:

“He 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?”

And what, really, does the Lord require of us but to do those three things?

Justice, or the word we’ve translated as “justice,” has a little bit different connotation than what modern America may be used to, especially if you grew up with John Wayne or Bruce Willis movies. Justice is about fixing the wrongs so that humanity can be in right relationship with each other and with God. If things are out of step or out of sync with my neighbor, then I am out of step with my God as well. Jesus is abundantly clear who our neighbors are. Justice is this dynamic concept that no only calls but requires the people of God to work for fairness and equality for all, particularly the powerless and those without anyone else to speak with them.

The word that we’ve translated as “kindness” is hesed in Hebrew. It is one of the most common words in the Old Testament, especially among the prophets. It is also used in scripture to describe “faithfulness” or “loyalty.” It’s one of Jeremiah’s favorite words to describe God and God’s actions.

God calls u and Israel to love God as God loves us. It’s not enough to maintain kindness and loyalty out of a sense of duty or fear of retribution. If we love God, then we cannot help but love our neighbor. And if we are striving to be in right-relationship with God, then we will walk with God. Some scholars have suggested that the word “humbly” could also be understood as “carefully.” So if we are walking with God, then we are careful to put God first. Our journey thought this life is very easily seen as walking with God as our constant companion.

Daniel Simundson is a professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN, and he writes regarding this passage:

“These key verses from Micah are about lifestyle, one’s total outlook on life and one’s ethical values. They reject the simplistic notion that there is one thing that (they or us) can do to make things right between God and the people.”[1]

While there is not one thing, there are several things, beginning quite possibly with a daily prayer that we want to walk humbly with our Maker each day, and a prayer that asks God to help us be more faithful and love kindness more today than we did yesterday and more tomorrow than we do today. It’s a prayer that asks God to help us return things to right relationship with God and our neighbors.

God has called and empowered us through our Baptism to all those things. The question is how much we are going to welcome God as our partner and our strength on that journey.

Like most good sit-coms, “The Middle” almost always ends with some heart-warming moment of family unity. Rarely do they get there without some major strife. The prophet Micah’s book ends, not with a rosy turn-around of God’s people and the cancelation of God’s anger. But it ends with a renewed covenant of faith and faithfulness between Israel and God, and the knowing that God will be with them to help them do those things that the Lord requires. It’s the same promise that remains for us today and tomorrow and next week.

“He 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?”


[1] The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Volume VII, Abington Press, Nashville, p. 580, 1996.

Waaay too much going on

I feel like I've been slack in posting my sermons, and no doubt I have been. I will have the audio for about three more sermons posted soon. I'm hoping to take a day in the next month or so and type up all of my hand-written sermons. It will be quite an undertaking, but I think I can get it done in a matter of a day or maybe a day-and-a-half.