Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Because Micah Loves Us
Not-So-Minor Prophets, week 2 of 4 A four-week series on the 12 not-so-minor prophets of the TaNaKh
Preached August 16, 2020 for the 9:30am Worship
Can any single person make a difference and really change things for the better in their community, their nation, or the world?
In these four Sundays, we are hearing 12 stories of 12 individuals who weren’t well known, but did try to make a difference. They are the so-called “minor” prophets of Jesus’ Bible, the Hebrew Bible. They were often resisted when they spoke truth to their people or to their leaders, but in the end, their wisdom and warnings were heard as true expressions of who God is, what God wants, and what God is doing, and therefore worthy of inclusion as Scripture. Jesus grew up hearing their words, and their stories.
Last week we heard from Hosea, Joel, and Amos. Today, we’ve read from Obadiah and Jonah. Next is Micah. If you’ve ever heard the imagination that someday, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore;” that’s Micah. If you’ve ever heard, “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel;” that’s Micah. Or if you’ve looked over the doorway from the Fellowship Hall to the Narthex and read, “what does the Lord require of you but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God;” that’s Micah.
Before we read and preach from Micah today, let’s pray…
Scripture Micah 2:6-13
“Do not preach”—so they preach—
“one should not preach of such things;
disgrace will not overtake US.”
7 Should this be said, O house of Jacob?
Is the Lord’s patience exhausted?
Are these (God’s) doings?
Do not my words do good
to one who walks righteously?
8 But y’all rise up against my people like an enemy;
you strip the garments off the peaceful,
from those who are passing by trustingly
with no thought of conflict.
9 The women of my people you drive out
from their pleasant homes;
from their young children, you take away
my glory forever.
10 Get up, Get out of here;
for this is no place to rest,
because of unholiness that destroys
with a grievous devastation.
11 If someone were to go about uttering empty falsehoods,
saying, “I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,”
such a one would be the preacher for this people!
12 (Still) I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob,
I will gather the survivors of Israel;
I will set them (all) together
like sheep in a fold,
like a flock in its pasture;
it will resound with people.
13 The one who breaks out will go up before them;
they will break through and pass the gate,
going out beyond it.
Their king will walk before them,
the Lord at their head.
(This is the word of the Lord… Thanks be to God!)
Sermon Because He Loves Us
This God created one people, blessed the people, and called the people very good. Now some things happened, and those people divided from one another, set themselves over or against one another. But God has created them to be one nation, one people. When God saw how some were enslaved to others in Egypt, this God brought them out of slavery, through the wilderness, and into the land God promised, so they could be again one people. They worshipped one God, if you forget that golden calf slip up. They had one set of communal laws, if you don’t count the 600 plus amendments. Eventually they followed one leader, King David, if you don’t count all the power struggles and wars it took to get there.
Then came a leader, one of the sons of David, Solomon. He bragged a lot about how smart and rich he was. Under his leadership, his wealth and his house got much bigger, but the nation, the people of Israel were divided against one another again, and split in two.
The northern Kingdom took the name Israel, and put its capital in Samaria. The southern Kingdom, Judah, kept its capital in Jerusalem, and built big walls around it to keep enemies and foreigners out. They each chose their own leaders. They each chose to enforce certain laws of God, and to write new ones against their enemies, and to ignore other laws they thought were less important. They established different right ways of worshipping God. They hated one another, laughed when the other had troubles, and neither sought to reconcile. 800 years later, when Jesus tells the scandalous story of a good Samaritan, he’s suggesting to Jews, people from Judah, that someone from Samaria can be good, even better than a Pharisee or Scribe from Jerusalem.
Amos, last week’s prophet, spoke to the Northern Kingdom, Israel, about the way it didn’t take care of the poor or the immigrants. They didn’t listen. Then, one year, the Assyrian empire invaded Israel, conquered Samaria, and exiled any Israelite that wouldn’t bow to the Assyrian King. 722 BCE. Look it up.
Much of Judah, the southern Kingdom, laughed at the demise of their northern rebel cousins. This week’s prophet, Micah, speaks to the southern Kingdom, to Judah, Jerusalem, its leaders, and to the cities of Judah beyond Jerusalem, and warns them, God will let that happen to you too.
As Micah watched, Judah was running the poor deeper into debt, underpaying them for their services, and charging them higher interest rates. That helped the wealthy take poorer people’s farms and houses when they couldn’t pay. More and more of the wealth in the country was pulled into the hands of fewer and fewer. Micah knew this was not God’s way, and couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t take care of the lower-paid laborers, and make sure to pay them enough so they can live debt-free with dignity. But taking advantage and not taking care of the poor, the stranger, the refugee, those in the city were risking losing it all, just like Israel did when their capital Samaria fell to Assyria.
So Micah preached this vision to those who lived inside the walls and gates of Jerusalem. “Don’t preach like that, Micah,” they preached. “We will never fall. Look at our city, our walls, our good life. God is obviously on our side.”
Micah is sad for the poorer ones outside the gates, but not because they have less. Micah is sad because they are not being treated justly, with kindness and compassion. Micah is mad at the wealthier ones inside the gates, but not because they have more. Micah is angry because they aren’t acting justly with compassion for the laborers. They aren’t paying enough for their work so the poorer ones cant keep a house, or food, or clothes on their back. They are evicting women from their housing, and putting young children on the streets.
That’s why Micah is preaching. He imagines what happened to Israel will happen to Judah. What happened in Samaria will happen in Jerusalem. But they tell him not to preach like that. Micah imagines they might prefer the preachers who would tell them only the parts they want to hear, “God has blessed you with all this. If you have more and they have less, that’s probably their fault, not yours. God wants you to eat, drink, be merry, and enjoy your life.” Those smiling preachers were running mega-churches and getting wealthy themselves and becoming would-be celebrities.
What those other preachers were preaching, it is partially true. God has blessed the people of Judah. God does love them, so much so God brought them out of their own slavery and poverty long ago. God did bless them on their journey from nothing to this fertile land, and promised there would always be more than enough here for everyone in God’s family.
It's partially that sometimes individuals make bad decisions or big mistakes, and the consequences of those decisions and mistakes are not the fault of the whole country or city or system.
Its even true that God does want us all to be able to eat, drink, be merry, be at peace, and enjoy the fullness of life God created us, in love, to live and enjoy.
Those are truths about God worthy of being preached, at certain times, to certain people. And Micah knows its also true that God expects leaders, those with more power or resources to use them on behalf of all the people, especially the older ones, the younger ones, and the more vulnerable. It is also true that God’s love expects justice, and God will hold those with responsibility or influence or resources accountable if they fail to offer justice to all people, especially the older, the younger, and the more vulnerable.
If Micah didn’t love them, the leaders and the people, the wealthy and the poorer, he wouldn’t preach. If he only loved the wealthy, he would preach the hollow love of God that has no expectations of justice. If he only loved the poor, he would preach a justice at any cost that has no understanding of mercy and gentleness. But Micah loves them all, so he preaches this. Still, some tell him, don’t preach like that Micah.
Micah wraps his arm around their shoulders and turns their faces from their divided ways, their animosities, and faces them toward a rising son. Micah imagines with them an end to the sides, an end to south against north, rich against poor. Micah reminds them of God’s promise, a day when all will be gathered, young and old, rich and poor, Israelite or Jew, living or dead. God will gather all into one flock, bust down the walls between us, bust through the gates that divide us, and all will be one again, with God alone as our common leader, the only one we follow and are faithful to. May Micah’s preaching come true in our time.
To God be all glory and honor, now and forever. Amen.
Now, Blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forevermore.
Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Pastor, Presbyterian Church of Chestertown