What do you want, God?
This week’s sacred story comes from the prophet Micah, specifically Micah [1:3-5]; 5:2-5a; 6:6-8 . For the full story, read here.
Isn't it amazing how bargaining with God and bribery in general remains pretty much the same whether you're in the ancient Middle East or modern day Texas? As a parent, I am not 100% against bribery - a system of popsicle-based rewards has its place. And as a human, I am not immune to this habit of trying to make God exist on my terms. It starts of fairly reasonable. With what shall I come before God on high? Burnt offering and yearling livestock is pretty standard and actually a part of the ancient tradition. But when that hasn't made me feel good enough, things start to get desperate - more extreme and ultimately ridiculous? Thousands of rams? Who even has that? Rivers of oil? Ain't nobody in the world got that. Perhaps we even come to the point of trying to appease and/or control God with our bodies or the bodies of others. We wake up hungover from exhaustive attempts to be happy, or worthy, or in charge of it all and make offers that we still don't have the ability to keep.
You may not try offer God rivers of oil or your first born, but we try plenty of other things. Even if our head knows better, our broken hearts tell us that maybe….maybe we'd actually have value to God and the world if we just volunteered more, if we read the right articles, if we stayed sober longer, if we called our parents more, if we were nicer, if we put on a better show of how good we are.
When we are subject to the world, the answer to salvation is that we can always be and do more, more, more. We transfer that system onto God and we expect that God must also want bigger and better from us in order for us to belong. The prophet Micah reminds the people what we always seem to forget - that God’s love and will for us is not up in some lofty far off place, but all around us, right in front of us. God’s way is not always grand and dramatic, it is most often simple and steady. Like last week with Naaman - healing didn't happen with some over the top gesture or fancy quest, but simply to go and wash in the river. Micah tells us that in this same way of being - the child who will be born – the Christ, comes not from the biggest baddest tribe of Israel, but one of the smallest.
With so much happening in the world, ANOTHER mass shooting in Thousand Oaks when we’re still reeling for the one in Pittsburgh, and then whole towns destroyed by fires just up the road from there, remembering our veterans who take great risks in the name of the well being of others, who do not always come back whole, remembering the 89th anniversary of atrocities like Kristallnacht when hateful rhetoric and anti-Jewish legislation bubbled over into mass violence, killing, and destruction of Jewish life, ...with all this, plus our own messes...
we want God do something, or tell us what to do...anything! And ideally, the magic solution to it all would also somehow also make us the heroes and the saviors of our own souls. What do you want from us God? Shall we solve global warming? cure all diseases? Find the solution to gun violence? Drive out every speck of racism? Fix every broken heart? Snap our fingers and end addiction?
In a world where we’re wrestling with the lines between truth and falsehoods, trying desperately to have a definition of what is good – here we already have an answer:
Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly.
It's not grandiose, but simple. and yet...not an easy path to follow. Justice is slow work, but the beat is steady over time. Kindness isn’t dramatic, but is gently softens our own hearts and perhaps those around us. Humility with God doesn't necessarily change what's around us, but perhaps it changes what's within us.
What is justice anyway? Where have you seen justice rising? What are some examples of kindness in action? Where have you been humbled? Where have you experienced the humility of someone else inspiring you?
The prophet Micah tell us that all this doesn't just happen on its own nor is it anything we do ourselves, but WITH God. I find that when I’m scattered, frustrated, overwhelmed, confused I’m also usually ignoring God. Micah reminds us to make sure that we are still clearing space to see our connection to God – in prayer, in silence, in community, but with intention. It doesn't necessarily change our feelings, but I think it opens us up to new ones.
Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God isn't really an answer to how we fix everything. That's what the child born in Bethlehem is for. But it does guide us in how to keep going day by day. For those times when it all seems too much and you don't know where to start, it's that playlist gets you putting one foot in front of the other again. It's that steady beat like the voice of Mavis Staples belting out “keep your eyes on the prize, hold on”
Sources of Hebrew wisdom offer it this way, saying:
"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."
We won't save the world or ourselves. We can't. We don't have to. God has already done that for us all. God declares us good from the beginning and shows us what good can do, day by day.