Thursday, September 18, 2008

Micah 6:8 Justice

What does the Lord require of you? It’s almost rhetorical, isn’t it… as if we should know the answer.

I hate getting into conversations with Christians who think they have all the answers. They always ask questions like that, What does the Lord require of you? and expect you to know the “correct” and obvious answer. They’re so dogmatic. And truthfully, God only knows what answer they’re usually looking for. So someone might ask you, “what’s the point of Christian living today?” and the answer they’re looking for could be any number of things… to worship God, be a living sacrifice, proclaim the gospel, usher in God’s kingdom, reconciliation of the world to God… “I don’t know, what do you want me to say?” I often ask, (I the minister) often ask. And then they sigh and say, “to proclaim the second coming of Jesus Christ.” Right. Of course. I knew that.

And so when Micah asks his audience rhetorically what God requires of them, I’m kind of glad he answers his own question.

To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.

But truthfully, we should have already known that.

Most of the prophets give us a similar answer. Social justice and humility. Love your neighbor and abandon your pride. Stop living like kings and queens and start taking care of the people around you. Get over yourself and all your stuff and reach out to those who have little or nothing. The book of Amos gave us that. It gave us the famous quote, “Let justice roll down like might waters!” And I always kind of snicker when I hear people repeat that verse or call upon it in hope. What they often don’t realize is that Amos calls out the mighty destructive waters that will bring in justice and righteousness against the Israelites… not against their enemies. The mighty waters will roll over Israel and they will be sent into exile as punishment for their sins. “Careful, careful…” I think to myself when people quote Amos’ famous verse. Unless you’re claiming that verse because you are repenting and seeking a cleansing of your soul, punishment even for your sins… unless that’s the case, I wouldn’t hold onto that verse for hope.

Now, if you’re quoting it against your oppressor, okay. I guess that’s alright. Carry on with your crying out, carry on with your warnings… none of us are listening to you anyway…

Are we?

• I mean, in 2007, 37.3 million people lived in poverty. What are we doing to counter that?
• Worldwide, 33.2 million people now live with HIV or AIDS. And 15 million children have been orphaned by the disease. Are we taking care of the sick? Providing for the orphaned?
• So far, more than 700,000 people have been uprooted by the brutal ethnic and political violence (i.e. genocide) in Darfur.
• Moving a little closer to home, in the United States, more than 2 million cases of child abuse and neglect are reported each year with an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 new cases of sexual abuse occurring each year. Oh God, how the little children would run to Jesus.
• And of course, the US is the Number 1 worst polluter contributing to Global Warming which puts us in last place when it comes to taking care of the planet. What a super power we are…

And so when Micah asks the people what the Lord requires of them, Amos and Jeremiah and Isaiah all come to mind… the Lord requires justice – right living. Living with mercy, loving kindness, hesed. And always acting with humility.

So when the beggars put out their hands and the nations put out the press releases and we hear the news of the injustice going on in our world, we need to awaken, o Christians, all you who have already felt God smile on you, and begin to smile on those around you.

Because people are screaming for help. The statistics are out there, but often the oppressed cannot do much themselves to change their situations, and so it is the responsibility of the oppressors to repent, and begin to actively work to bring justice to where it is needed.

Of course, justice is always tapered with loving kindness and humility. Which often, to us, makes it not seem just at all.

There seems to be very little justice in loving your enemies, unless you can believe that your enemies fall as far short from God as you do and therefore deserve just as much grace.

There seems to be very little justice in forgiving your debtors when that requires letting go of the debt … unless of course you realize that God’s forgiveness of you is contingent on whether you forgive others.

There is very little justice in letting go of the law but so much mercy in letting righteousness reign.

And so justice doesn’t always feel like justice because justice must always be coupled with mercy and humility. But as a very wise Hindu once said, an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. And so what may seem just may not always be right.

After all, the money from selling the perfume that a woman poured over Jesus’ feet could have been used to feed the poor, but that wasn’t what was right at that time. What was right was a woman honoring her king, preparing Jesus for his burial. Riches and wealth and knowledge and power are not inherently evil… but what we do with these blessings might be.

I want to tell you a little about where I live, what I see every day.

Every day I wake up and drive to work. I live in a sufficient house. I have enough room for me and my stuff and enough room for my pets and my roommate and even a guest if I have one. But when I get in my car to drive down the street, I pass what I call, “the house of a thousand children.” It’s a home about the size of my own, perhaps a little bigger that houses family and extended family numbering in the teens with the number of kids who live there. I doubt there is much supervision either as these five, ten, twelve children can be found riding their bikes or chasing each other in the street until 11pm on school nights. In fact, when I walked one of the boys back to the house last week, I met his father (I think) who said there was nothing he could do to help the boy’s injury because he can’t leave the house – he’s on parole. He motioned to his ankle where I saw the band keeping him under house arrest.

I drive further down the street and turn onto the main road where I pass several bus stops and a school zone. But almost every day I pass a prostitute as well. I know her by sight only, as I always see her when I’m in my car and have therefore never spoken with her. But always she is walking every day up and down the street, with little clothing (except in winter), skinny and always watching.

Then I turn onto the third street that takes me to a large intersection where it is not unusual to see a man in a wheelchair crossing the busy street going home from the grocery store all alone. Once the light turns green and I further my trek toward work, I pass Oak Springs, the elementary school where our church has worked many years mentoring, donating supplies and encouraging staff. This side of the school facing the street I drive down is pretty safe, but the alley on the other side of the building is gang ridden. The projects are just past the school at the top of the hill and every day I pass there I think of Mr. Morales who was murdered during Juneteenth a year ago. And I think of one of the youth from church who attend the alternative high school on the other side of the road. Then I pass the park and I usually smile at the respite of trees and green grass, a welcome change to the institutional buildings that remind me of the poverty I live among. Past the park is a small Baptist church with beautiful marigolds outside that always make me smile. But then comes the gentrification: the huge new condos, the kitch little diners and bars, the new restaurant that pushed out Ben’s BBQ that was so delicious. All of that is wrapped around the former culture: the Jazz Museum and Ebenezer Baptist Church and the building that used to house the ACLU. I don’t know where it moved to. And there’re banners on the light posts forever highlighting Black History Month no matter what month of the year it is, and I wonder how long they will stay.

Finally I hit the highway and notice the homeless man on the other side, standing at his usual post on the access road, asking for money and God-blessing people who pass him by. And I know I’ve reached the great divide. I35. The poor at this point simply become homeless and the rest of us are the rich, no matter where we drive in from, coming from our homes and going to our jobs or churches, or restaurants, shops or bars.

And then I park and enter the church and sit in my office and put on my sweater cause the Air Conditioner’s set too low and I write emails about mission trips and worship services and volunteer opportunities… And I forget about the economic injustice I’ve just spent 10 minutes in the car sighing over and I begin to combat the spiritual justice issues of students with low self-esteem and mental health disorders, young adults struggling with pride or maybe pornography. Smart people wondering how to use their education to effect change in the world. Busy people wondering how to make a living but still have fun. Parents lamenting their two and three year olds who try their patience. Rich people complaining about paying for their kids college education. Bored people gossiping about who broke up with who and did you hear what so and so did. Happy people who are always smiling and never grieving. Sad people who are never content with the Spirit of God. Stoic people afraid to be broken. Broken people afraid to be fixed. Particular people who prefer their paradigms and would prefer if we didn’t sing any of those contemporary songs on Sundays. And while some of these issues are legitimate and some are exaggerated and some are just silly, sometimes I want to scream, “I passed a prostitute on my way to work today!”

I don’t know what that means. I guess it just means that sometimes I’m desperate. I don’t know who to fix first, where to go next, what to say now.

But then I’m reminded that I can’t fix any of this, and certainly not alone. And so sometimes, I lavish my college students with gifts at their back to school party and sometimes I scold them for not tithing or giving time to charity work. Sometimes I have to let people feel the punishment that sin itself puts in their lives and sometimes I help my parishioners step away from the guilt and into the redemption. Sometimes I give money to a man on the street corner and sometimes instead I write a check to the Salvation Army.

And someday, damnit, I’m going to get out of my car and ask the prostitute if I can take her to dinner.

And maybe all the gaps will get a little smaller and my worldview will get a little bigger.

What does the Lord require of you? But to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God…


Patrick said...

Good stuff, Ann. Thanks.

jenA said...

well said, lady. I hope she takes you up on your dinner offer.