When faith is doing
By Nathan Decker
In my humble experience, unless you are a lawyer, any day in court is a bad day. Everything about the courtroom experience is meant to make you know where you stand. There sits the judge raised up above you. There is the bar, which you are only allowed to cross if you or someone you know has gotten themselves into a fix. And hopefully at your side is a lawyer like Taylor, Eric or Witt to guide you through this part of life.
Today our faith is on trial in Micah 6:1-8. Like most preachers, prophets like Micah were less concerned with the Temple structures, committees or even who sings what in worship. Prophets were concerned with the connection between God’s way and our lives: where faith has skin.
Faith is doing. Faith requires what is in our soul, what God has given in our essence, the very heart of who we are. Otherwise we get put on trial. God begins with his opening line of questioning. “O my people, what have I done to you? I brought you out of Egypt. I redeemed you from the house of slavery. I made a donkey talk to its rider to keep you from being cursed. Why won’t you be faithful?”
Micah comes to our defense. “But what about all those offerings we put in the offering plate. But what about all those celebrations, Christmas and Easter. But what about our tweets in prayer, politicians quoting Scripture, and posting cute little memes with Christian sayings. Hey, how many times did we choose Chick-Fil-A over Popeyes! We did that for you.”
And God shakes his head. “I don’t want a thousand rams sacrificed any more than I want a thousand dollars. I don’t want you to gather simply out of obligation or your desire to hug your neighbor. Your wealthy are filled with violence. Your entire economic system is set up on oppression and unfair scales. You eat and you are never satisfied.”
Micah comes back, “Then what? What do you want from us God?”
And there it is, that famous line: What does the Lord require of you? Do justice. Love Mercy. Walk humbly with God. Faith is not a mental exercise, nor is it only a spirit thing. Faith happens in the real world through justice, mercy and humility.
Do justice. We think of justice as what happens in the courtroom, but it really happens in life. To be righteous is to do justice, to live in a way that creates equity, fairness and doesn’t steal anything or any dignity from other human beings.
A lot of times, I’ll see this illustration of a baseball game and three people trying to see. The first is tall and can see over the fence with ease. The second is just barely too short to see the game. The third is a little fellow who by no fault of his own doesn’t stand a chance to see any of the action. The reality is they don’t need three boxes that are the same. Equality. If all three are given a box, the first can still see, the second can see better, but the third is still left behind.
Some need more than others. Equity. Equity means giving the shorter person two boxes so he can see, and not even worrying about helping the tall fellow. But here’s the truth most people miss. You don’t have to take from the tall one to help the short one.
We are called to help the shorter one have all the tools necessary for them to build their own box. Empowerment. Given the necessary wood, nails, hammer and training, he can build his own box and be the best seat in the house. We are called to do faith by creating a more just world through equity and empowerment.
Love mercy. We’re called to love one another. Hebrew word here is “Hesed.” That’s the Old Testament version of grace. In the Psalms it is usually translated as “God’s steadfast love.” It is a chasing love. God never gives up on us. We are called not to give up on each other. In a world where we can unfriend someone with a click, we are called to love each other as human beings. Are we raising strong saints who can persevere under pressure, or are we bringing up a generation unable to disagree because they become offended by one another. This is true for conservatives just as much as it is for liberals. Love does not see each other as the enemy or someone to be beaten or conquered. In faith there is no us vs. them. There is only us. Love teaches us this. We are called to do faith by loving mercy more than loving winning.
Walk humbly with God. To be faithful, we have to be willing to be wrong. Abraham was wrong when he thought he was supposed to sacrifice his son, Issak. Moses sat by the campfire, hiding on the backside of the desert, and he found out he was wrong about this being his purpose in life. Mary thought there was only one way to have a baby.
Humility requires that we know our limits. I am not God. My interpretations of Scripture, my prayers, my convictions — no matter how heartfelt — I could be wrong. Humility is the starting place and empowers us to take the first step on our journey. Walking with God means being able to be who we truly are. No insecurity. No false bravado. No pride. Just being who we are created to be. We are called to do faith by admitting we don’t have all the answers and taking this journey with the one who lives in the questions.
Faith is not a mental exercise, nor is it only a spirit thing. Faith happens in the real world through justice, mercy and humility. Put your faith on trial. After all, it’s what Jesus would do.
NATHAN DECKER is the pastor of High Street United Methodist Church. Contact him at 562-3367.