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Established May 2009, Little Rock, AR

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A Matter of Identity

February 2, 2020

A MATTER OF IDENTITY

©Wendell Griffen, 2020

New Millennium Church, Little Rock, AR

February 2, 2020 (Fourth Sunday after Epiphany)

 

Micah 6:1-8

6Hear what the Lord says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. 2Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the Lord has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel. 3“O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! 4For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. 5O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”

6“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8He 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?

 

Psalm 15

1O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?

2Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart;

3who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;

4in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the Lord; who stand by their oath even to their hurt;

5who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved.

God our deliverer,
you walk with the meek and the poor,
the compassionate and those who mourn,
and you call us to walk humbly with you.
When we are foolish, be our wisdom;
when we are weak, be our strength;
that, as we learn to do justice
and to love mercy,
your rule may come as blessing. Amen.

 

       Dr. Howard Thurman (the black theologian who co-founded the first inter-racial and inter-faith congregation in the United States known as The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco, California in 1944) often spoke of “Beloved Community.”   Dr. Thurman used Beloved Community to express his belief in what happens when people live out their conviction that human dignity is the inherent right of each person as a creature of God.  The Scripture passages for today from Micah 6 and Psalm 15 offer clear guidance about the character required for achieving “Beloved Community.”

 

Micah 6 begins with questions that express Divine disappointment with a society that has forgotten and forsaken its promise and potential.  Through the prophet, God reminds the society that its people had been enslaved, despised, and belittled in the past.  But God liberated the people so they could be an earthly expression of Beloved Community. 

 

The people were not liberated to establish a nation defined by religious grandstanding.  They were not liberated to be defined by the grandeur of their religious festivals, ceremonies, and practices.  The message from Micah 6:8 is that Beloved Community results when people “do justice, love kindness (mercy), and walk humbly with your God.”

 

Psalm 15 gives us more insight about what is required to create and maintain Beloved Community.   Two questions are raised:  “Who may abide in your tent?” and “Who may dwell on your holy hill?” 

 

The Psalmist provides answers that are positive and negative.  Positively, Beloved Community is established and maintained by people who live with a sense of Divine grace (“who walk blamelessly”), who practice justice (“who do what is right”), who are truthful (“and speak the truth from their heart”), who reject wickedness (“in whose eyes the wicked are despised”), who honor loyalty to God (“who honor those who fear the LORD”), and who courageously fulfill their promises (“who stand by their oath even to their hurt”). 

 

Negatively, Psalm 15 also mentions that people who create and maintain Beloved Community do not lie (“do not slander with their tongue”), mistreat others who trust them (“do no evil to their friends”), do not gossip (“not take up a reproach against their neighbors”), and do not practice extortion and bribery (“who do not lend money at interest and do not take a bribe against the innocent”). 

 

Micah 6 and Psalm 15 set out characteristics that identify people as lovers of God. 

 

  • People who love and revere God practice justice.
  • People who love and revere God are kind and humble. 
  • People who love and revere God live with a sense of divine grace. 
  • People who love and revere God are truthful “from their heart” and do not engage in gossip and slander.
  • People who love and revere God abhor wickedness.
  • People who love and revere God honor those who revere God.
  • People who love and revere God keep their promises.
  • People who love and revere God do not practice extortion and bribery.

 

How should we identify a society that deliberately rejects those characteristics?  Can such a society honestly be called God-fearing?  Can a society whose leaders practice and give cover to extortion, bribery, deceit, dishonesty, and oppression be called just?  Can a society whose leaders ignore the truth be called honorable?  Can a society whose leaders distort and demean its own charter document and principles be called noble?  Does a society whose leaders refuse to keep their oath to uphold its Constitution deserve to be called “great,” “good,” “lawful,” and “just?”

 

These are not idle questions. 

 

The world has been watching recent and current events surrounding the impeachment of President Donald Trump.  The world knows that members of the United States Senate voted on last Friday (January 31) to not receive testimony from people who have firsthand knowledge about Trump’s attempt to extort the leader of Ukraine by withholding almost $400 million in aid approved by Congress to help Ukraine defend itself from insurgents backed by Russia. 

 

God also knows.

 

The world knows that our society has refused to know the truth, refused to do justice, refused to love kindness, and refused to walk humbly before God from the earliest days of its founding.  The founders of this nation falsely professed belief that all persons are equal before God.  Our nation has refused to do justice, refused to love kindness, and refused to walk humbly before God at every turn. 

 

Although the Pledge of Allegiance declares that the Flag of the United States symbolizes “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” the world knows that history and current events prove those words are untrue.  The world knows that we are not a just, loving, and kind nation.  The world knows that our leaders are not honorable.  Instead, we are like the people denounced by Micah and the other Hebrew prophets of his time. 

 

God also knows.

 

In the coming days our leaders will engage in more hypocrisy.  During the Super Bowl later today, the audience will be told to honor the nation and rise during the national anthem.  People will sing about being the land of the free and home of the brave days after watching Senators cowardly vote to not listen to testimony about corrupt behavior by President Trump.  Later this week, Trump will deliver the State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress and shamelessly declare that the United States is a great nation. 

 

But pomp and ceremonies cannot fool God, nor should they fool us.  The United States does not deserve to be called a society where justice and truth prevail. 

 

A society that snatches immigrant children from their asylum-seeking parents and pens them in camps does not love mercy. 

 

A society whose leaders are afraid to know the truth and afraid to act on it does not deserve to be called “the home of the brave.” 

 

A society where people treat self-serving obvious lies as truth and inconvenient truth as evidence of disloyalty does not deserve to be called “the land of the free.”

 

What should people who love God and live to create Beloved Community do in the face of what we are living through? 

 

One thing we can do is follow the example offered by Senate Chaplain Barry Block at the beginning of the January 31, 2020 U.S. Senate.  Chaplain Black boldly reminded the Senators in his opening prayer that we always reap what we sow. 

 

We should do likewise.  We should remind each other and our leaders that God is not mocked. 

 

God will not continue to be patient with a nation that has spent its lifetime lying, murdering, mugging, raping, and otherwise mistreating people. 

 

God will not continue to be patient with a society whose claim to greatness rests on injustice, deceit, and disobedience to divine standards of justice and reverence for all people. 

 

God will not continue to be patient with a society that knowingly elects frauds and cheats to the highest offices.

 

God will not continue to be patient with this nation. 

 

We should boldly say so because we are God’s people.  We should say so because we know how God wants us to live.  We should say so because we know the truth.  We should say so even if others don’t agree and don’t like hearing what we say.  We should say so in our private and public conversations.  And we should say so even when that means we will be criticized and falsely called unpatriotic.

 

We are people who love God and who believe in Beloved Community.  Beloved Community requires truth-telling.  Beloved Community requires that we stand with and protect the weak and powerless against the strong.  Beloved Community requires that we live as people of God in every breath and heartbeat, every private and public action, and even when threatened by hateful others. 

 

Let us meet the challenges of this hateful and lying age as God’s people.  Let us courageously continue to live for justice and love as people who belong to God.  Let’s glorify God by our faithful, courageous, and conscientious determination to do justice, love mercy, honor truth, and walk in the face of lies, fear, and hate.  Then we will be identified and remembered as the prophets and psalmists of this age.

 

God of Truth, we are glad to be known as your people.  Because we are your people, we seek your strength to resist the forces of deceit and dishonesty in our society.

 

God of Love, we are glad to be known as your people.  Because we are your people we seek your strength to show mercy, hospitality, generosity in a time of hatefulness, fearfulness, and meanness in our society.

 

God of Power, we are glad to be identified as your people.  Because we are your people we seek your strength to live and act with boldness in the face of threats against all who speak truth. 

 

Thank you for the example of prophets and psalmists of earlier times.  We seek wisdom and strength from you so we can honor you as Jesus did, serve you as Jesus did, live for you as Jesus did, and show the world the meaning of Beloved Community.  We ask this in the name of Jesus, Amen.