January 19, 2014
Middle School Gathering closing
All this weekend, you’ve all been getting to know each other and getting to do some really great stuff. I heard about some of the service projects you did yesterday and about some of the really neat people you’ve gotten to talk to. I hope it’s been a wonderful, and maybe eye-opening experience for all of you.
The theme of this weekend has centered around the verse Micah 6:8 and has been about exploring what it means to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. This is really important stuff! And the reason why we focus on it isn’t just that we all want to be nice people — it’s more than that. These are the things that make us who we really are — they’re the things that set us apart as children of God.
Now, Micah, the guy who — as you may have guessed — wrote the book of Micah, belonged to a group of people we call the prophets. Anybody heard about the prophets? You’ve probably learned a little about them in confirmation. Now, we often think about a “prophet” as being someone who predicts the future, but that’s not all they do. Micah himself made some very important prophecies, but even more importantly, Micah’s job was to be open to the Word of God and to share it with God’s people — not just words for the future, but for the present, too. And the people didn’t always want to listen. When Micah wrote the words of our verse, Micah 6:8, he was reminding the people of what God is really asking of them. “God has already told you what is good,” Micah says, “And what else does God ask of you except to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?”
The ancient Israelites had lost sight of what it meant to be God’s people — they made offerings and went to the temple to worship and offer sacrifices, but outside of the temple, they worshipped other gods, and treated each other badly and took advantage of the poor and needy. So Micah went to them to say, “you guys have kind of got this backwards. God isn’t asking you for these big showy sacrifices, or for any kind of material goods. God really just wants you to be kind to each other and to make sure that everyone is treated fairly. *That’s* what this whole ‘people of God’ business is all about.”
Now, Micah wrote this stuff down a LONG time ago — he was actually born over 700 years before Jesus was around — but the ancient Israelites listened to him and took his message seriously, and generation after generation, century after century, God’s people have passed along these words so that we, and everyone who comes along after us, can read them, too.
And the reason we keep reading them is that the world we live in really isn’t all that different from the world of Micah’s time. It’s easy for us to forget that being Christians — being people of God — is about much more than making sure we behave nicely and go to church every Sunday and put something in the offering plate. Those things are important, but what Micah is talking about here — what God is talking about, and what we’ve been taking about all weekend — is so much more. It’s a whole way of life. A way of life that revolves around doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. Do, love, walk.
So this weekend, you’ve all been talking about what this looks like for us, in our own lives. Yesterday morning, you guys shipped out all over Omaha to do justice — you did all kinds of different service projects for all different groups of people. You got to actively help others and maybe you even got to experience life from a little different perspective than what you’re used to. What did you think? What did it feel like? What surprised you about the experience? Think about these things. They’ll help you to grow. The wonderful thing about doing justice this way is that it gives us a chance to get outside ourselves and start understanding the world from someone else’s point of view.
For example, you guys got to talk to Erin and Josh Branchaud, who are serving as YAGM volunteers down in Argentina for a year. They are doing some seriously cool service work down there, but even cooler is the fact that they are getting to immerse themselves in a completely different culture and they’re learning to look at the world from a different angle. They are learning that really doing justice means being in community, in relationship, with people, with the people we seek to serve. And especially with people who are different from us. They have gone where the people are in order to understand the way they live and to work with them to make things better.
And you don’t even have to go that far to find people whose lives are very different from yours. You guys also heard from Mosaic, an organization that works with people with special needs, and also from Matt and Simone Weber at Table Grace Cafe, about ways it’s possible to do justice and serve others right here in Nebraska. These are folks who looked around where they are to find ways that they could serve in their own communities. And they found really creative and wonderful ways to use the gifts and the talents that God has already given them to make the world brighter for someone else. This is something we can all do, no matter where we are.
Really doing justice is about much more than just giving people stuff. It’s about getting to know people who are different from us as neighbors and friends. It’s about understanding the systems that create inequality and injustice in our world and working against them. And it’s about walking alongside people and working together with them to bring justice.
So you guys know about doing justice. This weekend you also talked about loving kindness, the second part of our advice from Micah. This phrase is also sometimes translated as loving “mercy.” Thinking about this translation can help give us a richer sense of the sort of kindness that Micah is talking about. “Mercy” is a word we use a lot to talk about God’s attitude toward us. We talk about God having mercy on us because we are sinners. What this means is that God is more willing to love us than willing to judge us. So when we talk about loving kindness, what we’re talking about is having the sort of kindness toward people that God does.
Imagine what this would look like, if we were all kind to each other this way. God is so gentle with us, reminding us again and again of what is right through the words of prophets like Micah and even through the words of people around us now, and yet we know that we can count on God to be kinder to us than we deserve when we fall short. Imagine being that kind to all the people in your life — especially the ones you don’t get along with. Really loving kindness all the time isn’t easy. But it really has the power to transform us and change us.
Imagine even if we were kind to ourselves the way that God is kind to us — if we forgave ourselves for the time our grades weren’t good enough or we said that thing we wish we hadn’t said or did something we wish we hadn’t done. Imagine if we saw ourselves and others the way that God sees us — all the incredible gifts and talents and passions we all have that we could put to use. Imagine if we really treated ourselves and others as precious, holy, children of God. It seems kind of out of reach. But, as Micah reminds us, this is exactly what God is asking us to do.
And this kindness and justice are all part of the third piece of Micah’s advice — to walk humbly with our God. Now, being humble — despite what some may think — isn’t about thinking less of ourselves than we are. As the psalmist says in Psalm 139, “I praise you, God, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made!” When we are humble, we recongize that we have wonderful gifts and that every single one of us has so much to offer the world, but more than anything, we recognize that our talents are gifts, gifts from God, and that we are glorious because we reflect God’s glory. God gives each of us passions and calls us each to do extraordinary things. So when we talk about being humble, we are not in any way denying our extraordinariness, our specialness — instead, we are acknowledging the fact that we are special because God is special. It’s God’s love for us, our relationship with God, that sets us apart.
To illustrate this, think about your friends — just for a minute — your very best friends. My two very best friends in junior high and high school were twins named Amanda and Emily. Now, we were all born in the eighties, and there were approximately eight bazillion girls named Amanda and Emily born in the eighties. But they were special because they were my Amanda and my Emily. Just as your friends are special to you, and you are special to them. That’s exactly how God sees us, only on a much, MUCH larger scale. We are special because we belong to God. So when we are humble, we stop worrying about whether we are good enough or whether we are worth it — because God thinks we’re worth it, and that’s all that matters. We trust in God’s love for us and begin to focus our energies on loving others. And in doing so, we begin to walk humbly with God.
I want you to remember these things as you go back out into the world from this place. Think back on everything you’ve learned about doing justice and loving kindness and walking humbly with your God. Because it’s your turn now. When you go back home, take opportunities to get to know people who are different from you. Look for ways that you can serve and make a meaningful difference in your own community — ask the people at your church or at your school how you can get involved and keep this going. Try practicing kindness and mercy with people you know who probably don’t experience very much kindness. And above all, remember that you’re part of something much larger than yourself and that we’re all in it together. We are all loved by God and that makes every last one of us worthy of the kind of justice and kindness that we can show each other. So do good. Do justice. Love kindness. And walk humbly with your God.