The Beloved Community

The Beloved Community

Today, we enter the world of Micah… a prophet from the late 8th century…  just over 700 years before Christ.

And to put ourselves in Micah’s shoes, I want you to imagine with me for a moment a world that is under great stress.

Imagine pressure coming from an aggressive empire or state that believes their success is determined by how far they expand their influence and power and who will stop at nothing to do so.

Imagine attacks upon nations’ capitols.  Imagine an influx of refugees. Imagine increased social stresses. Imagine those attacks that were far away and in other places suddenly taking place in your own homeland.

 

Maybe we don’t really have to imagine, do we.

 

Like Isaiah, Micah wrote from the Southern Kingdom, Judah, and witnessed the downfall of the Northern Kingdom, Israel.    And also like Isaiah, there are sections of this short book of scripture that seem to come from AFTER the time of Judah’s own destruction and exile two hundred years later, possibly updated by others.

And that is because Micah, like so many of our prophets, is lifting up a timeless theme that is just as relevant today as it was 2700 years ago.  We, too, could update the names of nations and rulers and find ourselves right here in this text, right now.

The judgments and accusations against Samaria… against Jerusalem… those capital cities of these ancient nations… they could be leveled against Washington, D.C. or Des Moines, Iowa as well.

So let us hear them…  Let us hear these judgments and lift up our confession

We seek God in all the wrong places (1:5)… like Pastor Jennifer said last week, we often turn to everything but God in order to fill that God-shaped hole in our heart.  Whether it is the abuse of drugs or sex, Netflix binges or self-help books, we have a spiritual hunger that we seek to fill in so many ways EXCEPT by seeking God.  Forgive us, O God.

We exploit the work of others and we tear down their homes… even the meager homes and tents of the most vulnerable among us (2:1-2).  Here in Des Moines, we know the homeless are among us and yet our official city policy is to keep evicting the homeless camps, knowing that there is nowhere else for these people to go.  We do not have enough beds and shelter spaces or a long-term strategy in place.  Forgive us, O God.

We turn to prophets who say all the things we want to hear, instead of what we need to hear (2:11).  I think one of the biggest symptoms of this is the echo chambers we find ourselves in… only paying attention to the news or science or reports that we agree with and only being friends with those who share our opinions.  Forgive us, O God.

Our public officials who should guard justice are corrupt and take advantage of the very people they should be serving (3:2-3). No matter which sides of the political spectrum we are on, we recognize politics is a dirty business.  Unlike the political landscape of Micah’s day, we live in a democracy and have the unprecedented opportunity to hold our public officials accountable through our votes and yet, so often we choose not to exercise that right.  Forgive us, O God.

The pastors and religious leaders serve the highest bidder, yet claim to be serving and proclaiming God’s will (3:11).  Too often, our religious leaders try to whittle all of scripture down to a single issue and claim this is the only issue that matters above all else, and then use that one issue to influence our people and our politics.  I believe in doing so, we are neglecting the breadth and depth of God’s call to us as God’s people.  So for the times I have done this, Forgive me, O God.

 

What the prophet Micah offers to us are not simply words of condemnation and judgement, but also a vision of what true community in God could look like.  Micah calls us to a different way of living and being in this world. Micah paints a picture of the beloved community… a sort of antidote to all of the spiritual, political, and economic sins of our day.

That term, “beloved community,” was often used by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a description of the ends sought by the civil rights movement.  In that time of turmoil and unease, he relied upon the wisdom of the prophets to help show the way forward.  And because the goal of the movement was redemption and reconciliation, the only path forward, Dr. King believe, was a path of nonviolence.  It was the only means that would seek the ends of God.

He proclaimed:  “the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community.  It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends…. it is agape which is understanding goodwill for all men.  It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return.  It is the love of God working in the lives of men.  This is the love that may well be the salvation of our civilization.”

Now, that passage is from his 1957 message called, “The Role of the Church in Facing the Nation’s Chief Moral Dilemma.”

Right now, as a nation have a moral dilemma.  We have neglected the vulnerable. We demonize our opponents.  We are afraid of one another. We are unable or unwilling to speak out when we see our neighbors oppressed.

And, we, the church, are called to say something… to do something… to be active agents of God’s redemptive power in this place.

We, too, need to hear again the call of the prophets, the vision of God’s kingdom so that WE can live in the kind of way that might bring salvation to our civilization.

 

And in Micah’s vision, there are three things that we, the church, can do.

First, we need to stop waiting for our leaders and we need to go to the house of God, to learn from God and walk in God’s path.

We have to get deeper into our scriptures.  We need to sit with our bibles and in prayer and ask for God’s guidance.  If Pastor Jennifer is right, and I believe she is, that the moral famine of our world is preceded by our spiritual famine, then we need to start being fed once again by God’s word.   So make Sunday mornings a priority in your family and come to not only worship and fellowship, but get involved with a study.  Participate in a  life group.  Find a friend and pray together once a week. Ask daily for God to guide you.

Second, we need to set aside violence and bloodshed and stop being afraid.

We might not walk around with spears or swords, but our own weapons today include more than guns.  As Bishop Jonathan Keaton preached at our North Central Jurisdictional Conference, social media has allowed for daily combat.  We fire off shots like snipers towards unseen and nameless others.  We bully and taunt with a few taps of our fingers.  And we escalate conflict, learning war and hatred from one another instead of seeking the ways of peace.

Seeking nonviolent interaction with our neighbors or enemies is about more than refusing to physically strike them.  It is also refusing to impart spiritual or emotional blows.  It is about choosing to see your opponent as a child of God.  It is about choosing love over fear or hate.

And finally, we can live a life of worship.  A life, in our language, of love, service, and prayer.

Micah describes this life of worship, not in rituals meant to appease God, but in every waking moment we live out the greatest commandments… to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

We worship by doing justice.

We worship by loving kindness.

We worship by walking humbly with God.

Or as the Message translation puts it:  Do what is fair and just to your neighbor.  Be compassionate and loyal in your love. And don’t take yourself too seriously… take God seriously!

Will the entire world be transformed if we do these things?  Not overnight.  But we can never get to that beloved community… we will never see God’s kingdom lived out right here on earth if we never take the first step.

If you are seeking an instruction manual or the blueprints for the beloved community it’s right here:

God’s made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women.

Do justice.

Love kindness.

Walk humbly with God.

Serve. Love. Pray. Every single day. Amen.

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