Micah 3:5-12 (NIV)
5 This is what the LORD says: “As for the prophets who lead my people astray, they proclaim ‘peace’ if they have something to eat, but prepare to wage war against anyone who refuses to feed them. 6 Therefore night will come over you, without visions, and darkness, without divination. The sun will set for the prophets, and the day will go dark for them. 7 The seers will be ashamed and the diviners disgraced. They will all cover their faces because there is no answer from God.”
8 But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the LORD, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin.
9 Hear this, you leaders of Jacob, you rulers of Israel, who despise justice and distort all that is right; 10 who build Zion with bloodshed, and Jerusalem with wickedness.11 Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they look for the LORD’s support and say, “Is not the LORD among us? No disaster will come upon us.”
12 Therefore because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.
I want to make sure that everyone understands that I often preach from what is called “The Revised Common Lectionary” or just “The Lectionary” for short. The Lectionary is a series of Bible passages that are laid out in a three-year rotation, supplying a text from the Old Testament, one from the Psalms, one from the Gospels, and one from the Epistles. The Lectionary Texts for each week are published on the back of your bulletins all the way at the bottom. If you ever wonder if I am preaching from the Lectionary or something else, all you have to do is check the back of your bulletin at the bottom, or even the Call to Worship, as the Call to Worship is often based on the Lectionary text for the week. If the Call to Worship doesn’t match my scripture at all, there is a good chance that I have chosen to preach from something else for that Sunday or for a series of Sundays.
I like to preach from the Lectionary text for a number of reasons. It is intended to help a pastor preach through the Bible every three years and it keeps me from getting on a soap box and preaching about the same thing over and over each week. If I preach from the Lectionary text, I don’t just focus on my pet peeves. Instead, I preach a more holistic, biblically comprehensive sermon. Ideally, anyway.
I say all of that because I want to make sure that you all know that I did not pick today’s text; it picked me. In all seriousness, if it seems like I preach a lot about issues related to poverty and injustice, it isn’t because poverty and injustice are pet peeves of mine. Poverty and injustice are pet peeves of God. These are issues that come up time and time again throughout the Bible, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.
Today I want to talk to you all about poverty and injustice because as children of God, as disciples of Jesus Christ, these should be issues that are central to what we believe it means to follow Jesus. I know that I might make a few people angry at me today or at least a little uneasy, but that is okay. I am not there with you, so you can’t throw tomatoes at me, or worse, throw me out on the street. If I only told you the things that you wanted to hear, I would be no better than the people that Micah is confronting in today’s text.
Our scripture begins in verse 5, and the reason why we don’t begin in verse 1 is because it talks about people eating the flesh of others and chopping them up and making a stew out of them. I sure hope that is a metaphor. Either way, if those people offer you something to eat, you would be wise to decline.
Beginning in verse 5 Micah talks about false prophets who seem to be telling people what they want to hear in order to get the things that they want. When the false prophets have something to eat, they are quick to proclaim “Peace”. As long as the people are providing them with bread, grains, and goats, they tell the people that everything is going well and that they are serving the Lord well and that God is happy with them. But, if the false prophet has to go hungry for a few days he begins to say things like “God is going to smite you and wipe you off the face of the earth! God is going to allow the enemy to come in here and wage war against you and those people will defeat you and take all of your stuff!”
These false prophets know how to manipulate the people to get the things that they want, and they want full bellies. And as long as the false prophets keep telling the people that they are doing really well at keeping the Law and making God happy, the false prophets keep getting what they want. But if they start to challenge the people to change or to think or live differently, they ain’t getting too much to eat.
Just look at all of the true prophets throughout the Old Testament. People like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel were rejected by the people. They were made to be social outcasts. Isaiah 50:6 says, “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.” Whether this happened to Isaiah or if Isaiah was prophesying what would happen to Jesus, we can’t say for sure. But they didn’t treat Jesus too well when he started pointing out that people were failing to follow God’s commandments as they were intended to be followed either.
So these false prophets that were only out to make a buck or fill their tummies were just telling the people the things that they wanted to hear. And as we enter into November, election month, this shouldn’t be completely unfamiliar to us. These false prophets are a lot like the politicians that say one thing during election season just to get your vote, even though they know it probably isn’t true.
So Micah comes in and he calls these false prophets out for what they are. And he says that nighttime and darkness is going to come over these false prophets, which seems to be a metaphor for God cutting them off from any kind of vision or revelation. Evidently, at some point, these prophets were true prophets of God. But when they found out that the gift that they had been given could be misused for their own advantage, they went to the dark side of the force.
But not Micah. He says that he is filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord. He isn’t going to beat around the bush. He is going to come right out and say it. And beginning in verse 9, he does. “Hear this, you leaders of Jacob, you rulers of Israel, who despise justice and distort all that is right; who build Zion with bloodshed, and Jerusalem with wickedness. Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they look for the LORD’s support and say, “Is not the LORD among us? No disaster will come upon us.” “Therefore because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.”
The NRSV says, “[You] abhor justice and pervert all equity.” Zion, that is Jerusalem, is built with bloodshed. The leaders are corrupt, the priests can be bought at a price, the prophets we already mentioned, and they are all like, “It’s all good, we’ve got God on our side.” Micah says they are only kidding themselves; God isn’t fooled. And all of this stuff is going to catch up to them and Jerusalem will fall.
There is a huge division in our nation along political boundaries. We have the Right and the Left, the Republicans and the Democrats. And perhaps you have noticed this, but these two entities have problems getting along. Especially come November. And next year, a presidential election year, is only going to be worse. Even when politicians are trying to take the high road, they often sling a little mud at the other candidates. I heard a radio ad on…well…the radio this week by a guy that repeatedly said things like “I refuse to fight dirty. I refuse to sling mud. I refuse to take the low road and instead I will take the high road.” I appreciate that, but just in saying that you are suggesting that your opponent is not going to refuse to fight dirty, sling mud and take the low road. Even in being “nice” this guy was taking a few jabs at his opponent, like, “I’m not going to be like so-and-so…”
As entertaining as all of this political stuff is, it isn’t Christ-like. Every year I say it and yet every year I still see it, but I grieves me that our political stances seep into the church and corrupt the beautiful teachings of the Bible. When I started today by mentioning the words justice and poverty I am sure that a number of you started thinking, “Oh no, here he goes again, talking about this liberal garbage.” My point today is that we cannot let politics shape our theology. Our theology should be shaping our politics.
The false prophets in Micah allowed politics to shape their theology. They said that God was happy with the people so that the people would give them food. They said what the people wanted to hear, not what God really wanted to say. Theology needs to shape our politics, not the other way around.
For instance, issues related to poverty and justice are usually considered to be on the side of the liberals. So when I mention them in a sermon, you assume that I am being liberal. But here is the twist: when I speak of poverty and justice from a biblical position, it is me being very conservative. The Bible says that we need to be caring for those who can’t care for themselves. The Bible says that we need to work for justice and help the poor. I believe the Bible, so I need to be doing these things. That is conservative theology. I liberal theology would say, “Well, the Bible might say that we are to care for the poor, but really it means this…”
I think that too often we find people that think like we do in one political party, associate with that party, and then allow our theology to be dictated by our politics. That is completely opposite of the way it should be. We are first and foremost citizens of the kingdom of God, not members of a political party. This might mean that we don’t fit nicely into one category or another. I don’t care about categories like liberal or conservative. I care about faithfulness.
So what does it mean to work for justice? Does this mean that we rubber stamp every social reform bill that comes out of Congress? No chance. Here is the thing that puts us in a bit of a tough place. We are to work for justice, but justice doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is welcome to a handout. We are also called to be good stewards.
The Bible talks about helping the poor, the widows, the orphans, the aliens, but the Bible also tells us that the one that doesn’t work doesn’t eat. The Bible doesn’t endorse laziness. The Bible teaches us to help those that can’t help themselves and to encourage those that can work to do so.
I know plenty of people that can’t work for a number of reasons. There are people who are physically or mentally disabled. There are people who are crushed by medical bills and there are people that have made bad financial decisions and purchased more house than they could afford. There are people who have lost their jobs because of the economy and have had to take on low paying jobs just to make ends meet. A new term that has come about in the last few years is “the working poor”. These are people that are working 50+ hours a week at a dead-end job to put food on the tables for their children and just can’t seem to be able to get ahead. These are the kinds of people that I think we are called as followers of Jesus Christ to help. God calls us to help those who can’t help themselves, not those that choose not to help themselves.
I don’t have all of the answers as to how we go about fixing the injustices of this world. The fact is that there are people that abuse the system and ruin it for those who really need the help. But we can’t let those who abuse the system cause us to stop trying to do what God has called us to do. Perhaps we just need to be more creative.
The last few weeks we have been hearing a lot about the Occupy Wall St. movement. This is a movement of protests around the world, protests for justice in the work place, protests for justice in education, and protests for justice in the economy. I think that the Occupy Wall St. has done some good in revealing some of the injustices in our corporate world. This movement has revealed some of the greed of the executives of business firms and banks. I am sure that many of us have learned some interesting stats from these demonstrations. And if bringing these injustices to our attention is all that the Occupy Wall St. movement is seeking to do, then they are being successful. But I believe that if they really want to be successful, if they really want to enact change in the world, we all need to start doing more.
If you believe that a company doesn’t pay fair wages, stop buying products from that company and send the CEO a letter telling him or her why. If you believe a bank practices unfair lending, don’t bank with them. This might cost more in the short run, but are we sacrificing faithfulness to God for a cheaper t-shirt?
The Bible tells us that we are to be concerned with the well-being of our neighbors. Social issues are not a liberal issue, they are a biblical issue. I believe that we need to continue to find ways to help those who can’t help themselves while encouraging those that can do something about their situation to do so. It isn’t a Republican issue or a Democratic issue. It is a justice issue; it is a Christian issue.