Sermon of the Week:
Love is Kind–Is Kindness Enough? (What the Lord Requires)
Part three of a six-week sermon series about Kindness and the Christian Faith, called Love is Kind.
Special Music: It Is Well
Hymn: God of Grace and God of Glory
Keywords: Micah, Do Justice, Walk Humbly with God, Jury Duty, Kindness, Reyes-Chow. #pcusa
Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-733469. All rights reserved.
I have only been called for jury duty once.
It was more than 20 years ago now,
Back when Brook and I lived in Chicago
and I was going to seminary.
I don’t really have any grand story to tell you about jury duty,
Nothing funny or serious or profound,
No secrets about how to answer the questionnaire
To get out of having to serve
Or maybe be selected for the jury, if you really wanted to.
Take your pick
Just some vague distant memories of receiving a letter in the mail
with where and when to show up
going that day to a large room with a several hundred other people
filling out the form that answered some questions about me
and then waiting around for a long long time.
This was before cell phones helped us pass the time
with podcasts and Tiktoks and Spotify.
I think I took a book.
We were bundled, randomly I think, into groups of 60 or so
And eventually my group was called for some particular trial,
And my group went into another room, what looked like a courtroom,
Where they explained a bit about the trial that our group was selected for…
And then, quickly and unceremoniously,
they took all of those questionnaires that we had filled out—
They had them in a pile—
And they just lopped off the bottom 20, just like that,
and told those of us that happened to be on the bottom of that stack
that we weren’t needed, thank you very much,…
that we could go home.
And, just like that, my civic duty was over.
I’m surprised, I guess, that I’ve never been called for jury duty since.
Johnson County, where I now live, says that they randomly select people age 18 or older
Who either have a driver’s license or who are registered to vote.
“Some people are chosen several times during their lifetime” the website says
“others are never chosen.”
Sounds pretty random to me,
But if I get called next week
after this sermon
I may have some questions about the algorithm they’re using.
I guess I’m fortunate enough that that was the first time I had seen the inside of a courtroom.
Since then, I’ve seen just a handful of others
Once was family court, to offer pastoral support for a kid I knew
He was in the middle of a messy family situation
Once downtown KC, to observe the adjudication of a dispute
between a Pastor and the Kansas City Police Department
some of you joined me at that one.
So just a handful of times, watching our particular judicial system in action.
Several of you have more experience here, I know
Attorneys and Advocates and others…it is where you work, or where you serve…
And I’m guessing you have stories you can tell…
Maybe you were part of a case, or had to go before a judge.
But this is all I know, first hand,
Along with the rare televised case we all might catch
The most recent perhaps being Derek Chauvin’s trial for the murder of George Floyd.
We’re not talking about Hollywood’s artistic recreation of the courtroom
A Few Good Men or To Kill a Mockingbird…
And certainly not The People’s Court or Judge Judy.
In this country, our judicial system, while imperfect,
seeks to provide a venue
where disputes can be settled
where civil and criminal complaints can be decided.
It’s imperfect, among other reasons,
Because the more resources you have,
connections, money, time, privileges,
the better you can get help to navigate the system
And perhaps the better you can have support
in avoiding the system in the first place.
It’s not exactly a place where you WANT to be.
Ideally, when it works the way it is intended,
the court system aims at fairness, and due process,
And is governed by a host of norms and rules and structure
That seeks to do right by those on all sides,
To seek the truth, to pursue the good,
Again, imperfect though it might be.
We start here, this morning,
Because it might be the closest modern analogy
To help us understand the context
Of our reading this morning from the Prophet Micah.
Micah was likely written in the 8th century BCE, the 700s,
Though we don’t quite know exactly when,
But it is roughly near the time when Israel and Judah, the two kingdoms
Were near their final days.
Micah lived roughly around the same time as Isaiah, and Amos, and Hosea,
And he is mainly addressing Jerusalem, anticipating its fall,
And, eventually, in the distant future, the restoration of Judea.
Like many of the prophets, the word that Micah offers is harsh, and sharp,
Rebuking the people of God for their dishonesty and faithlessness.
It isn’t very pleasant reading,
But when you do read through it
You get a sense of how serious God is
about the kind of society we human beings construct
How we treat one another
How we treat ourselves.
Micah, like many of those other prophets,
Asks us to look inward, at our spiritual health,
About how what we do and how we treat one another
Impacts our integrity, our own happiness
And our relationship with God.
It’s interesting, at least to me, how, at least in the Hebrew Bible, in the Old Testament,
This inquiry is focused at society broadly understood
How the people, collectively, are doing
In their relations with each other and, importantly, with God.
And in Micah we see this come to a crescendo,
here in Chapter 6,
when the author paints a picture of a courtroom,
of a formal hearing
where God directly challenges the people.
Hear what the Lord says;
Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
And let the hills hear your voice.
Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord,
And you, enduring foundations of the earth;
For the Lord has a controversy with the people,
And God will contend with Israel.
This is the ancient text saying “hear ye, hear ye”
or “all rise”
with the mountains, the hills,
the very foundations of the earth as the jury,
and twice we hear that there’s a controversy, a dispute, at stake here.
God will contend with Israel.
We should pause here, for just a second,
And note how remarkable it is that the Hebrew Bible
contains within it these critical stories,
these less-than-flattering discourses.
This is one of the unique features of the Jewish tradition,
among other unique features,
that I find so compelling,
so rich and useful and helpful
in the self-understanding of the Hebrew people.
As we will see in a few weeks,
Israel gets its name from Jacob
wrestling with the holy one at Penuel
and ever since the identity of the Hebrew People
as those who strive
imperfectly, haltingly, but steadfastly, to find improvement
through wrestling with God
facing their imperfections
working to do better through introspection and correction
sometimes even rebuke and contrition and recompense…
It is honorable and commendable.
Not everyone understands their relationship to God this way.
Too many people see God only in their own image,
to support their power
or their benefit
or their church
or their nation
or their clan
or their party.
Too many people only want OTHERS to wrestle with God,
while failing to take the log out of their own eye.
But again and again, the Prophets call the people to pay attention to the good, and the bad
And here, in Micah, we have a really great example of this.
God convenes a hearing,
Where the very covenant between God and Israel is put to the test.
The mountains and the hills and the firmament are the jury
God’s people, the defendant…
“O my people,
What have I done to you?
In what have I wearied you?
Answer! Answer me!
Look: I brought you up from Egypt
Gave you faithful leaders: Moses, Aaron, Miriam
Was with you through your struggles…
It is reasonable to ask what it was that caused God to be concerned in the first place.
What were the people doing?
Where did they go wrong?
Well, Micah mentions several things in this book,
Dishonest business practices and greed,
A growing wealth gap, leaving many people poor and suffering,
Religious and secular officials abusing their office, taking bribes,
The community’s idolatry and failing to follow God’s commandments.
And God sees that all of this is creating an unjust society,
A divided people
A challenge to stability and opportunity and the fullness of life
That God wants for God’s people…
And so God drags them into court
And asks them: what happened?
Micah doesn’t have the people answer that question.
Apparently, the whole thing has them shook.
There aren’t excuses. There’s no passing the blame.
There’s no fancy tricks to get the case thrown out on a technicality.
Not here, at any rate.
There’s only acknowledgment that God has a point.
The people see that they’ve broken covenant with God.
The second part of the reading, what follows
Is maybe the most poignant part,
The part where the people, seeing the error of their ways,
Grieving, perhaps, what they’ve allowed themselves to become,
seek to find a way to make things right.
And for a society that leans on its ritualistic practices,
They ask God if that’s what will help.
How about burnt offerings, God?
Calves a year old? We could do that.
Maybe that’s not enough.
How about rams? Those are rarer, more powerful, more expensive.
How about thousands of Rams?
What about oil? Oil is often poured at a sacrifice.
Will oil work?
How about ten thousands of rivers of oil….
Tens of thousands of rivers? Really?
We’re getting into hyperbole here, are we not. This is getting to be a bit much.
Note well, though:
This offer is not a joke.
It is not that the people are not taking this seriously,
but precisely that they
see the significant depths of the break they have made with God
and with their understanding of what makes for a good and true and fair and right society.
They see it, and they just don’t know how to make it right.
So how about thousands and thousands and thousands of rivers of oil?
That seems like about as much as we could imagine.
But, no, maybe there’s more.
And they offer it, horribly, to our modern ears,
Maybe our firstborn, maybe we could offer our firstborn,
Would that do it? Would that make things right?
Remember, my friends,
That The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
put an end to that terrible practice, infanticide,
Way back in Genesis.
But it was still something that nearby cultures and people did.
To have it asked here must have pained the Heart of God.
And was a sign of how deeply troubled the people were
about the need to make things right.
And God stops it, right there,
And re-focuses the people instead
with the moral of this story.
Many of you may have recognized that last verse.
It’s a favorite of mine:
God 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?
We’re in the middle of this sermon series on Kindness
And this is one of the most profound teachings about Kindness anywhere in all of Scripture.
We’ve talked about what kindness means,
How it isn’t niceness,
How it isn’t passivity,
But Kindness is treating others as human beings,
as worthy of dignity and respect and compassion,
and not for one’s own benefit, but for theirs.
And we’ve also explored how kindness isn’t something that you give
only when you expect to get it back in return
that Kindness isn’t meant to be conditional.
You are kind because the humanity of the other person demands it.
And in this way it is a fruit of the spirit, like love and joy and peace and goodness.
Great. Love me some fruit of the spirit.
Give me some of that juicy kindness!
But is that enough?
Is it enough?
Well, no, according to Micah.
God has told you 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?
Here, Kindness is inexorably linked to the DOING of justice and the path of HUMILITY.
They are three legs of a stool,
And without all three, the stool will fall over.
Kindness and Humility, without Justice,
allows the unjust and the powerful to abuse the weak.
Kindness and the pursuit Justice, without Humility,
Invites us to mistake our vision of justice for God’s.
And the pursuit of Justice and the walk of humility,
is impersonal and unmerciful and fails to seek the common good,
the healing of society, healing both for those harmed, and for the perpetrators of harm.
Kindness is essential here. But it isn’t enough. We need justice and humility too.
One of the dangers, in talking about Kindness,
Is that people mistake Kindness for a kind of passivity
Where one chooses not to make waves, not to rock the boat,
In order to avoid conflict or discord.
Bruce Reyes-Chow, in his book In Defense of Kindness
Reminds us that this kind of thinking gets things backwards:
“It is not kindness to avoid conflicts and difficult conversations
With those close to you at work, family, school, and community.
This culture of merely ‘getting along’ and ‘not making waves’
Preserves the status quo.
It allows resentments to fester,
Bad behavior to be rewarded,
And pain to go unhealed.”[i]
Again, kindness is not what we mean by just being nice, or passive, or quiet.
Kindness is treating others with dignity and humanity,
And that includes creating and maintaining a just culture
Or working for one to come to be.
And Kindness is working with humility,
Seeing the limits and the mistakes and the room for growth
we each have in this work
Seeking to amplify the ideas and the wisdom of others along the way
And, ultimately, to walk with that selfsame posture with GOD
The one who covenants with God’s people
With a love that, even through trial and strain and difficulty,
Is never, ever, ever broken.
When we can do that,
We have a chance at bringing healing and reconciliation to our world.
I have a memory feature on facebook.
If you use facebook, you probably do too.
Sometimes it shares with me pictures of wonderful times of years past.
It also reminds me of what’s happened this particular week,
Things that grabbed my attention or my heart, Mid June, for example.
Time and time again this week, as I’ve been sitting with this reading from Micah
I’ve been offered many memories that serve as reminders,
at least for me,
Of how we continue to struggle after justice
Particularly in recent years,
And how justice, kindness, and humility would be really,
really good right about now.
Take, for example, June 17th, 2015,
That was six years ago this past Thursday,
I was reminded that that was the horrible day
when Dylan Roof walked into Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church
In Charleston, South Carolina,
And killed nine people at a bible study
in hopes of igniting a race war.
That was in sharp relief, for me, at any rate
With the establishment of Juneteenth as a federal holiday,
Commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans
Finally realized on June 19th, 1865,
Thanks be to God.
A long overdue holiday, and an important symbolic moment, to be sure,
Even as we continue to strive for practical and concrete ways
to end racism for good throughout our land.
Kindness demands no less,
And Justice and Humility are required to help bring it about.
I was also reminded this weekend how, on June 19th, 2014,
Our denomination approved a change to our Book of Order
Allowing clergy and churches to officiate at Same Sex marriages,
An act of pastoral love and support
That was years of struggle and heartbreak in the making.
Two years later, on June 12th, 2016, our nation would be stunned
by the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando,
where 49 people would be murdered
and 53 more injured.
We are in the middle of pride month.
Our LGBTQIA neighbors continue to seek recognition of their basic humanity
Which Kindness demands
And which requires justice and humility to help bring about.
There’s more, of course:
Harvesters, our local community food bank,
estimates that 387,000 people are food insecure in the metro area
That’s 15 percent, or 1 in 7 people in our region.
Our environment is struggling.
Crime is expanding.
Relations with our neighbors are tenuous.
All of these require kindness.
But they also require acts of justice and a practice of humility
All three, Micah reminds us, are what God really wants from us
Not the outward appearance of piety
Not going through the motions
But acts of justice
Love of Kindness
And walking humbly with our God.
Seven hundred or so years after Micah,
A rabbi named Jesus from Nazareth would preach a sermon
Where he offered the blessings of the realm of God to a people
Who also were on the margins,
Who were yearning for shalom, for a better life.
You are blessed, Jesus would say
When you seek after peace,
When you hunger and thirst after righteousness
When you mourn, when you are pure in heart, and you are merciful and meek…
Capturing quite poetically, don’t you think
This link between justice and kindness and humility that God is searching for.
You know, o mortal, what is Good.
God has told you.
This is what God Requires, nothing more, nothing less.
It is, as my friend Marci likes to say, all that easy, and all that hard.
May we, as we explore the fullness
of what a life of kindness might mean for us
may we always remember that respecting the dignity of others
means pursuing justice for them, and for all of us,
and may we seek God’s justice, practicing humility along the way.
May it be so.
[i] Reyes Chow, Bruce In Defense of Kindness: Why It Matters, How it Changes Our Lives, and How It Can Save the World (St. Louis, Missouri: Chalice Press, 2021) p. 35.