On Thursday, I had the privilege of attending the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition (JRLC) Day on the Hill. It was my second trip to the capital in a week. I’m going back on Wednesday for the Pro-choice lobby day. Of course, my mind was on today’s scripture and Micah’s very clear view of our work. Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. The JRLC is an organization of Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims. Try getting them to agree on anything, right? Well, it just so happens that there are a lot of things that we agree on. The three issues we were bringing to our elected officials were these:
1. An independent judiciary—one that is not sold off to the highest bidder. In the wake of the Citizen’s United Supreme Court decision we have seen the erosion of an impartial and independent judicial system. It’s a key check and balance. It ought to be above party politics.
2. A fair and more progressive tax policy. Nobody likes taxes. But in a state where the rich pay the smallest percentage of their income on taxes, and we have such a huge budget shortfall, then it is the just thing to increase the taxes on the rich so the other 95% don’t have to pay more money that we don’t have.
3. The third issue was making sure that the most vulnerable still have healthcare, vital services and a safety net so no one will have to make a decision between food and medicine. 800 plus of us from all 67 congressional districts descended on the capitol to call for justice and mercy. I like to think that we did so humbly.
This has been quite a week of protests. Heck it’s been quite a month of protests. What began in Tunisia and spread to Egypt has now taken hold in Bahrain and Yemen. Each of these countries is calling for justice and the right to self-determination. What is really surprising and gratifying is the lack of violence in most of these protests. I fear it may escalate into violence. As Gandhi said of social movements, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight against you, then you win.” Martin Luther King was right when he said that the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice. And it bends with great courage, creativity and relentless persistence.
Now we see imagination and creativity breaking out Wisconsin and Ohio. In both states, justice is at the core of the protests. The rights of unions to collectively bargain is what the protestors are calling for. People coming in from across the state and the country to make this happen is certainly an encouraging sign. People using their voices and telling their stories. It’s what we call a first amendment solution. Whether they win or not, what is being mobilized—the movement of people calling for justice—is the thing that will be remembered.
When I went to the capitol, I was impressed by the number of people who were claiming their faith as the basis for their advocacy. And I think if we reclaim the core of our faith, then there is no telling what mountains we can move.
One of the things we heard from those opposed to tax increases was that faith communities who are into mercy ought to take care of the poor. Of course, we’re good at that, but think about that for a minute. For every $100 million cut from the state human service budget, every one of the 5000 Minnesota congregations would have to give and extra $20,000. Do we have an extra $20,000 lying around here? How about if the state cut $200 million? That’s $40,000 from us and the church down the street and mosque across town. You see where this is going. We must not confuse charity with justice. William Sloan Coffin said, “Charity is a matter of personal attributes, justice is a matter of public policy. Charity seeks to alleviate the effect of injustice; justice seeks to eliminate the causes of injustice.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said that the church must be about two things. Prayer and doing justice. If it isn't about those two things then it really isn't the church. I think he is right. Think about it: What does the lord require of you, individually and as a member of a body of believers, but to
Do justice. Do the acts of compassion; advocate for the voiceless; help create a better world.
Love mercy. In Hebrew, Mercy is Hesed which means the same thing as steadfast love. A love that is steadfast, that does not budge. A love that takes to the streets when people are mistreated. A love that is steadfast and powerful. We are called to prayerfully choose mercy over hardness of heart. Choose love over hate. Choose life over death. Choose healing in the face of brokenness. Love mercy. Advocate for the poor and the outcast.
Walk humbly with God. That requires a prayerful attitude. Remembering that all is from God. All we do is through God and all we are is because of God. It is also a process of recognizing that we are not God. We will be accountable for our actions and our inactions. As Jesus said in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, “For as much as you have done it unto the least of these who are my sisters and brothers you have done it unto me. And as much as you have not done it to the least of these, you have not done it unto me.
Prayer and doing justice is an appropriate model for the church in its purest form. It is from this backdrop that we look at ourselves as individuals and as a church. I look forward to continuing to pray with you, to do justice with you so that we can be the people God has called us to be.
We are good at knowing this scripture reading. We can recite Micah 6:8 as a piece of our elevator speech about being a faithful follower of God. It’s an important barometer to assess and address the world.
But I wonder, what does it mean for us to hold to this. We speak a lot about doing justice. We practice loving mercy. It’s kind of a broken record theme around here.
But what about that walking humbly thing?
What if we truly embraced the humility that God has in mind?
What if we truly saw ourselves as imperfect people struggling to become the people God has called us to be?
What if we believed that our enemy has truth that we have not considered?
What if we truly believed that God could use us all to forge a new and better course?
What if we prayed fervently to invoke God’s presence in our struggles and we remembered our fiercest enemies as estranged members of our family whose fracture with us breaks God’s heart?
The only way to move forward with a faithful witness is to envision that beloved community where we live into the very words of Micah:
“It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of YHWH shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills…and God will judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they study war anymore; but everyone shall sit under their vine and fig tree, and none shall make them afraid, for the mouth of YHWH has spoken it.” (Micah 4:1, 3-4)
This requires humility and it requires faith. And the result is the clear vision of God. It is us stepping out in faith. It is the faith that picks us up when we are down; offers hope when hopes are dashed; offers bread and roses; offers food and water; offers loving presence and solidarity and keeps our eyes on the prize envisioned by Micah and commanded by Almighty God.
With this faith we can move mountains.
With this faith we can see a brighter future.
With this faith we can envision our adversaries as our allies.
With this faith we can steer ourselves out of the mire and muck of turmoil to the bright freedom of beauty and blessing.
With this faith we can advocate for the outcast.
With this faith we can ensure that no one is left behind and forgotten.
With this faith we can remember our very calling as children of God.
With this faith we can do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.
What does God require of us? Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly, sure. But more than that, God requires of us to remember that we are not alone. And we have not been left alone. When we remember that we are not left alone by God or by each other, then we have the power that does move mountains; that blesses people; that beats swords into plowshares; that passes laws to preserve, not deny rights; that makes the rough places plain that declares the world a place of opportunity and beauty. A place where we see the face of God in our sister and brother, and even in the mirror.
For that’s what God really requires.
©February 20, 2011, Minneapolis MN