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Sermon: Putting the "Micah" in Micah Intern

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sermon: Putting the "Micah" in Micah Intern

Delivered by Paul Hartge on January 30, 2011, at Christ Church Waltham

Have any of you wondered why my official title is a Micah intern? Probably not, but let’s pretend you had. It seems a bit odd, doesn’t it, to name an internship after an obscure Hebrew prophet. Why not name the position, “young adult intern”? The answer lies in the last verse of the Old Testament reading for today, Micah 6:8, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God”. In my internship program, we strive to follow Micah’s threefold commandment through our vocations.

We are not the only ones who use this verse either. In the past ten years, Micah 6:8 has become a slogan for many Christians. The verse has been invoked in campaigns to fight poverty here and abroad including another Micah Project that does street outreach to children in Honduras. The reason this verse is so appealing is that it shows an alternative to the false dichotomy that is presented about Christianity. This dichotomy says that the Christian life is either about one’s personal piety and social issues don’t matter or that it should focus on fighting social ills and personal piety isn’t that important. Instead, Micah 6:8 shows that both are necessary. Working to create a better world and working to make yourself a better person, that walks with God, are equally important parts of the Christian life. And both should be done with kindness.

So what does it actually mean to follow this verse as a slogan of our faith? Does it mean donating to diaper depot, coming to service and doing a good turn daily. Yes and no. These are great examples of ways to follow Micah’s teaching and thus, to follow God. However, if it is reduced to a checklist, then the point is lost. One of the ideas that Micah is trying to convey in the broader passage is that God does not want us to follow a passionless checklist. Instead, God wants us to undergo an inner transformation that causes us to want to do that which is on the checklist and so much more.

One person who underwent this transformation, that I have been inspired by recently, is the late Archbishop Oscar Romero. From his writings it is clear to me that he answered Micah’s call with his life. He strove to let his soul be possessed entirely by God. Romero did this through an intentional and very deep spiritual life. This inner devotion eventually changed his outer work. When his friend was assassinated for helping the poor, he began to use his position of influence to speak out against the rampant poverty and violence in El Salvador. This ultimately led to his assassination. Now, Romero is almost universally respected as a modern martyr.

By devoting himself to God, to the point of Martyrdom, Oscar Romero lived out not only Micah’s description of a Godly life, but Jesus’ description of the Christian life, which he lays out in the Gospel reading for today. Like Micah, Jesus invites us to live lives of justice, kindness and humility. Except while Micah gives us a slogan with three key points, in the Beatitudes, Jesus gives us a cryptic and somewhat mystical list. This is a list that, as many have pointed out, seems to turn reality on its head. Even though these characteristics are often seen as important virtues, the world rarely treats these virtues kindly, or rewards them properly.

Yet, Jesus says that God blesses those who exhibit these qualities. Another translation of the beatitudes is “happy are those” instead of “blessed are those”. It still doesn’t seem to make that much sense that these characteristics would lead a person to be happy. But that’s just the point of the beatitudes. Working to further God’s kingdom in the world requires living in a way that society tells us will not make us happy. However, when we live this life, God will give us a contentedness, or even joy, that we would not have expected.

The question then becomes, what does this mean for us? What exactly does it mean to inherit the earth or see God and when exactly do these things happen. Are we supposed to act into these characteristics or just accept them when they happen? Sometimes, life thrusts these qualities upon us without our choice. We do not always choose to be mourning or to be in a state of poverty. Sometimes, these just happen to us. But we can all make the decision to act mercifully towards others, to cultivate a pure heart and to work to create a peaceful world. It takes a conscious decision to follow this radical way of life that Jesus calls us to.

I also think that we can live out the other side of the Beatitudes. I’m not saying we can force God’s hand. The pace that God works at is outside of our control. But I do think we can allow ourselves to be the vessels through which God blesses others. In this way, I think that the Beatitudes are not counterintuitive, but instead speak to our better nature. Who among us doesn’t try to comfort someone in mourning? When you hear of someone who is trying to work for peace in the Middle East, or in Sudan or the inner city, it only seems natural to call that person a child of God. When a young mother who doesn’t know how she is going to provide for her child comes to our doorstep, we can give her some diapers saying that this is part of the bounty of God’s kingdom, which is for you. Then, when someone stops you and asks you why you are doing this, you could tell them you are trying to live out the beatitudes. Or you could just tell them that that your life slogan is Micah 6:8.


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