A sermon from Micah 6:6-8
I usually do my grocery shopping on Monday mornings. I have Mondays off, so I make a menu for the week, make a list of what I need to buy, and take my kids to Sobeys.
Last year, the Sobeys in Steinbach kicked it up a notch, and they got new shopping carts in the shape of cars. Which my kids just love.
Now, these carts are usually in pretty high demand, and unlike Canadian Tire, which has oodles of kids carts, Sobeys only has two.
One of them is a red fire truck. And the other one is a pink racing car.
If they’re both available, I let my kids decide which one to take. And if only one is, well, then, we take it. Because who really wants to be stuck in a boring, grey cart?
There was one Monday morning when I was shopping with Zach and Milo, and only the pink racing car cart was available. So in go the boys and off we go into the store.
We start in the bakery, and then hit the produce section for our fruits and vegetables. Then we go to the meat department, but first we stop to say hi to the lobsters. At the deli, we take at least three of those little paper numbers (which the staff just love), and then it’s off to the dry goods aisles.
And the day we had the pink cart, by aisle 1, Zach, who was four, looked a little sad… almost on the verge of tears.
“Zach, what’s wrong?” I ask.
He pointed down to the far end of the aisle, “That other boy made fun of us for using a pink cart.”
And without a moment of hesitation, I came to my kids rescue by saying out loud, “Well Zach, that little boy can shove it.”
At first, I was a really proud parent… I was teaching my boys that they can shop in any colour of shopping cart that they wanted… We were busting gender stereotypes… I was not going to let peer pressure become bullying, and I was going to teach my kids to be strong and independent and make their own decisions, and let them know that THEY are not allowed making fun of other kids who choose different things than them.
“That little boy can shove it.”
By aisle 3, I was mortified that I would be simultaneously defensive AND aggressive to another child. That when “attacked”, my first response was to lash out… to give what I got. I could not believe what kind of negative example I had set for my own children. And I was embarrassed that this hostility towards another human being, let alone a child, was lurking just beneath the surface.
See, I love this morning’s Scripture. I love Micah 6:8 so much that Zach’s middle name is Micah, and we have a little picture on his wall with the words: Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.
And when we read these prophetic calls to peace and justice and humility, we all nod and agree. Like, who can be against peace and justice and humility? Who’s not for love?
So, maybe, a good question is to ask: What’s lurking just beneath the surface? Love? Kindness? Compassion and patience? Or enough defensiveness and anger and frustration that we tell other people’s kids to shove it?
There’s this Franciscan priest who lives in Albuquerque… In his newest book on love, he writes this:
“So we are the interpreter of what we see, fear, desire, lust over, or react to, and it is finally our interpretation of any event or encounter that prevails. If we do not have a somewhat-natural recourse to a larger framing, which is what healthy religion is supposed to give us, we will spend much of our life in very small boxing rings, fighting largely useless battles, all based on our unproven and usually self-referential assumptions about what is happening.
All this, in great part, depends on
- Which inner reservoir is ready and waiting
- Which inner reservoir is empty and begging to be filled
- With what, precisely, our reservoir is filled
This takes genuine and daily vigilance. It is the heart of all spirituality.” – Richard Rohr
What’s our reservoir filled with? And is it full? Is it empty? What’s lurking just beneath the surface?
When we work for justice, when we work for equality, when we share our resources, when we live and love people in our community, what are we anchored to? What source are we drawing upon?
Are we acting out of our own, small selves? Or something larger?
I think these questions matter, because if we get the answers wrong, we might end up telling little kids to shove it.
Or, we’ll end up wishing harm upon our enemies.
Or, we’ll end up letting our fears and anxieties determine how we live our lives.
Or, we’ll end up seeking power through any means necessary.
Or, we’ll end up believing that the ends justify the means, and in Christianity, the ends never justify the means.
If we don’t get the reservoir question right, we might end up responding to hate with hate, and in the process become the monster that we’re trying to fight.
It’s the difference between doing good poorly, or doing good better.
Here’s the thing about Micah. Micah was speaking to religious folk who were trying to do the right thing. They were trying to check off the boxes to know if they were pleasing God.
And so they asked: Shall we be bring you sacrifices? Are cows good enough? What about a thousand rivers of oil? What about if I sacrifice my child?
If this were us today ,we’d ask: Should I give some more money away? Even a whole year’s salary? FINE, I’LL COME TO CHURCH ON CHRISTMAS MORNING!
“It’s not about what type of offering we give so we can check off a box. It’s about a way of life.” – Tyler Mayfield
Hence why the first Christians were known simply as followers of “the Way.” A way of life.
Yeah… obviously, none of us here are into those pious acts that make us look good, are we? We’re not into empty showy sacrifices. We’re not into going through the motions of empty religious practices. We’re not into religiosity, right?
We’re into the stuff that Micah is talking about. Not religion, but justice and mercy and authentic love.
I get why we’d lean towards that, because I do, except that’s not exactly what Micah is saying here.
“Nowhere does Micah tell people to stop observing ritual practices or to stop being religious. The problem is not religion in itself. The problem is using ritual practice to excuse ourselves from the divine demands of justice and mercy.” – Amy Oden
See, this is one of those areas where I like to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy religion. And healthy religious practice can actually help us with our acts and mercy and justice, and help us do good, better.
Healthy religious practice involves showing up to places where we are reminded that the world does not revolve around us.
Healthy religious practice involves confessing when we’ve made mistakes. And involves confessing when we’ve been selfish. And when we’ve lashed out at little kids.
Heathy religious practice involves reminding ourselves that we live for the Kingdom of God, and not our bank accounts, or our own sense of security.
Healthy religious practice teaches us how to rest, and helps create spaces of silence, solitude and stillness.
Healthy religious practice reminds us to practice gratitude.
Healthy religious practice helps us pray for others, even those people who frustrate us.
Healthy religious practice orients us towards our neighbours.
These practices actually can root us, and help us do justice and mercy, better. And maybe even with humility. These practices can help fill our reservoirs with goodness so that when we encounter suffering or resistance or pushback or challenges or little kids in Sobeys, we can respond with love.
And, if you are blessed enough to not say mean things about other people’s kids, then simply pay attention to how you react when a politician you didn’t vote for wins.
Or all the times you give a person an eye roll and shake your head behind their back.
What’s in the reservoir?
And, believe it not, healthy religious practice CAN fill the reservoir with love and goodness.
And THAT is what I think is one of the cool things about church. When we view participating in this community as an opportunity to fill our reservoirs with good things, I think we’re looking at it through the right lens.
Church is not primarily a place to figure out morality. It’s not primarily a place to assert our own sense of rightness. It’s not primarily a place where we think we can go to please God, or be seen by the right people, or check off the right boxes. It’s not primarily a place where we get information.
It’s a place where we look for transformation.
It’s a place where we fill our reservoirs with good things, so that we can love, better.
It’s a place where we fill our reservoirs with good things so that we can go and do mercy and justice, better.
It’s a place where we learn love and practice love and remind ourselves about love.
Because God is love, and the Trinity is loving relationship, and that’s what we try to fill our reservoirs with. Love.
Not power. Not being right. Not empty rituals or really big sacrifices.
I recently heard a podcast featuring two of my favourite people that I follow on the internet. And yes, one of them is Richard Rohr. But I would not be doing my job if I didn’t share it with you.
The host was Hilary McBride, a therapist from Vancouver… just by talking she makes me want to share all my feelings and cry.
She asked Richard Rohr a question: What is it that you most like about being a Christian?
“You know, I think it’s the expectation from other people that I should be loving, and that the world should be loving. Christian, in many people’s vocabulary, and they don’t even know, is co-terminus with being a loving person. “Well, he’s not being very Christian.” I like living inside that expectation, because it allows me to go there, it pushes me, and it invites me to go there. And that we’ve kept that much of our brand name in tact is very exciting to me. That even on the unconscious level, most people assume that Christianity is still about a loving person. So that’s what makes me happy about being a Christian.”
Oh, thank you Father Richard.
The Lord has shown all you people what is good.
To act justly. To love mercy. And to walk humbly with your God.