Justice: A Shared Vision

Micah 6: 1-4, 6-8Listen to what the Lord says: “Stand up, plead my case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say. “Hear, you mountains, the Lord’s accusation; listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. For the Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel. “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me. I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam…. 6 With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?    7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

On our altar today is a copy of Rodin’s famous carving “Two Hands.” In the museum in Philadelphia, Ann and I discovered the full-size carving of Two Hands. We were immediately captured by the impressive carving and the deeper meaning in it. Try something — put your hands together.  If you come and look at it you will notice that when you put your hands together, both thumbs touch. But the Rodin hands are of two separate people. Try this with your neighbor. Your thumb touches the other person’s little finger. I think there is a far deeper meaning to this carving than just two hands touching which will come forward in the messages for the next several weeks.

In a career that spanned the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917) was deeply inspired by tradition yet rebelled against its idealized forms, introducing innovative practices that paved the way for modern sculpture. The hallmarks of Rodin’s style—his affinity for the partial figure, his focus on formal qualities and relationships rather than on narrative structure, and his desire to retain the marks of the sculptural process on his finished works—were revolutionary in his time. BTW, a copy of Rodin’s The Thinker is located in the Baltimore Museum of Art near Charles Street.

For the next several weeks, we will be working with today’s Scripture Micah 6:1-4, 6-8. Micah provides for us not only a picture of what God requires of us, but it also provides for us a roadmap toward building the kingdom of Heaven here on earth.  This one passage of Scripture can also be seen clearly through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. One cannot learn about or follow Jesus and not see the importance of justice, humility, mercy, and love. It was evident throughout Jesus’ entire life. It should be for us as well.

In an increasingly polarized world, we will be using the Micah 6:8 lens in order that we might discover our commonality. This series will help model what it means to love one another while valuing our differences.

We know that Micah was one of the twelve minor prophets in the Old Testament. There are twelve “minor” prophets. These are twelve short-winded prophets. Each prophet is only a few chapters long. All these twelve shorter prophets could fit on one scroll. Micah is a little book, only seven chapters long and starts on page 1452 of your pew Bible.

The message of the Book of Micah is a complex mixture of judgment and hope. On the one hand, the prophecies announce judgment upon Israel for social evils, corrupt leadership and idolatry. This judgment was expected to culminate in the destruction of Samaria and Jerusalem. On the other hand, the book of Micah proclaims not merely the restoration of the nation, but the transformation and adoration of Israel and Jerusalem. The messages of hope and doom are not necessarily contradictory, however, since restoration and transformation take place only after judgment.

The prophet condemns the rulers, priests, and prophets of Israel who exploit and mislead the people. It is because of their deeds that Jerusalem will be destroyed. The prophet Micah proclaims the deliverance of the people who will go from Jerusalem to Babylon and concludes with an encouragement for Jerusalem to destroy the nations who have gathered against her. The ideal ruler would come from Bethlehem to defend the nation, and the prophet proclaims the triumph of the remnant of Jacob and foresees a day when God will purge the nation of idolatry and reliance on military might.

This really speaks to us today: Micah 6:8 — 8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Today, I will focus upon two of the words Require of you and to act Justly. These words are simple, and short and easy to learn. However, all of us would admit that they are hard to apply. Our human nature always questions requirements and justice.

What are requirements? Requirements are absolute necessities. You have to do them. There is no way around them. You might as well get used to them because requirements are part of everyday life. For example, one of the most important rituals of American life is getting your driver’s license. Do you remember when you got your driver’s license for the first time? Or when you taught your children so they could get their first license? Yes, that was a great day in our lives. Freedom. Movement. Growing older. A sign of finally growing up. The first driver’s license.

In Maryland you must have proof of identity and residency are required of all applicants for a Maryland driver’s license, and a learner’s permit. All applicants for a driver’s license are checked with the National Driver Registry. If your license is suspended, revoked, canceled or refused, you are not eligible for a Maryland driver’s license. Drivers must meet certain vision requirements.

In 2017, when Ann came home from Shock Trauma and eighty-four days at Manor Care we checked into Ann’s driving skills and her license. It would take about 8-10 lessons before a MVA person would certify Ann could drive. It involved several thousand dollars of extra cost. Ann decided that she would not drive again.  

Those are the rules of the game. If you are sixteen years old and not eighteen, you must take an approved driver’s education course that involves both classroom and behind the wheel instruction. You must have approval of a parent or guardian.

No arguments. No discussion. No wiggle room. These are the requirements if you want to get a driver’s license. Or if you want to travel internationally to most countries, you must have a passport and visa. Those are the requirements. Don’t argue. Don’t fuss. Don’t wiggle. Don’t try to get around them. These rules are requirements.

Get the picture? Life is full of requirements. Get used to it. No arguments. No fuss. No making a stink about it. Yes, we may complain, but there is no choice! We know that Micah was preaching at what I call, the “end of the good times” and just before his nation fell apart. There had been forty years of prosperity and peace. Forty years of prosperity and peace. Imagine that in 700BC. During times of prolonged prosperity and peace, people often forget God, ignore God, drift away from God. People got caught up in “the good life” for forty years and slowly begin to forget God and his ways. Sound familiar. Isn’t that where we are today? It was just before the end of the good times, just before the fall of Israel and Judah. In other words, the prophet Micah spoke to the people of God just before their country and their life began to fall apart.

We sometimes worry that we are living at this moment in our own nations’ history, at the end of the good times, at the apex at just before our country, the USA, started to fall apart. Seventy-Five years after WW II and we perhaps are starting to go downhill. We know how fractured our country is!

In Micah 6:8 the Hebrew word for justly is mishpat. MishpatJustice = Equality. Tim Keller says “mishpat’s most basic meaning is to treat people equitably. [1] It means acquitting or punishing every person on the merits of the case, regardless of race or social status. The word, mishpat, means judgment. It means God’s wisdom, God’s law, God’s judgment…that there would be fairness, fair play and equity within the human family.

There are nine words that are associated with the word, “justice,” in the Bible. Widow, fatherless, orphans, poor, hungry, stranger, needy, weak and oppressed.  In this list of words, you did not find the word, “rich.” Rich is often associated with injustice. You don’t have to worry about the rich, because the rich will be able to afford justice. Worry about the widows, the fatherless, the orphans, the poor, the hungry, the strangers, the needy, the weak and the oppressed. We are to work for fairness for the disadvantaged people of our world.

To act justly is to live with a sense of right and wrong, to walk responsibly before God, and protect the needs of the innocent. It is defined as, “the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness.” God calls His people to action when it comes to justice, not to sit passively or stay silent when others are being hurt, abused, in need, or feeling helpless. Throughout God’s word, we see constant reminders that He is a just God. Justice is a foundational truth to who God is.

I have two examples that I have recently experienced: My brother-in-law Steve and my son-in-law Tai. Steve is Ann’s youngest brother. He is 71. I have known Steve since he was six years old. Steve is autistic and deaf and functions as an early adolescent. Steve is smitten with women, especially younger women. Now he is very able to control himself, but there are times when the women take extreme advantage of his disabilities. He is an easy target. Several months ago, he was at the ATM at the bank. His companion from the Community Support Services of the Deaf was in the grocery store. As Steve was at the ATM, a young lady approached him. Steve showed her his ATM card and passcode. Then he gave her the card. He is very easy to take advantage of. Within an hour and a half, more than $1000 had be removed from his card. CSSD (Community Support Services of the Deaf) jumped into action along with Bank of America – the card was cancelled, and BOA funds were entered into a new account. Unfortunately, the woman was not apprehended, but certainly her actions will have consequences.

My Son-in-Law, Tai, was born in American Samoa in 1962. American Samoa had been an American territory since 1900 and in 1940 Congress passed a discriminatory law that prohibited Samoans from becoming US Citizens, they are Nationals. We can understand this because of the concerns about allegiance to the US given the proximity of Japan before WWII. His parents and Tai moved to California shortly after he was born and grew up near San Jose. When Tai was 18, he enlisted in the Marine Corp. He served thirty years in stellar service to our country. He had been deployed many times and was deeply engaged in the first Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Several of his best friends were killed. Once Tai finished service and settled down with Amy, it was time for him to vote, but he couldn’t vote – he was a US National. Tai had top secret clearances, fought is US wars, but could not vote. Tai had to go through the same process that new immigrants with green cards need to go through to become a US Citizen. However, when it was time for Tai to receive his citizenship. He was sworn in as a US citizen by President Obama in the East Room. At last — justice prevailed.

What does God require of us? Justice. Justice that looks like fairness, consideration for the powerless, the suffering, those who have been mistreated. Justice that is making right judgments, doing the right thing even when it is hard. It is not prejudging or misjudging people. It is always seeking to do what is right. It is not simply something we believe in, but what each of us are called to be and to do. We are to be just. And this is something that every Republican, every Democrat, every liberal and every conservative, should agree upon, even if we disagree about what precisely it always looks like and how we get there. And as Christians, it is what the Lord requires of us. God expects us, requires of us, that we do justice – we judge with righteousness, we ensure fairness and equity on a large scale, and in our individual lives.

Rodin’s two hands – shows us the desire of two different people reaching for an impossible outcome – fairness and equality.

Thanks be to God.


[1] www.uncuffedministries.org