Sunday, November 13, 2022

Sermon: “In the Meantime”, Micah 5:2-5, 6:6-8 (November 13, 2022)


Micah is one of what’s known as the “minor prophets” of the First Testament. This designation isn’t a judgement on the substance of his prophecy; rather, it’s a comment on its length as compared to the more substantial prophetic books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. In spite of its brevity, however, the book of Micah still manages to pack quite a punch. For example, Christian theologians throughout history have considered the first part of today’s reading proof of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. It claims that a divine ruler would come out of the insignificant little town of Bethlehem. This would have been the equivalent of promising that Notus or Greenleaf would produce the next Abraham Lincoln or FDR – only, you know, God. So the fact that the Messiah is prophesied to – and ultimately did – come out of Bethlehem is exciting and offers a sense of real hope.

The people of Micah’s time REALLY needed this prophecy. They were living in a literally divided nation, and foreign powers were attempting to influence their government in the hopes of gaining control. The situation was precarious for them (and may feel uncomfortably familiar to us). The people of once-powerful Israel desperately needed reassurance that they weren’t permanently doomed to global obscurity, that their God – who was SUPPOSED to be all-powerful – would send someone to guide them and lead them into a new era of peace and prosperity. They longed for a message of comfort and encouragement, and Micah gave it to them: he told them that things WOULDN’T stay as they were forever; the people would NOT lose their identity, and like the seemingly insignificant town of Bethlehem, they would one day come to play an important role in the reconciliation of humanity to God once again.

In other words, don’t worry: God has a plan. The Messiah is on his way. Can you imagine the kind of impact this prophecy would have had on the people? Complete despair giving way to a glimmer of hope, resignation transforming into renewed faith. It must have been the same sort of energy that we all felt the first time we had company coming over after the COVID restrictions were lifted. We can’t possibly stand still; there’s so much to do to get ready! I once saw a t-shirt that said, “Jesus is coming – look busy!” and this seems to perfectly encapsulate the way I think the people must have felt when they heard Micah’s message.

There’s just one problem with this. Depending on when you believe this section of Micah was first written, this particular prophecy was made anywhere from 500-700 years BEFORE Jesus was actually born. And the people had no way of knowing that generations upon generations of them would be born and live and die, that entire kingdoms would rise and fall before the Messiah made his first physical appearance. Jesus is indeed coming – but it turns out that we’ve still got a looooong time to wait.

So what should the people do in the meantime? How should they watch for this Messiah? Some of them undoubtedly thought that they should stay exactly as they are. “Don’t change anything!” That’s a natural human reaction, after all – to go with the flow. Stick to what’s familiar and comfortable. But that’s not the life that God’s people are called to. In fact, the people were already in trouble with God for this very thing. In the verses of Micah 6 leading up to the second part of today’s reading, God brings formal charges before the people – a divine lawsuit, so to speak – complaining that they haven’t upheld their end of the covenant, in spite of all that God has done for them. They’ve already been “doing nothing,” and it was making God angry. Inaction hasn’t been an option for the people since the days of Abraham, and it’s certainly not appropriate now.

So then, maybe that t-shirt had the right idea; maybe the answer is to “look busy” while we wait for Jesus, after all. That seems to be the conclusion that the people arrive at in verses 6 and 7. Put on a show; demonstrate that we understand who the one true God is, make extravagant sacrifices to prove that we’re on the winning side and deserve salvation. If we’ve got centuries to wait, we might as well fill them up by making it clear how devout we are, right? We should prepare our credentials of piety so that our salvation kicks in the moment the Messiah arrives.

But that’s not right either, Micah tells us. Neither doing nothing nor “looking busy” is a good and faithful response to God’s promise. So, then, what DOES the Lord require from us in the meantime?

It turns out that we already know; God has already told us: in response to God’s love and in anticipation of God’s promises, we should live as if the kindom is already here. We shouldn’t be idly waiting or vainly preparing; we should be DOING right now, even when the world seems unwilling to change and the promise of salvation feels impossibly out of reach. We should ACT with justice for all of creation. We should embody hesed, a sense of unconditional love and loyalty towards others that necessarily inspires us to ACT with mercy and compassion. We should walk the same path that God walks, recognizing our sinful humanity but striving to ACT with righteousness in every step. It’s not enough for us to feel and believe the “right” things while we wait; it’s not enough for us to “look busy” – God has called us to holy action, even in the meantime.

Waiting for something exciting is never easy. Especially when we’re unhappy or frustrated with the way things are right now. In many ways, we’re STILL waiting for Micah’s prophecy to be fulfilled, even today. True, we’re living on the other side of Christ’s resurrection and victory over death, but we still haven’t stopped praying for “Thy kindom come” every week. We know the story isn’t over yet. The world is still deeply divided, hate still runs rampant, and sin is still an intractable part of human life. We’re still waiting for the life of security and the world of peace that we’ve been promised.

What Micah tells us is that we have a job to do while we’re waiting: DO justice, EMBODY hesed, WORK alongside God to make a difference in the meantime. Faithful waiting is active. It’s progressive, in the sense of working towards the future bit by bit over years or even centuries. It’s characterized by forward movement and change, even in the bleakest of times. It’s “all-in”, even when the promised kindom seems beyond reach. Faithful waiting is full of hope and trust. It can be discouraged but not derailed by setbacks and tragedy. It persists in the face of adversity, and it endures forever.

Micah’s prophecy – God’s promise – is sure: Jesus is coming. Nothing – not time, or sin, or hate, or human arrogance – can stop the impending kindom. But we still have to do something in the meantime.

So how will you wait for the kindom? Will you stay exactly where you are, ignoring the world around you and expecting the kindom to just sort of happen? Will you spend your energy trying to LOOK holy, to prove your worth? Or, assured of its certainty, will you act in ways that reflect the very kindom you’re waiting for? Will you accept God’s challenge to walk the divine path of justice and love right now? Faithful waiting requires action. Whether in a week or a millennium, Jesus IS coming. I hope that when he arrives, he doesn’t find us frozen in place or, heaven forbid, trying to LOOK busy. I hope he finds us acting like he's been here all along. Amen.

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