Justice, Extravagant Love, and a Humble Walk

Barbara Blaisdell, Sr. Pastor – First Christian Church Tacoma

May 24, 2015

Pentecost Sunday & Memorial Day Weekend

Justice, Extravagant Love, and a Humble Walk

Acts 2:1-18

2When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

 

Micah 6:6-8

6 ‘With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’

8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God.

 

 

I.

Will you get out your red balloons? Everybody take a deep breath…now blow up those balloons.   Breath. Wind. It’s invisible until we see the effect it has in the world. We blow out our invisible breath and the balloon fills, the pinwheel spins, the bubbles form. The wind blows invisibly but we see the clouds dance across the sky and new bright green leaves shimmer and we can feel it on our cheeks and in our hair.

 

The Greek or New Testament uses the word pneuma; which can be translated as breath, wind, and spirit. The Hebrew or Old Testament uses the word ruach; also translated as breath, wind, spirit. It was the ruach of God, God’s very breath that blew over the waters at creation, in the poetic first creation story of Genesis, God’s own breath, stirring up life, blowing stardust onto the earth. And in our Bible story for today, it was the pneuma, the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the very breath of God in Christ that blew into that upper room where the Disciples were worshipping.

 

Just like our own breath, our own spirits, God’s breath is invisible except for the effect it brings. And the effect of the Spirit of God is always, always creative change. A writer I follow puts it this way:

 

“Pentecost is all about change. Truly, there is nothing to this Biblical story except tremendous change. Change has already happened (Jesus is gone) and change is ongoing. As the writer pens this tale he knows what some of the upheavals are going to be for this group of believers. They’ll struggle with pressures from outside and inside their society. They’ll want to bring in newcomers but will not be happy with some of the changes newcomers bring. They’ll try to be inclusive, but not always successfully. They’ll attempt to carry on the way they think Jesus would want them to, and sometimes they’ll fail at it. They’ll argue about the best way to go on.

Change isn’t always easy.[1]

I would add this to her observations: change is the will of God. It’s the way God designed the world, to adapt; to change.

 

II.

The question is, what kind of change will be effected? How will the winds of God’s own breath effect change in us? None of us can be ignorant of the changes in our world and in our culture, nor of the kinds of change it has wrought in the church. I would trace the most recent winds of change to the winds that began blowing in the 19th Century. Abolitionists, inspired by the very breath of God began working to abolish slavery in this country. Women marched for the right to vote. Technological innovation made possible a better lifestyle for many and richer music even for small, middle class churches. Indoor plumbing and central heating becomes possible. Organs were not possible for only the huge cathedrals in the cities but became affordable for smaller, less rich congregations.

 

Some in the church responded to this change with anger, even rage. Slavery and the submission of women is Biblical, they argued. Indoor plumbing and organs are NOT Biblical. And of course, there are passages in scripture that come out of a very different era and culture that do support slavery and the subordination of women and infanticide and vengeance. There is a strand of Biblical thinking that argues for all of those things. But the Bible has never spoken with one voice or one opinion. It has always been a conversation, an argument even about what it is that the Spirit of God wants from us.

 

For example, as some of you have heard me note before, there is a long tradition in the Hebrew Scriptures of animal sacrifice. It worked something like this. If you or I sinned, we would make a pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem, bringing with us our most cherished pet. It had to be an animal special to us and protected by us because it must be unblemished. Once in the temple, we would give our pet lamb or bird or…to the temple priest for sacrifice on the altar. Now, Jews no longer practice animal sacrifice and haven’t since the first century.   But when they did, there were those who objected. The prophet Micah wrote over 700 years before the birth of Christ. And he wrote:

 

6 ‘With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,
with animals a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn child for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’

8 God has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God.

III.

Will you let me test your patience with another lesson in biblical Hebrew? That last verse from Micah (verse 8) is about what God requires.

Hig gid adam

mah- to ovv;

u-mah adonai (Yahweh) do-v-resh

as-so-vt mišhpāṭ

         hesed

                  le chet ve·hatz·ne·a’   e·lo·hei·cha.

 

NRSV:   What does God require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with God.

 

The New Revised Standard Version of scripture translates what is required as justice, kindness and humility. The first of these in Hebrew is the word mišhpāṭ. Mišh·pāṭ is used often in the Hebrew Scriptures gets translated variously as “justice”, or as “what is right” or as “what is worthy of God.” I love that last option. For the word justice in our culture often gets too caught up with vengeance. People claim they haven’t gotten justice until they’ve gotten vengeance. To practice mišhpāṭ is to do what is worthy of God.

 

The second phrase of Micah 6:8 is even more complicated. The Hebrew word translated in our pew bibles as “to love kindness” is the word ḥe·seḏ. But that is really too tepid a translation. He·seḏ is prominently featured in the book of Ruth, a book that we’ll be looking closely at this summer. And that book gets quoted most often to describe the love a woman should have for her husband. That’s a part of what the book teaches. But first He·seḏ is used for the tenacious, extravagant love between generations; and between members of an ethnically and internationally diverse family; and between women; and between a “native Israelite” and an “illegal” alien; and only finally between spouses. It is about being kind, to be sure. But it is also about being tenaciously and extravagantly loving in all our relationships.

 

And so, what does God require of us: to do justice, that which is worthy of God; to love tenaciously and extravagantly, and to walk with wə·haṣ·nê·a‘ before God. Wə·haṣ·nê·a‘. The fascinating thing about this Hebrew word is that Micah 6:8 is the only passage in which it is found. Wə·haṣ·nê·a‘ means humility. Don’t you wish this word was found in every chapter of every book in every Holy Scripture??? For here is the thing: we know unconditional love and forgiveness because God has first loved us. But being who we are, we are judgmental of the choices and decisions of others. We don’t understand another’s choices and so we pass judgment that those choices are wrong. We do not understand another’s work or volunteer decisions. And so we pass judgment on those decisions. Do you get the irony here? We are loved not because we have always made the right choices ourselves but because we have been shown He·seḏ, extravagant love…by God. God’s love is what makes us worthy. So judging others as unworthy…that cannot be our job!!  We can share our opinions and experience with those with whom we disagree, if those opinions are welcome. But we don’t get to judge another’s decision. Not our job.

 

IV.

When the winds of change come, when the breath of God blows, those devoted to God have to decide, in awe and trembling, what does God require of us? “Slaves be subservient to your masters.”[2] “Women be subject to your husbands.” [3] “Happy are they who take the babies of the enemy and dashes them against the rock.”[4] All of these sentiments can be found in the scripture we call holy. But also is a very different voice. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”[5] Or again,

God has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God.

What Biblical voice will you follow? As for me and my house: we will serve the God who does not tolerate slavery or oppression of any kind; the God who demands no blood sacrifice for my sin but rather who demands that we do justice, love tenaciously and extravagantly and to walk humbly with God.

 

We are about to sing a song that asks the Spirit of God to use each of us to build the Kingdom, the Commonwealth of God in here (hearts) and right here in this community. As we stand and sing, if there are those here today who would like to be a part of this community of faith of justice, love and humility, we invite you to come forward as we sing. You will be welcomed with open hearts…

 

 

 

[1] https://melissabanesevier.wordpress.com/2015/05/20/your-heads-on-fire/

[2] Titus 2:9; 1 Peter 2:18; Colossians 3:22;

[3] Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:1

[4] Psalm 137:9

[5] Galatians 3:28

 

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