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?
The readings for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany could not have come at a more pertinent and bizarre moment in our history. Last Friday, the president signed an executive order halting travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, and suspending refugee admission for 120 days. On that day, Trump spoke to the Christian Broadcast Network and stated that resettling Christian refugees would be a priority for his administration¹. This all followed a year-long campaign that called for a ban on Muslims entering the US, and the possibility of a Muslim registry. This executive order is consistent with his despicable comments on the campaign trail, and has already caused harm to citizens, immigrants, and refugees.
God bless the liturgy.
If there is one verse (besides John 3:16) that most Christians have burned into their collective memory, my guess is Micah 6:8. “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?” This verse’s simplicity and its beauty combine to make it one of the most profound and challenging lines in the Bible. Though many Christians have this verse memorized, I wonder how many of us actively engage with what the prophet is asking. What does it mean to do justice? To love kindness? How is it that we can walk humbly with God? These are questions that we continue to wrestle with over a lifetime, often stumbling and finding that what we thought it meant maybe wasn’t so. I’ve found in my own experience that I often stumble while trying to perform ethical and linguistic jujitsu in order to avoid the clear implications of a text like this. I’ve argued my way out of doing justice by concluding that my context is so radically different from that of the authors. Surely, there are not the same kinds of expectations for us modern readers?
This attempt to avoid the implications are quickly dashed when we read the rest of Micah. Micah speaks directly to a context that is awash in corrupt and hateful government. He chides the chiefs and officials of Jerusalem saying, “Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob and chiefs of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong.” These words resonate for me as we witness an administration, supported by far too many, fulfilling promises soaked in racism, bigotry, and hatred. It is within our own context, our moment in history, that we are called to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.
Now, I understand that many of us will have radically different ways of doing justice and loving kindness, but what seems clear to me is that silence and acceptance of legislated hatred is neither just nor kind. This means that we must find a way that is authentic to ourselves to support and defend those who are targeted by hatred, state-sponsored or otherwise. I know that this is not always easy. Many of us who hold significant amounts of privilege, and who have been awakened to the injustice and suffering of our neighbors (of which we have been ignorant for far too long), truly want to be allies and to stand with those who are bearing the brunt of this unbearable burden. Unfortunately, we just don’t know how. We’re unsure of our place in the struggle, we’re afraid to say or do the wrong thing, and we don’t understand the practical steps required of us. This discomfort prevents far too many of us from taking a stand, and our continuing absence furthers the suffering and discrimination of our neighbors. Rather than retreating from our discomfort, we need to lean in, understanding that these feelings of fear, inadequacy, and uncertainty are opportunities for us to deconstruct some of the ways we continue to contribute to a hurting world.
For me, the last week and a half is evidence that millions of people are doing just that. The Women’s March on the 21st was the largest demonstration in US history, with more than 3 million people marching. And when two Iraqi nationals were detained at JFK International Airport on Saturday, thousands spontaneously appeared to denounce the hateful executive order, and to demand the release of the detainees. Over the weekend protests popped up at airports around the country, including here in Minneapolis, and are scheduled to continue while the courts challenge the constitutionality of the order. I haven’t felt this hopeful in months. Like many, I have been swimming in negativity and despair, and have been tempted to just kick back and watch it all burn. But this week reassured me that there are millions of people out there doing justice and loving kindness.
While protesters gathered at JFK, I was with 2,000 other people of faith at an event hosted by ISAIAH called “Building our Prophetic Resistance”. An ecumenical and intercultural group of leaders challenged us to engage in 100 days of resistance, to embody the call of our faith, and to resist demagoguery and hatred. As I listened to preachers, teachers, senators, and mayors, I was struck by how close I felt to everyone in the room, like we had all come together in the same car or something. I only knew a handful of folks in the crowd, but it was clear to me that this group of people had assembled to support one another in the important and challenging work ahead. We prayed for each other, and we talked about the Spirit’s pull that brought us there. That room felt mobilized and ready to work together, and it was profoundly hopeful.
Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God. This is the rallying cry I needed to hear, and it is the call I hope to follow. I vow to show up as fully and authentically as I can, and to pursue justice by calling out evil, opposing that which targets anyone’s dignity and humanity, and using the privilege I have to engage in political action. I will do so with the hopeful vision of the beloved community as my inspiration. I will love kindness by remembering that in the end the beloved community is made up of all people, not only those that agree with me. I will walk humbly with my God, knowing that I will not always be right, and will often make mistakes in word and deed. I will extend grace to myself and to others, with the hope that our ability to hold each other’s messiness will further our vision of the beloved community and the flourishing of all people. I’m going to lean into those places where I feel discomfort, grateful that these moments often lead to hope. We are in such need of hope. The words of the prophet Micah, and the response of people all over this country has reignited that hope for me, and though the darkness of this present moment still lingers and promises to advance, I am grateful for the light that sneaks in through the cracks and swallows it whole. Amen.