Micah 2:1-3, 8-9, 12-13; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
7th Sunday after Trinity
St Barbara’s 23.07.2023
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Did you ever have that experience as a child of waiting to be picked for a team during PE or during lunch break. Everyone would line up and gradually the two captains would choose their players – usually starting with the obviously best players, and then moving on to their friends. As the line of those waiting to be picked got smaller, so one’s own spirits would drop too. That feeling of not being wanted, or of being chosen right at the end, just to make up the numbers. Very occasionally, I was someone’s first or second choice and at such times I would feel elated – someone wanted me on their team!
But sometimes, being chosen comes as a mixed blessing. There are some tasks that we may be chosen for – maybe at work or with the wider family (maybe organising a family celebration or indeed a family funeral) that carry with it a lot of weight and responsibility. We are conscious that much depends on us. It is an honour, but if it goes wrong, we are the ones who will bear the responsibility. At times, we may have preferred if someone else had been chosen instead.
The people that the prophet Micah speaks to, in this our penultimate sermon on the prophets, are God’s chosen people. He had called a people out of slavery in Egypt, brought them across the Red Sea and many years of wandering in the wilderness, into the promised land of Canaan. And Micah is speaking to them.
These people often acted with the joy and pride of being chosen by God – to be first to be picked from the line in the playground – but they failed to recognise that their calling came with a huge responsibility. For the purpose of their calling, the purpose of the task God was giving them, was to be a people that lived in such a way that others would encounter the presence of God through them. That others would experience God as loving, gracious, compassionate, just, holy, because they were loving, gracious, compassionate, just and holy. To use one of the Bible’s common phrases, they were to be “a light to the Gentiles”, they were to shine out God’s love into the world around them.
Before we move on to Micah’s verdict on how they were doing, it is important to recognise that God still has a chosen people, but that chosen people is now us. Because of Christ, all who are called to follow him, are called to be that people who through their example, their words and their actions, reflect the nature of God. Indeed, the New Testament doesn’t just describe us as “God’s people” or a “holy nation”, but as “the body of Christ”. We are called to be Christ here on earth, to be a people that when people see us, they see what Christ is like. To be chosen by God comes with the most huge responsibility: we are to be his hands and feet, his body, we are to reflect who he is, to the world around us. Take a moment to reflect on that.
But back to our line in the school playground. If the best kid in the school picked you, you would not just be pleased. You would want to give your all. In fact, you would have badly missed the point if after just a few minutes you decided to idle off and wander away from the pitch to do something else.
But that is essentially what Micah is accusing God’s chosen people, the people of Israel, of doing. Here they are with this incredible honour and responsibility, and they have just dropped it, walked off, got distracted by other things that seem more fun or easier to do.
Micah shines a light on their behaviour. Their leaders have become rich through theft and greed. They are exploiting and oppressing the poor, forcing them to sell their land to pay off their debts, in direct violation of God’s laws. He says to them: “Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds… They covet fields and seize them, and houses and take them. They defraud a householder of his home, and of his inheritance.” Their religious leaders are no better. They take bribes, and offer promises of God’s protection to those who are able to pay.
In other words, the very thing they have been chosen to do – to show the love and light of God to others – is what they are failing to do. And this, Micah says in no uncertain terms, matters. It has serious consequences. It matters for the people who suffer as a result of their unjust action – for the suffering and hardship their greedy and exploitative actions cause. It matters also to others who may not be directly affected, but for whom God’s people are supposed to be a light, supposed to be a beacon of hope, showing them the love and goodness of God. The nations should be flocking to Jerusalem to be part of a kingdom which offers such hope and love. Instead, the nations come not to worship with God’s people, but to destroy them. As Micah prophesies, first the Assyrians and then the Babylonians will come to invade Israel, to destroy its cities, and to cart off its people into exile.
This is a grim, stern message, a message echoed by numerous prophets. If God’s people continue to turn their backs on their calling, there are consequences, and judgment will follow. Jesus himself, re-echoes some of this message in the parable of the weeds we heard this morning. There will be a reckoning. Sin, evil, will not go unchecked forever. One day it will be held to account.
For ourselves, Micah’s words act as a challenge too, an encouragement to review our own lives. In possibly the best known words of Micah, he says: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Are there areas of our lives, whether at work, at school, with neighbours, with family members, in the way we use our money, where we fail to act justly and fairly, where we lack mercy, kindness, generosity and grace, where we fail to be Jesus’ hands and feet in the world? Certainly for me there are. The challenge is to seek God’s forgiveness and turn around.
But the prophet Micah’s message is not all judgment. It is infused throughout with a vision of hope, of a better future. Back to our school playground one last time. If the game we have been picked to play is proving tougher than we had thought, we may be inclined to give up, to slink away. There were many a time when I would look around the field and wonder why we were losing 5-0 and discover that some of my team-mates had done exactly that, had quietly disappeared. No wonder we were struggling when the other side had twice as many players! But imagine if I had been told not to despair, that remarkably we would turn it around, and that our team would come back to win, despite all the odds. Far from slinking off, I would have been re-energised to stay, to be part of something special.
Well, Micah tells God’s chosen people exactly that. That a time will come when God’s kingdom will come, a kingdom that reflects the wonder, awe, majesty, justice, compassion, grace and love of God in all its fullness. God’s people, he says, will be brought back from exile, from a place of darkness into light. In another image, he says God will be their shepherd, leading them to a place of good pasture. And he gives a hint of how: “out of you Bethlehem” he says, “will come a ruler of Israel, whose greatness will reach to the ends of the earth, and he will be their peace.” Hundreds of years before it happens, Micah is foretelling the birth and coming of Christ in Bethlehem.
For it is Christ who is our hope. It is through his death and resurrection that we can be assured that sin and injustice will not have the last word. As Jesus’ own parable of the weeds indicates, such things will be destroyed, but righteousness and love will flourish for eternity. It is through his death and resurrection that we can have the firm hope that death itself is not the end, but the doorway to eternal life.
We are part of the winning side, the side that will see justice, peace, kindness, humility, joy, gentleness, triumph. Let us live as the people chosen by God, to be part of showing his love in the world. Rejecting the inevitable pulls towards cynicism, negativity or despair, let us live as people of hope and people of action. We have been incredibly chosen by God to reflect his love in the world. Let us do so, knowing that we point to a future that is infused with hope.