Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Micah denounces rofessional prophets that tell people who pay them what they want to hear. They shall find themselves to be without vision, without revelation: with no answer from God. Micah himself, on the other hand, is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, the Ruach, the breath of God, and with justice and might: and he is empowered for a purpose – to declare to Israel its sin, its injustice, its inequity. Judges, priests, and prophets are on the take. And so the city shall fall: a ruined house, a desolate ruin, and a wilderness. And so it was – and the people were carried into Exile.
These two psalms together form a three-part lament with refrain, lamenting the past, bewailing persecution in the present, and then – in the midst of the pain – looking toward a future with hope.
“Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me,” the Psalmist pleas. “Bring me to your holy hill” – to that Zion which will be – and to your dwelling and your altar – and I will give thanks to the God of joy and gladness.
The day will come when God will send his savior to his people.
The day will come when they repent and return to the way of truth, the way of righteous behavior, of justice and mercy and peace, the way of the Lord.
The prophets in the OT passage, denounced by Micah, were on the take. They did not even say what God was doing; they just told the people – the people who paid them – what they wanted to hear. Jesus is up against something closer to home. The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat – that is, they teach with institutional official authority – and their words are not wrong. Their deeds are. What they say is fine and good and right; what they do is not. They lay burdens on others that they will not bear themselves – they are hypocrites, two-faced. They display their religiosity publicly – making themselves look good in the eyes of the crowd. Sure they wear the phylacteries and the tassels of those seeking holiness; but they just want the look. So their reward is sure; it is on earth. That’s it. They love showing off. But we should not despise them; we should not envy them; we should learn from them. We know better.
We know better also than to seek the titles of teachers of the Law, for we have one teacher – Jesus, we have one father – the one in heaven, and we have one instructor – the Messiah.
Teaching authority – any kind of personal power – comes from God. And Jesus says it – all he has comes from the Father.
The greatest among us, it is he: he who could claim the Name above all Names. And he has come before us as a servant.
Flattery and hierarchical thinking and hypocrisy and ostentatious display, self-exaltation and seeking after titles, will not get us there.
We are already there.
Through the work of Christ God has redeemed us – and God has called us to be his people.
There is no higher title than this: we are children of God, his Beloved ones.
We should therefore be humble. Let us honor each other with all due humility – because we are all equal before God.
Let us be obedient to the word of the Lord. God has called us according to his purpose – to be his servants in the world, bringing his message of salvation to the world. The Reign of God is coming into being, and we are called to belong to it.
This good news is an achievement of parity, is it not? But it is not a leveling – it is not a cutting down to size, not a belittling of others. It is a building up – a bringing up to full stature in the knowledge of the glory of Christ. We can claim true self- esteem; we are God’s children. Does not that make us special?
Yes. It does not make us unique, or better. It is humbling.
We are ones that know the truth – that God made us, all of us, and we need him – not only as creator, but also as redeemer.
We are called to be holy but we can do nothing without the Spirit. With the Spirit, in the Spirit, walking in the way of God, that is a different matter.
It is different from the way we would walk to look good in the eyes of the world. “The greatest among you will be your servant.”
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
What does it look like to be a servant? Paul writing to the church of the Thessalonians gives us an idea of what it means.
First he greets them: Grace to you and peace. That is the context. And then – in today’s lesson – he goes on to talk about what he has done to come among them as servant and as messenger of the Gospel. He worked day and night, as he proclaimed the good news of God. His conduct was pure, upright, and blameless. – Do you see the contrast to the people Jesus denounced, with their place seeking and their love of show? - And like a father, loving his children, he urged and encouraged and offered witness to them. – What a contrast to the prophets-for-pay that Micah denounced! – He gives thanks that they have taken in to their hearts the Word of God, and that it is at work in them.
He urges them to lead a life worthy of God and of his Calling: to live, to walk in the way of the Lord, to take on the identity of God’s beloved children; to begin to know themselves and conduct themselves as people called into God’s kingdom and glory.
There is no higher calling than this.
There is no greater glory - that does not belong to Jesus Christ himself or his heavenly Father. And indeed, our calling is to glorify God and to bring to being in this world his Kingdom.
How do we go about that? How do we go about being his servants, his messenger people, here and now where we are?
We know that God is at work; God is at work in this place and time. The question is: How will we be part of that joyous kingdom building? How do we get with the program? How do we bring good news?
Look about you – at this place, at these people around you; look beyond the doors of this building, into the neighborhood. How can we the people of God be of service to them? Look even farther – how can we bring the Good News of God’s love to the city, the country, and the world?
This is what we are called to be and to do as God’s people. Anything less is falling short of our high and holy calling.
Outreach must be both personal and corporate, both giving and doing. We become corporate leaders of our community as we engage in acts of service for them, to them, and with them. Corporate doing – not just market survey – as well as focused giving in relationship with those we wish to serve, will reach those we wish to invite into partnership or common ministry, into fellowship, and into the celebration of the Kingdom.
And as individuals, working in the world as transforming agents of Christ, in how we live, in doing our ordinary work as work done for the Lord, in our interacting with others, we become witnesses to the truth of God’s love.
Shall we begin here and now, by being transformed in the renewal of our minds, in the refreshment of our souls, in the good news taken in as our daily bread? Let us claim the identity of servants of Jesus Christ for ourselves, to affirm that through our Baptism and renewed in the Eucharist, we are One in the Spirit; we are One in Christ. We are God’s Beloved, and we have Good News to share with the world! Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
For St Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, WA
October 30, 2011.