“Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly”
Micah 6:1-8 Matthew 5:1-12
Rev. Zachary L. Bay
Micah 6:8 is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. You likely don’t remember it now, but six or so years ago, Kristy and I made a brochure to introduce ourselves to you all. Eleanor was yet-to-be, so the brochure was filled with photos of me and Kristy and our cats. There were some words of biography, some words from the Pastor Search Committee, and in large letters printed across the center folds of the brochure were the words of Micah 6:8.
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you but to
and walk humbly with your God?”
Though Micah couldn’t possibly have had this modern medium in mind when he penned those words, they make for a great bumper sticker. A great slogan. The ministry outfit that my seminary group spent our time with in South Africa last month makes use of Micah’s words in this way. On the sign over the door, you can find six words:
Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly.
This morning, I want to begin with the middle of Micah’s slogan. Love kindness. This is the part of the slogan that I think churches like our do especially well. This week, I was digging around the idea of loving kindness and came across the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkley. Loving-kindness—with a hyphen between the words—is a Buddhist spiritual concept—the first of the four sublime states of the Theravada School of Buddhism. I’d be lying to you if I said I know a lot about that school of Buddhism, but The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkley offers a Loving-Kindness Meditation guide designed to “strengthen feelings of kindness and connection toward others.” The practice takes 15 minutes per day. You begin by putting your body in a relaxed but active position—like sitting up straight with your feet on the floor—and breathing deeply. Once you are calm, you ponder a person close to you who loves you. You linger there. You receive their loving-kindness.
Then, you think of the person sitting next to you—in your home or in your pew—and hold in your mind feelings of good will toward them. You offer loving-kindness.
Then, you do the same again for people you know but for whom you have no strong emotional connection, and then for all people, everywhere.
The precise trappings may be slightly different, but you do this sort of thing at least weekly. Some of you daily. Each time you take this prayer list and read the names on it –each time you call names aloud and name with compassion what is going on these lives, you are practicing loving-kindness.
And, each time you host a party at the Middlesboro Boys’ Group Home; each time you dish up a plate of food on Thursday night; each time you bring folders or magazines to the church office for the forgotten folks at the Bell County Detention Center; each time you offer a gift that relieves some pain or suffering, you “love kindness.” Each time you pay a pastoral visit to a friend.
You all are good at that. And you seem to keep looking for ways to be better at it. Well done, beloved. Keep at it.
Micah says to us today: Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly. We looked at the second one; now let’s spend some time with that first one.
This one requires a little more context. If you were present Wednesday night for the Pastor’s Bible Study, you saw some of the more staggering—the deeply challenging—photos of my trip of South Africa. What we pondered together Wednesday night wasn’t for the faint of heart. I passed along to you part of what I received from the ministers and professors and people doing faith on the ground in South Africa.
You saw photos of spatial injustice. Spatial injustice is the lasting economic legacy of Apartheid laws that deprived black people of their land in South Africa. The laws are gone, but the economic realities created by them linger on. Wealthy white neighborhoods on one side of a road, walled off. Poor black neighborhoods a few meters—and a lifetime—away on the other side of the road.
You saw photos of economic injustice. The ministers and professors and workers that we met would be quick to tell you that while repealing an unjust law is critical, it is not the end but the beginning. Laws created economic realities in South Africa that still today linger on. You saw this in the photos of Luthando Tofu’s church in Delft—a church made up of people who have no bootstraps to pull up on—whose bootstraps were taken from them at birth.
You saw photos of racial injustice—the kind created by Apartheid laws and now perpetuated by social structures that were not significantly changed when the new South African government came to power in 1994.
You saw photos of white people sitting while people of color served and worked.
The prophet Micah tells us that in addition to loving kindness, doing justice is what the Lord requires of us. Oddly enough, the nuts and bolts of the justice conversation change little over time. Wednesday night, we looked at Micah 1 and 2 and 3—some grizzly stuff—and we saw 3,000-year-old glimpses of economic and spatial and racial injustice. It doesn’t take a powerful imagination to see the same things here, in America, in 2020, too. Just look to the north and south sides of Chicago. Of Atlanta. Look to the differences between Harlem and Alphabet City and Wall Street. Look to the historical differences, even, between Noetown and Cumberland Avenue.
Micah tells us that loving kindness is the work of God’s people. And so, too, is doing justice. So, too, is finding creative ways to empower those who have been and still are on the receiving end of historical and societal injustices.
Micah spends a lot more time dealing with injustice than with the lack of kindness. Micah—like every prophet before and after him—knows that this is the hard one. That while there are sometimes personal and easy answers to a lack of kindness, there are seldom personal and easy answers to injustice. And yet, Micah is clear nonetheless that justice, too, is the job of God’s people.
You, beloved, participate in some of this work by supporting through the church budget those who do.
You support the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty in Washington DC. This outfit of some of the best and brightest Baptists in the country does what Baptists have been doing since Roger Williams landed in Providence, Rhode Island. They advocate and lobby and argue for religious liberty for all people. Even religious minorities; especially religious minorities. Even and especially those without a religion at all.
You support CBFKY, which may be the only CBF organization in the country that has black churches and white churches having racial justice dialogues and doing racial justice ministry together. It goes under the name Empower West Louisville. You support that work.
And you support Baptist Seminary of Kentucky, which in the last couple of years has taken its faculty into a partnership with Simmons College in West Louisville to offer graduate-level theological education at one of America’s historically black colleges and universities. BSK’s faculty teaches alternately in Louisville and Georgetown, giving face time and in-person contact to students in both locations. You support that commitment by BSK and Simmons College to work toward racial justice.
Friends, this the kind of work that Micah calls us to and that history tells us never ends in a flawed and broken world. Micah describes special and economic and racial injustices 3,000 years ago. He had to have known that these were massive problems that had been around for centuries before and would be around for centuries to come, and yet, that did not stop him calling God’s people to action.
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good,
and what does the Lord require of you but to
and walk humbly.”
First Baptist Church: you have a good beginning here. A solid start.
In reading Micah in worship and submitting ourselves to this prophet’s teaching today, the question is: As the people of God who are recipients of God’s grace and who are called to extend God’s grace in the world, what’s next?
It’s 2020. A brand new decade. Cruelty and injustice are alive and well in the world. In our very country and community. How will you—how will we—do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God this year? This decade?
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good…”