This is the last meditation from the week of fasting and reflection. Yesterday I was speaking at St Paul's Tupsley in Hereford... The Old Testament reading they chose was one of if not my very favourite passages...
With what shall I come before the LORDI love the matter of fact simplicity of the Prophets words, the way it encapsulates our calling, even the ministry of Christ! It blows away all notion of Religious observance - the sense that there is a right way to worship - and refocuses us on what these days is called a missional dynamic and our willingness to step out WITH our God.
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
(Micah Chapter 6)
To act justly - for me means three things 1) to be honest and fair in the way we live our lives - I guess in today's world this means a huge amount, and is very practical! It means paying our taxes and not doing all we can to minimise (however legally) how much we contribute to society, it means not trying to get as much from others as we can, it means being very very careful about the way we shop and trade - about not just buying a few fair trade items but doing all our business in a way which is and is seen to be rigourously fair and just. It means allowing others to truly be themselves and taking their concerns and struggles seriously, making time beyond our selfish concern for others, it means stepping back and allowing others to lead when we know they have the gifts - not being in love with power - even creating space for others to contribute equally even if we think we can do it better! 2) acting in a way which intends to transform injustice in society, standing firm against inequality and abuse - locally and globally. Yes, this has a political aspect but it also has a relational aspect, it does mean big things - campaigns and charity work - but it also means how we change society by our local actions and involvement... how we act and live as peacemakers where we are! 3) to give others what they deserve - what they are worth! I don't think there is some sliding scale or metre for this, it's simple - we treat others as they where made, as creations of God, as made in the image of God. So, as hard as it may seem we have to begin by looking through what life has made them to see the reflection of the divine which may be deep, deep within... that is not to excuse or condone behaviour but to try to love them as God made them and to demand from others that everyone is treated with the same justice, the same starting point, the same rights, the same respect and the same freedoms.
To love mercy - Whilst we demand justice for all and live justly we are called at all times to act with mercy - not to seek equality or rights for ourselves but to live servant lives, in the way of the Christ - the servant king - and to relish, to love doing it! It also means that our way needs to be God's way, way of compassion. As Shakespeare wrote in "The Merchant of Venice" (a play about demanding "justice")
The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath... It is an attribute of God himself; And earthly power doth then show like God's When mercy seasons justice.So Justice and Mercy go hand in hand - we demand justice for others and put aside our own demands for justice, instead acting with total mercy. We fight for the rights of others and lay down our own rights.
walk humbly with your God - First and foremost we are told that God is not some distant Deity who needs appeasement by ritual and observance, no, God is here to be walked with - God is an intimate and immanent God, a God who does not want to dictate to us from "on high" but journey with us on a daily basis. Walking with God in God's world is not a discipline but a privilege! 1) Belief in God is not a means to an ends or even the end of a process, rather it is an ongoing relationship - we are always learning, always discovering more about God and the possibility of God. That relationship is not a located one but a lived one - we don't "go to Church" each week to get our God fix or boost rather it is one port on a 24/7 voyage, a place to share and pray with each other about what we have been doing with God the rest of the week... and to thank and honour God for all God has done with us and for us. Many people today are exploring/discovering how we develop a "rhythm" of worship/prayer that is woven through daily life and living rather than it being focussed on one moment each week. 2) John V Taylor said "Mission is not an activity of the Church but an attribute of God" - God is a God who engages with people, with all aspects of people in the midst of their living - it is God's very nature and passion... thus Evangelism is not calling people to a place to meet God but to open their eyes and recognise that God is right here and closer than they could possible realise! 3) Doug Goins writes that the Hebrew root of "humbly", "describes a lifestyle that is not proud, not self-willed, and not arrogant" so a life that is not "self-willed" but given to another will, another purpose. So life is a journey which is lived according to God's purpose - merged in God's purpose - in a rhythm of humble relationship with God and with others, not a dualism of "spiritual" and "secular" life - church life and work life etc.
This for me is the heart of the pilgrim, the inspiration of Brendan, Aidan, Chad, a man called Jesus who walked the roads of Palestine 2000 odd years ago and of the calling on us to be peacemakers, disciples and children of God. This, it seems to me is the core of the journey we are committing to take, all the rest is simply how each one of us lives each stage of it. I guess that's what I pin my hopes and dreams on, and why I commit to walking with God, a God who chose to walk with me, who came to live amongst us and live and die for us. Whatever happens, happens! I can do nothing but walk humbly with my God... may the way be led by your will God, not mine.
We finished the service on Sunday with the Hymn "God is looking for a people" (which I've never heard before) the words of which are as follows...
The God we love is looking for a people,Amen
who will allow his Spirit full control,
within whose hearts the truth will be established,
and fan the flames of worship in the soul.
He looks beyond our calculated duty
for lives alert to all the joys of grace -
may we be found among their honoured number,
a people eager for the warmth of his embrace.
The God we serve is looking for a people,
Who will give due attention to his word,
approaching scripture with a prayerful stillness,
prepared to wait until is voice is heard,
and who will move from hearing into action,
allowing Christ to shape them day by day:
may we be found among their honoured number,
a people who will listen to him and obey.
The we preach is looking for a people,
who will proclaim his kingdom to the poor;
who will not flinch when aced with opposition;
who find the cross to potent to ignore.
They will explain the hope of resurrection,
yet work for justice now for all the earth:
may we be found among their honoured number
and show our neighbours how much Christ says they are worth.
The God we love is looking for a people,
who will be knit as one community;
who will be glad to bear each other's burdens
and whose commitment fuels their unity.
In lives like these the Spirit's gifts are nurtured;
by love and joy and peace their faith is known;
may we be found among their honoured number.
a holy people Christ is pleased to call his own.