Saturday, February 1, 2014

Justice, mercy, humility

Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; Matthew 5:1-12

Have you ever complained to God about something? What have you complained about? … Do you think God ever wants to complain about us? What do you think might God say?  …

While we might think God will complain about all the little and big things we do or don’t do, what God is really concerned about is the strength of our relationships with God and with each other. God wants us to remember all that God has already done for us. In this text from Micah, God lists some of the deeds God has done to help God’s people starting with bringing the people out of slavery on Egypt and calling Moses, Aaron and Miriam to lead them. We Christians would add, God sent Jesus to live and die for us.
We can promise to bring in our offerings, and offer to sacrifice that which is most precious to us. But it is not possible to bribe God. God sees what is in our hearts. So, what does God really want from us?
God wants us to “See that justice is done, let mercy be our first concern, and humbly obey our God.” We must remember that God’s justice is not human justice. Jesus tells us over and over that God’s justice is different. The Beatitudes, our Gospel text from Matthew do just that.
In the ancient world, the belief was that those who were blessed had money, good health, and power and status in the community. If you did not have those things, you or your ancestors must have done something wrong, and you were not blessed.
So when Jesus says that the blessed are the poor in spirit, the grieving, the humble, and so forth, he was saying something radically different, something very contrary to the culture. Jesus was saying that we should not focus on power and prestige, on wealth, even on health. He was saying just what Micah said: focus on justice, mercy, and humility. Jesus was saying, be a blessing to others.
Here are a couple of examples of what this looks like.
I saw a video produced by an organization called Give Back Films, featuring a couple of guys and someone they discover who deserves a break, a blessing. This week, Josh and Kyle learned about a housekeeper in a small hotel. Let’s call her Mary. The previous housekeeper had just been fired. Mary saw the “Now Hiring” sign in the lawn and went inside to ask what the job was. She was homeless and had only a little money in her pocket. The owners decided to give her a chance.  
The hotel was full, and they were running out of clean linens. Mary started the laundry, organized the linen closet, and was doing excellent work. A while later, Josh and Kyle heard about Mary and made plans to give her a large tip. They talked with the owner and got access to the room, and laid $500 in twenties on the bed with a note that it was a tip.
They set up cameras and a microphone so they could watch and film her reaction. When Mary entered the room, it looked like any other room, until she pulled off the blankets and the top sheet. There she saw the money and the note. She looked around in puzzlement and amazement. After a moment she spotted the cameras. The guys were watching and at this point they entered the room. Mary said, “I can’t accept this. Please take it back.” But the guys were insistent.
There are some folks who go out of their way to offer blessings to those in need. Josh and Kyle, and the hotel owner, noticed the injustice of a smart, hard-working young woman who is homeless, and offer her mercy and a chance. There are some folks like Mary who are so humble they think they don’t deserve a $500 tip. They met in this video, and it warms our hearts. Jesus has just blessed all of them.
Humility is often the simple act of putting someone else ahead of our own needs. It’s not something we hear a lot about, in this day of leaders who put their own needs and interests ahead of those of others.
Yet, examples of self-giving humility do exist. This week, I noticed this story on Facebook. “Susan” shared this: So last week, my son had a big wrestling tournament where they were taking 2 wrestlers from each weight class. He has the First JV spot so I was surprised/upset/disappointed when he told me he wouldn't be going.
When I asked him why, here's what he said. "The 3rd JV kid's Dad lives out of town. He's flying in this weekend and hasn't seen him wrestle. I went to the coach and asked if I could give him my spot. Mom - it was the right thing to do."
In this simple act of one boy giving up his place to another boy, we see Micah’s challenge to focus on justice, mercy and humility. We see Jesus’ call to be a blessing to others.
It’s easy to get caught up in living our own lives, struggling at times to get the bills paid, the doctors’ visits organized, and the pressures at work and at home reduced to a manageable level. It’s easy to forget that God – Jesus – should be our main priority. It’s easy to forget to live with a focus on justice, mercy, and humility. It’s easy to forget to be a blessing to others.
Now a question: Who is going to watch the Super Bowl this evening? Who is for Denver? … Who is for Seattle? … I hope this evening that the players on both teams play well, with good sportsmanship evident. Isn’t good sportsmanship also justice, mercy, and humility? Aren’t we all blessed when we use and witness good sportsmanship?
Today is Scout Sunday, and I love having the boys and their leaders with us. Scouting is about the same goals as Micah and Jesus want us all to have – helping others, and being ready to share their time and their talents as they grow to adulthood learning to focus on justice, mercy, and humility.
This evening, and all week, I invite you to pay attention to how you live and how others live. Do you see justice, mercy, and humility in yourself? I’m willing to guess that there are times when you fail (maybe once or twice a week ) to be just, merciful, and humble. Confess to yourself and to God your lack of justice, mercy, and humility, and commit yourself to being a blessing to others.
Notice when you experience justice, mercy, and humility in others this week. Take a moment and thank the person for blessing you and others. For those who are not just, merciful, and humble, do your best to bless them anyway, because you do not know what challenges they are facing.
We do not all have $500 to give to every hotel housekeeper. But, we can offer a smile, a thoughtful tip, a kind word, a patient ear. We can offer Jesus to everyone, and it doesn’t cost us a thing.

Please pray with me. Generous God, you give of yourself constantly, pouring your blessings on all your children. Help us to see your presence in each person, and to greet each one with your justice, mercy, and humility. Amen