There are a few different kinds of prophets. First, there are the prophets that bring warning to the people.
Turn away from your path or you shall see destruction.
There are the prophets who console the people who didn't listen to the first prophet.
Yeah, you messed up, but God still loves you.
Then there were the prophets who were both. They tell the people to turn from their ways or face the consequences. When they ultimately fail, the same prophets are there to tell them God still loves them.
Jeremiah was, pretty much, the prophet in exile, who consoled the Israelites after they messed up. Isaiah was the prophet who was both warning the people and then giving them hope after they failed to listen. Micah was the first kind of prophet. He warned the people to turn from their ways or face the consequences.
There's a lot of overlap on prophets. It's not like one prophet exists and then another one takes his place. (Well, there was Elijah and Elisha, but normally the word of God isn't limited to one voice.) I remember, as a child, I couldn't wrap my head around the time frame. I just assumed each prophet came, one after another, The Israelites were warned, they didn't listen; they were patted on the back and told God still loved them. Then the cycle began again. I misunderstood. I didn't realize four existed at the same time! Four were giving out the same warning! Four were trying to get Israel to understand. During the time of Micah there were three other prophets attempting to change the hearts and minds of Israel. With Micah, there were Isaiah, Amos, and Hosea. That's a lot of voice speaking for God. For the most part, they were mature voices, older voices... except Micah. He was younger, and therefore, what he had to say was more raw and passionate regarding the message God was sending him to make. Our scripture for today, is as raw as it gets.
When I think about the legal dialog in the bible, my mind immediately turns to Job. When Job was sitting on a pile of ash, in total ruin, he decides he wants to bring God to trial. He already knew it was futile. He already knew there is no way he could possibly bring a winning case before God, but he wanted the opportunity to try. After all, he was blameless before God. Even the bible says so. He did nothing wrong, and didn't deserve all the bad things that had happened to him.
This scripture, in Micah, turns the table. The people are not bringing a case before God, God is bringing a case against the people. So there are a few comparisons I want to make between Job and Micah:
Comparison one: Both Micah and Job talk about a trial. Job wants to bring God to trail. God wants to bring the people to trail.
Comparison two: In Job, God uses Creation to show Job how small he is in comparison to, well, everything. God loves it all, even the monsters of the sea, where the chaos lives. It was in seeing the vastness of God's love that caused Job to redact his claim in court. In Micah, God calls creation as witnesses to the trial. So all that vastness is asked to sit and put their eyes on the people. Immediately, Micah sets a tremendous stage. While it is all very poetic, it is meant to terrify the Israelites and cause them to listen.
Comparison three: As the proceedings begin God asks the big question, “What did I do to you?” When one gets in a good argument, you want the person you are arguing with to come forward with a list of your wrong doings. The perfect scenario for the Israelites would have been God listing their wrong doings like a parent catching their child in the act: “You worshiped false idols! You hurt your neighbor! You did not feed the poor!” If God had come to the Israelites in that way, the Israelites would have been able to come up with counter arguments. “Well, we didn't realize what we were worshiping. I hurt my neighbor because they hurt me first. I didn't have enough to feed myself.” While, all of those might be excuses instead of reasons, it would have given the Israelites a chance to toss the hot potato back to God and avoid the issue instead of deal with it. Instead God comes from another angle: “What did I do to you?” Can't avoid that.
This compares to Job, because this was what Job wanted to ask of God. “What did I do to you?” The answer God would have answered was 'nothing.' Job did nothing to deserve the treatment he was getting. It is exactly the same in Micah. When God asks the same question of the Israelites, the Israelite people knew what God did, nothing. This is God, who saved these people, redeemed them from slavery. This is God, who gave manna to the people when they needed food, and water when they needed drink. When they asked; God supplied.
Job was found innocent. The Israelites were found guilty. So Micah asks the question: So now that you know you are guilty, what are you going to do about it?
These are the raw words youth brings to the table. They are not sugar coated. They are just true. Micah's answer is probably not the one Israel wants to hear. Sorry, you can't bow low enough. Sorry, you can't follow enough rites and rituals to undo it. Sorry, you can't give up your first born to make up for it. (I have to admit, that one is kinda funny. Something as outlandish as willingly sacrificing ones first born child. It sounds similar to the Passover, or Abraham almost sacrificing Isaac.) The answer isn't the easy way out. The answer requires making a life changing choice. The sentencing is thus: Seek Justice. Love Kindness. Walk Humbly with God.
The Israelites were so off track, four prophets were trying to get them turned around. Four. The answer was going to be a little bit more difficult than sacrifice your choice lamb from this years flock. So many quote Micah 6:8 from scripture, I think the message has been lost. Micah was trying to tell the people, you are wrong, and the solution isn't going to be easy. The answer is going to require life altering choices.
And this is where we can take something from this today. The Mainline Protestant church is dying. We can sugar coat the truth all day long, but it's happening. People have been warning it was coming since the 90's. We didn't listen. Now we need to take something deep from Micah other than a pretty song sung at Church camps. We need to look at our institution not from the ritual and rite, but from the call and action. How are we seeking justice? In what ways are we loving kindness? Is that path humbly with our God?
About a year ago I went to a leadership conference in Indianapolis. We were supposed to be taught what new church looks like today. What I saw was taking the skeleton of worship we have had for 60+ years and changing the music or saying a few words a bit different. I'm here to say, the world out there isn't buying it. No longer can we change our welcome mat and people come to our place of worship. The easy pill not only doesn't work, but it never really existed to begin with. There is only life altering change. There always was.
Still, it doesn't matter what a conference does. It matters what you do. You can be the change. You can be the seed that grows an orchard. It's not too late. We haven't reached the stage where we lick our wounds and say, “We tried our best.” We have come back from half time and we are in the third quarter. We have a few hail Mary's left up our sleeve. We have a second and third string quarter back to try out. This game's not over yet. It's just really begun. Justice- Kindness- Humility... hut!
I wish to add a footnote to this message. The leadership conference was great, and perfect for many who attended. Along with myself, there are a growing group who cannot fit into the New Church mold. These are innovators of faith. They meet in houses and bars instead of sanctuaries. Online instead of at 11am on Sunday. These are people putting out hypothesis' and testing if they work. Pray for these innovators. They need it.