Last Sunday, student vicar Luke Bacon preached on Micah 3:5-12, where we hear the warning of darkness, if we abuse our power and freedom, but then hear the promise of light.
Before we look at this morning’s scripture, I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that at this time of year my mother-in-law is in her element. For about a month at the end of March and the end of October every year my mother-in-law has the perfect excuse for anything that might go wrong.
Late, or early for anything, a burnt meal, feeling slightly under the weather: all these things can be very easily explained by the clocks having changed either side of daylight saving time.
Hopefully all of us are aware that the clocks went back last week, otherwise you’ll already have been sitting there for quite a while.
I’m sure that most of you will be more familiar with the history of daylight saving time but from what I can gather it was adopted in the UK in 1916. Although the bill was passed a year after his death, William Willet is credited with much of the hard work behind bringing Daylight Saving Time to the United Kingdom.
Willet was concerned that during the summer, daylight was being wasted while people slept. As a keen golfer he was also frustrated about having to cut short his rounds of golf on a summer evening.
Putting it really plainly, Willet wanted to bring people out of the dark and into the light.
This brings us to our Old Testament reading this morning where we hear, perhaps quite surprisingly, the complete opposite.
In verse 6 of chapter 3 we hear the prophet Micah deliver these words to the people:
“Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision,
and darkness to you, without revelation.
The sun shall go down upon the prophets,
and the day shall be black over them”
The chosen people of God are living in such a way that these words of judgement are spoken over them – darkness and destruction!
So what is the situation that these words are spoken into? What behaviours and attitudes elicit this promise of darkness and removal of God’s favour?
It is a situation of oppression, neglect, abuse of power and hypocrisy, to name just a few things. The ruling class, the rich élite are completely oppressing the rest of the nation. It isn’t just the most needy and vulnerable that are being neglected, although that is a problem, but even the so-called ‘middle class’, those who owned land, were being forced off their land and into poverty.
Instead of challenging this, many of the prophets of the time, instead of speaking God’s words, were merely placating the king and upholding or even encouraging these unjust structures in society.
Those that were called to be voices of truth, drawing the people back to God, had instead become totally complicit in all that was wrong in society. That is why, in verse 8, we see that Micah is so keen to disassociate from these so-called prophets. He says:
“But as for me, I am filled with power, with the spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin.”
Old Testament scholar, Dr Bruce Waltke writes:
“To be sure the nation looked religious as it thronged the temple and offered lavish gifts, but moral covenant, which mandated a loving spirit towards God and one’s neighbour, had been replaced by a covenant between the powerful to spoil the poor.”
It is to these hypocritical oppressors that today’s reading is speaking.
Throughout the Old Testament, New Testament and into the present day a major mark of people being in right relationship with God is the way in which we treat others. Not just others who are the same as us, not even the way we treat those better than us, but how we treat those with less: less power, less money, less intelligence.
Jesus himself says in Matthew 25, in the parable of the sheep and the goats, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the lest of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
God’s desire has always been that His people would reflect His nature, and at this time in Israel’s history they were falling well short of God’s purposes for them.
Through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension, today we have the opportunity to be counted among the people of God. This is incredible good news and with this invitation comes a mandate to live in a way that reflects who God is.
A few chapters later in Micah chapter 6, the prophet both asks and answers a question:
“What does the Lord require of you?”
“To do justice, and to love kindness (or mercy) and to walk humbly with your God!”
The call of a Christian is to do exactly this: To do justice, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God!
During this week when we’ve marked 500 years since the beginning of the Reformation it’s worth saying that we do these things not to be saved, but because we are saved! Doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God is our reasonable response to God’s gift of grace!
So we’ve heard the promise, or perhaps the warning of darkness should we abuse our power and freedom and become oppressors of others.
But hear the promise of light. Speaking as God’s mouthpiece, the prophet Isaiah writes:
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
Let’s live as people of the light who truly act justly – in our families, our workplaces, on our tax returns, in our communities.
Let’s live as those who love mercy – people who love to display the faithfulness and kindness of God, the God who in Jesus Christ chooses to identify with those who society rejects.
Let’s be people who walk humbly with God – not downcast or downtrodden because we think we are rubbish, but truly humbled because we grow increasingly aware of the magnitude of the God we walk with day by day.
In the name of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen