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First week of Lent: Solemn Reproach #1

Read from Micah 6:1-8


O my people, O my church, what have I done to you?

How have I offended you?

Answer me.

I led you out of slavery into freedom,

and delivered you through the waters of rebirth,

but you have prepared a cross for your Savior.

Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal,

have mercy on us.


What does the Lord require of you?  In any good and healthy relationship, we want to be partners and we want to know our part, what to do.  If we can believe that God cares for us and provides everything we need, then what can we do for God in return? 


The prophet Micah speaks for God, who accuses the people of neglecting the covenant—the people have forgotten their own story, they have forgotten their ancestors, their leaders like Moses and Aaron and Miriam, and they have forgotten the amazing things God has done for them, like leading them out of slavery in Egypt and leading them into the promised land. 


So Micah voices these words from God: “O my people, what have I done to you?  In what have I wearied you?  Answer me!” 


As people of God, as people of faith, what defense can we possibly have?  Micah imagines how the people of God might respond—can we give sacrifices, even huge sacrifices, to make up for all the wrongs we have done? 


No, Micah says—the Lord has told you, O mortal (in case you also forgot your mortality, be reminded that you are not eternal, you are not immortal), and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God? 


Do justice—in the Lutheran Study Bible (page 1511), the study note says the Hebrew word for justice is mishpat, which refers to fairness and equality, not a punitive sense of justice that favors punishment but a restorative justice that looks out for the good of all people and even all creation. 


And love kindness—the Hebrew word for kindness is chesed, which encompasses merciful actions such as loyalty and integrity. 


And walk humbly with your God—the study Bible notes that to walk humbly is contrasted with the “rapid strides of the powerful.”  Go at God’s pace.  Let God set the rhythm, let God take the lead, and you be the one to follow. 


Does this word from the prophet Micah, written thousands of years ago, have anything to say to us now?  Absolutely.  We probably know Micah chapter six verse eight by heart—we love to quote it.  But as Lutherans, we also care about context; we can see God at work in the prophetic message in its original time AND we can discern what these ancient prophets have to say to us now, in the year 2024. 


It's important for us to know clearly our own tradition, our Lutheran perspective for interpreting Scripture—seeking God’s Word—and also remembering our stories, remembering where we come from.


As Christians, we come from the Jewish tradition.  Jesus Christ, the one we call our Lord and our God, was a human man and grew up in the stories and faith of Judaism.  In this season of Lent, we revisit the stories of Jesus’s last days and last hours of life—it’s an emotional journey, for some of us a painful journey. It didn’t take long after Jesus’s death for his followers to blame Jews for his death.


But Jesus didn’t blame Jews, or Judaism, and he didn’t reject the faith that nurtured him and the faith he taught as a rabbi.  We don’t have to reject Jews or Judaism either.  That’s why we’re paying attention to those places in our Christian theology where anti-Semitism can creep in.  One such place is in our understanding of the prophetic messages of the prophets of Israel—prophets like Micah.


Micah has words to say to us.  We don’t have to disregard Micah’s words as ancient history.  I have a booklet from the ELCA Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Jewish relations—did you know there’s a consultative panel on Lutheran-Jewish relations?!—and it’s titled “Preaching and Teaching ‘With Love and Respect for the Jewish People.’”[1]  It’s filled with suggestions about ways to interpret Scripture that don’t lead to hatred of Jews. 


This booklet says: ask how the prophets’ critique addresses our own communities and shortcomings.  Prophets are not to be used as a foil for emphasizing a better, alternative, or transformed model of relationship that comes with Jesus, but to call us back to the relationship with God that Jesus modeled as a faithful Jew.  “We read and proclaim prophets best when we ask how they call us constantly to attend to the full implication of what it means to live a life shaped by the Word of God.”  (Page 7)


The words of Micah give shape to the Solemn Reproaches, which are sung on Good Friday.  The old prophet still speaks, calling us back to God—O my people, what have I done to you?  Our only response is to plead for God’s mercy.  Part of our journey of forgiveness and reconciliation is to lament the wrongs done in God’s name, to preserve relationships of integrity with faithful people even in other faiths, like Judaism.  In this way, we too bear prophetic witness.  We also are prophets. 


Pastor Cheryl




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