By Sue Whitt
Doing the Right Thing
Purpose: To realize that God has provided standards against which we can measure the righteousness of our acts.
Bible Lesson: Micah 2:1-4; 3:1-5, 8-12; 6:6-8.
Key Verse: “Has he told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” — Micah 6:8
Micah is preaching to the people of
God had called a people, delivered them from slavery, provided a home for them, and explained to them how to use these gifts in order to keep them. As time passed, they didn't trust God completely. Instead, they tried to protect themselves by appealing to other sources of strength — foreign kings, for example.
"Listen," Micah warns. "You who are in charge, you who should know what justice means, you hate good, you love evil." Then he specifies their sins: They are consuming the poor. "What do you expect?" Micah asks, "You don't listen to the poor. God won't listen to you," (3:1-4).
The rulers of
Micah's response is that God wants more than lip service. "What God wants is for you to do justice, to love goodness, and to walk humbly with God. Sacrifice is more than dropping off a calf at the temple. Sacrifice is giving yourself up to helping those around you," (6:6-8).
Their sin is not missing church on Sunday. Their sin is what they are doing with the rest of their lives.
Getting Ready for Judgment
Purpose: To conclude that stopping our ears to God’s word leads to avoidable tragedy.
Bible Lesson: Zephaniah 3:1-5, 8-9
Key Verse: “For my decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out upon them my indignation, all the heat of my anger; for in the fire of my passion all the earth shall be consumed.” — Zephaniah 3:8
Zephaniah is preaching to the people of
He warns of the coming destruction of
Sin has consequences. If I tromp around in the mud then come in the house without wiping my feet, that beige carpet in the front hall will be evidence of what I have done and what I have failed to do. The people of
"Listen, you people in charge, you ought to know what's right, but you hate good and love evil. Here's the evidence: you have consumed your people. You are faithless; you have profaned what is sacred; you have done violence to the law," (3:1-4).
What did they think was going to happen? Doesn't mud have to be cleaned up? Zephaniah reminds them (and us) that God is righteous and issues unfailing judgments (3:5). Are we to take this promise of judgment as reassuring or as really scary?
"Wait for me," Zephaniah quotes God. "I will overcome your sins." The God that speaks through Zephaniah is not restricted to
Our weakness can not overcome God's strength.
A Reason to Hope
Purpose: To help us develop a compassionate, empathetic response to those who are suffering oppression.
Bible Lesson: Habakkuk 2:6-14
Key Verse: “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” — Habakkuk 2:14
Prophets speak the truth to earthly kings, and they speak the truth to the King who rules over those earthly kings. Habakkuk complains to God, How long, O Lord, shall I cry out and you will not listen? He stresses to God that justice cannot emerge as long as the wicked are victorious. God's first response to him is, "Look around you. I am raising up the fierce
Habakkuk may have been gratified that God was aware of the injustice in
The people did need protection. They were in danger. God listed for them the wrong ways they had used in an attempt to keep themselves safe. You were so greedy for money that you allowed others to go into debt to you. You were so worried about your own physical safety that you moved to what seemed to you to be a safe address. You were so concerned about the security of your city that you were willing to use violence to protect it (2:6-13). None of this should have been new information to them. Other prophets had told them this kind of thing before. In time,
on and so on.
Scholars differ on the dating of the book of Habakkuk, but whether it was written in the seventh century or later, its promises are timely for all ages. Ehud Ben Zvi, in the Jerusalem Study Bible, tells about a long commentary of the first two chapters of Habakkuk that has been preserved among the Dead Sea Scrolls. This commentary identifies the Babylonians with the Romans who in their day were occupiers of
It's one thing to present God with a list of our complaints, of how someone is mistreating us. It's another to consider that our action may result in the mistreatment of others. We may be comforted to think that our enemies will be punished. We may not be to think that we are someone else's enemy that is deserving of God's punishment.
This week's passage ends with a promise — not of more wealth, or safer houses and cities, but of something more: "But the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." Glory is that attribute of God that makes us aware that God is present with us. We have a promise that we and everyone else will know God and recognize God's presence. This promise is so big that it will fill the earth just as the waters fill the sea.
Your Actions, Your Consequences
Purpose: To discover the dangers present in linking God’s will to our personal, ecclesial and national agendas.
Bible Lesson: Jeremiah 7:11-15; 2 Kings 23:36-37
Key Verse: “Because you have done these things, …I will cast you out of my sight.” — Jeremiah 7:13,15
After the fall of
The prophet Jeremiah called again and again for the people to repent. They didn’t. In chapter 7, Jeremiah tells them what is going to happen, “You’re standing here in the temple, built to be a place where people could meet God. Well, we have met God, heard what God intends for us to do, and we have decided that we would rather do something else.” Jeremiah lists their sins: oppressing aliens, orphans, and widows, shedding innocent blood, stealing, murdering, committing adultery, swearing falsely, and following other gods. “You reject God; yet, you have the nerve to keep coming back to the temple,” (7:1-10).
Jeremiah speaks to them words from God, “How long do you think that I will keep playing along with this farce? You come to the temple pretending to worship but you aren’t worshiping. You’re hiding out here the way thieves hide in the hills. I’ve tried to get you to listen, but you aren’t paying attention. I’m going to take away your hiding place.”
Jeremiah keeps trying to get them on the right path, “Remember Shiloh? When our ancestors first entered the promised land, long before Solomon built this temple, they constructed a shrine to God, a holy place to hold the ark that we had protected and received protection from on our journey from
Jeremiah is not suggesting that they should not have places of worship or that they should not seek to be in the presence of God. Rather, he is criticizing their hypocrisy. Worship is a hollow ritual if it is done by people whose lives are not transformed by the presence of God, people who when they leave the temple are willing to tolerate injustice, people who don’t care for the poor and the marginal.
It is natural, even prudent, to care about our security. We buy insurance and invest in pension plans, we alter our diets (or know we should) and worry that we aren’t exercising enough. Yet, no matter how wise or prudent we are about our money and our health, we know that ultimately we are dependent on God. Worship should remind us of this source of all that is important to us. And worship should remind us of something else--that those gifts that we have accumulated have a purpose. God intends for us to share the gifts.
When thieves flee to the caves after their crimes, they are looking for refuge, a place to hide from their crimes, a place to feel safe. Jeremiah’s words remind us to ask ourselves, What are we looking for at church?
Getting Through the Pain
Purpose: To see that true hope does not enable us to escape present realities but invigorates us for action in our world.
Bible Lesson: Jeremiah 29:1-14
Key Verse: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” — Jeremiah 29:11
By 605 BCE,
The prophet Jeremiah has been left behind in
“Some will tell you what you want to hear, but don’t listen to them. It will be a long time from now, but I will bring you back home. When you pray, I will hear. When you seek me, you will find me. I will restore your frontiers and bring you back,” (8-14).
We can read these words from Jeremiah from (at least) two different perspectives. First, we can think about the people who are now living within our borders but think of home as somewhere far away. God has long spoken words of encouragement and hope to powerless minorities and permanent refugees (Think of the Hebrew people who had come to
Another perspective is from those of us in American who think of ourselves as Christians but are having a harder and harder time thinking of
Jeremiah’s words are helpful: This situation is not temporary. It will last for a while. But, God knows who and where we are. Build your life as God’s people among those people who follow another way. In the meantime, pray for the president, the congress, your governor, your mayor, and city officials. Pray for their welfare even if you disagree with their policies.
The Reverend Sue Whitt is an elder in the