Sin grows from how we live outside church


By Sue Whitt


July 1

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 Judah during a troubled time. Israel, the northern kingdom, has been captured by the mighty Assyria and lost its people to exile. Much of Judah, the southern kingdom, also has been overrun, but Jerusalem remains. (Don't be confused that Micah addresses his audience as Israel (3:1). He is doing so to emphasize that they have engaged in the same sorts of injustices practiced by the Northern Kingdom.)

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 Judah are treating God's people no better than the Pharaoh had. Didn't they remember what had happened to him? What do they think God will do to them? This question, of course, doesn't get stuck in the 8th century BCE. It's a question that travels through space and time to us. What does God expect of us? How can we please God?

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.


July 8

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 Jerusalem during the rule of Josiah in the late 7th century. Some commentators believe that he was African because he is described as a son of Cushi, a word that meant Ethiopian.

He warns of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the judgment on its enemies in the first two chapters. He's talking to people who should have known better. They could have read in Deuteronomy the parting words of Moses, "God has told me that the people will forsake me, breaking my covenant; I will be angry with them. They'll say then, 'Are we having these troubles because God has forgotten us?' No, the trouble will come because I have remembered them. They are the ones who will have forgotten," (Dt 31:14-31).

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 Jerusalem have tromped in the mud, and, as a consequence have soiled their city (3:1)"

"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 Jerusalem, but is the God that is concerned with the care and conversion of all nations (3:6-8). And, not just the people of Jerusalem will turn to God, but all nations will respond, "All of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve God with one accord," (3:9).

Our weakness can not overcome God's strength.

July 15

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 Babylon to overthrow the ones who seem to be powerful."

Habakkuk may have been gratified that God was aware of the injustice in Judah. He could possibly have been comforted by the notion that God could work through unexpected people — even those who themselves were not consciously obedient to God. But, he was not satisfied with letting an enemy be a useful instrument. "O Lord, to think that Babylon would protect us would be like the small fish in the pond thinking that bringing in a better equipped fisherman would save them from the big fish," (1:12-13).

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, Judah would find itself defeated by Babylon and be sent into exile. In time, Babylon would be defeated by Persia. And so
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 Israel. We may continue to hear this message as applicable to our own time and situation.

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.


July 22

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 Israel to Assyria, Judah would occasionally attempt to live in the way that God would approve. But, most of the time, despite God’s pleading, they did not. King Josiah had attempted reform but was killed in a battle against Egypt. Reform died, too. As the threat from Babylon grew nearer, both his sons who became kings after him, Jehoahaz and Johoiakim, paid tribute to Egypt. Egypt could not protect them from Babylon, and God chose not to.


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 Egypt. Remember, we lost the ark. We lost Shiloh. What other losses are we facing now?”


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?


July 29

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, Babylon had defeated Egypt in battle. To help ensure that its dominion over Egypt continued, Babylon took steps to forestall rebellion by overtaking the nation that lay between them--Judah. In its first invasion in 598, Babylon carried off the leading citizens of Judah  (2 Kings 24).


The prophet Jeremiah has been left behind in Jerusalem. He writes to the exiles in Babylon. We may be able to imagine what our attitude toward such a powerful enemy  would be, what advice we would give to our fellow citizens if they were living in captivity. His advice may surprise us. He writes to them, “Build, plant, marry, and raise children. Seek the welfare of the city that holds you captive. Pray on its behalf because in its welfare you will find your own welfare,” (7).


“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 Egypt because of financial necessity).


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 America itself as a Christian nation. Whether we regret  that teachers are no longer allowed to pray out loud in school or whether we are pleased that all prayer in school is now voluntary rather than imposed, we notice that something has changed.  And that change is more than school prayer. We notice that our neighbors sleeps in on Sunday rather than sit next to us at church.  We  know that they ‘re going to the grocery store and mall on Sunday (perhaps we’re there, too). How are we, the remaining Christians in an increasingly secular society, to react to Jeremiah’s words?


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 Mississippi Conference. She lives in Jackson.