Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Some Things Never Change” (Micah 6:6-8)
January 29, 2017
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Episcopalians tend to be highly resistant to change. There are many jokes about how many Episcopalians it takes to change a lightbulb. My favorite answer is “Twelve—one to change the lightbulb, and eleven to say, ‘We preferred it the way it was before.’” And of course sometimes it is impossible for Episcopalians to change a lightbulb, because there is often a longtime member who will say “My mother donated that lightbulb, and you will change it over my dead body.”
And it’s not just Episcopalians. Many people simply do not like change, even if it may be a change for the better. Change tends to cause anxiety, anxiety that may cause someone to freeze in their tracks rather than move forward—as the great twentieth century poet W. H. Auden put it in his 1948 poem The Age of Anxiety, “We would rather be ruined than changed.” One of the reasons people dislike change, especially deep change, is because as business professor Robert Quinn put it in his 1996 book, Deep Change, “Deep change means surrendering control” (3).
Over fifty years ago a young singer songwriter from Hibbing Minnesota named Bob Dylan, wrote a song that spoke directly to the period of deep change in 1960’s America, a period reverberating from the shockwaves of the civil rights movement, rapidly shifting social norms, and the imminent threat of nuclear war. On the title track of his 1964 album Dylan sounds like a prophet:
Come gather ’round people wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’…
Come senators, congressmen, please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’
Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’
Regardless of where you may be on the political spectrum, we can all agree that our current national climate is experiencing anxiety due to change. Many are also experiencing anxiety due to change in their personal life. Today I am preaching on a passage from the Old Testament prophet Micah that speaks directly to this.
Micah was a prophet in Israel about eight centuries before Christ during a period in Israel’s history when a season of peace and prosperity was winding down as the might of their neighboring nation Assyria was on the rise. It was an age of anxiety for the nation of Israel, marked by rampant idolatry and immorality and increasing injustice for the poor. Many people were asking: What does God want from me? Micah, writing in the first person, phrases it this way:
With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? (Micah 6:6-7).
Then Micah answers these questions in one of the most famous verses of the entire Old Testament: “He has 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?” (6:8). In other words, in spite of the anxiety caused by “the times they are a-changin’” what God wants from you has never changed: “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” As Micah emphasizes, God has already told you what he requires.
Doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with your God is all a response to what God in Jesus Christ has already done for you by his grace. Throughout his earthly ministry and particularly in his passion and death, Jesus did justice, loved kindness, and walked humbly with his Heavenly Father.
Jesus did justice.
Jesus did justice when he touched the untouchable, forgave notorious sinners and defended those who could not defend themselves. Jesus did justice when he preached, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:4), when he commanded his followers to “render therefore to Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21, KJV), and when he rebuked the self-righteous religious leaders:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others (Matthew 23:23).
But more than that, Jesus did justice in his death on the cross, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans:
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus (Romans 3:23-26, KJV).
Jesus did justice…and Jesus loved kindness.
Again, throughout his earthly ministry Jesus was kind to those who were not used to people being kind to them. Jesus’ kindness was simply another aspect of his self-sacrificial love, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Love is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4).
You have probably heard of the concept of “random acts of kindness,” a movement which began in the 90’s as a response to “random acts of violence.” Such “random acts of kindness” may include paying the toll for the driver behind you at the toll booth, picking up the check for someone else at a restaurant, or one of my favorites, bringing doughnuts to work. Such “random acts of kindness” are completely focused on the other person. Scripture tells us Jesus’ death on the cross was his ultimate act of kindness: “But when the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy” (Titus 3:4-5).
In other words, in his death on the cross, Jesus loved kindness because he loved you, and there was nothing random about it.
Jesus did justice, Jesus loved kindness…and Jesus walked humbly with his Heavenly Father.
Jesus walked humbly with his Heavenly Father at his baptism when his Heavenly Father proclaimed, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17), when he walked on the water in the middle of the stormy night to the frightened disciples struggling in their boat, and when he declared “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise” (John 5:19). And Jesus walked humbly with his Heavenly Father down the Via Dolorosa to Calvary, all the way to the cross, where in his final breath he cried, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
Hearkening back to Micah…you do not need to give your firstborn for your transgression or the fruit of your body for the sin of your soul, because God already gave his Son for you. In response God requires the same things he has always required: to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with your God.
Back to Bob Dylan…listen to how he closes “The Times They are A-changin’”:
The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast
The slow one now will later be fast
As the present now will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’
In his incarnation and death Jesus stepped across the line that had been drawn between a holy God and sinners, and took the curse that had been cast upon himself. W. H. Auden is exactly right—“We would rather be ruined than changed”—and so Jesus surrendered his control in order to effect deep change in you for the better. And this deep change for the better has eternal ramifications and will be completed at the resurrection, when as scripture assures us, “the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52).
Some things never change, especially the grace of God.
Scripture assures us, “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).
Out of his unchanging grace, Jesus did justice, loved kindness, and walked humbly with his Heavenly Father for you—and in response you are simply called to follow his example.
God’s unchanging grace in an ever-changing world can give you comfort in this age of anxiety and in time will effect deep change in your life, a deep change for the better that will last for all eternity.