“On Trial” 02/02/2014 by Rev. Stacy Swain (Click on title for audio)

The scripture this morning from Micah opens in court. The case is a grievous one. The Creator of Heaven and Earth has had enough and has taken humanity to court. So serious is this case that creation itself will be both judge and jury. The mountains and “enduring foundations of the earth” will hear the controversy of the Lord.

And what is the egregious offense that is to be heard? What is it that warrants such a trial? Well it is the most serious offense of all – it is a breach of covenant.

Much different from a contract which is transactional in nature spelling out the terms of exchange, (you repair my roof and I will give you xx amount of money), a covenant is relational where each party pledges to live in a certain way with and for the other person. And also, unlike a contract which is grounded in time, (we agree that you will start work on this date and finish the work on this date), a covenant is not bound by time and is witnessed not by a human official but by God.

Just a few minutes ago, we welcomed new members into our life together and the words they and we spoke were not one of contract asking that they agree to do certain things in a certain period of time, but it was instead one of covenant where we pledged how we would be with each other throughout time. Wat and Karla and Adam pledged that they would share, and help and live and be and we as a congregation pledged that we would walk with them in our life together and share with them our belief and doubt, our hope and our despair, our dreams and our convictions. And then we all stood as we were able and spoke together our Covenant, pledging to be together a loving and inclusive community. We spoke together Our Covenant that is a statement of values and purpose and that lifts our walk to the highest level reminding us of who we are and what we are together.

But while our welcoming of new members and affirmation of Covenant was a joy for us today, things are not going nearly so well in the scene from Micah. Long ago God called the people of Israel and pledged that God would be their God if the people would be God’s people and they would walk together in everlasting Covenant.

Well that is not exactly how it went, at least not according to the Biblical witness. God walked with the people but the people seemed to keep tripping up and falling down. They seemed to get distracted and discouraged and turned this way and that. And sometimes even they would get caught up and captivated by things that would take them away from their walk with God all together.

I am afraid that this morning is one of those times. The Prophet Micah has spent first five chapters of the book detailing the offenses that the people of God have fallen into. And what are they?

Well first, the powerful rich are devising wickedness. “They are coveting fields and seizing them, houses and taking them away. They oppress householders and house, people and their inheritance.” (2:2)

And second, those who are charged to rule and govern the people do not know justice. Micah says they “tear the skin off my people, and the flesh off their bones.” The word of the Lord charges that “Zion is built with blood and Jerusalem with wrong!”

And finally, the religious leaders are not serving the people but instead are using their office for their own gain. The word of the Lord spoken through the prophet Micah charges “that the priests teach for a price, and prophets gives oracles for money.” (3:11).

Humm. The powerfully rich are using that power to enrich themselves regardless if that means others are losing their homes, and retirement savings and pension funds.

Humm, A great nation of innovation and prosperity is sustained with blood and wrong as workers in manufacturing plants in China endure brutal and life threatening conditions to produce Apple products — two of which I confess I have and am quite enamored with.[1]

Humm. Religious leaders are not serving the people but are more concerned with maintaining the structures of religion than pursuing the liberating message of love they are to proclaim.

The scripture from Micah is an indictment of the transgressions of the people of Israel long ago but sadly such indictment seems just as timely to us today, doesn’t it?

Before we even think that we can sit in the jury box with the mountains or at the Judge’s bench with the foundations of the earth, I think we have to accept that God’s indictment against the people long ago is the same indictment God is bringing to us today. If we are to have a place in this court room scene, I am afraid we are to be sitting right alongside with the accused.

Now in a couple of weeks, Valentine’s Day will be here. And I wonder how many of us have been tempted at one time to do whatever it takes to restore relationship: to run out and buy that most expensive box of Winston Florist roses, or that most lavish gift of whatever sort hoping that that display will surely be all it take for him or her to forget that we trap from the shower to rectify whatever failing we are to be indicted for?

How many of us have been or are willing to pay or sacrifice whatever need be to get back to where we want to be with our beloved?

For that is exactly where humanity goes in this passage from Micah this morning. Humanity stands accused on that court room floor wondering how in the world to make amends.

“With what shall I come before the LORD and bow myself before God on High? Shall I come with burnt offerings?” “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams?” “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgressions?”

It is sad really but our first thought I think is that right relationship can only be restored through punishment and sacrifice. If I have hurt you than I should be made to pay. Right? That’s the way things work. Retributive justice is the name of the game. An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth.

Except that is not the way of justice in the heavenly court room that we are eaves dropping on today.

When humanity recognizes that it has in fact broken covenant and failed to live in loving relationship with each other, creation and God, humanity begins to perseverate on how to make amends. But then a third voice breaks in. It is not the voice of humanity and it is not the voice of God. It is the voice, I believe, of creation, of the jury and judge alike. It is a voice that knows how things are to be for it is as things have always been and will be in God’s good creation. And this voice says “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.”

Every Sunday we speak together the prayer for Gods Grace and receive again the Assurance that God’s Grace is ours. And once a month we gather around this communion table not because we deserve to be there but because we very much want to know what it is to live in the sweet shalom of being in right relationship with God and with each other. In the midst of whatever failing we may experience and individuals, as a community and as a nation, God is summoning us not to punish us but to wake us up to what has gone wrong and to set us again into that Covenant of love and relationships based on kindness, and justice and humility.

So as we set off into this walk of discipleship, and as we embrace each other as the community that we have committed to be, let us know that while there will be many times that we do not get it right and while we may even be summoned to the heavenly court on occasion, God wants not our punishment or sacrifice but the restoration of that precious gift of Covenant that is based on love and lived with the tenacity and resolve to never give up on each other. Let us rejoice in the Covenant that binds us one to another and to God. Thanks be to this community that walks together in inclusive love and thanks be to God who is the wellspring of that love that welcomes and binds. Amen.

[1] Charles Duhigg and David Barboza “In China, Human Costs are build into an Ipad” New York Times. January 25, 2012. Downloaded Feb 1, 2014 at nytimes.com.