Updated: Nov 15
“THE 3 G's OF FAITH”
a message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.
November 5, 2023
Micah 3:5-12 NSRV
5 Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who lead my people astray, who cry “Peace” when they have something to eat, but declare war against those who put nothing into their mouths. 6 Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision, and darkness to you, without revelation. The sun shall go down upon the prophets, and the day shall be black over them; 7 the seers shall be disgraced, and the diviners put to shame; they shall all cover their lips, for there is no answer from God. 8 But as for me, I am filled with power, with the spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin. 9 Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob and chiefs of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, 10 who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong! 11 Its rulers give judgment for a bribe, its priests teach for a price, its prophets give oracles for money; yet they lean upon the Lord and say, “Surely the Lord is with us! No harm shall come upon us.”
12 Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.
One of the things I love about Scripture is if you read it honestly, it is as honest as daylight about our human tendency to falter, fail, and foul-up. The Scripture this morning is a harsh assessment of how the religious leaders of Micah’s day were sold-out to power, privilege, and purposes other than God’s purposes.
So normally last week we would have celebrated Reformation Sunday and this week we would have celebrated All Saints. I did it backwards. Don’t remember why but there you go, just proved my own point made above. As a religious leader I fouled it up. But let’s talk about the Reformation anyway. What’s that you say? I don’t know how many of you are scholars of religious history. Our type of churches used to make a big deal out of Reformation Sunday. It was part of our identity, over against Catholicism, and as those called to follow in Martin Luther’s spirit of reforming the church.
The short version of Reformation Sunday is this: on October 31, 1517 a Catholic priest and professor of theology nailed a treatise, a notification of 31 theses on the door of the chapel where he served as Pastor. He had wrestled with and decided to challenge the hierarchy of the church above him over a number of issues. Among the worst, the church was “selling indulgences,” that is you could pay in advance to be forgiven of the sin you were about to commit to be sure you could be absolved in the confession booth later. Pretty swell plan, huh? In addition, if you paid enough, you could be assured that your ancestor who died unrepentant and sinful could be forgiven post-mortem. Kind of an early pay-for-play scheme I guess you could say. Martin Luther challenged the leadership to change these offenses. He took it right up to the Pope. The Pope wasn’t having it. Luther kept pushing, to the point that the Pope told him to back off or he would be excommunicated. According to some histories the Pope even sent some “hit squads” after old Martin, because he wouldn’t shut up.
All this is to tie to our Scripture this morning. Micah is describing the religious leaders of his day, sold out to profit and privilege while the regular people suffered. He declared the consequences of such behavior. I can hardly imagine the outcry. Oh, wait, when one of our leading UCC pastors was videotaped – artfully cut to leave out the context of him saying he was speaking what he believed the prophets would say today if they were here – calling on God to damn America for its treatment of people of color, the poor, the immigrant, and those needing mental and physical care. That’s literally what some of the Hebrew Scriptures report the prophets did. But FOX had fun with that didn’t they? The problem is none of those people condemning the brother apparently never actually read Scripture, or ignored these type of prophetic words, nor did they understand preaching in the black church, nor the honorable personal history of that modern prophet, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who had served our country honorably in the military, including being trained as a cardiopulmonary technician and having served on President Lyndon Johnson’s medical team. But status quo religion never likes prophets who don’t kowtow to the political power of those on the thrones. Jesus himself cried out about Jerusalem’s habit of stoning and silencing the prophets.
Today the church is just as much in need of reformation as it was 500 years ago. The most powerful and profitable churches toe a specific partisan political line. The loudest preachers on TV and other media could easily be confused with candidates for the House or Senate or Presidency. We preachers are just as likely to sell out, give in, swallow the lies for the sake of influence as anyone else. We are all too human. But this morning that is not my main focus. Let me turn. Let me pivot from the first part of Micah’s diatribe to the declaration he makes in verse 8: “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might….” But let me turn from what is to what needs to be. The power and the spirit of the Lord can be found today, and we might say there are three words to sum it up.
I want to invite you to consider with me 3 G’s for faith. Those three “G’s” are Grace, Gratitude, and Generosity. In the face of a world and a nation in turmoil we need God’s grace. In the face of a culture that is never satisfied with being the wealthiest nation in the history of humanity, we need more gratitude. And in the face of voices that declare that those who are poor, hungry, hurting from mental or physical health issues are not worth another penny, we need a spirit of generosity. I declare to you today we need grace, gratitude and generosity more than ever!
The next two weeks I will look at these 3 “G’s” in more depth to help us prepare ourselves spiritually for the day we designate for Thanksgiving. In the meantime, the good news is we have a God of Grace, Scriptures that model gratitude for us, and a history of generosity from our faithful forbears that calls out to us to follow. Even more, we have the model, the embodiment of all that in the example of Jesus. His life, his work, everything about him embodied those qualities. His grace, that forgiving steadfast love, as visible as he healed, and blessed, and even as he challenged those same type of religious leaders Micah prophesied to, shines from the pages of the Gospels. He repeatedly spoke words of gratitude to God for the ways God’s grace and presence sustained him. And he demonstrated generosity in both of those other qualities. The grace he showed was free, life-changing, and abundant, especially for those who others scorned, hated, or shunned. His gratitude for God’s love and God’s presence flowed over into his interactions teaching his disciples, showing the outcast and the downcast God’s everpresent love.
Ultimately he gave us this table as a sign of all these things. He gathered his first followers around a simple act of remembrance. What we call the Last Supper or the Lord’s Supper or the Sacrament of Holy Communion was the Passover meal of Jesus’ faith. It was a way of “acting out” the way God provided protection for the Hebrew people before God liberated them from slavery. It was a regular reminder of God’s grace. The response called for is gratitude and for a generosity of spirit to others who are held captive or enslaved spiritually or physically. This table is a reminder of God’s generosity and grace. And so we always end it with gratitude – a prayer of thanksgiving.
Micah spoke truth about the failures and faithlessness of the priests and prophets thousands of years ago. But, God’ grace still won out for the people of Israel. Those prophetic words too accurately describe too many religious leaders today. But, God’s generosity continues to grant us grace, for the living of these days and the facing of this hour. God’s love has reformed the church and redeemed the world in times past and will reform the church in times yet to come. Let us come to this table remembering that this is the meal that truly prepares us for our annual Thanksgiving season. And let us reflect on the ways we can grow in gratitude for God’s grace and God’s generosity.
The fact is grace begets grace. The more we embody the love of Christ, the more love we will have. If we do this, our actions will be so clearly loving that others will know who and what we are. Because the only real way they will know we are Christians, is by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love. AMEN.