There is no shortage of controversy in the world today.
Controversy, hideous, heart breaking and historical.
Controversy sells and we are consumers. Tabloid headlines of news that isn’t really news. Creating controversy where there really is none.
In the day to day, controversy can arise in the complexities of communication.
There are also heartbreaking controversies of human dignity not actualize and human rights abuse, controversy of food, climate, controversy of funding for education. Theological controversies have split the church many times.
I’m not a fan of drama filled controversy. And yet it is everywhere. Perhaps, people of faith are called to be the steady peaceful steps in the midst of it.
The Controversy of Micah
The controversy in Micah is where the text caught me.
There is a something going down between God and the people.
It’s a little unclear. But, the controversy is great enough that the mighty unmovable mountains hear the case set before them like judges.
One scholar suggests:
The people are complaining about God’s expectation of them. Towards the end, they ask:
What is acceptable to you God? With what shall I come before the Lord.
Do you require offerings small or extravagant, do you require an offering of that which is most precious?
God hears the complaint and responds, re-interpreting the angst in light of God’s unfolding drama. Now, they are placed back in the midst of God’s salvation story of unending grace.
The people remember and are re-membered into the many acts of mercy, promise and new beginnings along the way. Narratives of being led, blessing amidst challenge, of God using that which is foolish confounding the wise, of God’s blessing.
And so, what happens is Micah reminds the people of God’s past faithfulness through three powerful stories within the Exodus narrative.
First, they are reminded of the Exodus. How Moses stood up to Pharoah leading his people out of oppression. By his side were Aaron who spoke when his words faltered and Miriam who sang.
A reminder that God will not leave you where you are found. God will interrupt our comfort and comfort our affliction so that we might walk faithful as disciples of the living God.
2. Places named from Shittam to Gilgal.
Next, Micah reminds the people of the storied places and of the journey from Shittam to Gilgal. Places significant in marking the passage from wandering in the wilderness to entering the promised land.
Shittim, is on the other side of the Jordan before they crossed into the promised land.
Gilgal, is the place where they came out of the Jordan. Crossed on the 12 stones that will remind generations to come of what the Lord has done.
When your children ask their parents in times to come what do these stones mean? Let your children know Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground. For the Lord your God dried up the waters here until you crossed over, just like at the red sea. Why? So that all the people of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty. (NRSV)
This reference, reminds us that the Lord provides and leads on journeys that are not meant to be easy, yet God continually fulfills promises along the way preparing a way forward.
3. The Foolishness of a Donkey Opening the Eyes of Balaam (Number 22)
Finally, we hear a fabulous narrative about the foolishness of a donkey opening the eyes of Balaam. About a people who were blessed even as a King tried to curse them.
The narrative goes like this:
Balak the king of Moab was fearful of the large number of Israelites living near to him. They were numerous and threatening to the king.
He summoned Balaam to curse the people and drive them out of the land.
Balaam hears Balak out and listens to the plea, but God keeps giving Balaam the message: Do not go and curse the people because the people are blessed.
King Balak continues, trying to convince Balaam with silver, gold, and persuasive people.
Eventually, Balaam agrees worn out from Balak’s persistence.
Balaam saddles up his donkey and God’s anger is kindled .
An angel appears on the road.
The donkey sees the angel, moves to the side. The donkey is struck and lays down under Balaam whose anger is kindled. Balaam strikes the donkey. Donkey speaks.
What have I done to you that you have struck me three times? Balaam -because you have made a fool of me. If I had a sword I would kill you.
Am I not your donkey, which you have ridden all of your life to this day?
Have I been in the habit of treating you this way? No
Balaam’s eyes open to see the angel of the Lord. He realizes his sin and goes on his way to continue standing up to the King’s numerous requests to curse the people. How could he curse a people who are already blessed.
The donkey teaches Balaam, once and for all. God uses the foolishness of a donkey to put Balaam back on the right track.
God confounds the wise with that which is foolish.
Now, that is controversy.
What is is controversy then?
If these lectionary texts make any difference in our lives, which they do, then we are invited to see things differently and because of this live differently.
When God turns our understand of life and the world upside. Of who is in, and who is out, of who is blessed, of who is wise, of what is strong. Of how the foolishness of a cross is the power of God.
God’s controversy is scandalous in the world.
It is so scandalous that God was put on a cross but that wasn’t the last word.
Do you know what is scandalous?
That some places have found a way to greatly reduce homelessness through housing first initiatives that are fiscally responsible and compassionate.
Do you know what is scandalous? God uses the people on the margins to offer blessing to the world.
Who does God bless?
Our little write up says:
Who are the blessed ones of God? For Micah, they are those who do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. For Paul, they are the ones who find wisdom in the weakness of the cross. For Jesus, they are the unexpected people - the poor, mourners, the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers.
Who are the blessed ones?
The bulletin cover gives gives us a hard to ignore specific reference this week.
At a recent Synod Assembly, a Racial Justice Advisory Committee was created. Deacon Scott and your former pastor, Katherine are members along with others. They are tasked to lead our Synod in the work of racial justice awareness, learning, and advocacy. A goal is to create a safer space for conversations about race, in our Synod, Ministry Areas and congregations
On the Eastern Synod website, the task force writes,
They will help us build awareness that racial discrimination is a deep and persistent part of our society and world. White privilege exists; and the challenge is that many of us do not even perceive it because our daily lives are largely White. We claim that we are not racist but often times we aren’t clear on what that really means. While others are very aware of racial injustice, having experienced it.
The task force encourages: All of us need to care about this injustice, to be aware of its presence in our communities, and to take steps together toward justice and equity. We are all created in the image of God, each person is special.
When some people of our human family are not treated with value and dignity, it is a contradiction to our beliefs and values. God’s will is for all to be treated with love and respect.
Who are the blessed ones? Sometimes, the blessed are the ones we expect and also the ones whom we do not expect. In God’s vast creations all people are created to be a blessing to the world and each other.
What is the controversy of which you speak, God asks?
This is part of the call in Micah.
What is acceptable to you God? With what shall I come before the Lord.
It’s rather simple.
To do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.
The same justice and loving kindness that have been our companions as we walk with God on this journey of faith.
Sources of Inspiration:
Working Preacher Commentaries (By Frelheim, Oden)
Eastern Synod Racial Justice Task Force (materials, prayer found on www. easternsynod.org)
God of love,
You created a world rich with diversity. You made small flowers and big flowers, pink and purple and yellow and orange flowers. You made creatures that jump and swim, creatures that fly and creatures that slither. You created people, in your image. Some of us are tall, some short, some slim, some wider, some Black, some Brown, some White. We have different abilities and gifts and faces... and we are all made in your image. We are all your children. Guide us, open our minds to your vision for us and fill our hearts with your love. In Jesus’ name we pray.