“Course Requirements: Love Kindness”
Matthew 7:13-14; Micah 6:8; Micah 7:18-20
Rev. Tasha Blackburn
September 16, 2018
A lot of harsh words are shared in the book of Micah. “It will be night for you,” God says through the prophet. “I will hide my face from you…I will cut down your cities…I will exact anger in vengeance and in wrath.” This terrible fate and judgment is laid on the people throughout the message. But, even with all of that, this is how it ends.
It ends with the people proclaiming what they know is true about God’s core. You pardon iniquity God, and you overlook sin, and you do not hold on to anger. Yes, a lot of painful words have been shared from God to his people, discipline for their behavior but, in the end, we come to this great mercy and love. God hurls all our sins into the depths of the sea. What we learn from Micah is that, with God, kindness wins.
The word here for this kindness from God is hesed. When we read that God delights in “showing clemency,” that is hesed. Or later when it says that God shows Abraham “unswerving loyalty,” that is hesed. Hesed means more than just kindness. It means loyalty and mercy and love that keeps on loving, no matter what. Hesed is what we are celebrating anytime we are told that our sins are forgiven.
Many of you have told me this is your favorite moment in worship. Sometimes it lasts one minute, sometimes just a few seconds when Phil or I stand before you and proclaim that, by God’s mercy, your sins are forgiven. We say things like “as far as east is from west, that is how far God removes your sin from you.” We proclaim the truth that “you are forgiven of your sin; now be people of peace.” For some of us, it is those few seconds we come for each week, those promises we need to hear again and again. We need to know no matter what has come before, the last word is hesed; that God pardons iniquity and overlooks sin and does not stay angry with us for long.
Last Sunday evening many of you came out for the church picnic. It was wonderful to be there together during such beautiful weather and spend time with church friends. Of course, it was also good to meet our new friends BunBun the rabbit and Poppy the chicken. As a reminder, we voted between them for what to use our Sunday School offering for. The chicken won. What you need to know about these animals is that, before their illustrious presence among you, they were crammed into my car for one of the more harrowing drives I’ve had in recent years, especially with the chicken.
Imagine this if you will: an in descript car on Rogers Avenue by the Hobby Lobby attempting to turn left onto Highway 540 South. Every turn of the car makes the chicken inside it go crazy so the car hesitates to turn in front of oncoming traffic, and hesitates and hesitates. A line of angry drivers formed behind said car. You can picture it, right? Later in the drive, on 71, my driving was more erratic than is recommended when I swerved several times after the chicken began trying to fly. Another time I stopped right before a large bump in the road, I was frozen from going forward and frozen from going back as the chicken’s wings were caught in a cage. More swerving occurred when Alena shouted, “She’s laying an egg! She’s laying an egg!” (full disclosure: she was laying something but it was not an egg.” Finally, exasperated and worn out I said to Alena, “This would go a lot better if other drivers knew I had a chicken in this car!” I just knew they would better understand my bad road behavior if they could see what I was dealing with here.
I promise you will never have heard these words spoken in church or in any other place before but the good news of the gospel is that God knows you have a chicken in the car. The very nature of hesed, of this love God has for us that never stops loving, is that it can only be given to someone who needs it. It is not love that is given to someone who has plenty. It is not mercy for someone who is just fine. Hesed is only given to those who need it. And God has looked in your car and he knows you need it.
Because all of us have a chicken in our car. Some of us have a couple, or even a whole flock. We have burdens and fears and pasts we carry every day that cause us to sin. We swerve instead of staying straight or we freeze, letting fear win, or we hurt others with our behavior. Usually, we don’t even mean to do these sins but we do them because there are chickens in our car. There is the chicken of addiction and the chicken of bitterness, the chicken of selfish motives and the chicken of intentional blindness. The flock grows quickly and we can feel out of control from it.
Thank God for his mercy, for it is only because of that that we can even get in the car at all. That mercy, that hesed, that love, that recognition that we are in need and so he offers it, that love that keeps us going: that is what God wants us to do for others. You do it too, God says. The second requirement from Micah’s three: do kindness, do hesed.
God shows hesed to us for two reasons: because he made a promise to us, a covenant, and because we need it. We are to do it for others for the same reasons. Because he made a covenant with us to show mercy to us and love us, we are to live that mercy and love for others. Because he gives mercy to those who need it, we are to give it too for those in need. He knows how hard it is to have a chicken in the car and he wants us to see others that way too. Pardon iniquity, overlook sin, do not stay angry: you can do it because you know what it is to struggle with your own chicken and be shown mercy. You know what that meant for you and so what it can mean for someone else.
Our stance toward other is to be simply this: do I rely on the mercy of God? Then I will show mercy to others. This means I will do my very best to forgive their sin. I will do my very best to set aside my anger. This is not easy. Someone may annoy you, or disappoint you, or even deeply wound you. But bitterness toward them or revenge is not who you are. It is not what you do. You do hesed. Especially when hesed is not easy, ask yourself: How many chickens are they dealing with in their car? I bet you it’s a lot. But remember, there’s a whole flock of forgiveness in your past as well.
Just before this beautiful benediction at the end of Micah, the prophet has been remembering some of God’s great actions of the past: the Red Sea and escape from slavery in Egypt. He does that because there is hope for the future in remembering what God has done in the past. It is true for building up our own faith life: looking back on how God has saved you before gives you hope for help again in the future.
And it is also true that our past is our hope for the future when we consider how we become the people God needs us to be. Because God showed us mercy, we can go beyond ourselves and be mercy today. Because God showed us love when we did not deserve it, we can show that kind of love even when it is hard. And taking that past mercy into the future for someone else, that is the best hope any of us could have. It is the best hope this world can have.
God’s great love for you is a gift, the greatest one you will ever receive. And it also has set a requirement for your life: do kindness, show mercy, offer love even when it is hard. Of course, if you have never needed God’s kindness, never had a chicken in your car, then don’t show any kindness to others. But if you have, if you have needed God’s kindness—then, O mortal, he has shown you what to do and you know what the Lord requires of you. Amen.