Social Services Sunday 2015

July 26, 2015

Micah 6:8-12 James 2:14-17 Matthew 25:31-45

Have you had the opportunity to visit the Govett Brewster Art Gallery when it reopened yesterday. If you were able to get there, you may have come across the Exhibition titled, “Our hearts of Darkness”. It is a deliberately disturbing exhibition which focuses on the way violence is embedded within New Zealand identity. And yes, the exhibition includes the violence that is part of the Parihaka story, and part of our story here too. What took my particular attention was an art work that was simply one word, constructed in individual letters, each standing about 30cms high, 3D block letters. Each letter covered in green Formica to give the effect of pounamu or green stone. The single word was repeated four times across the floor, letter behind letter, word behind word. The word was M-I-C-A-H Micah.

The information on the wall beside the artwork explained that Micah was a prophet from the Old Testament, and the artist was referring specifically to Micah Chapter 4. Perhaps the reason for the word Micah being repeated 4 times.

I came home to check out that passage for myself. What did chapter 4 of Micah talk about in the context of “Our hearts of darkness”? It speaks of peace and security. Of Justice. Of people turning away from war. Of people shaping their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks, and living in their own land, unafraid. It speaks of respect for diversity. And of peace. Both aspects of the Community of the Cross of Nails of which we are a part of. Very much our story, our longing as we look at the past and move towards the future. It is all there, from the book of Micah, and in our own Art Gallery right now.

So who is this prophet, Micah?

Micah prophesied in the 8thCentury BC at around the same time as the prophet Isaiah. Whereas Isaiah lived within the walled super-city of Jerusalem, Micah lived in a small rural town in the Judean lowlands, southeast of Jerusalem. From there, Micah saw first-hand something of the widespread effects of corruption. The power of the rich to gain greater wealth by exploiting the vulnerable. The inequalities of wealth and influence. The double standards and hypocrisy that prevailed.

Micah’s words of prophecy were particularly strong against

  • Those who take advantage of the poor

  • Those who professed faith and godliness but whose lives demonstrated corruption,

  • And Miscarriages of justice by those who exercised leadership.

Today our Old Testament reading also comes from Micah’s prophecies just a couple of chapters further on from the Art Gallery’s reference. It begins

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

How does this speak into where we find ourselves this morning.

Perhaps you have come this morning with a sense of uncertainty. Did you attend the meeting in the Peace Hall last Sunday, where the issues with the physical structure of this Cathedral and the need for earthquake strengthening and remedial work were explained? Are you wondering what it will be like to be part of this worshipping community if the Cathedral is temporarily closed for a period of time, for months, or perhaps years maybe. What will change? How will it be for us? What will we look like? Perhaps it seems difficult today to be thinking about Social Action when we ourselves are facing a period turmoil.

What does the Micah passage offer us as we journey on this pathway of potential closure?

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

What does God require of us: What does God want from us at this time?

Simply to do justice. To love kindness: they are actions with which to frame our living.

There can be challenge for us in this: We have our own opinions on what justice looks like and who is worthy of it. Loving kindness in the passage of Scripture from Micah can also be translated as mercy. What does mercy look like? And for that matter who deserves justice and mercy?

Let’s look at God’s actions of justice and kindness or mercy:

God pardoned the criminal hanging on the cross beside Jesus, saying today you will be with me in paradise

God interceded for those casting lots for Jesus’s clothes as he hung on the cross dying,

praying “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”

God forgave the woman caught in adultery and challenged those who condemned her

God reinstated Peter, calling him into an exciting ministry,

even though Peter denied knowing Jesus three times.

No evidence of repentance, or worthy behaviour. Just the out pouring of justice, love and mercy.

Then Micah encourages us to walk humbly with your God. What does it mean to walk humbly with our God. When life throws us a curve ball, we can be brought to a halt. We are faced with the limits of our humanity. If we stop and consider God, who is Creator, Creator of all we can see and beyond - Think of the beauty of the universe, all those billions of Kms beyond earth, in the pictures being beamed back to us of Pluto, - as we look at ourselves and our worries in the light of the Creator of the universe, we get a sense of awesomeness of God. And then this God who is the Creator, is also Redeemer. This God, the Redeemer chose to come and live among us, and die on a cross so that we could each be given freedom. And that freedom comes as abundant life through God who is also Life Giver. And it is this God whom we are invited to walk humbly with – in the frailty of our humanity, and yet deeply loved by God. To journey onwards with God in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.

Who does God call us to be, this morning, as individuals and as the Cathedral Church of St Mary? What is the crux of our calling in this time of uncertainty? It is to continue to be the faith community we are called to be. To Be Christ in this Community.

To do Justice. Love mercy or kindness. Walk in humility with God.

Our Gospel reading outlines what this means a little more:

See those who are hungry and thirsty and offer nourishment

Welcome the stranger by offering splendid hospitality

See those who lack the basic necessities of life and provide for them

Care for those who are sick

Visit with those who are imprisoned.

For in doing so, we are loving God.

Have you seen the latest copy of the Cathedral Magazine? Pick one up as you leave this morning. On pages 3&4 Jamie talks about the “Seven Marks of a Healthy Church”. Briefly summarising, and in doing so – losing some of the vision in this, the seven marks are seen in a church which expresses the life of Christ through:

  • Being energised by faith, through worship, through nurture and more
  • Being outward focussed with a whole of life concern, social justice comes in here as well as building peace
  • Seeking to find out what God wants in vocation, vision and mission
  • Facing the cost of change and growth positively rather than resisting change
  • Building vibrant community rather than being a religious organisation or club
  • Being inclusive, expressing welcome, and embracing diversity
  • Doing a few things very well, truly enjoying what we do.

Have a read for yourself. It is an exciting reflection to carry with us as we step forward into uncertainty. They are all things that are tangible, positive and possible even as we journey on this path of change. And the concepts contain essences of the Scripture readings today: the focus of doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with our God. The desire to see God at work in the world around us, and to respond to the invitation to be involved. The focus beyond ourselves and our buildings.

It may seem unbelievable that today, we would be focussing on Social Action, on what justice, and loving kindness look like, on seeing Christ in those around us and caring for them because we find ourselves in a state of unknowing too. Yet this is the very challenge: to be the church, to be as Christ in the Community as we walk this uncertain journey. Not to turn our thoughts inward and get lost in limitation, but to allow that humble walking with our God to take us to new places. We can relax into this. To do justice. Love kindness. And walk humbly with our God. This is acceptable to our God. The God who loves us, and delights in our very being. This God is with us. This God walks with us.


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