In our first lesson, from the Prophecy of Micah, we hear the prophet answering the question, “What does the Lord require of you?” In the Catechism of The Book of Common Prayer, this question is repeated: What does the Lord require of you?”[i] The answer would appear to come from the Prophecy of Micah; however there is an error. The Book of Common Prayer misquotes Micah. The Catechism’s answer to what is required of us is “to love justice, to do mercy, and walk humbly with [our] God.” That is not Micah, what we have just heard read. Micah does not say “to love justice.” Micah says “to do justice.” To do justice.
It is certainly a good thing to love justice. How important it was on Tuesday when President Biden signed the Proclamation establishing a monument honoring Emmett Till, the Black 14-year-old who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, and honoring his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley. We might could say it is a movement in the direction of the justice we love, those of us who do. But we are a conflicted people. We are a nation founded on genocide, built up by slavery, and still captive to rampant racism which is so apparent… except to those for whom it is not. Martin Luther King, Jr., said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”; however that requires help, our help.
Going back to the Prophecy of Micah, we hear Micah answering what the Lord requires of us, “to love kindness,” and “to do justice.” We must be about justice-making as followers of Jesus. None of us here has the power of the President to sign a proclamation on behalf of the nation; however all of us have some power within our reach, not just to love justice but to do justice. Edward Everett Hale, a 19th-century historian and a Unitarian minister in Boston, had witnessed the Civil War, what led up to it, and the insidious injustice that followed when “Reconstruction” was destroyed in 1877 and the Jim Crow laws began to reign. To Edward Everett Hale this was evil atop evil and required action not just sentiment. Hale wrote:
I am only one, but still, I am one.
I cannot do everything,
but still I can do something;
and because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do something that I can do.[ii]
It is to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God.
[i] “An outline of Faith, commonly called the Catechism,” in The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 847.
[ii] Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909).
This evening we begin a five-part preaching series entitled, “Breaking the Word.” Each Tuesday in Lent we’ll be considering a different word. The words we’ve chosen – conversion, forgiveness, grace, redemption and passion – are words that we Christians use frequently but which we may not fully understand. We seldom take time to explore their meaning or to reflect on their significance for us. That’s the purpose of this series.
Tonight’s word is “conversion.” It’s a word that, for some of us, might have some mixed, or even negative, associations:
- It may elicit unpleasant memories of encounters with religious groups or individuals that make it their chief aim to convert others to their point of view.
- It may bring to mind a certain style of evangelism that strikes us as manipulative or intrusive.
- It may conjure up images of “hell-fire and brimstone” sermons, or of massive crusades in which charismatic preachers try to whip up the emotion of the crowd to affect a response to their message.
- It may remind us of people we have know who have been “converted,” but who bore witness to their conversion in remarkably unattractive ways.
As our bulletin notes, the word itself simply means “to turn around.”
“Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around [Jesus], they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them.”Mark 7:7:1-2
The criticism about Jesus’ disciples not washing their hands was not the Pharisees’ concern about the spread of germs. This is about ritual purity. The Pharisees believed that in addition to the Ten Commandments, Moses had received other commandments from God which had been communicated privately to the Pharisees down through the generations.