Once there was a weary man who was walking on a dusty road when he heard the distinctive clip-clop of a horse and rider approaching him. When the horseman saw him, he pulled on the reins and stopped the horse to have a chat with the man on the road.
The man on the road admired the horse and thought how nice it would be to ride on a horse rather than walk on his own two feet. The longing in his eyes was obvious and the horseman’s heart was moved.
“Would you like to own a horse like this?” he asked the man on the road.
“There is nothing I’d like more than to own a horse like this,” was the reply.
“Tell you what,” the horseman said, “If you can recite the Lord’s Prayer without any hesitation or digression or distraction, then you can have this horse as a gift.”
Hardly able to believe his ears, the man on the road immediately began to recite the Lord’s Prayer. He got as far as “lead us not into temptation” before he stopped, distracted, and asked: “Do I get the saddle as well?”
As soon as the man said this, the horseman rode away.
(More Wisdom Stories, by Margaret Silf, Lion Books, 2013, pg.153, adapted)
This amusing story illustrates just how easily we human beings can become distracted. It is difficult at times to really focus on what we say we believe and follow through with actions that reflect our beliefs.
As people of faith we strive to live our lives focused on God’s way of love and justice. As Christians we strive to follow Jesus’ teachings and the example he set for us to follow. We are good people – we mean well and mostly we do well with acting in accordance to what we say we believe.
As most of you know I’ve been away the past two weeks. The first week I was on Study Leave and I was blessed to be able to leave other responsibilities for a short time and focus on learning and studying. I attended the Epiphany Explorations symposium and post conference workshop for five days in Victoria. The days were full with many energetic and interesting speakers that helped me to stay focused and listen intently. There were also opportunities to discuss ideas expressed by the presenters informally with others during breaks and after the evening sessions. It was a time that was rich with ideas and experiences, which will take some time to reflect upon, and that I’ll share with you in the days and months to come.
This morning I’ll share a few of the things that stood out for me when I reviewed my study notes as I thought particularly of today’s lesson from the prophet Micah.
The very first speaker at Epiphany Explorations was the dynamic Rabbi Harry Brechner who lives and works in Victoria. He began with the familiar story about a tightrope walker who was going to cross the Niagara Falls:
The tightrope walker said to the crowd that had gathered, “Do you believe me when I say I can cross Niagara Falls and arrive safely on the other side?” “Oh yes,” they said, “We believe you.” “That is what you believe and that is good,” he said. “Now, who is ready to climb on my back? That requires faith!”
Rabbi Brechner went on to say that the most powerful expression of faith is that which is embodied. Faith is trust that often transcends knowing. It is what we often call “faith in action”—we show what we believe by how we act. A person of faith is an agent for positive change. Brechner says that too often we second guess ourselves and don’t trust what we already know to be true deep within us. If God has faith in us then we should have faith in ourselves. When asked by someone in the audience what he thought about Jesus—who was also Jewish—Rabbi Brechner said, “I believe in what Jesus believed in.”
As those who follow the Way of Jesus we also believe in what Jesus believed in. One of the core teachings of Jesus’ faith tradition was the quote from the prophet Micah that we’ve heard morning:
“…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice,
and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”.
This passage from Micah was referred to a number of times by different speakers during Epiphany Explorations. I noticed this particularly because it is a favourite quote and also because I knew it was one of the readings for this Sunday.
Another speaker that I heard was author and theologian, Phyllis Tickle. Phyllis has written extensively on church history and the future of the church. She says that Micah 6:8 is a foundational scripture and a touchstone for emerging Christianity.
Mike Piazza who is a United Church of Christ minister, author and keynote speaker, speaks widely about the need for a prophetic renewal of the church today. He says that the Human One (Jesus) came to serve—not to be served. As followers of the way of Jesus, we are also called to serve—not to be served. He states it simply, We don’t come to church—we are the church.
Mike Piazza also spoke about the importance of the lessons in Micah 6:8 for the Christian Church in the 21st century. There is clarity in following God’s way when we look to Micah for guidance. Micah gives us simple guidelines for action: do justice; love kindness; walk humbly with God.
DO / LOVE / WALK — easy to remember. Not, however, always easy to follow when we get distracted with the ways of the world.
In my life as an active person in Christian communities, I have been through long meetings discussing and crafting mission and vision statements where each word is weighed for meaning and intent. It can be a painful process which usually leads to a very wordy mission statement that no one can remember or recite by heart.
It seems to me that Micah 6:8 is a very good mission statement for the Christian Church today. We believe that God calls us to live with faith and hope in our daily lives. We believe that we are not alone—that God is with us and guides us. All we need are ears to hear and hearts willing to respond in loving action. We believe that Jesus is an example for us of God’s love for the world and that we are called to participate in his ministry of love and justice. Ours is an embodied faith. It is not enough to say we believe something—we have to show what we believe in our actions.
As we prepare for the season of Lent may we remember and strengthen the ways that we, as Kimberley United Church, respond to what God requires of us. Let us take time to think about the ways that we reach out to others in our local and global community as advocates and as people of justice. Let us demonstrate our caring for members of our community of faith and the wider world. And, with humility, let us discern God’s guidance for us with the full knowledge that we are not God.
May we, in the coming weeks and years, help each other when we become distracted and momentarily forget who we are as people of faith and whose guidance and example we are called to follow day by day.
We are the Church — let us rejoice and be glad! Amen