Why Stand We Here Idle: Micah's Call for Social Transformation
A Sermon on Micah 4:1-4 NRSV
for Hope United Methodist Church of Bloomington, IL
Today we continue in our new Sermon Series, titled “Thoughts, Prayers, and Actions” by contemplating our calling to end Gun Violence in all forms, not just within Bloomington-Normal, but all around the US.
I share this sermon as someone who grew up hunting, going to the range, and being in contact with firearms several times a week. I share this as a person who was taught the safety of gun ownership from the age of five and who literally inherited guns at birth. I share this as a person who has gone on a journey of learning how to advocate for the end of violence by barrels of guns in America.
Today has been declared “Peace With Justice Sunday” by The General Board of Church and Society. Peace With Justice Sunday is aimed to encourage all of us to use our privilege and power to upend the systems which allow for mass gun violence in America.
For those who don’t know, this board is a United Methodist funded agency of advocacy and change making, headquartered on Capitol Hill, in between the honorable steps of Congress and the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court. Its mission is to help guide the United Methodist Church towards the work of living faith, seeking justice, and pursuing peace.
On the Board's website it is written, “The United Methodist Church states that war is 'incompatible with Christian teaching' [Social Principles 165.C]. If we are to live into our mission of transforming the world, we must prioritize collaboration among nations, work to reduce the use and need for weapons, and foster just, equitable and durable solutions to the root causes of conflict.”
Conflict and war is not limited to the actions taken across the seas between Governments and soldiers. Conflict and war is also found in the blood soaked hallways of elementary schools and in the makeshift alters, bedecked with flowers and teddy bears, on corners of our city streets. War and conflict persist in many forms and yet one thing connects them all: death tolls, empty chairs around dinner tables, and strangled voices of co-creation.
If we believe in a God of Love and of Life, we must begin the process of unpacking our understandings of protection, violence, and safety within the US.
To be clear: This is not a sermon on Gun Control. This is a sermon on something much more important in America. This is a Sermon on my, yours, and our collective duty to put an end to Gun Violence in the United States. To be even more clear, this is a sermon aimed to embolden us all to put an end the to the sin of Violence.
There are a few facts of this war and violence that I wish to share with you from sourced from the Pew Research Center:
In 2020 over 45,000 deaths and 40,000 injuries were attributed to Gun Violence in the US.
8 out of every 10 murders in America were committed with a Firearm
Death by firearms increased by 14% between 2019 and 2020. From 2015 to 2020, death by firearms saw a 25% increase.
For every 100,000 people in the US, 10 are expected to die by Gun Violence Over 10 times higher than Spain, Australia and Germany.
There were 611 incidents of mass shootings within the US in 2020 (nearly 2 every. Single. Day.)
Of the 80,000 incidents, only 1,500 were in defense of perceived bodily harm.
The raw statistics of violence in America is jarring, saddening, infuriating and sometimes debilitating.
That said, on May 26 of this year, in the wake of the Uvalde, Texas elementary school slaughter, the United Methodist Council of Bishops, our highest global executive body with the Church, released a statement to help guide us in this moment of unknown.
In it, the President Bishop, Thomas J. Bickerton wrote:
“If you are a pastor, weave our theology of a lived-out faith into sermons that challenge people to convert their fears, angers, racist tendencies, and complicit behaviors into a mobilized witness of the power of God to do far more than we could ever dream of or imagine."
He called on the laity too: “If you are a lay person, determine today how you will take the faith you nurture each week in a pew to the streets, the places where you work, and the homes where you live. If you are a church body, don’t settle for just active shooter training. Determine that you will actively work to transform lives from violence to peace, elect officials that will not settle for inaction, and inject communities with the grace and the love of Christ that will alter the course of our current behaviors.”
“...inject communities with the grace and the love of Christ that will alter the course of our current behaviors.”
That statement is exactly what scripture tells us…no… begs us... To do.
In the old testament, the story of the Prophet Micah is seen. Out of all the prophets, he is known for being one of the most angry and most impassioned. This is because he was once a farmer from a small town. He saw through the facade of the city elite living within Jerusalem. In Micah 3 he said, “They cry peace when their mouths are filled, yet declare war against those who put nothing in their mouths.” He lived at a time of warring nations and conflict ridden communities.
He is a prophet that was known for not only seeing the needs of a hurting People, but also for seeing a new way, a way to upend the system that created the harm in the first place.
Micah is the prophet that taught us too, “Do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly.”
Most importantly, according to Hebrew Scholars, he predicted the fall of Jerusalem, the city of faith, the ancient symbol of religion lived out on earth, if they did not end the violence they were allowing to be perpetrated within the walls of the City,
In Micah 4:1-4 it is written:
In days to come, the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills.
Peoples shall stream to it, and many nations shall come and say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Divine, to the house of the God of Jacob; that God may teach us their ways and that we may walk in their paths.’"
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
God shall way in between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; All shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.
Micah speaks of the state of disaster that exists within the world, but he also speaks of a ray of Hope. “They shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,” A metaphor of tranquility and peace. No one shall make them afraid, he writes, after we transform our weapons of violence into instruments of life.
Yes, pruning hooks and plowshares could be used as a weapon if they needed. But Micah did not just speak of a material transformation. He spoke of a societal transformation. A transformation where folks no longer sought to use weapons against one another.
Bishop Frank Beard, who visited our church last week, gave an incredible sermon at our Annual Conference yesterday that caused me to completely rewrite my sermon.
He quoted the King James Translation of Mathew 20:6.
The Bishop looked out from the stage to all of us and said, “Why stand ye here idle?!?”
It caused me to think, why stand we here idle in this very sanctuary?
Are we not called to a state of action, not just contemplation? God Calls us to movement even when we do not know what the heck we are doing.
In times of uncertainty, let us turn to one another when we don’t know how to get started.
You see, we are commissioned into the world to assist one another. That is the beauty of community. None of us have all the answers, but we all have a piece of the puzzle. We must work together as one.
When we do not know the next steps, towards change, be it societal, personal, legislative, all of the above and none of the above, it can feel frightening. In our fears our flight or fight reflexes can be enacted. May we find solace and peace in the collective power and knowledge that dwells within all of us.
On a micro level, I don't know shit about childcare, but I do know a thing or two about organizing. So what happens when my knowledge of organizing, combines with another's knowledge of childcare. Could it be that when we come together, we imagine a next step in teaching kids about their ability to fight for their right of safety and life?
What if we lived in a world not just of wonder, but of wandering. Wandering towards change, equity, and love Together. Let us put our thoughts into action one step at a time.
Beating our swords into plowshares takes time and energy. But it must be done.
The Prophet Micah knew that we have to change our methods not just today but over 2000 years ago in the ancient world. He said, let us not JUST set aside our weapons, let us not JUST stockpile them until they are needed, let us not JUST hoard power of potential war in the form of mutually assured destruction…
No. Micah declared, "Let us transform them!! Let us transform and be transformed. Transformed from a state of potential death to a state of potential life."
Life for our children. Life for our friends. Life for those in the margins. Life for those of Asian descent in Atlanta. Life for those at Orlando's Pulse NightClub. Life for those at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Life for those on the streets of Peoria. Life for those seeking shelter at the border.. for those in limbo on death row... Let us transform and be transformed.
Let us learn and let us grow. Let us ensure that tomorrow is different than yesterday. Let us do all that we can today, so that one day, we shall never hunger for justice again, for the tools of life will insure it's ever abundance.
So let us begin to be transformed. If that means teaching turning over weapons, so be it. If that means, teaching classes on safety, so be it. If that means, advocating for and demanding change, running for office, calling your representatives, talking to your friends, your children, your community, go. Do. It.
The Bishop asked those in the room of the Annual Conference, “Why stand ye here idle?”.
Now I ask YOU.
Why stand WE here idle.
Let us leave this place with the wind of the change filling our sails, the collection of shared knowledge guiding our path, and the Spirit of Divine Justice, a Heavenly Peace, calling us to move and act!