March 19, 2017

Naming What Matters

 

Micah 6:1-4, 6-8

Hear what the Lord is saying:
Arise, lay out the lawsuit before the mountains;
let the hills hear your voice!
Hear, mountains, the lawsuit of the Lord!
Hear, eternal foundations of the earth!
The Lord has a lawsuit against his people;
with Israel he will argue.
“My people, what did I ever do to you?
How have I wearied you? Answer me!
I brought you up out of the land of Egypt;
I redeemed you from the house of slavery.
I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam before you.

With what should I approach the Lord
and bow down before God on high?
Should I come before him with entirely burned offerings,
with year-old calves?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with many torrents of oil?
Should I give my oldest child for my crime;
the fruit of my body for the sin of my spirit?
He has told you, human one, what is good and
what the Lord requires from you:
to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.

 

 

Watch this video on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNYVyzBtDvY

 

I told a story last week about how a church I previously served was embattled on how to handle doing ministry with those who could be a potential risk in the face of the call of Christ to make disciples. Two competing, known values were in conflict, so they talked about them.

 

Conflicts aren’t always so cut and dry. The video shows us what it is like for a young woman who was told all of her life that her destiny was to attend school then become financially stable feeling as though that was not what she actually wanted to do. She knows what was and is expected of her but not so much what she expects for herself. The conflict with her is how to navigate these without knowing all the facts or why college and financial security are seen as the only real choice.

 

It isn’t her fault that she finds herself in this predicament. Years of assumptions about what is the right course of action for her and a lack of opportunity to explore her own dreams and desires likely led to her following conventional thought even if it wasn’t right for her.

 

When we find ourselves faced with expectations of what others want and/or what we want that have not been adequately fleshed out, we are at a standstill, and it happens all the time. The danger, we learn, is usually one of two things. Either we a) do what the video’s narrator says and give up and settle on a less than happy outcome, or, we b) get upset and become angry, depressed, or some other unhealthy long-term emotion.

 

In my example last week, I talked about lacking communication on what matters in relationships by making a point about laundry. Couples that fight about laundry aren’t actually fighting about laundry but some other issue. We are fighting about laundry, but what angers us is that we do not feel appreciated for what we are already doing around the house and want to be recognized for those things we do well.

 

Many of the fights I’ve had with friends and family start with some small issue and explode because the reason I was angry or they were angry is an ongoing, unmet and unspoken expectation.

 

How do we address and begin to fix unmet and unspoken expectations? We name them.  Clearly naming what is most important to us is one of the hardest things we can do in communication, because it requires honesty, vulnerability, and the self-reflection where we ourselves realize, “oh, I thought I was upset about this, but I’m really mad about this other thing.”

 

When I find myself getting upset about something, I try to stop and ask myself why I’m upset. This is especially important if I am not alone, lest my emotion spills over onto another person. So I step back and say, “Why does this bother me?” Usually, I can figure it out. It even helps to say it out loud. (It’s not as weird as it sounds.)

 

The idea here is that we have to cultivate self-awareness about what matters to us. That’s actually a lot harder than you think. Think about all the times you and another person are deciding where to go out to eat. Sometimes, you really have no idea what you want until you get somewhere and think, “oh, I don’t want this.” And then other times you know exactly what you want and may or may not say anything.

 

If it is that hard for us to figure out something as benign as eating, think of how difficult it can be to talk about subjects that matter to our values. If someone were to ask you what matters most to you, how many of you could come up with an answer that you 100% know you would abide by every time?

 

It’s so churchy to say “love” but I sadly ever see love as the primary reason we do anything in church. Other motivators like security, tradition, and sensibility are far more common practices than love.

 

So what does matter most to you? Is it being sensible? Or do you just want to be financially secure? How about wanting to be right? It could be that no matter what your kids always come first. Maybe it’s your hobby is most important. We all have different things that matter most to us.

 

Luckily, God’s influence on the Bible’s writers has sprinkled in the answer of what matters most to God, whom we are here to worship and to serve, throughout the Scriptures.  In the Book of Micah, we have one of those verses you often see on Christian posters. “what the Lord requires from you:  to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.” Isn’t that nice?

 

Have you read the part before it? Prior to this section, we learn that God’s messenger Micah is saying this to the nation of Israel during a period where they were not following God’s commands. During the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, the people were richly blessed in resources. Large estates started popping up, and the economy moved in ways that began to benefit the rich. The rich property owners took advantage of the poor farmers and saw them as dispensable workers that could be tossed aside when they were no longer useful.

 

The priests and prophets of the time began to side with those in power, so the poorest were at more and more of a disadvantage and were often blamed for their failures as God’s will. Micah saw the injustice and railed against the system that put profit over care. [pause] When the religious leaders failed to uphold equity and justice, God got involved.

 

Micah chapter 6 is on the tail end of one such prophetic discourse. God’s anger would lead to their being conquered by more powerful nations as a “see how it feels” punishment against those in power. When they ask what it is they must do to subside God’s anger, the prophet does the work of naming what is most important to God: justice, love, and humility.

 

That is what matters to God. Now, in this day and age, especially in our economic realm, people try to distort these words, but in the religious world, we should know better. Yet even here I have to constantly remind people that sometimes we should ere on the side mercy and hope rather than our own sense of frugal security. I hope that bites you as hard as it bites me at times. We are terrible about looking out for our own financial and personal wellbeing over doing ministry with others.

 

Now, if we were willing to name those things that matter to us honestly and openly, even if they feel a little selfish, we could have discussions on where they stand against where God stands. That is like any conflict. When we are at odds with someone, it is best for both of us to name what matters to us and figure it out from there. There is nothing wrong with security and wellbeing; they are biblical too.
We have to name it even if we are ashamed of it. Our values have the power to highlight our fears. That’s ok. That’s human. But letting them go unsaid further proves our lack of faith that God can handle our fears, handle our needs, and will protect us. We have to name what matters so that we can move forward. Churches with vision will have conflict, but we can navigate it better if we know where we all stand.

 

How are you at naming what matters? Have you been in a moment where you were in conflict because you assumed the other person knew what was important to you? Do you know what is important to you? Take time this week to pray on Micah 6:8. Ask God to show you where love, justice, and humility can take root in your life. They have the power to redeem and make use of what we want.

 

Let’s vision Charlotte-Fagan’s year together by coming together next month to name what matters to us. Let’s build a mission off of it.

 

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