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Assessing our culture

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When we assess our culture from a Biblical perspective, we need to weigh it up against the attributes of Justice, Mercy and Humility

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Movie Critic

I enjoy watching movies but unfortunately I don’t get to do it nearly as often as I would like. I find that because it’s often quite an effort to find the time, I want to make sure as much as possible that the movie I’m watching is going to be worth it.
So of course you listen to the reviews and you listen to your friends for good recommendations.
Now I can’t imagine I’m alone in this predicament, because if you’ve ever tried to figure out if a movie is any good by listening to others, almost always you’ll get mixed messages. One person will tell you it’s the greatest movie they’ve ever seen, the next will tell you they almost fell asleep in it.
Some will say it’s too convoluted to follow - the next will say it’s the most intriguing movie they’ve ever watched.
Of course, this is because the measure of a good movie is a highly subjective thing. What one person finds thrilling and exciting, another will find trashy and too violent. What one person finds deeply moving, another will find deeply boring.

Assessing our culture

Now that’s all well and good when it comes to movies, but what about when it comes to making assessments of things of a more serious nature.
In particular, I want to look at the question today of how we should assess our culture?
We look around us and then quickly form a judgement. The problem is, we make this judgement in a similar way that we judge a movie - that is, does it suit my tastes.
When we apply this to our culture, we find that what we are actually judging is effectively the question is life treating us well?
Some will answer with a resounding yes! Perhaps you’ve got yourself a nice job, a nice house - sure there are a few complaints you’ve got, but by and large things are good. You might recognise there are a few problems in our society, but for the most part, you’d answer that our culture is good.
On the other side, we’ll find plenty who would judge our culture harshly. Particularly for those who are struggling a lot - those who see the worst side of life. They know how bad it can get - they know our culture is not good.
These assessments however are very “me” focussed. That’s ok if you’re judging a movie, but when it comes to how we see the world around us, I believe that it’s going to lead to very inaccurate readings.

Finding an objective measure

A far better way is to have something objective to measure it against.
Now, from a worldly perspective, perhaps you could consider various measures, such as rates of crime, or maybe some economic measure. But then it still becomes subjective, because depending on what measure you look at, you’ll get a different answer. You may or may not be surprised to know that on many measures, a good argument can be made that society is improving.
I’m going to make the argument this morning, that the best standard for us to use, is in fact the Bible and I’m going to turn to a classic passage that will allow us to look at this.
My aim this morning isn’t to actually make an assessment of the society and culture around us, but rather give us some tools to help us think about it.

Micah’s assessment of Israel

Now you very well may be familiar with which will give us something to think about, and I’m going to get to this, but I want to spend some time setting the context in which this passage fits.
Part of my objective in doing this is because we’re going to see how Micah masterfully interprets his culture. As we watch how he does it, will be in a much better position to assess our own culture and society.

Micah

So firstly, who is Micah? Well, to be honest, we actually don’t know much as this book doesn’t give much autobiographical information.
We know that he was from Moresheth, which was a rural place in the lowlands of Judah.
Perhaps most importantly he was a prophet, which meant that he could clearly discern God’s revelation on the world around him. We sometimes characterise prophets as fortune tellers. There is an element of future prophecy, but the majority of prophecy is in fact related to interpreting what is happening at the time - the task that I want us to think about for us today.

Political setting

What’s perhaps more relevant for us is the political setting in which Micah found himself.
Now, the truth is, this political setting is going to get a little complicated. I’m going to attempt to explain it - if however I loose you, don’t panic, I’m going to bring it together and so, even if you don’t remember all the details, you’ll still get the idea I’m getting at.
Well the time setting is towards the end of the 8th Century BC. Or in other words, a little over 700 years before Christ.
David’s kingship had been a few centuries earlier. Shortly after his kingship however, the kingdom split, and so up to this point, a northern and southern kingdom had operated side by side.
There’s a lot that happened during those few hundred years but for the most part, they both thought they would continue for ever, after all, they were God’s chosen people. In particular, the Southern Kingdom, which maintained the line of David, held tightly to the promise that someone would always remain on the throne from the line of David.
And so what we find, is that despite some tough times, there was an optimism.
It was this judgement based on what we do today - they were still in power, so it can’t be all that bad.
But before Micah came along we get another prophet, namely Amos. Amos was essentially the first of the prophets that we have written down for us, and his message was mostly directed at the people in the Northern Kingdom.
He told them - you might think that things are going well, but don’t be fooled. You are in fact not living as God wants and as a result, God is about to bring his judgement on you.
Well, for the Northern Kingdom, that judgement came quite swiftly. You see, for a while now, a new super power was forming. It was the nation of Assyria. They were based in the north and had gradually been building their dominance for a while - taking out various nations in the north.
They had been making many of the nations around Israel quite nervous for a while, but some time around 722 BC, they finally took out the Northern Kingdom, taking the people into Exile.
But the Southern Kingdom remained. If they were thinking clearly, they should have looked at what happened with the Northern Kingdom and realised that a similar fate was awaiting them. They too had been acting in many of the same wicked ways that the Northern kingdom had, and so God would judge them by the same measure.
But they failed to see it. Blinded by a false sense of security, they continued down the same track.
Well along comes Micah, who along with Isaiah who was also prophesying at the same time, told the people that what just happened with the Northern Kingdom will happen to the South.
If you have your Bibles in front of you and go to , you’ll see it says how Samaria’s plague (Samaria is a pseudonym for the Northern Kingdom)… how their plague is incurable but that it has spread to Judah.
Now, it’s worth pointing out a few extra details about the south.
You see, just prior to the demise of the Northern kingdom, there was a complicated series of political maneuvers that took place.
You see, the Southern kingdom was locking horns with the North, and contrary to the direct advice from Isaiah, the Southern Kingdom decided to call upon Assyria to take out the Northern Kingdom.
But such a political maneuver comes at a cost, in this case, even though the Northern Kingdom is gone, they are now subject to Assyria, and in need of paying large amounts of tribute.
Well, this arrangement can only last so long. Either you continue like this and eventually lose all power and become completely subject to this other power, or you resist and then it all comes to a head.

The Change with Hezekiah

Well, that little political maneuvering came under King Ahaz, and not long afterwards, his son Hezekiah takes over.
The interesting thing is that Hezekiah actually takes notice of Micah. There is actually a fascinating reflection in the book of Jeremiah which was written over a hundred years later. In , the elders of the time note: “Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah...” and then it goes on to say how Hezekiah changed his way as a result.
Well, just to quickly fill you in the details, Hezekiah knew that being subject to Assyria was not a policy that could last, and so when Assyria had a change of king, he saw it as the perfect opportunity to stop sending up their money.
Not surprisingly, this was noticed and Assyria sent down some envoys to sort it out.
Now, thankfully, unlike Ahaz who ignored the advice of Isaiah at the time, Hezekiah had greater wisdom, and he actually listened to the advice of Isaiah.
If you want to read the full details of this event read personally think it is one of the most amazing stories of the bible, and we hardly ever hear it.
In the interest of time, I’ll skip right to the end, where you have the Assyrian army camped outside Jerusalem - but while they are still in camp, the angel of the Lord intervenes and 185,000 soldiers were put to death.
The Lord saved the day in the most miraculous circumstances. There is a great lesson in trust here, but that’s a lesson for another day.
The lesson that I’m going to draw out of it, is actually about humility - knowing that it’s not in our strength but God’s strength that we will achieve anything - but more on that shortly.
The change brought about by Hezekiah made a difference, but not enough. Because Hezekiah showed faith, God relented on bringing about the demise of this southern kingdom, but it was only for a time. The wickedness came back, and a bit over a hundred years later, God wiped them out, this time at the hands of the Babylonians.

Micah’s reflection

Now, if I’ve lost you in any of that history, don’t worry, the main point is that the Israelites thought they were doing well, when in fact they lived quite contrary to what God wanted. As a result, they were punished and taken into exile.
My main task for today is to look at how Micah so clearly saw what was wrong in this culture.
You see, Micah was able to look beyond the political maneuvering. He saw beyond the immediate question of what will be in the best interest for political stability - which unfortunately when we look at the state of politics in our day we all too often just see people making decisions based on the immediate outcomes for themselves.
And instead, Micah saw it the way God did.

The Book of Micah

The opening five chapters of the book of Micah look at the upcoming punishment that the southern kingdom can expect, but also about the future promise of restoration as well.
But it’s the sixth chapter that I want to explore now.
You see, in this chapter, it’s as if everyone is taking a step back and making an assessment of the whole situation. It’s written like a court room setting, with God as the judge and Israel as the defendant.
Curiously, as you’ll see in verse 2, God is addressing his remarks to the mountains, but this is basically painting the picture of the absolute immensity of God’s courtroom.
In verses 3 to 5, God then highlights the background which makes the accusation of turning against God even worse - that is, God has been so good to them.
In verse 4 he points to how He brought them out of slavery in Egypt.
In verse 5 he points to some of the threats they faced and how God delivered them.
Though he only points to these, this list could literally be pages long.
But it is in verse 6 to 8 where I think it gets interesting, because after the accusation we find out what God really wants.
It is these verses that I want to focus on for the rest of this message because it is here that we can start to get an idea of how we should be assessing our culture.
You see, what we learn is that the sacrifices they were offering counted for nothing if it didn’t change them.
You know, I’m going to say something that might at first seem a little controversial. When our politicians start their sessions with the Lord’s prayer, but then carry on as if there is no God - this doesn’t please God.
Now I’m not saying we should get rid of the Lord’s prayer from these meetings - in fact, I’d argue that they have a place and it is good to start in such a way, but let’s not get carried away and think that this is the measure of whether we are a godly nation or not.
God was not judging Israel based on how well they could keep to the sacrificial system - in fact, there are many occurrences where he says this is for nothing if it is not done with hearts turned to God.
But the key verse for us is verse 8:
Micah 6:8 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
He has shown you, Omortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
This indeed is the measure that Micah looked at their society. He saw beyond a pretense of religion, and instead saw something that didn’t correlate with the heart of God.
I want to make the argument, that if you want to consider how godly our society is, then this should be your measure.
Does our society care about justice?
Are we about mercy
Are we being humble and walking with God?

Justice

Let’s just explore these quickly...
To act justly means to care about when wrongs are happening and doing something about it.
Sometimes I think we stop at “thinking justly” and don’t get to “act justly”.
We hear about the problem of domestic violence and think - Oh, isn’t that terrible, something should be done. We’re thinking justly, but God wants us to act justly.
The reality is, if we actually are serious about acting justly, this means actually getting involved - and that’s not easy. The truth is, getting involved will quite likely result in you getting hurt. You will feel the pain and torment of what is happening.
But this is the world we live in. It’s no good keeping our blinkers on and pretending it’s all fine. God wants us to act justly.

Mercy

But he also wants us to love mercy.
Now at times, mercy can seem to contradict justice. Mercy means not getting punished for what you rightfully deserve.
But if you’re not getting what you rightfully deserve - is justice being served?
Well, this is a paradox that Jesus solved for us. It’s a paradox with the cross at the centre. When Jesus died on the cross, he allowed justice and mercy to meet. And for this reason, we can love justice, as in, push for what is right and fight against what is wrong, but at the same time show mercy to those who do wrong.
The mercy we show is the mercy that Jesus showed us. If we don’t show mercy than it shows that we really don’t get it.
There is a place for being tough on those who do wrong. But when we look to the cross, we see how justice and mercy should come together.

Humility

Finally, God also wants humility. It is easy to downgrade this one, but it is so important. Without humility, we’ve got ourselves stuck in the way.
This is exactly what happened to those kings during the period we just looked at. They were so concerned with how they were going to do things that they completely forgot that it was God in control. They lacked humility.
I briefly recounted though, the story of Hezekiah, we’re we saw what happened when he was able to act with humility. Rather than getting worried about how to attack an exceptionally large army camped outside their city, he had the humility to let God into the situation, and he wiped them all out.
This is not about your ability. If it was, I’m sorry to say, but we wouldn’t have much hope.
This is actually about God. When we allow him in, amazing things can and will happen.

Assessing society

Well, as I said before, my argument this morning is that this should be the measure of how well our society is going.
I recognise that on each of the measures, you could mount an argument that we are doing well or that we’re not doing quite so well. In part, it might depend on which part of society we are assessing.
The point today, is not actually to provide a full critique of society, but rather to help us have the right tools to do it.
You see, bad things are going to happen. The big key for us is not whether they happen or not, but how we react to it.
Are we going to react with justice, mercy and humility?
Or are we going to ignore it, ostracize those involved, and not hand it over to God?

Conclusion

Here at Tanilba Bay, we have adopted our vision of love, share and serve.
We’ve adopted this because at the heart of it, we believe that this is pushing us in the direction of what God wants.
When we love, share and serve in a genuine way, I believe that this will result in us acting with justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God. Because loving like God means to love with justice and mercy. To share and serve means to be walking humbly with God.
As we move in this direction, we will start to become a church like what God desires.
This morning, what I want us to do, is to be like Micah, and look at our community with the eyes of God. Not look for what is convenient, but what is right.
If we begin to be honest, I dare say we will start to see that we don’t always act the way we should. We can easily confuse religiousness, with godliness, just like the Israelites did. It’s not easy being that honest with ourselves, but it is what God wants.
As a Christian community we need to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.
Let’s pray...
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