He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Every summer, we take a group of young people to an ELCA camp called Leadership Lab at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. Ask our kids and they’ll tell you that Leadership Lab changes lives: they learn to dig deep to know themselves and love God. Our theme in the summer of 2016 was “Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly” based on this verse from Micah. We talked all week about what this means, and we acted too–the kids participated in service projects and prayer for justice, mercy, and peace. The photo shows some chalk art done by the Labbers over the week; we’d walk over it every day and be reminded of our theme.
For me, Micah is one of the places where the Old Testament meets the New; where we see what God’s unconditional love looks like and feels like. We are loved, so we must love—this is our call. Cornel West says that “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Think about that, and you realize that doing justice is not seeking vengeance; rather it is seeking a restoration of relationship. Loving mercy means that we remember that we are forgiven so we forgive. Walking humbly means to remember that everything we do is done under God’s grace.
Hope has long had a call to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. Our church was founded on the idea that the table and ordination should be open to all, and every week, we hear the pastor say, “This table is not mine to invite you to; it belongs to Jesus, and Jesus invites ALL to his table.” Every month, our Service team reminds us of the great need in our community and in the world and gives us concrete ways we can help. And every week, our youth ask me and their guides hard questions—nothing like a 12-year-old to keep you humble!
How is Hope called to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in our next 40 years?
I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
This drawing is called “Blending In,” by Ronnie White, a prison inmate and artist. It was part of an art exhibit called “Cellblock Visions” at the Brush Art Gallery at St. Lawrence University in 2014. I am taken by the subtle faces looking in that seem to weigh on the prisoner’s soul, the pattern of crosses seen in the light cast on the floor, and the way the prisoner blends and doesn’t blend in with the background.
People have been kept in bondage from the beginning of civilization. Indeed, some historians claim that along with the development of cities and writing, the institution of hierarchical structures of society—including structures in which some are bound—was essential to the rise of civilization. Prisons, slavery, caste systems, sex trafficking—these are all ways that people are defined as “other” and imprisoned. There are prisons of the mind as well: depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia—that alienate people from society too. . The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote,
O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there.
If you have struggled with your own mind turning on you, you know what Hopkins means.
When we imprison others, it is so easy to see them as monsters–as non-human. But Jesus reminds us that we must never do this, for whatever prison someone may be in, and for whatever reason, that person is our brother or sister in Christ, a beloved child of God.
Jesus quoted this verse from Isaiah when he spoke in the synagogue in Nazareth. God became human to show us God’s light, to lift us out of bondage, to bring us out of prison. This is not simply metaphorical; somehow, mysteriously, by entering into our prison of shame and fear, God lifts us out of that prison. We are called to do the same thing for others – to lift them out of prisons of the mind and body. So, during Lent, our youth will be making blankets to distribute as part of the ministry of Night Angels Detroit which works to serve those who are caught in the slavery of sex trafficking and to help rescue them from that horror. Speak to a member of our Service Team to learn more about this important ministry and ways that we can help Jesus “bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”
What are the other prisons that Hope is called to break open in next 40 years?