Wednesday, March 9, 2016

the Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016 - Micah (3)



The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016
The Profile of Sin – Micah (3)
         
 Micah is divided into three sections: chs.1-3; 4-5; 6-7. Much of this material we have met in previous prophets in the Book of the Twelve. Yet it is not remiss to revisit this material. Idolatry and judgment, indirect references to the “Day of the Lord” (“that day,” 2:4) and promises of return and restoration are by now familiar to us. Yet the profile of the people’s faithlessness in chs.2-3 is remarkable for its comprehensiveness. The people, the rulers, the priests, and the prophets are all indicted.

          Micah begins with the people at large, in particular the economically rapacious who systematically impoverish the people:

Alas for those who devise wickedness
     and evil deeds on their beds!
When the morning dawns, they perform it,
     because it is in their power.
 They covet fields, and seize them;
     houses, and take them away;
they oppress householder and house,
     people and their inheritance.” (2:1-2)

          It is impossible to deny that our culture today suffers from just this kind of economic rapaciousness. And if God’s people simply mimic, approve, or reflect such practices, well ... it’s not hard to see why God might be upset!

          Indeed this is the problem behind Micah’s critique of the priests (2:11; 3:7-8), prophets (3:5), and rulers (3:1-3) too. Rapacious economic practices, corrupt religion, false prophesy, and unjust rulers are bad but not unexpected in a nation state. But when it characterizes God’s people too, this a tragedy of highest proportions. For it is precisely the task of God’s people to be different, redemptively different, because they live out the “true script” of life as God intends it.

          So far in the Book of the Twelve we have seen how hard this was for Israel. And the New Testament gives us little reason to believe it will be much easier for the church. A big part of the reason lies in the notion of “scripts” I just mentioned. We all get a “script” for how life should be lived, what’s important to live for, and the kind of people we should be through the family we are born into, the upbringing, education, friends, and experiences we have, and the tutelage of advertising, propaganda, ideology largely through the media that envelops all of us. This script tells us how to live according to the values and visions of the culture which has shaped us. Too often the church, instead of presenting and socializing us into God’s counter-script for us, is complicit in our socialization through embracing the values and visions of the larger culture in a religious key.

Walter Brueggemann helpfully sketches this situation in his “19 Theses” in The Christian Century in 2005. Here they are:

1.    Everybody has a script.
2.    We are scripted by a process of nurture, formation and socialization that might go under the rubric of liturgy.
3.    The dominant script of both selves and communities in our society, for both liberals and conservatives, is the script of therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism that permeates every dimension of our common life.
4.    This script — enacted through advertising, propaganda and ideology, especially in the several liturgies of television — promises to make us safe and happy.
5.    That script has failed.
6.    Health depends, for society and for its members, on disengaging from and relinquishing the failed script.
7.    It is the task of the church and its ministry to detach us from that powerful script.
8.    The task of descripting, relinquishment and disengagement is undertaken through the steady, patient, intentional articulation of an alternative script that we testify will indeed make us safe and joyous.
9.    The alternative script is rooted in the Bible and enacted through the tradition of the church.
10. The defining factor of the alternative script is the God of the Bible, who, fleshed in Jesus, is variously Lord and Savior of Israel and Creator of heaven and earth, and whom we name as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
11. The script of this God of power and life is not monolithic, one-dimensional or seamless, and we should not pretend that we have such an easy case to make in telling about this God.
12. The ragged, disjunctive quality of the counterscript to which we testify cannot be smoothed out.
13. The ragged, disputatious character of the counterscript to which we testify is so disputed and polyvalent that its adherents are always tempted to quarrel among themselves.
14. The entry point into the counterscript is baptism.
15. The nurture, formation and socialization into the counterscript with this elusive, irascible God at its center constitute the work of ministry.
16. Ministry is conducted in the awareness that most of us are deeply ambivalent about the alternative script.
17. The good news is that our ambivalence as we stand between scripts is precisely the primal venue for the work of God’s Spirit.
18. Ministry and mission entail managing that in-escapable ambivalence that is the human predicament in faithful, generative ways.
19. The work of ministry is indispensable.

Micah would doubtless agree that something much like this had befallen his people and his plea to them is to recover their identity and vocation according to God’s “counter-script” found in the gracious gift of Torah he had given them.

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