It is always easy to get wrapped up in faith as if it were a fad. In the late '80s and early '90s, a new pop-culture Christianity started to make its way into the schools where I attended and the general culture. Like many pop-culture trends, it added to the culture but also lost some of the essential understandings of the faith. One of the strange fads that came with this movement was the wristbands that were labeled "WWJD." Strangely enough, it was a marketing gold mine, as WWJD–wear took off as if it were a high teen-fashion brand. In time, it could be seen marketed on clothing and jewelry, even on lunch boxes and school folders. It seemed to be everywhere. Unfortunately, one thing seemed to be missing: not everyone wearing the logo knew what it meant. In fact, many of my friends had the very popular bracelets, but few could express the meaning. Understanding the statement that they were making (asking the question "What Would Jesus Do?") was lost to the momentary fad of fashion.
As we celebrate the church and its role in our lives, I cannot help but think what others in my generation think of the church. Many claim that the church is a hypocritical institution, and some proclaim that all the church is interested in is money, while others say that church is merely irrelevant. Sometimes I even have a hard time defending it, as the debates and division within our churches are not even about the timeless issues. Sometimes I even wonder if we, as a denomination, might fall into the trap of following the fad of religion, going through the motions to keep up with others whose lives we so deeply wish we had, instead of reaching a real understanding of God and of faith.
As I thought about this, I remembered the prophet Micah. Micah is found among the minor prophets; "minor" with respect to size, not content. Micah was a prophet who was a contemporary of Isaiah. His book can be split into two similar, but distinct sections. Each section begins with prophecies of punishment and leads into prophecies of salvation, reminding us of God’s presence and desire for all to live in peace.
As with many of the prophets, even his name, Micah, is prophetic. Micah, in Hebrew, means "Who is like Yahweh?" (Yahweh is an academic construct of the name for God used throughout the Old Testament.) This is important, because Micah is speaking to what seems to be God’s perpetual battle with humanity, where we are constantly falling away from God, complaining over the destruction that ensues, ultimately resulting in God’s rebuilding toward peace.
The interesting thing is that Micah is constantly reminding us of God’s desire, even in the midst of the destruction. In a way, it is like when a parent spanks their child, saying, "This hurts me more than it does you!" For Micah, God gains no joy in seeing his people hurt and destroyed. Rather, he seeks what is good, posing the simple question,"What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" In other words, one might argue that Micah is asking what is so hard that you cannot merely be just in what you do, love and strive to be kind toward others, and know a bit of humility by allowing God to take credit?
This is a powerful concept, and used as a guide, it helps us to understand and follow our calling. Many leaders in this country have quoted this as a part of their understanding of the political office they hold. President Jimmy Carter used this passage at his inauguration, as did John Ashcroft on the day he was nominated. It makes me think, if leaders truly followed it, maybe our world would be much different.
I often wonder what the world would be like if everybody went to church to simply give glory to God and thank God for the lives that we have, then took that glory and love out the doors of the church and gave it as a gift to all whom we see, to all we meet throughout the next week, sharing the kindness we know to be right.
And what about sticking up for those who are unable to stick up for themselves because they have no voice or because they are weak? Instead of leaving them to be bullied and left alone, what if we gave them a place to be and be heard?
Here is the kicker: what if we did this and never let it be known what we did, keeping a true humility with God?
Unfortunately, some feel that once an individual experiences salvation, they need to only be focused on the relationship with God, and ask, "What does action have to do with faith?" Though faith is rooted in our relationship with God, it is serving God that builds up our faith and helps us to better understand God. See, what Micah points to so vividly in his prophesies is that the constant faith is from God. It is we—yes, all of us—who lose sight of God. Instead of helping, we hurt. Instead of giving, we take. Instead of acting in justice, kindness and humility, we buy a sticker or a wristband to prove our allegiance.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen