Sunday, January 29, 2023 | Trey Comstock
It’s around dinner time. You’re sitting down for a quiet meal with your family. You hear a sharp rapping on your front door. “Strange,” you think to yourself. We weren’t expecting company, this late on a weeknight. The knock, knock, knock comes again, more insistent this time. It doesn’t sound like your visitor is going anyways, so you decided to answer it. On the other side of the door stands a rumpled man on the wrong side of middle age, he holds a large manilla envelope in his hand. As the door opens, you can see a glint of glee cross his face. You make eye contact with him. He drops the envelope unceremoniously at your feet, and with an edge to his tone, he declares, “you’ve been served.” He turns around, and without a look back, fades into the night.
In our legal system, a lawsuit has a specific form and process. I worked as a judge’s clerk as a teenager and can still pull to my mind the exact way that the from page is structured, where the plaintiffs’ names go, where the defendants’ names go, the font, the Seal of Texas, the line spacing. Each step and item has their own strictly defined legal form, and often, especially because an element of surprise is desired, a defendant doesn’t know that a law suit is happening until a process server does their work to foist reality onto the defendant. So, some version of the scene above plays outs every day around the country. It’s how you can know that the trouble is beginning.
The ancient world had their own procedure for initiating a lawsuit. Micah 6 gives us a pretty good example of the form. Naturally, since it’s not how we sue people, we miss it, but the prophet serves God’s people with a lawsuit on behalf of his client, God.
Hear what the Lord says:
Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord,
and you enduring foundations of the earth;
for the Lord has a controversy with his people,
and he will contend with Israel. (Micah 6:1-2 NRSV)
This may sound like beautiful ancient poetry. Instead, it’s ancient Hebrew for, “you’ve been served.” And, the bit of Micah that we know the best, Micah 6:8, represents the core cause of the lawsuit.
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8 NRSV)
The plaintiff’s counsel, Micah, offers suit on behalf of his client, God, against the defendant, God’s people, due to breach of contract – a failure to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.
Now, any good judge or jury would come back and say, “What’s the evidence? How have the defendants failed to do the contractually required items?” Micah lays out his case earlier in the book.
Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob
and chiefs of the house of Israel,
who abhor justice
and pervert all equity,
who build Zion with blood
and Jerusalem with wrong!
Its rulers give judgement for a bribe,
its priests teach for a price,
its prophets give oracles for money;
yet they lean upon the Lord and say,
‘Surely the Lord is with us!
No harm shall come upon us.’
Therefore because of you
Zion shall be ploughed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
and the mountain of the house a wooded height. (Micah 3:9-12 NRSV)
God intended God’s people to take care of each other – to make sure that none went hungry, that all would have at least a little. God intended God’s people to worship God alone and to follow leaders that worshipped God alone. At the moment of Micah brings this suit, people filled themselves up and let their neighbors go hungry. The rulers, priests, and prophet, who should take the lead in caring for the people, instead use their position to exploit them. As a result, by chapter 6, they’ve been served.
Micah 6:8 ends up one of Christian’s favorite verses. We quote it, write it into songs, and turn into art. I have two different versions of Micah 6:8 on the walls of my office and had this text read at my wedding. These words have earned our devotion. Micah powerfully encapsulates what it means to follow God, but its original context gives it a harder and disquieting edge. It’s not a hymn of praise or a congratulation for a job well done. It’s a lawsuit stating that the people have failed at their task and major consequences sit just around the corner. So, as we plaster this text all over, may we hear the stark challenge Micah meant it to be. Devotion to God goes well beyond a recognition of God’s existence in our hearts. It means seeking justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. May we rise to the occasion.