Dribbling, passing, shooting. In basketball it’s called “the basics.” They are the skeletal talents of the game which one must master before anything else. A team that cannot dribble, pass, or shoot cannot win. In football it is blocking, passing, and kicking. In baseball it is pitching, catching, and hitting. These are the fundamentals that they practice repeatedly until they are good at them. In any sport, the basics of the game are usually few in number, but they are essential. That’s why teams will drill, drill, drill – not on exotic plays – but on the basics: dribbling, passing, hitting.
Wouldn’t it be nice, in our walk with God, if we were to figure out just whaGod’s basics are? What are the rudiments of a faithful life? The essentials? What are those nitty-gritty three things that we should know? What are the nuts and bolts of faith? Tell me God, what is it? Just give me the dribbling, passing, and shooting of faith!
The prophet Micah asked these same questions of God. Things hadn’t been going particularly well for Israel and Micah imagined God to be angry – and he imagined God in sort of a courtroom where God was the accuser and nature was the jury – if you can imagine the mountains, hills, and foundations of the earth in a jury box. Micah imagines an angry God leveling charges against Israel that she has been unfaithful. And in God’s closing speech to the jury (the hills, the mountains, the foundations of the earth) God reminds Israel just what he has done for her: delivered her from the Egyptians, provided Moses, and delivered them to the promised land.
Micah imagines Israel pleading guilty to the offense and asking how she could pay her penalty. Shall I bow down before you, she asks. Shall I come before you with burnt offerings? I have a calf a year old, no blemishes. She would make a sweet-smelling sacrifice. How about a thousand rams, Lord? Would you be pleased with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Ok, how about – how about – my firstborn child. I will offer up my own child as a sacrifice for my sin.
And it is then that the Lord delivers the three basics, the three fundamentals, the three essentials. Here are the hitting, pitching, and catching of faithful living. “And what does the Lord require of you?” Micah asks? “but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” There they are. You can label them “one, two, three.” You can list them as “A, B, C.” But there they are stated plainly, and simply. What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” I remember the last time I preached on this text with you I had you say these basics with me. So, I’m sure you can do this. what are the basics the Lord requires of us? (All together now;) To “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.
Justice is a word you may hear more of as we go forward at CTS. We have beefed up what was called our “Spiritual Health” team, have recruited twice as many members, and are meeting three times as often. The new team is called the “Care and Justice” team. It will still care for our members who are sick or missing from worship, but it will pay more attention to justice issues. What does that mean? It means that it will ask questions like, “Where is there injustice in our midst and how can our relatively small congregation address those issues?”
It may take a look at the “national” injustice issues such as gender inequality, racism, sexism, and homophobia. We are a tiny boat in a huge ocean of such injustice, but even if we were only to raise awareness of these things which offend God we would be practicing basics. Most likely we will take a look at injustice issues in and around Reston, especially poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity. These things we may be able to address in a basic way which helps real people. One of the best ways we can address injustice is by working closely with Cornerstones who is marking its 50th year in addressing homelessness, poverty, and hunger in Reston. Can I give you rivers of oil, God? No, just work with Cornerstones. It’s basic.
And kindness. Can you get any more basic in a life of faith than simple, straightforward, uncomplicated kindness. All of us long for a warm touch from another and it is especially healing when it comes in time of stress.
Mamie Adams (you don’t know her) went to a branch post office in her town. She went there to buy stamps just before Christmas one year and the lines were particularly long. Someone pointed out that there was no need to wait in line because there was a stamp machine in the lobby. “I know,” said Mamie, ‘but the machine won’t ask me about my arthritis.”
Speaking to someone. Thanking someone. Asking after them. So many times it doesn’t matter if you say the right thing to a person. All that matters is that you said something. You were there. Just being there is the kindest thing you can do. Dribbling, passing, shooting. Basics . Can I give you a thousand rams, Lord? No. Do kindness.
Walk humbly. Humility can come naturally to people whom society has told are not as good or not as equal as someone else. In today’s gospel Jesus, as part of his sermon on the mount, reminds such people that they are particularly blessed. He calls out the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the pure in heart, the peacemakers. To such people the virtue of humility may come naturally. The rest of us have to work on it. The rest of us need to work at putting others above ourselves. The rest of us need to remember that we do not have all the answers and are not God’s gift to the rest of the world.
I fear that we, as a nation, have lost sight of the virtue of humility. We forget the leaders we had who were not self-absorbed, leaders who humbled themselves before others. Lincoln once got caught up in a situation where he wanted to please a politician, so he issued a command to transfer certain regiments in the Civil War. When the secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, received the order, he refused to carry it out. He said that the President was a fool. Lincoln was told what Stanton had said, and he replied, “If Stanton said I’m a fool, then I must be; for he is nearly always right. I’ll see for myself.” As the two men talked, the President quickly realizaed that his decision was a serious mistake, and without hesitation he withdrew it.
I think of the Charleston Emmanual African American Church in 2015 nine days after Dylan Roof attended a bible study, then opened fire, killing nine people – wounding others. The nation was shocked and in mourning. Would there be hatred, tension, reprisals? As President Obama began the eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, he paused for quite a while. Looked down. There was silence. Then he softly began singing, “Amazing Grace.” Others joined in and sang together the hymn which confesses that we all are in need of grace and we have a God who could forgive even Dylan Roof. It was a healing moment. A just moment. Kind. Humble.
What does the Lord ask of us? Sacrifice? Riches? Ceremonies? Ritual? No. She has given us the basics. We need to practice them to be good at them. Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly.