When we actually follow Micah's advice, taking God seriously, we discover that much of what we think about God (theology) only gets at part of everything. See, throughout the course of history, in the Scriptures and in our own individual lives, we keep chasing after something. Whether that "something" be the result of our turning away from the image of God within us (selfishness, greed, separation from others) or turning toward the image of God within us (care for creation, building relationships of equality, value and service among everyone we meet), we still miss part of the picture.
We tend to put God in a box. its useful to us, containing God, because we can then use God for our own devices. We read things in Scripture that allow us to believe that some really are better than others, that what God requires of us is to offer sacrifices and sing songs and carve out a space in our lives to just dwell in God while the rest of the world whizzes by.
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
When Jesus appears on the scene, these ideas are left empty and useless. See, even what we perceive to be positive separation - dividing our lives into "I'm with God" and "I'm with Me" - misses the mark completely. Just like the Egyptians devised a plan to contain the Israelites, we often enslave ourselves to ideas, beliefs, outmoded ways of being in the world that reinforce the humanly devised order of things. We allow power dynamics to exist that create disparity among people and take advantage of some for the benefit of others. We wreak havoc on the very things we're called to care for in order to sustain our way of living. And some of us are left behind or run over along the way.
That's how empires are built. Throughout history, there's been a story rolling along that weaves us together for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many. We marginalize and separate in order to subdue and control. In the 1st century of the current era (some 2000 years ago), the Roman empire ruled the world. And they achieved a level of peace across their human kingdom by silencing their opposition using violence (if you disagreed, you didn't live long enough to do anything about it). They declared that their emperor, Julius Caesar (inventor of a haircut, a salad and the biggest empire the world had ever seen), was divine. Since he was "divine," then all the Caesars (emperors) who came after him were called "sons of the divine." The story went that the Caesars came to usher the world into a new era of success, saving us from ourselves. That was the "good news" (gospel) of the day - all we had to do was put our faith, trust and loyalty in the empire and all would be well for humanity.
But the author Mark (of the New Testament book bearing his name) reframed the gospel (good news) when he opened his story of the coming of God into the world through the person we know as Jesus Christ ("Christ" is the Greek word for "Savior" or "Messiah," terms attributed first to Caesar). Using the very words that had built an empire as his template, Mark wrote:
The beginning of the good news
about Jesus Christ, God's Son
And that's how we knew things could be different again. When Jesus came on the scene, the story circled back to God's intent for humanity from the dawn of creation. An acknowledgment that, in humans, we could glimpse the image of God alive in the world once more. This is good news! Through his earthly life and ministry, we encounter Jesus reaching out to people who were on the margins, people experiencing isolation, loss and pain. And we see time-and-again the restoration of wholeness where holes in the lives of individuals and communities had come to exist when we bought into a narrative that allowed us to gain at the expense of those around us. Everything we'd come to know about how the world worked (the one with the most stuff wins; the one left behind is a loser) was turned on it's head as Jesus said things like:
God's Spirit is on me; he's chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the burdened and battered free,
to announce, "This is God's year to act!"
In Jesus we find an authentic relationship where the image of God is awakened fully in humanity. The unity we've been seeking stands there before us and offers guidance on how me might experience that wholeness for ourselves! The trouble is, we have to turn again. We have to move from that self-interest which permeates so much of our lives and see the bigger picture - the interconnectedness of all people and things. We have to allow the walls that divide us to come tumbling down. And we don't always like to do that because, when we do, the "winners" have to give something up.
Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you'll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you're content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.
This is my command:
Love one another the way I have loved you.
This is the very best way to love.
Put your life on the line for your friends.
Sensing the risk to the status quo that was demonstrated through Jesus words and work about what the kingdom of God looked like - in conflict with the kingdoms we'd created of ourselves - Jesus was crucified because he threatened the way things had always been. In a tragedy, the hero succumbs to a terrible fate at the end and the audience is often left guessing as to whether or not anything would really change. But God's story doesn't end that way.
Three days after his death, some of his followers went out to the place where they had buried him. They went to pay their last respects, to dwell once more on what could have been. Like so many of us, they found themselves rooted in the past, wishing for a different outcome but stuck facing a reality where they found themselves considering just what difference had been made. They were, like so many before and after them, probably prepared to go back to the status quo, to the world as they had known it before encountering Jesus, before coming to see in him, the image of God that had been buried within.
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they didn't find
the body of the Lord Jesus.
Christians affirm that, on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead. And he appeared again to his followers on multiple occasions in the days following his resurrection, still bearing the marks of his death. In the One through whom they had glimpsed the image of God, they also witnessed the reality of life still visible. Everybody carries scars from what we've experienced, marks that never seem to go away. And in them we might truly come to recognize the significance and power that God has given us, the presence of the image of God, the Spirit of God, that is as close as our next breath.
Then he took a deep breath and breathed
into them. "Receive the Holy Spirit," he said.
"If you forgive someone's sins,
they're gone for good.
If you don't forgive sins,
what are you going to do with them?"