Human beings or human doings?
What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
This beautiful and poetic quote from the Prophet Micah is probably the most well known and the most quoted passage from Micah’s prophecy. It has been woven into Christian music and been a topic of many written works on Biblical Theology. This makes it hard not to focus on this Old Testament reading appointed for this week.
There’s a question asked of just about every little girl and every little boy from somewhere around the age of five and up: What do you want to be when you grow up? Unfortunately, somewhere along the timeline of life we almost always turn that word BE into the word DO. At some point many of us forget that we are supposed to be human BEINGS and not human DOINGS.
There’s a story I would like to recount that addresses this. It comes from the book, What Should I Do With My Life – The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question by Po Bronson. I’ll paraphrase a bit to keep it a little shorter.
It was an afternoon that changed Rick Olson’s life forever. Rick was standing with his son Patrick on a hill overlooking a panoramic view of downtown Pittsburgh with its three rivers and tall buildings. As they gazed over the railing on the Mt. Washington observation deck, Patrick pointed things out to his dad, and he was full of questions about it all.
Patrick asked his dad to point out the building where he had been working every day for many years as a corporate lawyer. Rick did find the building, and he was able to point it out to his son.
Then Patrick asked, Dad, what’s that building next to it?
Rick didn’t know the answer. He had walked past that building nearly every day for all those years, and he had no idea what or who was inside. That evening after he gave Patrick his dinner, read him a bedtime story, and kissed him goodnight, Rick slumped into the couch and had a perplexing epiphany. He had lived there for 22 years, and he had stood on that hill many times, and had never really noticed many of the things that Patrick had pointed out to him, and he was especially amazed that he couldn’t even tell his son what went on in the building next to his own. He had stood on that observation deck many times and observed almost NOTHING!
At that moment, Rick realized (or perhaps he always knew it, and was just now able to admit it) that he was unhappy in his job. He realized that his whole life was scheduled around what he DID for a living and not around life for its own sake. As he sat there, these thoughts began to overwhelm him. He remembered a time when his wife (now ex-wife) was scheduled for surgery, and on the way to the hospital, one of the partners in his firm gave him a cell phone and suggested he make calls to clients while in the waiting room. He remembered a time that Patrick had to sit in his office all night while his dad met with clients.
Rick was literally multi-tasking his life and still couldn’t find happiness. It was time for a change. That night, Rick was just about 80 percent certain that he wanted to quit his job, but he needed that other 20 percent to push him over the edge.
Now before I continue with this story, let me make this theological disclaimer: God never hurts us to teach us a lesson, and God certainly never causes accidents to happen, that’s why they are called accidents, but God sure will be there in the midst of our pain and injury.
After a serious leg injury playing in a hockey game, Rick woke up in the hospital and was told by the doctor that his foot and leg were broken in at least 11 places. Rick’s response was to laugh and say out loud,
The gate has been unlocked, and this is my chance to walk away.
The doctor replied very quickly, You won’t be walking anywhere for quite a while.
That’s fine by me, said Rick. That’s just fine by me!
During his ten month rehabilitation, Rick found the courage to make some changes in his life. For twenty years when his work got frustrating, he would say to himself, I’d rather be driving a truck.
So that’s what he did. Rick now spends sixty percent of his time driving an over-the-road tanker truck, working ten days on the road and then getting at least four days to spend with Patrick uninterrupted by his job.
I just needed to do something different, he explains, I didn’t anticipate that I’d fall in love with the job.
I believe it was John Lennon who said, Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but since we entered this new century, some of the hottest selling books on the shelves are books about finding your purpose in life. Churches are even getting in on the action, posting signs out front that ask the question: What is your purpose? or Come and find your purpose.
I‘ve looked into a few of these books, and to be honest I really don’t see anything new there. Most of them read like Day Planners that just happen to include a few biblical quotes. People will pay good money to have their irresistible urges to stay busy reinforced by experts.
I’m reminded of the person who dialed the Psychiatric Hotline and got a recording that began: If you are obsessive-compulsive, please press 1 . . . repeatedly.
I believe people are turning to self-help philosophy because they are literally missing life; they have become multi-tasking human doings, rather than human beings.
What I want to say to all those people is that the Prophet Micah is your kindred spirit.
The backdrop for the scene in our first reading this morning is one typical of the prophets. The message is staged in the form of a lawsuit, and in our reading from the sixth chapter, we find Israel, the defendant, trying to strike a plea bargain. They want to put an offer on the table: With what shall I come before you, O God? Shall I come before you with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will you be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn?
You see, Micah is setting up the nation of Israel as if she were an executive on a corporate treadmill. The People of Israel had been relying on their busyness; they had been relying on all that they had done for their faith community. They had been relying on their rituals and their sacrifices to give their lives purpose. They, like so many of us, believed that salvation comes from doing and not from being. They, like so many of us, believed that if they could just do enough, give enough, work enough, then God and everyone else will finally be pleased with them.
As I stated before, I’m pretty sure that most Christians couldn’t quote a single verse from the prophet Micah if their lives depended on it, but most at least remember hearing this from the eighth verse:
What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Now I know that some of us are uncomfortable with that word require. I mean God forbid that God should require anything of us, right? Well, for those who think it makes God a little like a drill sergeant, I did a little Greek word study, and it seems that a better rendering would be, What does God SEEK in you? What does God hope to find in you? Not your busyness, not the list of deeds done in a day, not your multi-tasking skills.
My favorite part of this eighth verse is the phrase, to love kindness. It’s very subtle, but I ask you to notice that Micah doesn’t say in that phrase, Go out and do kind deeds, no he says very simply love kindness. Just enjoy the state of being kind, it is its own reward.
We’re called by our gracious God to bask in the splendor of reckless compassion and universal justice, and to be content in knowing that no matter the results, God will be present in every moment of our just being, and there isn’t anything you can do to keep that from happening, but you can take comfort in it.
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