Alas for those who devise wickedness and evil deeds on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in their power. They covet fields, and seize them; houses, and take them away; they oppress householder and house, people and their inheritance. Therefore, thus says the Lord: Now, I am devising against this family an evil from which you cannot remove your necks; and you shall not walk haughtily, for it will be an evil time. On that day they shall take up a taunt-song against you, and wail with bitter lamentation, and say, ‘We are utterly ruined; the Lord alters the inheritance of my people; how he removes it from me! Among our captors he parcels out our fields.’ Therefore you will have no one to cast the line by lot in the assembly of the Lord. ‘Do not preach’—thus they preach— ‘one should not preach of such things; disgrace will not overtake us.’ Should this be said, O house of Jacob? Is the Lord’s patience exhausted? Are these his doings? Do not my words do good to one who walks uprightly? But you rise up against my people as an enemy; you strip the robe from the peaceful, from those who pass by trustingly with no thought of war. The women of my people you drive out from their pleasant houses; from their young children you take away my glory for ever. Arise and go; for this is no place to rest, because of uncleanness that destroys with a grievous destruction. If someone were to go about uttering empty falsehoods, saying, ‘I will preach to you of wine and strong drink’, such a one would be the preacher for this people!
“For man proposes, but God disposes” (Thomas à Kempis) begins one commentary on this portion of Micah’s prophecies. The back and forward play in these verses between the the deeds of those who have power and use it against those who are weak, and the future response of God, indeed suggests some good old-fashioned preaching opportunities: “the wicked may seem to prosper, but God’s justice awaits!”
Of course, in such bouts of righteous loquacity, it would be tempting to draw parallels with the social situation in Britain today. For there are plenty. As I write this reflection, we are beginning to understand more and more of the implications of the roll-out of Universal Credit on the vulnerable, with the rocketing extent of rent arrears as one effect. We see a sharp upward trend in those being referred to Foodbanks. There has been a recent flood of reports revealing the huge extent of tax “planning” by the wealthy, apparently designed, in part, to allow them to avert their obligations to those who go without the necessities of life. We are experiencing an avalanche of allegations of improper sexual behaviour by “celebrities” and politicians.
However, are such targets too easy?
“‘Do not preach’– thus they preach – ‘one should not preach of such things; disgrace will not overtake us.’ If someone were to go about … saying, ‘I will preach to you of wine and strong drink’, such a one would be the preacher for this people!”
Are we sometimes guilty of preaching what the people want to hear; are comfortable to hear; rather than being challenged about what it means to “live a holy life” as Ministers of the URC are challenged at their ordination?
Radio 4’s Thought for the Day has recently been accused of being trite. Pray God that our teaching and preaching never become trite.
God, your prophets called the people to return to the ways of your law. Jesus, you called the people to return to the ways of God’s life. Spirit, you provide us with all that we need to live a holy life.
May the wine and strong drink we preach be not befuddling, but sustaining for the holy life you call us to preach and to live.
The Rev’d Ron Reid is a retired minister in the Mersey Synod serving as Link Minister at Rock Chapel, Farndon. He is a member at Upton-by-Chester URC