What does God require of us? (Micah 6:6-8)

Introduction
At the IFI (Iglesia Filipina Independiente) National Cathedral, writen in the wall near the altar in bold letters: “Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God” that everytime, whovever enters the chuch can hardly ignore it. So it makes a good reminder, a constant reminder for all the members, both ordained and lay, in case we forget what does God require us, as individual and as being a Church.

Reality Bites
While it is true that Job Fairs are conducted/held in different areas many times in a year, the truth is, only a handful passed and were able to land in a job. At the end of the day those sponsoring agencies/organizations earned more from the registration of applicants compared to those who were accepted. Likewise Job Openings played similar games, only those graduates from expensive schools, colleges and universities had the higher possibilites to be admitted. Government officials boasting that there are more job opportunities, more hiring possibilities at present denying unemployment and underemployment increases are really shortsighted if not playing blind, because generally jobs being offered lack tenure and security for employment. What to be happy about in a three-five months term of work when either one is not assured to be hired again? Real job opportunities either here and overseas pose job insecurities excluding impacts to the families. How many death tolls of OFWs unannounced and unnoticed everyday? Well, I do not know the real score because I rarely watch news nowadays, saving for additional electricity consumption. I prefer to open my fb account and e-mails from time to time instead.

Nowadays, high school graduates find difficulty to land a job not less than construction workers or if you have backers and connections, lucky enough to land in janitorial jobs like Comfort Room cleaners, ground sweepers, etc… unless you have skills to back up then you have more opportunies to be hired. That is why, we have some kind of jokes among the clergy, “Better one to enter the seminary since assurance and opportunities to be hired are greater than outside”. It is easier to say, “I am called by God to serve” to which I always countered the seminarians, “Tell me that when you are in the fields after years of service for true calling is not some kind of job opening nor job hunting”.

Well, it makes sense when requirements are too high in looking jobs and be hired. Unless you are a college graduates; had prepared all necessary requirements which you have to spend more than hundred pesos to procure documents needed excluding transportation espenses (because governmnet agencies are located very far from each other); had passed the exams and interviews; then you are likely to be hired until five months which you repeat the procedures again in applying jobs: again and again, till you will become a regular. An old adage serves as an encouragement: “Kung walang tiyaga, walang ilalaga” and the like. Seminaries and theological institutions are not different, that is why if you have no calling, then quit and become part of those fake/false priests/pastors/ministers who live and enjoy selling God at lower-lower price. Because poor Filipinos could not afford services and sacramental fees higher than Php 100 pesos, so they welcomed these false servants. Can we blamed them?

Most of the dreams the Sunday Schoolers shared with me in the assigned Mission Churches located among the communities (in Sucat, Krus na Ligas and Palanas including Daang Tubo), during our sharing sessions were all very similar: “to be able to build or acquire their own houses with rooms of their own” and “to have regular works in order to support family needs”. These little boys and girls’ dreams are so ideal when realities seem obscure in realizing their dreams. Most of the time hearing their stories, I cringed inside because these children are full of hopes and I do not know what future awaits them. At the same time I emphatize with them for I never own a house also, just a privilege to live in parochial house/”bahay pari” in my church assignments. I feel crying and I pity them for statistics shows that out of 100 primary students, only less than 20 are likely to finish college and get hired in regular basis. Though there are various institutions, organizations, NGO’s and government agencies catering for children’s needs and welfare but these are not enough to address prevalent societal problems of poverty, unequal distribution of the nation’s wealth, corruptions, etc… that become cyclic, perennial and seems unstoppable and most that are affected are the children, the innocent sectors of the society as well as the women.

What I am sharing above is just a tip of the iceberg, a small part of the whole where sometimes if not most of the times we refuse to see what is in there behind those smiles and laughters of the people of the pews especially those sitting in the last rows and those standing outside? Are we aware that or unconsciously, we Christians are building walls between us, among ourselves. Yes, we exchange PEACE in our churches but do we really understand what it really means when we are to greet peace?

Micah’s Background

Looking into the context in Micah’s time may help us to understand what the prophet is saying to us today. Why the theme for 2013 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is very relevant yet full of challenges for the Churches the world.

Micah, another probable peripheral Judean prophet coming from an obscure countryside village of Moreshet Gath, differs from his prophecies to contempoary urban-bred Isaiah because of his background. Micah is noted in the opening words of his book as having received the word of God during the days of the kings of Judah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. This places his prophetic ministry roughly before the fall of Samaria in 722 to about the time after the Assyrian siege of Jerualem in 701. His oracles of judgment make clear references to the destruction that befell Samaria, to Jerusalem and other cities in Judah reflect his eyewitness account of the devastation that hit the land as wrought upon by the forces of Senacherib in 701 (N. Capulong, Reading & Hearing the Old Testament in Philippine Context, p.p 208-209). He seems to have directly experienced the consequences of war and life under siege. “His constant criticism of Israel’s and Judah’s leadership indicates the perspective of a man who lives in an outlying village that suffers as a result of the decisions made in Samaria and especially in Jerusalem” (M. Sweeney, The Twelve Prophets, p. 341). Maicah can relate well with the innocent bystanders of today’s wars in most Thirld World countries, especially the National Minorities/Indigenous peoples in the countrysides who are pitied against each others and are heavily militarized just to give way to hundreds mining corporations which do not only raped and brought havoc to our natural resources but resulted to internal refugees, peoples being displaced here in our very own country.

Prophet Micah may have received and developed to his prophetic gifts from the combination of the social and historical factors obtaining in his own time and place of nurturing. He must be have been born and nurtured in a place dominated by the farming and pastoral lifestyle of his people. He must have also imbibed i his religious nurturing more of the pastoral, tribal or clan based historical traditions of their faith and less of the urban-centered Davidic-zion traditions developed solely from the royal circles in Jerusalem. Thus Micah must have been more at home with the Mosaic-Sinai traditions and their strongly ethical covenant demands than with the tradions of election and promises of favor an grace to the royal house of David and the Jerusalem temple. For Micah, the special status of such places means nothing at all in the face of the massive corruption and perversion taking place right in its midst. For such is the very place where justice is perverted, where corruption is the norm, where wrong becomes right. (Read Micah 3:1-3 and 3:9-11).

Thus, Micah minces/uses tact (not to offend) in pronouncing in the horrible fate that awaits Jerusalem-Zion and its temple (3:12). Such a faith would be unthinkable and imaginable for Isaiah but to Micah, it is the logical consequence of the very things and acts identified with such a place: injustices, oppression, violence, hypocrisy and domination of the powerless (Capulong, p. 209). The overall message of Micah may indeed appear harsh and uncompromising especially as it very strongly addressed to those who compose the dominant and ruling class who rule in Jerusalem in his time. The leaders are the ones who oppressed the people. (Read Micah 2:1-2).

Micah as an eyewitness of the oppression experienced by his fellow farmer-villagers as he sees their land being grabbed and taken over through the slightest legal pretext if not through the insidous tool of the debt instrument. Here, we are eminded of the victims of land grabbing taking place since friars’ time an the modern occurences such as those in Hacienda Luicita, and other haciendas in the country. Micah grieves over the sight of the people who have lost their ancestral lands like that of the national minorities/indigenous peoples driven away from their source of living. These people are then reduced into virtual debt slaves if not lowly paid hired laborers in the farms they used to own. The whole situation could be very similar to the socio-agararian phenomenon in the former Northern Kingdom denounced by Amos.

In our own setting, what is more pitiful, unimaginable or shall I say, angered me was the feeling or attitude and even understanding that at the end of the day, “may utang-na-loob” pa sila sa kanilang panginoong-maylupa,” to their masters who reduced them to be less human and that hinder them to be free. Either you agree or disagree with me, it is not my contention here. Because it is prevalent in any society where “master-servant relationship” continues to exist: be it in the family, in the church, in the society and anywhere in the world, that makes Micah’s message more relevant for us today. Women’s emancipation, slaves’s liberation, nations’ independence, global community/global economy, among others are all hoax and divisive until what prophet Micah declares will completely be eradicated or shall I say, be decreased. Whatever government officials claim regarding the country’s economic growth, boasting multi-programs for poverty alleviation and measures to lessen unemployment rates through contractual jobs (I had mentioned earlier), low cost housing in respond to urban poor community/illegal settlers’ demolitions, free primary and secondary education in dilapidated schools with 45-60 students in a classroom, and the likes; but not unless the ordinary Maria and Juan will benefit from these and their lives change into better and no more families be disintegrated as Micah clearly puts in chapter 2 verse 9, then and only then, nothing to be proud or boast around.

Micah’s Message

The daily sub-theme to be used in the weeklong liturgical services for 2013 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (WPCU) Liturgy will help us look into the message and meaning of the theme taken from Micah chapter six, verses six to eight (Micah 6:68):

Day 1 – walking in conversation
Day 2 – walking with the broken body of Christ
Day 3 – walking towards fredom
Day 4 – walking as children of the earth
Day5 – walking as the friends of Jesus
Dy 6 – walking beyond barrier
Day 7 – walking in solidarity
Day 8 – walking in celebration

The above sub-themes clearly define in simple way for us to understand the whole message of Prophet Micah, its relevance to the present, in every context the readers come from. If the liturgist’s reference are the life experiences of the dalits in India, then what is the message of the theme into our very own condition here in the Philippines. What are the necessary requirements to prepare, to procure in order for us Filipno Christians be able to walk in God’s walk and to live Jesus’ way as Prophet Micah wanted us to act and do.

In applying job/work and securing tenure/regular or permanent status, we have to comply necessary requirements and procedures and to follow rules and policies, etc… But why we Christian faithfuls deem to always make some excuses, alibis, much consideration, and even create our own meanings favorable to our interests. We even make our own interpretation of the biblical core messages just to make us appear consistent to God. Aren’t we like those rulers and leaders unscrupulously reassured themselves that “Surely the Lord is with us! No harm shall come upon us’ because knowingly they fall short to the expectation of the people whom they promised God to serve? Cognizant to the on-going ills of the society, perpetrated covertly by those in powers in order to preserve a system which is not really loving and caring to the people, yet, we opted to remain silent because it is a risky job to be like-Micah. Who wants to be marked as “enemy of the state” by the way, even which some NCCP (National Council of Churches in the Philippines) member churches are among in the lists despite military denials of the four-volume books Enemy of the State? Much lives had been sacrificed, either killed and silenced or put behind bars or offered sum to make no ripples in order to maintain peace in an un-peace situation. We have lists of modern-day martyrs from different sectors of the society including church peoples, and yes, there are some coming in the future. Must we allow that?

To-be-like-Prophet Micah and the rest of the prophets is too much for asking let the congregation of those impressive and aircondationed churches do. I wonder how pastors, priests, ministers or bishops illustrate in their sermons or homilies the relevance of the prophets’ messages in our time? Honestly, I do find difficulty to be critical in my preaching when a director of government agency is sitting in the first row or a governor in the next pew. Although I made it clear with them that sermon/homily is not to please the hearers but to deliver the message so that the hearers may listen. Maybe perhaps it makes sense, no one has ever questioned when I am critical with my preaching. The famous Filipino saying, “Bato-bato sa langit ang tamaan ay huwag magalit” may apply but I have else in my mind, for us members of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) with our faith-expression ”Pro Deo et Patria” and being a nationalist church (as we claimed), may better explained, I do hope or else they are one of those uneducated IFI members who question why the clergy in their cossacks are in the streets? Or a Roman Catholic asking why the sisters in their habits are seen raising their clenched fists in rallies? Let us think about it and reflect, WHY?

Prophet Micah’s words are continuously reminding and challenging the churches today. It is a great blunder against God when churches become accomplices if not instruments to an immorally wrong society of where majority are Christians. You and I, being part of the whole Church, are both accountable comes judgment day. How are we going to deal with it, it is our long-enduring test among ourselves. The Church when it ceases to become the Church-embodiment of Christ, then it fall short to be the Church that Christ married with.

The summary of 2013 WPCU theme is one of my favorite memory verses, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8) complimenting to that most quoted Amos’ line, among social activists, “let justice roll and righteousness flow like a stream” (Amos 22-24) are both extreme challenges for all of us. It is real hard to be “guilt -free Christians” either you are Catholics, Episcopalians, Independent Churches, Lutherans, Methodists, Evangelicals, Congregationists, among others to name a few. Prophet Micah’s message is a real punch hitting navels during his time and nothing has changed in our own time. It’s relevance and significance continue to speak, yet we Christians fail to understand, we always miss hitting the point. That is why, from time to time it nessicitates for us to be awaken from our deep slumber, from our blinds and concrete fences covering realities and be pulled away out from our comfort zones and be thrown into the dirts, the slums of the society.

Micah’s Challenge

I am reminded of Danny Fabella’s contemporary song: “Baliktad na ang Mundo,” which pictures modern interpretion of what Micah was saying thousand years ago. The song recounts the existing norm which is a total opposite of what is supposed to be right. The song is asking the listeners, “are we really living in an inverted world?” as OFW Noel Barcelona wrote in his review. A distortion of a kind of society which we have today becomes the norm, so alarming to think ten years from now and so on. The song offers a refreshing insight and calls for a deeper reflection of what is happening to the Filipino society as a whole. Should Micah is alive today in our midst, he surely give a thumbs up sign to Mr. Fabella, the singer and songwriter.

Confronting Micah’s challenge in today’s reality does not only require boldness, courage, strength, but genuine discernment on what is really happening to this world whom God loved so much. Despite of the many poverty alleviation programs in poor countries, why majority of the world population are still below poverty line? Amidst imposing high rise condominiums and beautiful townhouses, modern edifices and business complex around, why shanties in the slums continue like mushrooms in almost all the cities? Why are these extreme opposites of life images increasingly exist in our midst when your promise of life’s abundance are being preached non-stop in all impressive churches and cathedrals? The late Fr. Jerry Aquino, IFI priest who was

Why did you choose me to become a priets, O Lord?
The church you set up in this world has become an institution
It has amassed so much capital and the least of our brothers are forgotten
It is full of forms, O Lord, but devoid of content
It thrives on dull celebrations, business-like operations, and its heart is parched
Not even a mist of poetry dwells in it. Where is the altar of sacrifice, O Lord?
Is it on the ornate and expensive marbles where Sunday alms are poured or
On the low tables of works and peasants who only eats once or twice a day?
Where do you want me to celebrate?
Since you sent out me into the world, where else could I celebrate?
Since you sent me out to peasants’ huts, where else could I celebrate?
Since you sent me out to join bands of prophets, where else could I celebrate?
Since you sent me out to dare scale heights of mountains, where else could I celebrate?

We are grateful to Prophet Micah with his unending reminder. That in our time, we still have more rooms to create in order to allow people in distress to come in and be in solidarity with the afflicted and downtrodden; we still have more time to correct the wrong and right the inverted world we are in; we are still alive to help continue spread the Good News and touch more lives; we are still breathing to make people feel God is alive and never to loose hope.

That we are gathered here as testimony of readying ourselves to become instruments of change not accomplices. That we are willing to offer ourselves and lives to be of His service especially to the least of our brethren. That we have faith that there are still many people here and out there who are more than willing to be like-Micah the Prophet. That we are willing to brave ourselves to carry on the calling to serve as exemplified by no other than Jesus Christ himself.

Conclusion
I would like to conclude my reflection by sharing with you my poem,

This is my song, my prayer
How I wanted to sing a song aloud, so very loud
But my voice shriek because my tongue is anchored.
How I wanted to chant to the aria of my people
But my lips are tightly zipped.
How I wanted to dance the dance of my forebears
But my feet are twisted and chained.
How I wanted to clap to the sound of gongs of the Lumads
But my hands are on my back and fettered.
How I wanted to gyrate to the rituals of the Babaylans
But my whole body is firmly bounded into a dollar post.

I tried to look around but I could not see.
It is so dark, very dark!
Ah, my eyes, my eyes… they blindfold me and
I trembled as fears engulf me in totality.
Am I dead? I’m a living dead!
Am I nothing now? Nothing!
I sent messages to my brain.
No response. Oh, no!
Please, take me out from this oblivion,
O God! I plead.
Let me live, my Creator!
I want to be alive!
Please, keep my breathing…
Ahh… I still hear the moans, the cries, the shouts of the people
Their songs, their dances, their rallies are still familiar to me.
I can see young and old, men, women and children,
Struggling, committed new faces
Into my vision
I continue to discern into my dreams.
Surely I would live and withstand whatever life brings.

Do not fear my people,
Go on with your chants and song and salutation
Hold on to your dream, faith, hope, and aspiration
Continue journeying together
Sharing lives as brothers and sisters
Linking arms in unity and affirmation
The God of history never cease breathing life
Into your beings as a nation.
Then… my anchored tongue speaks…
And my sealed lips begin to smile…
My chained feet move to dance
My fettered hands clench into fists,
My aching body gyrates
To the rituals of the Babaylans of the Cordilleras.
I see flicker of lights
Seeping through the hole of my blind as I watch multitudes
Breaking the golden chain and with passion
Chop the dollar post
Into tiny pieces… the dollar post and
The golden chain gradually turn into dust.

My people listen:
… the song of the masses, their rituals and dances
… their hopes and aspirations, and your struggles
… the soil you stand, the land you claim your dwelling
… the chirping of the birds, the rustles of the leaves in the woods
… the sparkling seas, the singing of whales in the ocean
The sound of life is whispering: singing, moving, calling…
Come my children, it is me: Your Mother. Your Father. Your Parent.
Together with you my people
Our struggle will triumph and the dawn will surely come.

And the sun will shine forever in this God given land. AMEN.

Such a beautiful moment for Christian believers to gather together in prayer, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity may be one of the living expresions of our outmost desire, of our sincer yearning of UNITY. We pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us always to where God has called us to be more effective, relevant and true in all our efforts as our Lord Jesus has led us during his earthly ministry. Thus our prayers for unity will never be just silent and stagnant prayers but prayers of action that will be heard and be felt to all corners of the world complimenting, sharing and embracing other faiths. Let our walking together transcends time, distance and space as we are trying our very best to faithfully and steadfastly do what the Lord requires from us: to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.

Thank you and God bless us all!

References

Holy Bible, NRSB with Apocrypha, Anglican Edition
Reading ad Hearing The Old Testament in Philippine Context, Noriel C. Capulong
The Twelve Prophets, Arthur M. Sweeney
Prayers from Prison, Fr. Jerry Aquino

Prepared by Rev. Erahvilla M. Maga-Cabillas
for the 2013 WPCU Core Prep Commitee Meeting
United Methodist Church, Kamuning, Quezon City
October 24, 2012

(Note: If you have not heard the song, Baliktad na ang Mundo, you can search in the You Tube or have a copy of the album. If you want to see him in person, come visit our parish where Danny Fabella and wife Bing Parcon with son Reb are congregating. Thanks.)

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