An Adaption of a sermon preached at Covenant Services in September 2022 at Bognor Regis, Felpham and Westergate Methodist Churches.
For my first career I was manager of a Christian Bookshop and Resource Centre in Cornwall. Beyond the selling of books and resources, it was also a space of welcome, care and hospitality. We had a small sofa and coffee table in the shop, offering a place to rest, a free cuppa and, if desired, a listening ear and prayer.
It was a simple, yet incredibly fruitful, ministry. Many people would almost stumble across us, or be drawn in without really knowing where they were or why they had come in. But before long conversation came forth; God was at work.
Through that ministry I heard stories personal stories about many things, including problems and challenges people were facing. Relationship struggles; mental health worries; money concerns; unsuccessful job hunting… the list goes on.
The young man who’s benefits had been cancelled without a reason why…
The woman who had an unexpected bill leaving them without enough for food for the month…
The young female with minor learning difficulties having their social care support hours cut by half due to budget cuts…
It opened my eyes to the inequality that was on my doorstep. An inequality I knew was there but was only now beginning to really know. I was coming to see the world and life from perspectives other than my own.
But at the same time, hearing these stories about inequality, and seeing the pain, struggle, confusion and suffering there were causing, felt somewhat overwhelming. So many different issues, so many people falling through the cracks.
I would often be thinking as I walked home each day about those I had encountered. How can I help these individuals? What support can I signpost them to? Where is the system going wrong? How can I help change the system?
It is through the experience of this ministry that God opened my heart to discover God’s own heart for justice.
6 ‘With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’
8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Micah is speaking to the leadership and people of both Northern Israel and Southern Judah. Both have been living and being led in a way which was against the covenant with God.
Micah accuses them of rebellion against God, of hypocrisy, talking about God and observing the ritual temple practices, but in ways which were empty, meaningless and was built upon corruption, theft and greed.
This is now what god calls for – this does not honour God’s covenant with them. Ritual means nothing without virtue.
For what does God require?
To Act Justly.
To love Mercy.
To Walk Humbly with God.
That is what is good.
The Methodist Covenant Service has travelled in one shape or form with Methodism for most of its existence, an annual practice bult into our denominational DNA which celebrates the faithfulness of God to us and invites us to publicly reaffirm our commitment to partner with God in mission and ministry.
That wherever we are, wherever God places us,
Whatever circumstances we face,
We might serve God.
That we will be about God – not ourselves.
Methodism also has justice in our DNA. A denomination that was birthed out of a deep desire to ensure discipleship was taken seriously, and made accessible to all people. Much of Methodism’s historical heartlands are in mining communities, communities on the margins, to which this movement successfully brought a gospel of hope and relevance to them and their lives.
John Wesley, one of the lynchpins of Methodism’s beginnings, saw seeking justice in society as a central aspect of what it means to follow Jesus. To work for Justice by both responding to needs that appear before us, and campaigning for change.
Do all the good you can,
Attributed to John Wesley.
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as you ever can.
May we hear God’s challenge, as individuals and as communities, to serve God as we can, as and where he calls. To act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. To share the good news, and actively work for justice in our communities.
To do all the good we can,
By all the means we can,
In all the ways we can,
In all the places we can,
at all the times we can,
To all the people we can,
As long as we ever can.