Sermon Ideas For Micah 5:2-5a Part 2
The majesty and power of God are made manifest in circumstances that are often insignificant according to secular criteria. The texts for this Sunday celebrate the transcendence of God's actions beyond all human expectations. The shepherd-king emerges, not from the religious and political center of power of Jerusalem, but from tiny Bethlehem. (Mic 5:2) The most elaborate and the most proper sacrifices do not bring about forgiveness and restoration. (Heb 10:5-10) Those who are the scorn of enemies and neighbors can receive salvation. (Ps 80:6f) God has exalted those of low degree. (Lk 1:52)
Pastoral implications may emphasize the empowering action of God in the lives of people and groups who perceive themselves to be among those "least likely to succeed" according to the standards of contemporary society.
The small congregation. There are many definitions of the small congregation. Approximately three/fourths of Protestant congregations have fewer than 300 members. Members of these parishes and even those in larger congregations often perceive themselves to be in situations that are so small in numbers that unrealistic limits are placed upon opportunities for ministry. "We can't do that. We're too small" can be a self-fulfilling prophecy for both pastors and parishioners. The exiles in Babylon may have felt no more trapped and helpless than do members of a "small" congregation with no vision of the restoration promise of Advent.
In Micah we read "...now you are walled about with a wall..." (Mic 5:1) There is no greater restraining wall than the one which we build for ourselves and our congregations.
Denominational leaders relate many stories of congregations and pastors that are paralyzed by feelings of hopelessness based on congregational size, declining neighborhoods, rural isolation, or pessimistic self perceptions. Variations of the last seven words for these folks take a variety of forms such as: "We can't do it that way anymore," or "we've never done it that way before," or "we tried that before, and it failed."
Nevertheless, these same leaders can describe congregations in similar or even more difficult circumstances in which vital, vibrant ministries are powerful witnesses to the power and presence of God. What is the difference between these two groups? Obviously, there are many factors that can move a parish from pessimism, maintenance, and gate keeping ministries to a restored sense of mission. However, the principal influence just may be the development of an "Advent attitude" presented in today's scripture lessons. Notice again that each text stresses the initiating action of God in restoring lost status (Ps 80), in renewing strength (Mic 5:12), in providing the best sacrifice (Heb 10), and in regarding the low estate of his people. (Lk 1:48)
Christ has come--Christ is coming--Christ will come again. Sometimes, in a small congregation, it is easy to lose sight of the reality of these Advent promises. Pastors, especially in congregations with a "small" view of their potential for ministry, can find a powerful message of God's strength within today's scripture.
This message must be shared from the pulpit and in a wide variety of contexts before attempting to challenge people to expand or redirect ministry. Few people can be motivated to change merely by pronouncements of "shoulds and oughts" from the pulpit or lectern. They are aware of this before they hear it and have often been conditioned by years or even generations of "cannots" and "you do not understands." Today, the Sunday before the celebration of the incarnation, people need to hear again of the God who identifies with the powerless, the insignificant, and the inconsequential of this world. This is today's primary message of preparation. The specific challenges can come later.
Seeds can be planted today. Pastors and congregational leaders can already begin working together to identify particular ministry opportunities. Because of today's Advent message, those "who are little among the clans of Judah" (Mic 5:2) can accomplish great things in the name of the shepherd king.
The victimized in the community and world. There are many persons in our parishes who carry in their hearts and souls the painful results of some traumatic experience, Often these are buried deep in past memories. Nearly one-half of women in our society have been victims of some kind of violence (e.g., spouse battering, incest, child abuse, or rape). It has been estimated that nearly one in five men have experienced similar events. Approximately one-half of today's marriages will end in divorce. At least one in every ten persons has an addiction problem, and the emotional and spiritual paralysis of their addiction affects at least four other persons within their social system. Persons of color, persons whose primary language is not English, and persons above the age of 55 are daily victims of discrimination. Many others are victims for years of the unresolved grief over the death of a loved one.
When preaching on these texts, each pastor will want to acknowledge the pain of the victims in the parish, community and world. Here are people who indeed feel trapped by events and experiences beyond their control--people who "are walled about with a wall" of rejection and helplessness. (Mic 5:1) These are the persons who can readily identify with the lament of the psalmist: "...how long will you be angry with thy people's prayers? Thou hast fed them with the bread of tears...Thou dost make us the scorn of our neighbors." (Ps 80:4f)
It's often difficult to identify the victims. They have learned to protect themselves at all costs from previous painful experiences. They are survivors. However, think of the animal that has been beaten early in its life. When it is approached by a person who resembles the initial abuser, that animal will cower in anticipation, posture aggressively, or run away. Human victims often react in similar fashion to situations that are similar to previous traumatic events.
The prayer of the victim everywhere is the same: "Stir up thy power and come to save us. Restore us, O God; let thy face shine that we might be saved." (Ps 80:2f)
The promises of God are also the same, yesterday, today, and forever. In Luke, we read Mary's words: "He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud...he has filled the hungry with good things." (Lk 1:51-53) Micah reminds the small and the victim that "they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And this shall be peace..." (Mic 5:4f)
Daryl S. Everett