A sermon given during the 10:30am Choral Eucharist, by The Rev’d Dr Lynn Arnold AO, on the 29th January 2023


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be worthy in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Aren’t our readings this morning beautifully serene? The Beatitudes – beautiful, comforting, reassuring – such an affirmation of our God who loves his Creation. ‘Blessed are … blessed are … blessed are …’ the rhythmic repetition of each opening phrase seems to surround us in their calm; allowing us to bathe in the comfort of our relationship with God.

Then we have our reading from Micah which culminates in those words whose poetry makes us gasp at their beauty:

What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? [6:8]

Our psalm (15) likewise is so affirming:

Lord, who may abide in your tabernacle, or may dwell upon your holy hill? Whoever leads an uncorrupt life and does the thing which is right. [v1]

On the face of it, our reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians might seem of a different nature:

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? [1:20]

Yet when I read this verse, I am reminded of the beautiful poetry of the first Anglican theologian, Richard Hooker who wrote about this contrast between the learned and the naïve believer:

If I wish to gain true understanding, whom shall I seek to teach me? Shall I get me to the schools of the Greeks? Why? These men who have worldly wisdom are dumb because they have rejected the wisdom of God. Shall I beseech the scribes and interpreters of the law to be my teachers? How can they be wise when they are offended by the cross of Christ? I must have a true teacher because it is death for me to be ignorant of the great mystery of the Son of God. Yet I would have always been ignorant were it not for one of these Apostles of Jesus, a poor fisherman, unknown, unlearned, recently emerging from out of his boat with clothes wringing wet, who opened his inspired mouth and taught me: ‘In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God.’ These apostles, these poor silly creatures have made us rich in the knowledge of the mysteries of Christ.[1]

An especially beautiful evocation by Hooker of Paul’s message. My point is that we need to handle carefully beautiful phrases in the Bible, lest they lead us into a comfort zone of self-satisfaction in our faith, when in fact Scripture should challenge us on a regular basis. Holy Writ is not there to enable us to justify our comfortable faith but to guide us further on our faith pilgrimage.

The version of the Beatitudes which appeared in Luke’s gospel really should always be read alongside Matthew’s seraphic version. Luke’s version started out with a deal of blessings, four in fact; but ends with these injunctions:

But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.

Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.

Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. [6:24-26]

So, before we start mounting copies of this morning’s readings printed on backgrounds of breath-taking natural beauty … sunrises, sunsets, or mountain or marine vistas – whatever makes us marvel at their wonderful divine reassurance, let us listen to what the words actually say. I could preach a whole sermon on the Beatitudes, indeed I did so back on the morning of 17th February 2019 … I know you remember it well 😀 – so I won’t repeat that now.

Therefore, this morning I will reflect a little on Micah 6:8:

What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? [6:8]

I am grateful to one of our fellow congregants, Graeme Butler, who sent me an e-Mail yesterday about our reading this morning from Micah. He wrote:

Micah 6:8 and Matthew 23:23 … formulated an extension of the Trinity trilogy. There are many trilogies in the Scriptures.

For the record, Matthew 23:23 reads:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices … but you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness …

‘Justice, mercy and faithfulness’ … Graeme has rightly reminded us of their parallel in the reading from Micah – ‘do justice … love kindness … and walk humbly with your God.’

To hear properly Jesus words from Matthew 23:23, we should read Micah in a commanding way, not just poetic; for the verbs of Micah are intended to shout out to us, rather than comfort us – ‘DO justice, LOVE kindness, WALK HUMBLY with our God.’ Hearing them this way, I am forced to ask myself whether these verbal commands find real response in my daily living – but, so I am not alone in the discomfort of this alternative way of reading Micah 6:8, let me ask you the same question – how does this way of reading this verse find real response in your own daily living? In just over three weeks, we will start Lent in the leadup to Easter. Ash Wednesday will be on February 22nd. Our reading this morning from Micah is often connected with the Lenten journey for, as verse 6 reads:

With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings …?

Echoing Isaiah 58:4b:

Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.

Instead, again listening to Isaiah, we further read:

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then you light shall break forth like the dawn … [58:6-8a]

Micah 6:8 has resonated with me for a long time – indeed, during my four years as CEO of Anglicare SA, it was the verse I put on the reverse side of my business cards. I wanted those words to be not only some form of injunction to the recipients of my card but also a caution to me – to keep before me the question: Am I doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with my God in my daily practice?

For many years from my late teens, I left my Anglican birthright and made pilgrimage with the Quakers; I later returned to Anglicanism, leading our former Dean, Frank Nelson, to point out to me an article in the UK Church Times in its 7th October 2016 issue which contained, inter alia, this comment:

 … it has been affirming to find that “Quanglicans”, as they are col­loquially known — people who hold to both Quaker and Anglican tradi­tions — are not such a rare breed. 

I am not about to suggest we should all adjourn to the beautiful and historic Friends’ Meeting House located immediately behind our Cathedral. Rather, I want to draw attention to a Quaker way of viewing Micah 6:8 which might be helpful to all of us as Anglicans in our faith journey. In Quaker theological writings, there is a concept known as ‘Gospel Order’ – this is not a simple quiz question re the order of the Gospels in the Bible – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Rather. George Fox, the inaccurately named ‘founder’ of Quakerism back in the C17 put it this way:

The spirit of God, which was given to every one to profit withal, and the grace of God, which bringeth salvation, and which hath appeared unto all men (sic), and teacheth them that obey it to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world: that this is the most fit, proper and universal rule, which God hath given to all mankind to rule, direct, govern and ORDER their lives by.[2]

Fox went further to write in one of his own epistles:

… This was the Order of the Gospel … in whom their walking should be, to wit, in Christ, the spiritual and heavenly Man; and not to walk in old Adam, who was without this spiritual, heavenly Gospel Order, which is the duty of all Christians to walk in.[3]

In other words, George Fox asked the question about how the gospel ordered our lives. Inasmuch as we consider Scripture as the Living Word of God, it is a question we should repetitiously ask ourselves in our daily prayers. Each year our liturgical calendar lists a number of ‘saints’, people who by tradition we regard with especial significance in terms of the way in which they lived out the gospel. But, in our complex world, perhaps we might look for additional such ‘saints’ in terms of their capacity to help us answer the question ‘how does the Gospel order our lives such that we do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God?’

This week, I happened across such a person about whose life of living the gospel I feel I ought to know more. In 1940, Aristides de Sousa Mendes was the Portuguese Consul-General in Bordeaux in France. World War II had broken out and by that date France had fallen; Jews lined up outside his consulate desperately seeking transit visas to Portugal. However, the leader of his country, Dr Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, had ordered that all such requests should be refused; furthermore, it was made clear that any contravention of this order would be career ending. Sousa Mendes had a large family – a wife and fifteen children; what should he do? In answer, standing before a crowd of desperate Jewish refugees, he said:

I would rather stand with God against man than with man against God.[4]

In consequence, Sousa Mendes proceeded to issue 1575 visas. Salazar sacked him and stripped him of his property. He died in poverty but never wavered in his belief that ‘the true lesson of Christianity is to love one’s neighbour’.

Hopefully, none of us will ever have to face the Gospel Order question of ‘doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God’ in the way Sousa Mendes did. But, in the manner of Matthew 23:23, Jesus has required us not to shy away from the power of the question in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.

In whatever circumstances which have come before us, have we each done justice, loved kindness and walked humbly with our God? Or to listen to the refrain from that beautiful hymn, Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, written by the Quaker John Greenleaf Whittier will we:

let our ordered lives confess the beauty of Thy peace.

[1]  Secor P B, Richard Hooker: Prophet of Anglicanism, Burns & Oates, Toronto, 2001, p108

[2] Fox, George, Journal, p687

[3] Fox George, Epistle 313, in T Canby Jones (ed) The Power of the Lord is over all: the Pastoral Letters of George Fox, FUP, Richmond, IN, 1966, p257.

[4] Cited in Life and death courage of those who defied the Nazis, book review in The Australian 25 January 2023, p10