HOLY LOCKER ROOM SPEECHES – DO! LOVE! WALK!
January 21, 2018
It may surprise you to know that perhaps the master of locker room speeches was not a man but rather the longtime basketball coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers, Patricia Summitt. She could peel the paint off a wall! This fiery, no-nonsense native of rural Clarksville, TN led the Vols to 1,098 wins over a 38 year career, the most of any NCAA coach in history.
Summitt began her career quite inauspiciously in 1974 when the head coach of the Vols suddenly quit. She was the graduate assistant, and took over the reins of the team at the age of 22. In those early years she held donut sales to raise money for her team’s uniforms, then washed those uniforms after each game. She drove her team to away games in a beat-up school van. On occasions, she and her players slept on the opposing team’s gym floor after the game because there was no money in the school budget for motel rooms. Such was the lack of respect afforded women’s college basketball in the 1970’s.
However, by the time of her retirement in 2012, Summitt had done her part to elevate the landscape of women’s college basketball to unimaginable heights. Her teams won eight NCAA championships, and played to sold-out arenas all over the nation. She was widely respected in her profession as one of the top 10 coaches of all time.
Pat Summitt developed early onset Alzheimer’s Disease in 2011, and she died in 2016 at the age of 64. Her former players often speak of the tremendous impact her demanding but caring demeanor had upon their lives and their futures.
This morning we are going to hear a fiery holy locker room speech from a minor prophet with a major message. His name is Micah. He’s a country preacher from 30 miles south of Jerusalem. In his Pat Summitt twang, he condemns the leaders of Israel and Judah for attempting to smear the lipstick of religion on the pig of their corruption. They are paying lip service to God while ignoring God’s basic commands to care for the vulnerable in their land. And Micah will correctly predict that their putrid lifestyle will portend an eventual defeat and deportation at the hands of the Babylonian army.
Listen to Micah speak God’s word mocking the leader’s vain efforts to appear religious:
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 ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
And then, in no-nonsense, in your face speech, Micah describes what God demands of his people, as well as you and me:
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.
Yes, Micah preaches…
LOOK OUTWARD – DO JUSTICE!
What does it mean to act justly toward others? Justice means having a sense of ethics, of knowing the right thing from the wrong thing–and doing the right thing, at all costs.
Arthur Brisbane was a biologist who would often show his class a demonstration using processional caterpillars. He would fill a glass jar with all sorts of leaves—perfect caterpillar food. Then he would line up the caterpillars around the rim of the jar, head-to-foot, and start them all walking.
Guess what? Although a gourmet feast was waiting below, they would continue to follow each other around and around and around the rim of that jar, until they all eventually starved to death.
And that’s precisely how many people are. They follow the crowd at all costs, rather than doing the right thing at all costs. You follow the flash mob, you’re eventually going to flame out.
Yes, to do justice means to always seek to do the right thing, to live by that conscience God has placed in your heart. Don’t blindly follow the crowd like a dumb caterpillar!
Yes, do…don’t hoodoo! To do justice means to treat others with fairness. The world is not fair, but you can be. You can affirm the self-worth and dignity of all folk, irregardless of their age, nationality, religion or economic class. Never manipulate or take advantage of people. Don’t do unto others then run. Don’t just speak up…act up! Take a stand. Be helpful.
I was in the parking lot at the Walmart Market—not WalMart—the other day when a group of guys fom JMU came bopping out with what I assumed were the makings of a good party—bags of assorted chips and a case of Keystone Lite.
All of the sudden one of them took off, bolting over to the next aisle in the parking lot. “Where the #@$% you going, Jason?” “This lady needs some help!” shouted back Jason as he left his buddies behind.
An elderly lady’s bag of groceries had busted as she was attempting to load it in the trunk of her car. Cans were rolling everywhere. And I watched as this young man, Jason, came to her aid—patiently picking up the merchandise, even crawling under a car to fetch a can of peas, and then loading it into her car. I saw him give her a hug…she was smiling and very much grateful…as he then ran back to join his impatient friends.
As Micah reminds us, we can be that person who, although we are not perfect, we do stand in the gap on behalf of others rather than stepping over them. We strive to do the right thing at all costs. We seek to treat all people with fairness. We do…not hoodoo. Look outward…do justice. That’s what God requires of us.
Moving along….Have you ever watched Judge Judy? Her motto is “Justice with an Attitude.”
The prophet Micah encourages something similar—he pairs justice with the attitude of kindness…
Yes, not only look outward, but also….
LOOK INWARD – LOVE KINDNESS
The Hebrew word Micah uses here for kindness—chesed--is hard to translate into our English language. It has the connotation of “getting inside someone’s skin.” You feel what another person feels; you see the world as another person sees it. You rejoice when they rejoice; you suffer when they suffer. You get out of someone’s face and get into their shoes. That’s what it means to love kindness.
Steven Spielberg is the most famous movie producer in the world today. From ET to Schindler’s List to Saving Private Ryan, his films have been epic.
He’s widely considered a genius in his field. And yet, he wasn’t always so well thought of.
I heard an interview in which Spielberg was talking about his high school years. “Nerdy kids like me weren’t popular in those days.” Very uncoordinated, he never made the first cut on any of the sports teams he tried out for. Shy and self-conscious, he never had the nerve to ask a girl out for a date.
One day, during the mile run for his PE class, he suddenly realized that, for the first time, he wasn’t dead last coming around the final turn on the track.
A special ed kid with Down’s Syndrome was gasping and flailing behind him, and Spielberg saw that the boy was putting his whole heart into the run. What’s more, the whole PE class was screaming and yelling encouragement for the boy to pass him.
Spielberg shortened his stride until the handicapped teenager nosed ahead of him at the finish line. Spielberg’s empathy cost him dearly. His heart sank as the other kids swarmed toward the victor, lifting him high on their shoulders and carrying him off the field, all the while shouting taunts at Spielberg.
Steven Spielberg felt totally humiliated. But he also admitted that, in spite of that humiliation, he felt a warmth inside. He knew he had done something good—he had given that Down’s Syndrome kid a sense of accomplishment.
Such kindness, being able to get inside other people’s skin, has played a big role in Spielberg being able to create movies that impact our lives so deeply.
Kindness—that’s what God requires of us…
And chesed also means mercy – as it is translated in some versions of the Bible. Mercy is giving to others what they don’t deserve and perhaps even saving them from what they do deserve.
You ask most any person who grew up around Verona, VA what was their first job, and they’ll tell you it was working at Gray’s Supermarket. John Gray was the owner of Gray’s Supermarket, and this very Christian man saw it as his mission to help young people develop a strong work ethic. He taught them responsibility, proper manners, attention to detail.
John Gray retired in the late 1990’s, and the store soon closed. I remember stopping by to visit with him during his final weeks there as he was cleaning out his office. As I peeped in, he wasn’t in his office, but I spied this huge cardboard box in a trash can. It was marked IOU’s. The box was nearly full of scraps of paper- the currency of dozens of folks whom John Gray had given groceries to over the years but never was repaid for his generosity. I never heard him mention those IOU’s….
John Gray was a merciful man, giving to others what they didn’t deserve and perhaps what they did. But either way, he practiced chesed.
We are called to look inward…to search our hearts…to be kind and merciful folk.
Yes, Micah proclaims: Look outward – do justice; Look inward – love kindness, and….
LOOK UPWARD -WALK HUMBLY WITH YOUR GOD
Humility—now that’s a virtue in short supply today. We live in a world of super-ego maniacs. Sometimes it helps to remember where we came from.
Country music singer Toby Keith had to play hundreds of hole-in-the-wall honkytonks before he ever got his first break in the music business. He remembers a very humbling moment in a run-down roadhouse in west Texas. Most of the customers totally ignored his music that evening, so it took Toby by great surprise when he heard the sound of enthusiastic clapping during his last number.
Toby peered out through the smoky haze in the room and thanked the gentleman for the effusive praise. But it turned out the fellow wasn’t actually clapping—he was simply beating the bottom of his catsup bottle, trying to get the Heinz to dribble out on to his plate of greasy French fries! That’ll make you consider your pride!
Humility is that which frees us from preoccupation with ourselves. I remember reading a quip by Alice Roosevelt, President Teddy Roosevelt’s firstborn. She once said of her father, “Daddy always had to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.”
That certainly describes the folk Micah is preaching to. Does it describe you or me?
Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing to be free from preoccupation with ourselves, and instead be free to be present with God and present with others? To never have to worry about putting on airs? To be able to simply be yourself? And to feel no jealousy, no envy when others receive good fortune for you are secure in your own skin?
Such God-given humility comes not from putting yourself down or downplaying who you are. It is simply based on recognizing your identity as God’s daughter or son. You are a person of great, great worth in the sight of the Lord. Thus, you don’t have anything to prove to anyone else.
But sadly, we aren’t people of great humility, especially in matters relating to our God. We like to think we are in complete control of our destinies, that we have the world by its tail, that everything is under our authority. It never crosses our mind or heart that it is God who always has the final word.
Yes, the prophet Micah informs us there is a deeper spiritual dimension to life. We only dwell on the surface in our relationships, we can never live on a deeper level—exhibiting justice and kindness toward one another—until we have yielded ourselves to God’s will and love shown to us in Jesus Christ.
God is God and we are not. Our God is a God we can relate to as friend to friend. But to walk humbly with God is to remember our place and to know that we stand with God, not as equals, but as invited guests; never forgetting for a moment that God is Creator, and we are but part of God’s creation.
And yes, our Lord alone can instill in us that true sense of right from wrong, enabling us to do the right thing in tough circumstances. God alone can instill in us that sense of kindness toward others, enabling us to get inside their skin and make a difference in their lives. God is the source of life, not mere existence. Walk humbly with him!
A former church I pastored, St. Mark’s UMC in Richmond, used to serve as one of the host sites for CARITAS- a long-running ministry to the homeless upon which our local Open Doors homeless shelter program is based. Once a month during the winter the church would host 30-40 homeless adults and families in our Family Life Center for a 7-day period–providing them warm shelter, a place to sleep, and two hot meals per day.
We had to provide a certain number of our own members to supervise the homeless folk. Chuck was always the first in line. His kids were grown. He had time to serve. He joined our other members in fixing meals and unstopping toilets and cleaning showers and setting up cots.
But Chuck also took things one step further–he sat down and ate at the table with the homeless folks, listening to their stories of pain and loss and self-loathing. And he slept among them at night, talking old men through DT’s, rocking crying children, breathing in the stench of body odor and stale air. And he prayed with them, not offering pious platitudes, but simply putting his hand on their shoulder and praying silently alongside them. He did not treat these homeless folk as objects of pity…he treated them as friends and persons of dignity and worth.
I once asked Chuck “Why?” “Why do you do this?” He told me about a time when he was unemployed for nine months. He children were small. His wife was ill. And he was afraid he was going to lose everything, of being on the streets of Richmond with nowhere to go. He said he still had nightmares filled with hopelessness and helplessness, haunted by those feelings of being less than human. Fortunately, he had Good Samaritans in his life who stood by him and offered him a hand up.
And so, once he got back on his feet again, Chuck made a grateful promise to God that he would always show this same compassion to others going through tough, wretched times. Never would they be mere objects of his charity. He would treat them with respect as brothers and sisters in Christ, and do his utmost to love them and lift them up. To Chuck, that simply was what being a believer was all about.
Chuck often said this passage from Micah was his favorite. Indeed, our calling as Christians doesn’t get much plainer than this:
Look outward – do justice!
Look inward – love kindness!
Look upward – walk humbly with your God!
Do! Love! Walk! Amen!