Reading the Bible as an Activist: a Lectionary Series

The Messenger and Our Broken Covenants

Brian Merritt

Malachi 3:1-4

On December 10 of 1948, 48 nation state members of the United Nations voted Paris, France to affirm the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. An obligatory covenant which contained a preamble and 30 articles which lay out the individual rights of humans that each of these 30 countries agree to abide with the rest of the humans in the world.

Of the nations to affirm this historic document the three countries of North America (Canada, Mexico and the United States) were all initial signatories. Church denominations such as the Presbyterian Church, Quakers and the Unitarian Universalists all strongly affirmed this covenant as essential to Nation states in the aftermath of a post Nuclear and genocidal conflict called World War II.

The next covenant, The 1951 Refugee Convention, soon followed with 145 signatories. Its protocol of 1967 was initially ratified by only the United States, Cape Verde, and Venezuela. This protocol removed the restrictions of time limits and geographical restrictions. As of July 1, 2013, 146 nation states had become parties to the protocol.

Article 1 of the Convention, as amended by the 1967 protocol defines a refugee as: A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

Covenants are important to both countries, individuals, and to the God that many of us claim to have promissory covenants. That is especially true for these compacts which set out guidance of how people that part of our culture, laws, or geography must be treated. If broken these are egregious breaches of our word to the world and must be determined to be the sin of that nation state against the rest of the world. It shows that they have breached their duty and made their word suspect in the circle of nations. The last book of the Hebrew prophets contains “the messenger” and the contention that the divine takes covenants incredibly seriously. In that book called Malachi there is a promise of forced repentance from covenant breakers enforced by God’s messenger. The divine promises that it will be unbearable. “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.”

The corrupt religious leaders, the dissolution of marriage for new religious allegiances, and the miserliness of the nation must be protested by the loud voice of the prophet, the messenger sent by the divine. It will require them to not stop until the voice of the divine is heard and that their suffering because of that protest is too much for them to endure. The protest required by the divine of the messenger is one that will be excruciating for the ears of the nation and their religious leaders. They will be glad to silence that voice for both spiritual and political peace.

Today we find ourselves in a nation that seeks to be willfully in breach of the human rights of other fellow humans seeking asylum within its borders (as well as break many other human and civil rights). Thankfully courts have staid our current administration’s attempts to circumvent the historic will of the world toward the idea of humane understandings of those seeking asylum from persecution, some desperation in other countries our own policies have initiated in this world.

Yet, bureaucratic systems, propaganda, and legal restrictions have often hampered legitimate rights of individuals that have crossed our borders. Each human separated from children or individuals forced into increasingly draconian legal jeopardy are also finding their rights as humans breached on a continuing basis.

It is time for people of faith and people of good will to take up the mantle of the messenger. We must be the moral agents of the promissory covenant that we have with our God and the obligatory covenants we have reached with our fellow humans. We must not stop until all human rights are affirmed and practiced for all people on this planet inside the borders of the country of our birth, residence, or citizenship. When we find our nation state wanting, we must agitate in ways that become so irritating to the power structures that they wish to refine their practices so as not to be bothered by prophetic voices any longer. We must also ignore the polite impulses of a church that has been corrupted by apathy, nationalism, or power’s allure to keep silent.

Covenants are important indications of our obligations to our fellow world and to the God we hope to have allegiance. It is past time for us to raise our voices for all humans in this world as brothers and sisters in whom we recognize a covenant.


Rev. Brian Merritt is the Interim Pastor at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico and was the founder of Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Brian serves the Presbyterian Church (USA) as a member of the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations.

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