A Sermon for Series A the 4th Sunday after the Epiphany 2017 “Do justice, love mercy, and walk with your God”

 

Old Testament Lesson  Micah 6:1-8

Second Lesson  1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Gospel Lesson  Matthew 5:1-12 

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for our meditation this day is the Old Testament lesson just read.  [Micah 6:1-8]

Micah gives us so much to think on in these eight verses.  It would be easy to convince ourselves that these verses are addressed to Israel alone.  God speaks to Israel and reminds them of the ‘saving acts of the Lord’, as he recounts the exodus, the forty years in the wilderness, and the many challenges that met Israel as they entered the Promised Land.  He reminds them of how he, the Lord, had been with them always; protecting them, guiding them, rescuing them time and time again.

And the implication is there; that despite his steadfast, loving kindness and mercy to them they’ve paid lip service to him.  They follow the rules.  They meet the letter of the law; bringing burnt offerings as required by the law.  They even offer to bring much greater offerings, thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil; and if that isn’t enough, they’re willing to offer absurdly great sacrifices, even the sacrifice of their first born if that was what he wanted.

What more could God possibly want from Israel? What more could he require of his people?  But wait a minute; we’re his people.  Could these words written down by Micah be meant for us too?  Could we be guilty of forgetting what God has done for us; and worse, paying lip service to God?

It’s not all that often that we’re struck with such absolute clarity about our relationship with God; clarity that overwhelms us with just how far we’ve slipped away; crystal-clear realization of our forgetfulness of the ‘saving acts of the Lord’ in our lives.  Do you remember?  Do you recall the many things God has done for you, to you, through you, in you, and mostly, in spite of you?

There’s no escaping the glaring gaze of the Lord in Micah’s words.  The words in this lesson give us the image of a court room.  Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth, for the Lord has an indictment against his people.  And the Lord’s indictment is true.  We’re guilty as charged, but this day in court isn’t meant as a day of judgment.  In fact, this indictment is the wrapping around a much needed gift.  When God chooses to remind us of our ignorance, our deafness, our self-inflicted forgetfulness, he does it to prevent us from sinking even deeper into our amnesia

“O my people, what have I done to you?  How have I wearied you? Answer me!  For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.  O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”

This is our God, calling us to remember what he has done for us.  This is our God calling to us from across the great chasm that our sin has formed between us; the insurmountable, unbridgeable space between us, his dismally forgetful people, and the holy God that they’ve spurned.

Now, again, it would be easy to see these verses as only pertaining to Israel, and not to us.  Especially when Micah’s attempt at appeasing God, so wrapped up in the sacrificial system of Israel, might seem foreign to you and me; but his attempt at a solution uncovers a systemic problem that even we deal with in our lives.  Listen to his desperate words: “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?  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?”

Desperate to appease the God who’s brought an indictment against him and all the people, Micah grasps for a solution.  He offers a reasonable sacrifice, but then he questions whether that will be sufficient and so he offers an absurd sacrifice.  Still more desperate, he offers the greatest sacrifice of all, the sacrifice banned by the Torah, the sacrifice asked of Abraham by God.  He offers his first born.

Isn’t that the way our thinking escalates?  Isn’t that what we do in the deep guilt of our sin?  We start by offering the reasonable, and then in our fear, we escalate and offer the unreasonable; failing to remember that God has already given the greatest sacrifice of all, the sacrifice of his first born, his only begotten Son.  Forgetting that the sacrifice God has already made has removed his wrath from us by placing it on his Son.

One last first born offered, one last lamb sacrificed.  One last doorpost smeared with blood, so that the angel of death would pass over all those who live in the cruciform house smeared by this lamb’s blood, forevermore.

In return for this sacrifice we are forgiven all our sins.  The chasm is bridged and we are returned to our heavenly Fathers embrace once again.  We are his.  We’re free to do what is good and to walk humbly with our God.

As Micah said: He has told you, O man, 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?  These then are the signs of our son-ship, our daughter-ship.  But even here we see that even as God alone is responsible for our salvation, and he alone is responsible for the good that we do.

For, doing justice and loving mercy are strained partners.  If we set out to do right by others, it goes hand in hand with exposing the injustice done to them; and we may find that injustice difficult to be merciful toward.  After all, in our humanity, we often reason that the deeper the wound, the more difficult the punishment should be.  But, because we walk humbly with God, we know that we ourselves have received mercy; for one who walks with God realizes that he does so purely due to the unearned grace, mercy, and call of God.

We are called to love mercy because that’s what we have in fact been shown by God.  And so, it’s only God’s mercy that allows our walk.  It’s the realization of God’s vast mercy poured out upon us that makes our walk humble.  And it’s out of the experience of receiving God’s unmerited mercy that we realize how we ought to ‘do justice’ in the world among those who have wronged us and have no right to expect us to forgive them.

In these eight verses, God gives us so much to consider; but one thing is clear; when it comes to walking with God, we need a good memory.   We can’t afford to forget.  We need a memory refreshed by frequent visits with him; in prayer, and in the study of his Word. A memory strengthened by him often, with his own body and blood.  A memory that never forgets the bountiful blessings of our God that come showering down upon us from the cross of his Son, who alone makes us able to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Huelle