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11.01.20 Simple Guidance in Complex Times Micah 6.6-8 Sermon Summary

by on November 2, 2020

Minor Prophets proclaimed God’s Word in the crises of war, defeat, and restoration. When Jesus spoke of “wars and rumors of war,” he could have been referring to the times of the Minor Prophets.

There are many explanations when it comes to wars. The prophetic explanation includes corruption of religion and the collapse of social justice. For detailed examples of these look at the last two weeks’ sermons.

Micah was among the first of the Minor Prophets. Like many of the others he accused God’s people of forgetting their past deliverance, of dishonest business practices, and of using violence as a means of gaining or keeping wealth.

For Micah, what were the consequences of continuing down this path unchanged? For one, the rumors of war will become actual war. But he also utters a “futility curse:” You shall eat, but not be satisfied, and there shall be a gnawing hunger within you; you shall put away, but not save, and what you save, I will hand over to the sword. You shall sow, but not reap; you shall tread olives, but not anoint yourselves with oil; you shall tread grapes, but not drink wine. (Micah 6:14-15) If you’ve read any of my last twenty sermons, these accusations and consequences are familiar to you.

So what should we do in light of these words? Shall we attend a praise and worship festival? Hold a prayer vigil? Shall we call a fast? Maybe we should assemble and protest? Some say retreat in seclusion?

Micah also sincerely asked these kinds of questions: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with new offerings?Will the Lord be pleased with very valuable gifts? Shall I make an extravagant sacrifice to fix this aching in my soul?” (Micah 6:6-7, paraphrase)

He might have remembered the words of God in Amos: “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Instead let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21, 24)

Upon reflection Micah says no. God doesn’t want more religion and ritual, especially when social injustice continues. So what does God want? In these anxious times, in these complex circumstances, what does the Lord require of us?

Micah’s answer is among the most famous verses in Bible: “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?”

Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God.

What does it look like to “do justice?” According to James, “doing justice” means to provide for the needy. (James 2:15-17) Isaiah says it is to protect the vulnerable and defend the powerless. (Isaiah 1:17) Doing justice looks like the parable Jesus told in Matthew 25, where he concludes, “Whatever you did for the least of these members of my family—feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the isolated, caring for the sick, welcoming the stranger-you did for me.”

What does it look like to “love kindness?” Other English translations refer to loving “mercy, faithfulness, or steadfastness.” The Hebrew word is chesed. It is a wide-ranging word we might understand as referring to the divine sustaining of our lives. God meets our needs and guides our lives to the end that we may experience abundance and flourishing.

To love kindness recalls Jesus instruction, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). Colossians puts it this way, “As the Lord has forgiven you, so forgive others.” In the way God has treated us graciously to give our lives abundance, so it is to “love kindness” in our relationships with others.

What does it look like to “walk humbly?” The traditional answer includes “self-renunciation.” Today we would say we must lower our ego defenses. It means that we are teachable, we are open and welcoming to new experiences. It means that we remain watchful for wonder.

This is simple guidance in complex times, and not just for ancient Israel. Older translations render this verse, “He has shown you, O Man, . . .” “Man” here is ‘adam, better known as the first man Adam from the creation story. ‘Adam is the general term in Hebrew for “humankind.”

This, Micah is saying, is what it means to be human. We are created from the earth and made in God’s image. This is God’s will for every person: To do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

And so let it be our prayer: Lord, we live in complex times, and we face unchartered waters. We have no map to follow well-worn and proven paths. But we do have a compass. Your word is a lamp for our feet, and a light for our path. Give us, through our reflections, our studies, our prayers, and your Holy Spirit, confidence that the choices we make are in alignment with your will for your ‘adam, your image, your beloved children who inhabit the world. Let us do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with you. Amen.

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