Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Sermon: Micah 6: 1-8 What does the Lord require?

“What do you want from me?” It’s the question that has been asked time and time again in soap operas, as a couple reaches breaking point. What do you want from me? What do I need to do for this relationship to continue?

It might also be a question asked in a work context. Knowing what the boss wants done, and how they want it done, can bring a smooth working relationship. What do you want from me?

It’s also a question that many people ask of God. What do you want from me? What do I need to do for you, to get in the right with you, to be sure of heaven with you? And all around us, in a world of religious options, people try to answer that question in a variety of ways. Some will try to please God with pilgrimage. Others with sacrifice. Still others with giving or good works. What do you want from me, God?

In our reading tonight, we discover what it is that God wants from us. But in order to understand it, we need to see it in context. You see, sometimes people seize on this one verse, verse 8, to say, you see, this is all God wants - just our good works, as we do justice and love kindness and walk humbly. It’s not quite what God is saying - and to feel the full force of it, we need to look at the whole passage.

In verse 1, it’s as if a court is in session. There’s a command to ‘Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice.’ Someone is being called as a witness - no, more than a witness, the defendant. They’re placed in the dock, told to stand up, and plead their case. In the witness box and the public gallery are seated the mountains and hills - and the foundations of the earth (v2).

But who is it in the dock? Who is the defendant? We discover in verse 2. ‘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 he will contend with Israel.’

It’s God’s people in the dock - Israel. God had made a covenant with them through the call of Abraham, yet here they are. An indictment against them, a charge to face. The covenant has been broken. And yet God asks a seemingly strange question in verse 3:

‘O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me!’ Now there’s no answer at this point, but it seems that the people imagined that the fault in the broken covenant lay on God’s side - that it was fault things had broken down.

God continues to speak, and in verses 4-5 reminds the people of Israel of all that he had done for them. ‘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.’ He’s reminding them of the Exodus - the rescue from slavery in Egypt by the Passover. It was God who brought them, redeemed them, sent them leaders.

As if that wasn’t enough, to get out of Egypt, then in verse 5, God recaps an important moment during the wilderness wanderings. ‘O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him.’

Now those names might not be terribly familiar to us - apart from Balaam’s donkey, which spoke. But to Micah’s original audience, this was well known. Balak the king of Moab had seen the people of Israel coming towards his land, and he was scared of them. So he called on Balaam (who was a diviner, prophet, fortune-teller type person) to curse them. And what was Balaam’s answer? ‘How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce whom the LORD has not denounced?’

Balaam, the professional curser cannot curse the people of Israel, because God has said they are blessed. God is reminding his people of his fixed verdict of them. It’s like the Romans 8:1 declaration made over us = ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’

And also in verse 5, ‘and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal.’ To us, those placenames mean nothing, but for Israel, this reminded them of coming into the promised land. The people had camped at Shittim, on one side of the river Jordan. Their next stop was Gilgal on the other side of the river Jordan. And how had they gone from one side to the other? There were no bridges. God had stopped the flow of the river, enabling the people to cross on dry land.

All these things God had done for his people - all these reminders are given, end of verse 5 ‘that you may know the saving acts of the LORD.’ This is just a sampling of all the ways God had saved his people. He had done it all - the people hadn’t had to do anything!

Yet look at how the people then respond. They’re asking the right question: ‘With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high?’ What do I need to do? What do I need to bring? What do you want from me?

The people give a checklist of possibilities. Some burnt offerings, calves a year old? Thousands of rams? Ten thousands of rivers of oil? Each more elaborate and costly than the last. And then a horrific thought - ‘Shall I give my firstborn for my transgresson, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ The nations around them practiced child sacrifice, offering up their children to the gods to bring about a good harvest. Is that what the Lord God wanted?

No, no, a million times no! Notice that what the Lord requires of us aren’t sacrifices at all. At least, not in the bringing something and sacrificing it at a temple or altar. What does the LORD require of you? ‘But to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.’ This is the proper response to God’s saving acts. And as we gather here, around the Lord’s table, on this side of the events of the cross, we can see even clearer God’s saving acts. The body of Jesus broken for us on the cross. His blood shed for our sin. God has done all that is needed. We receive it with faith.

As we receive his mercy, so we are called to share it with others. As we receive his love, so we are called to share his love. This was the charge against God’s people in Micah’s day - they weren’t doing justice; they weren’t loving kindness; and they weren’t walking with their God.

What does the Lord require of you, members of Mothers’ Union, in this new year? When you say it out loud, it doesn’t really seem like much, does it? Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God. You might almost think, is that it? But this affects every relationship you have; every hour you have; every decision you make; every pound you spend.

Having been saved by God, how do we respond? Justice, kindness, and walking with God. May we know God’s grace, as we respond to his salvation, and walk humbly with him, loving him, and our neighbours as we love ourselves. Amen.

This sermon was preached at the Mothers' Union Opening Service of Holy Communion on Tuesday 10th January 2017 in Aghavea Parish Church.

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