Three Simple Requirements

God, in this moment, what is the most fair, loving, merciful, humble thing I can do?

Watch the worship service (video starts at prayers of the people):

Read Micah 6:1-8 (Matthew 5:1-12) here.

What’s black and white and red all over?  The traditional answer is a newspaper, but newspapers aren’t just black and white anymore.  So I propose another answer.  The Bible.  It’s black and white and read all over.

Even if you haven’t read it all, you probably have heard some of the words from today’s readings before.  I hear Monty Python whenever we read the beatitudes because of the scene from the movie Life of Brian in which the people are listening to Jesus and asking, “Did he say blessed are the cheesemakers?”  “No, dear, I think he means all manufacturers of dairy products.”

The last verse of our reading from Micah is one we hear quoted frequently, and I discovered that it’s a prominent verse in synagogues, as well.[1]  The synagogue in Galveston had it carved into the woodwork across the front wall.

Micah was a prophet who lived near Jerusalem around 700 BC, during the same time as the prophets Isaiah, Hosea, and Amos, and during the reign of the kings we read about it 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles.  There were good kings and bad kings and very bad kings, and since the kings were absolute rulers, they influenced both the politics and the religion.  If the kings set up places for worshipping idols, the people worshipped idols.  Micah confronts these corrupt leaders in the first few chapters of his prophecy, but here in chapter six, he’s speaking to the people.

Micah begins each section with the word “listen.”  He calls us to listen as presents his case like a lawyer speaking at a trial.  He says the mountains are God’s witnesses, and God himself is the judge.[2]  The covenant relationship between God and the people has deteriorated, and God asks why.  “What have I done to make you tired of me?” (v3)

Then Micah reminds us of what God has done:

  1. God brought Israel out of Egypt and freed them from slavery.
  2. God provided Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to be their leader, priest and prophetess.
  3. God prevented King Balak from having Balaam pronounce a curse over Israel, and instead Balaam pronounced a blessing. (Numbers 23)
  4. God brought Israel from Shittim to Gilgal, which refers to the place where they crossed the Jordan River to come out of their wilderness wandering and into the land that God had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Joshua 5)

God had faithfully brought salvation to the people, just as God has brought salvation to us.  And what shall be our response? Are we tired of God?

Thinking about accomplishing the next part of what Micah describes makes me tired.  He asks, “With what shall I come before the Lord? Should I bring him burnt offerings? Should we bow before God Most High with offerings of yearling calves? Should we offer him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?” (v6-7)   That’s a lot of work!  Days and weeks of butchering and roasting.  Hours and hours of picking and pressing and filtering.  If this is what God requires, we will certainly be tired.

Hopefully, though, we’d be too tired for the other offering on Micah’s list, the offering of first-born children.  This was something people did back then to appease the god Molek and atone for their sin, but God had expressly forbidden this in Leviticus 18. (v21)

Is all this stuff what God requires of his people?  Micah says, “No!  God has told you already what is good, but let me make it plain and simple:  Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God.”

It turns out God’s requirements are not a what but a who. God wants each one of us.[3]  Imagine God singing, “All I want for Christmas is you…and you….and you…” and so on.

Just Mercy CourtroomFor me, it’s hard to think about doing justice and loving mercy without thinking about the movie that’s in theaters right now, Just MercyThis movie is based on the true story of a young graduate from Harvard Law School named Bryan Stevenson, played by Michael B. Jordan.  Stevenson moves to Alabama to work on filing appeals for death row inmates who were unfairly tried and convicted.  One of his first cases was Walter McMillan, played by Jamie Foxx.  Last week, Christian Dashiell said in his sermon that in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. we ought to be willing to be made uncomfortable.  This movie is quite uncomfortable because it’s quite clear how entrenched racism had put McMillian in jail for a murder he didn’t commit, and was making it almost impossible for Stevenson to bring an appeal to trial.  It’s hard to watch people being hateful.  It’s hard to watch people giving up on themselves because the walls of hatred and discrimination seem so impenetrable. This is still happening today.

JUST MERCYOne of the most powerful scenes in the movie is a conversation in which Stevenson is telling McMillan that even though they finally got the witness who’d been coerced into lying to tell the truth, they’ve been blocked again.  McMillan says,

“The day I got arrested, I thought I was going to be okay, because I got the truth. Soon as they talk to everybody that was with me, they’re going to have to let me go. Then the police keep calling you a killer. Some white dude say he saw you do it. News people saying you did it. Judge and jury saying you did it. Now you on the row. Two, three, four years. Your friends, and your kids, they ain’t calling you like they used to. After a while, you start wondering what they think about you. You start wondering what you think about you. Truth ain’t so clear no more. But the last few days, I can’t stop thinking about Myers up there, telling everybody how it went down. That’s the first time I feel like myself since I’ve been locked up. First time I remembered who I is. These fools are going to do what they’re going to do. But if they take me to that chair tonight, I’m going out smiling, because I got my truth back. You gave that to me. To me and my family. And ain’t nobody going to take that from us.”[4]

Instead of making assumptions, Stevenson listened and got others to listen, and got McMillan his truth back.[5]  Equal justice is based on truth.

One of the ways we can do justice is by listening to each other without judgment.  It’s too easy to make assumptions about each other that affect our ability to hear each other’s truth.  We make assumptions based on skin color, hairstyle, clothing, education, age, body size or ability, job, where we live, our gender, and the list goes on.

How are we letting our assumptions get in the way of hearing each other?

Studies are finding that we are really good at only hearing what we want to hear, and that our ideology greatly affects how we hear.*  It might seem like we’re stuck in a downward spiral of divisiveness and polarization.  Sometimes truth is hard to find, but the prophet Micah reminds us who to trust:

But as for me, I will look to the Lord, I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. (Micah 7:7)

My God will hear me. With God all things are possible.  If we will turn to God and pray, God does surprising things.

One of Micah’s accusations against the people of Israel and its Kings is that they exploit people’s vulnerabilities, using their power and money to take advantage of people.  I’m sure you’ll agree that this still happens today, but it’s easy to miss the subtle ways this happens.  Whenever someone has a need that we’re able to fill, they are vulnerable and we are in a position of power.  It’s easy to be blind to the ways this is happening to the people around us, especially if prejudice clouds our vision.

Last Sunday night we watched the Grammy awards on TV.  I have to tell you that I was expecting the show to be short, because the announcer kept saying that this was the 62nd Grammy awards. (60-seconds, that’s not long.)

Demi croppedOn Facebook  I discovered that some people were put off by the clothes that people were wearing and so they’d turned it off.  Others didn’t hear music styles they recognized and turned it off.  If they’d kept watching, they would have heard Demi Lovato’s heart-wrenching performance of a song she wrote four days before she almost died of a drug overdose.  She sings a cry for help.  Listen to her lyrics:

I tried to talk to my piano

I tried to talk to my guitar

Talk to my imagination

Confided into alcohol

I tried and tried and tried some more

Told secrets ’til my voice was sore

Tired of empty conversation

‘Cause no one hears me anymore . . .

Anyone, please send me anyone. Lord, is there anyone?[6]

Demi was telling us her truth.  Though people may have thought she was ok because she already had success and money, she was very much not ok.  She desperately needed someone to hear and believe that she was not ok.

Who is trying to tell us that they’re not ok? Have we gotten tired of listening?  Have we been unable to listen past the outward appearances that cloud our judgment?

The hard truth is that we all do this in various ways, and one of the reasons we do is that it’s hard work to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God in the face of so much injustice and conflicting stories, and exploitation.

God’s requirements are not complicated or costly in the material sense.  God simply asks us to live justly, mercifully, and humbly. What’s the good news?  Through faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit helps us to accomplish this.

What’s black and white and red all over?  The Bible.  It’s black and white and R.E.D. all over.  Red is the color of love, and the color of the blood Jesus shed for us on the cross.  No amount of money or good deeds will ever be enough to earn the grace and mercy we have been given through Jesus.  All God asks is that we humbly accept this amazing gift and share it with the world by how we live and what we say and how we listen.

In just a few minutes, we’re going to sing a song about that.  “Rock of ages cleft for me.  Let me hide myself in thee.”  The writer of those words is named Augustus Toplady. (I love this name!) The story goes that he wrote this song after he took shelter in a cleft of rock during a rainstorm.[7]  The song may also be alluding to the story in Exodus in which God hides Moses in a cleft of rock and shields him from seeing God’s full glory as God passes by, because no one can see the face of God and live.  God’s righteousness is too much for us, and we are too steeped in our sinfulness.  But through faith in Jesus, God sees us as if we have no sin.

Micah ends his prophecy with similar words of hope:

You will not stay angry with your people forever,
because you delight in showing unfailing love.
19 Once again you will have compassion on us.
You will trample our sins under your feet
and throw them into the depths of the ocean! (Micah 7:18-19)

We will not be perfect at doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God, but God is faithful and doesn’t give up on us.  Jesus knows our struggle, and he says,

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:6-7)

Through faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit lives in us and walks with us to strengthen and to guide us.  We might be tempted to hide from the world in the cleft of the rock of ages, but instead God call us to keep walking among our neighbors and invite others into that cleft.

Micah calls us to listen.

Years ago there were bumper stickers that encouraged us to ask, “What would Jesus do?”  How about instead we ask this: God, in this moment, what is the most fair, loving, merciful, humble thing I can do?

May we listen and hear with all our hearts.

[1] Another synagogue story: http://fpcboonton.org/2019/03/what-does-the-lord-require-micah-68/

[2] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., The Communicator’s Commentary: Micah-Malachi (Dallas: Word Books, 1992), p70ff.

[3] James Limburg, Interpretation: A Bible commentary for teaching and preaching, Hosea-Micah (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1988), p192.

[4] https://www.moviequotesandmore.com/just-mercy-best-movie-quotes/

[5] Read more and watch a trailer here: https://waynation.com/just-mercy/

[6] https://genius.com/Demi-lovato-anyone-lyrics

*http://theconversation.com/humans-are-hardwired-to-dismiss-facts-that-dont-fit-their-worldview-127168?fbclid=IwAR1Ezi4o6QNPs-jbUYmJlH4ImNQt1b5_95rhE7bCAhyf_xElWTWbLkMbXSQ 

[7] https://www.challies.com/articles/hymn-stories-rock-of-ages/

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