What the Lord Requires

Micah 6:6-8 – January 29, 2017

micah-6-8-word-cloud

“What the Lord Requires”

Many people have very particular ideas about how to do things. Ask the editors at Vogue or GQ, or other high fashion magazines, and they will tell you precisely how a well-dressed person ought to look. What about Emily Post, Miss Manners, and Ann Landers? Don’t they let everyone know how to act and how to behave in polite society, in just about any situation?

What about the police and lawyers, and what is legal or not? Aren’t there basic rules and requirements for behavior and actions in this community? You and I have a right to wave our arms as much as we like. Except—my right ends where your nose begins. And what about public intoxication? Drunk and disorderly? There are many examples I could mention about recommended behavior.

Welcome to our mainline American culture, here in the 21st century. I’m not even going to go into the multitude of different cultures and the differences of practice and of culture, world-wide. Yet, many people have quite particular ideas about how to do things, and what types of activity are recommended, even required.

One of our Scripture passages today gives us a short list of what the Lord recommends for each of us. A summary statement, if you will. Let’s read Micah 6:8: “God 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?”

Let’s unpack that summary statement, and take a look at the two verses that come before. Verse 6: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?” This is a sincere question, I believe. It’s sincere for the prophet, and sincere for all of us here today. What is the best way to come before God? How can we come to the sanctuary, to the holy place? Who may approach God? What kinds of things do we all need to do (and say, and think) to be acceptable and worthy in the sight of the Most High God?

These verses do not concentrate on what we ought to wear. Different people wear different things, depending on their culture, their context, and their preferences. At some churches, the minister wears super-fancy robes (like at my priest friends’ Episcopal churches in Maryland and Virginia). I have several friends who attend church in Chicago at a very youth-oriented congregation. Their minister wears blue jeans and an open-collared shirt for a Sunday morning service. Clothing choice is NOT what this sermon is about. The choices of what we do with our lives, how we treat each other and live together—this IS what the prophet is talking about here.

What does the Lord require of us, anyway?

Some people and some churches think God wants a showy service, and spectacular offerings. As one of the commentators said, “Perhaps our worship is wrong; perhaps we have not been serious enough in our acts of praise? “What do you want, Lord? Burnt offerings, year-old calves, thousands of rams, tens of thousands of rivers of oil?” (6:6b-7a) [1]

In the time the prophet Micah wrote, a small portion of people did not stop there. They went even further. Listen: “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

Yes, sometimes, in the Old Testament times, when people from other tribes and nations thought they had sinned so severely—so grievously that their god could never, ever forgive them, they would actually turn over their firstborn to the temple. In some cases, their firstborn would even be killed by the priests. (This was NOT in Israel. The Lord considered this practice an abomination!) However, in certain places, at certain kinds of temples with horrible blood sacrifices (for example, at the temples of the horrible, bloodthirsty god Moloch), this was true.

Again, NOT the case in Israel. And, NOT the case here, today, either.

The people were too preoccupied about what they could do to please God through their religious ceremonies, only on what happened in the sanctuary. They did not care about the rest of their lives, and how they behaved the other six days a week. How could these people live their lives during the week any old way they wanted to, but just wanted God to put a stamp of approval on their foreheads when they came to Temple (or church) on the weekend? Because, that was what they were trying to get away with.

Which leads us to the general summary in Micah 6:8. What is it that God requires of us? First, to do justice. Justice is dynamic! Not just written down in some dusty book. Justice means that we “work for fairness and equality for all, particularly the weak and the powerless who are exploited by others.” [2]

Who speaks out for those who have little or no power or influence? Throughout history, Christians have felt strongly that they ought to speak for those who have no voice. Like, children, the elderly, and the mentally disabled. People in asylums, prisons, and orphanages. All of these need fairness, equality, and help against exploitation.

Second, the Lord requires us to love kindness. Yes, one meaning of the Hebrew word chesed is kindness, but the full meaning can hardly be conveyed by one single English word. It means a whole lot more than simple kindness! Chesed “has to do with love, loyalty, and faithfulness. It can be used to describe the key element in relationships, whether in marriage or between human friends or between God and humanity.” [3]

This is more than just “being nice” to each other. Much, much more! It all comes down to relationships.

Third, the prophet says to walk humbly with our God. The key word here is “walk.” Not to do things pleasing to God every once in a while, but be “careful to put God first and to live in conformity with God’s will.” [4] Our life’s journey—our continued walk with God—is a journey with our loving, giving, embracing God as our constant companion.

Again, this verse, Micah 6:8—is NOT about worship practices on Sunday mornings, and that’s all there is. This verse is NOT about how to dress for church, or other kinds of exterior behavior, just for show. This verse is about our inside attitude.

This is one verse where the expression “What Would Jesus Do?” has pertinent meaning. What would Jesus do, with that homeless veteran on the street, begging for money? What would Jesus do, with the elderly woman in subsidized housing, trying to make ends meet on only her Social Security check each month? What would Jesus do, with the pregnant teenager kicked out of her home because of an unwise choice?

Is this requirement from God easy? No. Not easy. Is it simple and straightforward? Yes. In plain language, the prophet tells us what God expects of all followers of God.

Let’s close with Micah 6:8, again: “God 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?”

Let those with ears to hear, let them hear. And do, and love, and walk with God.

[1] http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Justice-Not-Worship-John-C-Holbert-1-20-2011 Justice, Not Worship, Reflections on Micah 6:1-8, John C. Holbert, Patheos, 2011.

[2]  Daniel J. Simundson and the The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Vol. 7, The Book of Micah), (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

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