Welcome, friends! Micah 6:1-8 lets us know exactly what God desires for us as God’s people: to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. Click on the videos below, and we will consider the Word of the Lord together.
Blessed God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, fill the hearts of your people with the fire of your love and mercy, and with the desire to ensure justice is done for the common good of all persons. Amen.
“Stand up, plead my case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say.
“Hear, you mountains, the Lord’s accusation; listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. For the Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel.
“My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me. I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam. My people, remember what Balak king of Moab plotted and what Balaam son of Beor answered. Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.”
With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (New International Version)
We are the people of God, the Church, the Body of Christ, the army of God, a holy temple. Those biblical labels are a picture of who we are and what we are to do. These metaphors all describe a people set apart for service, working in concert together toward a shared purpose.
In the prophet Micah’s day, the Israelites lost sight of the purpose and meaning of being God’s people. They needed to remember that the Lord acts in and through them for the redemption of the world. The kind of sacrifice and service which God wants is not so much a largess of tangible offerings we give. Rather, it is neatly summarized this way: Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God.
This Old Testament passage has the feel of a courtroom scene. The defense lawyer is Micah, representing God. The people of Israel are the plaintiffs. The world is the judge. All of creation is the jury.
Israel was complaining about God. It’s an age old complaint from many people through the millennia: Blame God for anything that goes sideways in my life. The reasoning goes something like this: After all, God is powerful and in control. God should fix everything.
In their small-minded and short-sighted ways, the people seem unable to discern that easy fixes rarely help anyone. Like yanking up a big weed next to a small plant, it destroys both of them.
The defendant, Micah, speaks on behalf of God. What have I done to you? How have I burdened you? In fact, God has done just the opposite of failing to act or wronging the people in some way. The Lord actively delivered the Israelites:
When the people groaned and grumbled under Egyptian slavery, God delivered them with a series of miraculous deeds.
When the Israelites were heading to the Promised Land and vulnerable to their enemies, God protected them from the Moabites. The Lord even used a talking donkey to work on their behalf. God miraculously turned the efforts of Balak to curse the people into a blessing.
When the people entered the land, they did so by the powerful act of God to stop the Jordan River from flowing so the Israelites could cross over.
These saving acts of God are the motivation for living a life pleasing to God. Micah sarcastically pressed his argument, essentially asking if there’s anything that can be done to keep the people happy? What extremes need to happen to meet such excessive demands? The response by God is this: Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God.
Walk Humbly with God
Faith and action are meant to work seamlessly together. Doing justice and loving mercy are possible as we walk with God. Walking everyday with Jesus gives us the power and passion to invest in the healing of the world. God desires that we journey with Jesus and follow his words and ways. Throughout the New Testament, the Christian life is described as a road or a way we walk. In fact, the earliest believers were known as “The Way.” (Acts 9:1-19)
Jesus is the way (John 14:6). Jesus is the way to deal with our current concerns and anticipated anxieties. He himself is the way. The way is not through a program of self-improvement. The way is not through a fake-it-till-you-make-it approach. The way is not through an ability to articulate well-crafted words or through being able to answer with certainty every question of faith. The way is not through finding just the right plan or system.
Jesus is our way – he is the way of rescue, the road to a life of harmonious peace and settled rest even when the world is going to hell around us. Jesus is the way for the church everywhere – fellowship, encouragement, acts of loving service, teaching, and strengthening of faith all center around Jesus because he is love incarnate.
Jesus is the way for the world – serving neighbors and nations, advocating for those who are mistreated and facing injustice, tackling the dozens of world problems which oppress humanity – come through the continuing presence of Jesus here on this earth, that is, through the Holy Spirit and God’s people.
This phrase (in the NIV) is translated various ways in other Bible versions:
“Embrace faithful love” (CEB)
“Let mercy be your first concern” (CEV)
“Show constant love” (GNT)
“Be compassionate and loyal in your love” (MSG)
“Love being kind to others” (NCV)
“Love kindness” (NRSV).
The reason for the variations is that the phrase in Hebrew carries a lot of meaning – and it’s difficult to capture that meaning in just one or two English words. It has to do with God’s steadfast loyalty to people based in a committed love and determination to do what is good and kind on their behalf – no matter whether they deserve such a grace, or not.
To love mercy comes from a large heart. The Grinch had a small heart. It caused him to be a nasty green curmudgeon who could steal gifts from a sweet little Who-girl. Only when his heart was enlarged did he mercifully return the gifts and then participate with the Whoville folks in their grand celebration.
God was merciful! We were dead because of our sins, but God loved us so much that he made us alive with Christ, and God’s wonderful kindness is what saves you. (Ephesians 2:4-5, CEV)
Because many people define justice as a punitive act toward a wrongdoer, they struggle with this admonition to “do justice.” Giving people what they deserve doesn’t primarily mean someone is supposed to go to prison. Some people deserve that. Most don’t.
Instead, to act justly means to create a world in which everyone has what they need to live, thrive, and develop the gifts God has placed within them. Everyone deserves their basic human needs met – to have an equal opportunity in realizing the meeting of their needs. And that is what the heart of biblical justice is. Therefore, justice includes practical things like:
Providing tutors so that kids in urban schools have the same opportunities to read and as suburban kids.
Supporting an overwhelmed single parent who is struggling to find the time and resources to give adequate time to his or her children.
Taking in a foster child who needs the environment of a loving family.
Employing a person coming out of prison so that the terrible rates of recidivism don’t keep going.
Advocating for an underprivileged person who needs adequate healthcare or good housing.
Doing justice is more than giving away money or resources. It’s helping people to help themselves. It’s providing others the dignity and respect of putting them in a position so that they can take pride in their own efforts, just like we do. It’s not only giving someone a fish but taking the time and effort in teaching them how to fish.
Speak up for people who cannot speak for themselves. Help people who are in trouble. Stand up for what you know is right and judge all people fairly. Protect the rights of the poor and those who need help. (Proverbs 31:8-9, ERV)
What does the Lord require or desire of you?
What gifts and abilities has God given to you to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly?
How can you and I step outside our comfort zones to other areas the Lord might be desiring for us?
The answers to those questions will determine whether we sink or swim as the people of God.
Father God, you have made all people in your image. It’s your desire and requirement that they be gathered together as one family in yourself. Fill the hearts of humanity with the fire of your love and the desire to ensure justice for all. By sharing the good things, you give us, may we secure equality for all our brothers and sisters throughout the world. May there be a truly human society built on love and peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.” With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
In that day you will say:
“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.” (New International Version)
The large Old Testament book of Isaiah is thick with a message of judgment for both Israel and the surrounding nations. The sins of ancient Israel, seven-hundred years before the birth of Christ, were many. The primary offenses were injustice toward the needy; the have’s taking advantage of the have-not’s; and empty worship rituals toward God.
Social and spiritual corruption was rampant. God pleaded with the people through the prophets to stop doing wrong and start doing right by encouraging the oppressed and defending the powerless. (Isaiah 1:10-17)
Although God’s judgment was imminent, via the powerful Assyrian Empire, God would not annihilate the people. God promised a Righteous Branch would grow from the seemingly dead stump of Israel. A child will be born, a Messiah given. There will be hope in Israel. Heartfelt praise, and proclamation of God’s great name, will again fill the air.
For me, what is so remarkable about all this is the grace of God. The Lord made promises to Israel not based upon what they would or would not do; God made promises to the people by God’s own radically free love. This wasn’t a matter of playing Let’s Make a Deal with God saying, “If you get your act together, then I will be good to you.” No, before Israel even had a chance to return to the Lord, God was already choosing to be merciful.
I am absolutely convinced with the firmest conviction possible that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are all about God and God’s own unbounded, unfettered, free, crazy, illogical, and wildly wonderful grace. Because God is love, the Lord constantly goes out of the way to be gracious so that we will be together and enjoy our divine/human relationship.
If we miss the message of God’s grace in the Holy Scriptures, we have missed salvation – because only grace can save us. Without grace, we are lost. Today’s Old Testament lesson is full of praise because it’s a response to the undeserved grace which God freely gives.
Any Christian preacher worth their salt is a preacher of grace. Grace is the very thing that is distinctive about Christianity. Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is recklessly generous. Grace does not use carrot sticks, scorecards, or power politics. Grace never demands – it only gives.
That is what God did for Israel… and for us. And when we get a hold of this truth, even a little bit, our hearts become bubblers of praise.
The prophecy of Isaiah is an adventure of God’s reckless love toward unlovable people, which is why it is one of the most quoted books of the Old Testament by Jesus. Jesus came because of grace.
Jesus came to release us from our obsessive need to be right, our compulsion to be rewarded, and our demands to be respected.
Because Jesus came to set sinful captives free, life does not have to be a joyless effort to justify and validate ourselves before others. The grace of God in Christ is a game-changer. And with but a glimpse of it, we are forever undone by its mercy.
Grace causes us to praise God.
There was once a pastor who had a three-year old daughter who was going around the house singing the chorus “We Exalt Thee” except that she kept mispronouncing one of the words: “I exhaust thee, I exhaust thee, I exhaust thee, O Lord!” Perhaps she was right. Maybe too many folks are exhausting God with folded arms instead of hands raised in praise and worship.
Grace causes us to trust God.
Grace alleviates our fears. For, if God is for us, who can be against us? God takes care of us despite our weaknesses and failures.
Grace causes us to have joy in God.
With joy we draw water from the wells of salvation. Jesus is the Living Water we can continually draw from and drink. Grace keeps giving without an end in sight. We get to keep coming to God with an inexhaustible supply of fresh grace.
Grace causes us to give thanks to God in prayer.
Gratitude to God ought to characterize our corporate gatherings. Expressing thanks is more than for the individual in their prayer closet – it is to be offered in the gathered assembly of believers. Grace eliminates self-consciousness altogether because there is nothing to be self-conscious about with God. The Lord has seen you at your worst, and still loves you.
What’s more, we need not be self-conscious about appearing ignorant, looking silly, or not having all the answers in making known among the nations what God has done. If we are influenced by grace, then we can freely speak of God to all kinds of people we encounter.
“God forbid that I should travel with anybody a quarter of an hour without speaking of Christ to them.”
George Whitefield (1714-1770)
Grace causes us to sing together to God.
When grace takes hold of a congregation, there is no mumbling of songs – there are loud shouts and singing for joy because God is good! God wants some noisy worship!
Grace brings such gladness that we don’t care how we appear to other people; we are going to shout, sing, and express our joy! Yes, there is an important place for contemplative, reverent, and reflective worship. And there is also a place for letting go, becoming unhinged, and dancing before Jesus!
The world mostly ignores God. Even some Christians take God’s grace for granted. Israel’s greatest sin was assuming everything was fine. But it wasn’t. There was no grace. And with no grace there is no God. Eventually, Israel found joy in the most unlikely of places – in exile. God’s grace would transform a terrible time of trouble into raising of voices in song.
Isaiah’s prophecy is about returning to the Lord. The season of Advent is all about God’s relentless pursuit of wayward people – the anticipation of grace coming in the form of an infant – and the bringing of grace to a people living in darkness.
Let us, then, return to the Lord. Let us be captivated by grace. Let us renew our love for Jesus. Let us lose ourselves in praise and adoration of the One who gave everything for us. Let us worship Christ the King. Let us proclaim the name of Jesus as exalted over everything.
Great God of grace, be merciful to us as we limp to you with all of our wounds and brokenness. We have made such a mess of our lives with our bad attitudes, ugly words, selfish actions, and our ignoring of you through it all. So, we come to you with nothing but ourselves in all of our sin. Forgive us, cleanse us, renew us, revive us, refresh us, and reform us according to the ways of Jesus Christ. Thank you for your undeserved grace. We give you praise for the lengths you went to secure our forgiveness. With a joy too deep for words, we humbly offer to you our lives so that the name of Jesus will be exalted in us individually and corporately. Amen.
But despite all this [God’s blessings] they were disobedient and rebelled against you. They turned their backs on your Law, they killed your prophets who warned them to return to you, and they committed terrible blasphemies. So, you handed them over to their enemies, who made them suffer. But in their time of trouble, they cried to you, and you heard them from heaven. In your great mercy, you sent them liberators who rescued them from their enemies.
But as soon as they were at peace, your people again committed evil in your sight, and once more you let their enemies conquer them. Yet whenever your people turned and cried to you again for help, you listened once more from heaven. In your wonderful mercy, you rescued them many times!
You warned them to return to your Law, but they became proud and obstinate and disobeyed your commands. They did not follow your regulations, by which people will find life if only they obey. They stubbornly turned their backs on you and refused to listen. In your love, you were patient with them for many years. You sent your Spirit, who warned them through the prophets. But still, they wouldn’t listen! So once again you allowed the peoples of the land to conquer them. But in your great mercy, you did not destroy them completely or abandon them forever. What a gracious and merciful God you are! (New Living Translation)
Much of the Old Testament is a rhythmic pattern of God’s judgment and grace. The storyline often goes something like this:
God makes promises and gives commands.
People get stubborn, refuse to listen, and disobey.
God responds with judgment.
People cry out in their distress.
God gives grace and fulfills divine promises.
People enjoy, then get stubborn again….
The promise of God always involves judgment and grace. Proclaiming only a message of judgment without grace brings despair, death, and hell; there is no hope. Speaking only of grace apart from judgment is oxymoronic – it doesn’t exist because there is no need for grace if there is no judgment; grace is an undeserved mercy given freely by God in the face of our stubborn obstinate selves.
Nehemiah chapter nine is a beautiful prayer of confession. Having heard the Word of God proclaimed, the people released their obstinacy; they realized exile occurred because of their own stubborn refusal to listen to God. So, they repented.
The ancient Jewish people acknowledged their checkered past of ignoring God’s prophets, and they bellied-up and took ownership of their past choices. And God was faithful. Even though the city of Jerusalem had been overtaken and the people sent into exile, God brought them back and the broken wall was rebuilt.
It’s never too late to turn from a past filled with poor decisions, broken relationships, and spiritual disobedience. The time of confession is available, and the time is now. God’s grace always overwhelms our dubious past.
The appropriate response to today’s Old Testament lesson is to spend some time in confession to God. This chapter, along with Nehemiah chapter one, are good places to begin with understanding just what to say to God.
For the Christian, confession ought always to conclude with accepting the grace available to us in Christ.
Today is a new day and a new Christian Year. Let it be a life with the love of Jesus implanted in your heart. As we enter the Advent season, allow that love of Christ to gestate within your soul. Anticipate the birth. Look forward to the Nativity. Long for Christmas and the inbreaking of God to this earth.
Holy Lord, in this time of Advent, we confess we often are distracted by the season’s busyness, by the stress of commitment, and even by putting our own traditions ahead of the true meaning of Christmas. We confess we also often prefer being sentimental to being sacrificial.
Forgive us for all the times we have missed seeing You in our midst, for all the times we have doubted Your presence, and for all the times we have failed to hold the holidays as holy days. Pour peace into our lives and let us be bearers of Your peace to others. Remind us that this is a season of waiting and preparation for the greatest Gift of all. In the holy Name of our Savior, Jesus, we pray. Amen.