Epiphany 4 (A)
A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany – January 30, 2005
Text: Micah 6:8
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
What does the Lord require of you? What does he want from you? What demands does God place on you? There are so many laws and commandments in the Bible, some that we keep and others that we have abandoned – how can anyone really know what God asks of us in such a confusing jumble?
I’ve always looked to the sixth chapter of Micah for at least a partial answer. It is here that we read, “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 our God. These aren’t rituals to follow or practices to observe. They aren’t good deeds that demand doing. No, these short list, these three items, are a way of life – an answer to the question, “how shall I live?” There isn’t a better summary of God’s demands on you in the Old Testament than this one little verse in Micah.
Do justice. We often talk about receiving justice, but we don’t often spend much energy considering how to do justice. Doing justice goes beyond questions of fairness; it gets to the heart of the matter and asks what is the right thing to do. Children being assigned chores worry about fairness, but God’s people are to be concerned with justice, so that everyone is cared for and provided for.
Whenever we talk about justice in the Bible, there are three groups of people who always come up – the poor, the orphans, and the widows. Time after time God expressed his concern for these people, the ones who were on the edges of society and had no one to depend on. Real justice means that the poor are provided with the necessities of life, the orphans are cared for as if they lived in a world full of fathers and mothers, and the widows are comforted and encouraged in the struggle of their new life alone. To do justice, you need to reach out to the lowliest people among us, the ones who have no one to count on – and become the person that they can count on. It’s what the Lord requires of you.
Love kindness. Notice that God doesn’t simply ask you to be kind; he demands that you love kindness. When you love kindness, kind acts will flow from your heart like a fresh spring of water. The more you love kindness, the more you will be surprised at the people who receive your kindness – the sister you haven’t spoken to for years; the bully at work or in the classroom; your biggest business rival; the drunk who mowed down your child. When love kindness, you will find yourself reaching out to people who would have once made your stomach turn…and you will see in them something that’s worth saving. You will reach out beyond your circle of friends to touch your enemies’ lives for good, as well. This is also what the Lord requires of you.
Walk humbly with your God. It’s not enough that we walk with God! It’s not our place to tag along after him, peppering him with our requests and nagging him with our complaints. It’s not our right to hound God with our backseat driving, telling him how he could have done better and should have done better…and would have done better, had he only listened to us. Frankly, friends, if we walk along with God only to arrogantly chew him out, we’d do better to just stay put. Walking with God isn’t enough – God asks us to walk along humbly.
A person with a humble mindset is open. When your heart is humble, you can be taught. When you feel humility deep down, you can be led. When you know what it means to be humble, you can finally have a true conversation, heart to heart with another.
If you’re going to take up with God and follow him where he leads, it’s going to require humility. You need to give up that phony sense of self we try so hard to build and protect, so that you’re fully open to God’s love for the real you. When you’re humble, he’ll lead you in places you would have never thought to go – places you would never have thought you could make it through, and places so good you could never have dreamed them up. But the places along your path won’t matter so much to you anymore, because the important thing will have become your companion on the road, and not the road itself. There is nothing better than walking humbly with your God, and that’s good – because it is what the Lord requires of you.
But here’s the catch. Each of these three requirements – do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God – each of them is beyond you. You will fail at them. No, you will fail spectacularly at them. You’ll do the worst kind of injustice to the outcasts of this world, because that’s what everyone else does to them. You’ll hate kindness because kindness is for wimps. You’ll continue to chew God out if you walk with him at all, but more likely you’ll abandon him for more exciting and dangerous roadside partners. In short, friends, you’ll remain just as caught in sin now that you’ve heard God’s requirements as you were when you got up this morning. For every moment of fragile success, there will be far more devastating failures to do justice, love kindness, and walk with your God in true humility.
That’s where Jesus comes in.
In Jesus Christ, God has turned the tables on you. In Jesus, God has done justice to you – the kind of heavenly justice that reaches out to the lowest and most unredeemable and lifts them up. God has seen to it that in Jesus you have everything you could ever need. God looks beyond the fairness of the punishment that you’ve earned and sees the deeper justice of saving you.
And in Jesus, God’s love for kindness is made flesh. It’s put on body and bones and become something you can see and touch. God hasn’t just done kind things to you; he’s loved kindness so much that he gave it a name and a face in his Son Jesus. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s kindness toward you, the gentleness and mercy you could never earn but which he gives you freely.
And in Jesus, God walks humbly with you. Though you could not deserve it, he listens to your every complaint and concern with humble silence. Though you should learn from his as master and teacher, he submits to you out of love and out of concern for your needs. Though you should come to him and ask to be taken along, still he comes to you and never abandons you on the road. Jesus walks humbly with you to the cross, where all of your failures were put to death on his head. Jesus will walk humbly with you through the gates of death to the gates of our Father’s house. And Jesus will walk humbly with you in the paths of heaven forever.
What does God require of you? That you do justice. That you love kindness. That you walk humbly with him.
What does God do for you in Jesus? He does you justice. He shows you the love of his kindness. He walks humbly by your side.
In Jesus, God does for you what you cannot do yourself. You’re now free to do what he requires without fear – when you fall short, you have his promise that he has already done his all for you. And that’s all you’ll need. Amen.