SERMON Epiphany 4 Year A To Do Justice and Walk Humbly with God
Epiphany 4 – Year A
January 30, 2005
Selma Original Free Will Baptist Church
The Rev. Philip R. Taylor
Lessons: Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 37:1-18; 1 Corinthians 1:(18-25)26-31; Matthew 5:1-12
Do justice…Love kindness…Walk humbly
Hear what the LORD says:
Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice.
Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD, and you enduring foundations of the earth;
for the LORD has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel.
"O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
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.
O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him,and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the LORD."
"With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"
He 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?
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Often, the parts of scripture that we don’t understand are fuel for our disagreements and the parts of scripture we do understand, we tend to just ignore. Mark Twain once said, “The parts of the Bible that I don’t understand do not bother me; I am bothered by the parts I do understand.
The lessons from Micah and Matthew that we have heard this morning may be the parts Mark Twain was talking about, the parts he did understand, the parts that bothered him. They should bother us all. What God desires of us is not difficult to understand. God’s desires may be difficult for us to live into but they are not clouded in any mystery.
The prophet Micah, in the eighth century before Christ, tells us what God desires of us by using a familiar courtroom scene. Both ancient and modern listeners understand the seriousness of a courtroom drama, the roles of prosecutor, accused, judge, and jury. God is the prosecutor; Israel and we are the accused; the whole creation is judge and jury.
Listen as God the prosecutor questions the accused, "O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me!”
Israel and we start our plea bargain; "With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"
The judge and jury intervene; He 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?
To do justice…to love kindness…and to walk humbly with your God…that is the plea bargain that is acceptable to God. Our offer of burnt sacrifice, year old calves, thousands of rams; ten thousands of rivers of oil, not even our firstborn are acceptable bargaining chips.
God wants justice from us, God wants our love, and God wants us to take a God walk.
God is not giving out justice; God wants us to do the justice; God is depending on you and me to be just, to practice equality, and to be a people of peace and equity.
Justice is not brought about with burnt offerings or any other kind of offering, calves, rams, oil, or even our firstborn. Justice is achieved by just people treating each other, their neighbors, even their enemies as equals, fairly and peacefully in an act of willful obedience to God’s law.
God wants us to respond to the love shown to us. We are being asked to love the kindness we encounter and to practice it in our lives. It is not enough to merely be the recipient of love and say, “Thank you, very much!” We are asked to embrace kindness, to claim it as a way of life, and to fall in love with it.
Again God reminds us that this love of kindness, this living in kindness is not brought about through even the most elaborate worship or ceremony. Like ‘doing justice’, ‘to love kindness’ is an act of the will. It requires that we make a conscious and deliberate effort to become a people who are like the God we worship, just and kind.
Then God makes a rather strange request of the accused. God, the prosecutor, requests the presence of the accused for a stroll. God wants us to walk along, to journey, to go where God goes, to take a God trip.
God knows where God is going; we do not. God knows that for us to sign on to this spiritual journey, by definition, we must take the walk in humility. To be humble is not to ask every 15 minutes, “Are we there yet?”
Bernard of Clairveaux, 1000 years ago, said, “Humility is the mother of salvation.” Humility must come to us before we can even begin our journey with God.
Walking with God requires our humility, our trust, and our effort. Notice we are not being asked to take God on our journey; we are being asked to journey with God on God’s journey.
We are also not being carried or dragged, kicking and screaming, we are to go humbly and exert the effort to walk! God will go to some dangerous and dark places; walking with God will require courage.
Ancient peoples often believed that if you touched God or even looked at God’s face you would die. The prophet Micah assures us that God wants us to be very close, as close as two friends walking a path together. Vaya con Dios. Go with God, it’s ok.
In the Gospel lesson from Matthew, we heard Jesus talk some more about journeying with God. Jesus tells his friends, his disciples, what kind of folk God enjoys. God favors those who know they need God, those ‘poor in spirit’.
God wants friends for the journey who can identify with the hurt, the suffering, and the sorrow of life.
Journeying with God as we heard in Micah will require humility, a meek spirit, a deep understanding of our dependence on God’s grace. As Psalm 37 says,
In a little while the wicked shall be no more; *
you shall search out their place, but they will not be there.
But the lowly shall possess the land; *
they will delight in abundance of peace.
A trip through the kingdom and to the kingdom will make us hungry and thirsty. Jesus says that our hunger and thirst must be for righteousness and for God’s will to prevail. We must be hungry and thirsty enough ‘to do justice’, as the prophet Micah told us.
Those who truly and fully appreciate God’s boundless mercy and forgiveness will, by definition, show mercy to others and have mercy shown to them.
Jesus understood that purity of action was not what God desired of traveling companions but purity of heart. This purity of heart was what would make God visible, not only in the ‘sweet by and by’ at the end of time but in the ‘here and now’.
Finally, Jesus says that God desires peacemakers. God’s preference for a walk, short or long, is to be with peacemakers. Peacemakers are so prized by God that they are to become, not only traveling companions, but also children and heirs to the kingdom.
Wait, there’s a cost.
The world will not applaud this band of travelers walking humbly with God, falling in love with kindness, and doing justice. The world will not applaud those whose hunger and thirst are for what is right, those who make peace, and those who show mercy. The world will not applaud those who share the sorrow of the world, who celebrate good heartedness rather than judge actions, who are meek enough and brave enough to see God, and all without fear of the consequences. No, the world will not applaud. It never has; it never will.
The invitation today, though, is an invitation to take such a journey or to continue on with such a journey.
As we sing the commitment hymn, I invite any who have not accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior to come forward for prayer at the alter rail.
A deacon from the church will pray with you and answer your questions about how to join this faith community in their journey.
Vaya con Dios! Go with God!
And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, power, and glory this day and forevermore. Amen.