Friday, November 4, 2016

What God Requires! (Micah 6:6-8) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A man named Jeff, living in Denver, after reading an advertisement offering firewood for $60.00 a cord, including delivery, decided to phone in an order.  When the man came by and finished stacking the order, Jeff was upset saying, “that’s not a full cord of wood.”  The seller replied firmly, “That’s what I call a cord.”  Grudgingly, Jeff pulled some bills out of his wallet and handed them to the man.  Hey, just a minute, the man complained after counting the money, you only gave me $30.00 dollars.  Jeff shrugged his shoulders and replied, “That’s what I call $60.00.”

Let us now turn to the passage from the prophet Micah.  Micah is preaching to his fellow Jews and asks a rhetorical question: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before God on high?  Shall I come with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  Shall I come with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?  Shall I give my firstborn for my sins, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”   The prophet answers the question – “God has told you Oh man what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.

Our Judeo-Christian tradition, based in Scripture, declares that justice, fairness, righteousness, in our relationships with God and one another, is grounded not in society, and not in man, but in our understanding of the nature or being of God.  God is just.  God is righteous.  God treats us fairly and in turn God expects us to treat one another fairly.

God wills that his people be good, that we lead righteous lives.  Goodness has something to do with practicing justice or righteousness, kindness and humility.  This a command from God to you and to me.  It is not a request, not a recommendation, not a suggestion, not an option; it’s a requirement for believers and followers of God.

In the eighth century, Micah lived during a time of when the social order, the moral structure of Israel’s society, was in decline.  The rich and powerful were exploiting the poor.  Corruption was rampant.  Immorality was flagrant.  Idolatry was in vogue.   Social and economic injustice was widespread.   Merchants used false scales, weights and measures to exploit the poor peasants and farmers.  Officials and judges took bribes. Farmers suffered at the hands of powerful landlords.  Micah writes: “When they want fields they seize them, when they want houses, they take them.  No man’s family or property is safe. The righteous are sold for silver; the needy for a pair of shoes, the poor were trampled upon.”

Temple worship was strong, attendance was high, animal sacrifices were at an all-time high, people brought generous offerings to the temple, but hypocrisy ruled the day.  Micah’s message was a warning that God’s judgment was coming and he was giving people an opportunity to repent.  Prophet Amos says: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”

God has a special concern in his heart for the poor, the oppressed, and powerless.  The book of Proverbs says: “Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”  Prophet Isaiah says: “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right.  Seek justice, love good, encourage the oppressed, defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”  I John says: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?”

When you think of justice what comes to mind?  It’s an abstract concept.  We think of social justice, criminal justice, legal justice, justice in heath care, justice for crime victims, racial justice, religious justice, economic justice, environmental justice, all of which fall under the rubric of justice.

Here is a tragic example.  In an article in the San Diego Union Tribune, date June 14, 2016, just a few months ago, we read:

Human trafficking investigators have dismantled what they described as the first - members-only Internet prostitution ring of its kind in San Diego, run by two local men who lured in vulnerable women and allowed customers to post reviews of their “performance.”  These men picked up women who were down and out on the streets, many of whom had drug problems, and persuaded them to entrust their care to them.  The men are alleged to have given these women drugs and money. Then they would post their photos on a Facebook page, where they were made available for paid sex.  About 900 members were active when authorities shut down the website, police said.

“This is ground-breaking,” San Diego police Capt. Brian Ahearn said of the sex ring. “This is a very covert operation that was very well-planned and very sophisticated.”  The case wrapped up with the arrests of Dale Vinzant, 68, of Mission Beach, operator of San Diego Adult Service Provider and Christian Koalani, 66, of Pacific Beach, who ran American Escort Company.  They are in jail pending a trial.  I say thank you and praise God for the San Diego Human Trafficking Task Force of the SDPD.

What are you and I doing for others in the name of fairness and justice?  Perhaps God is calling you to help someone in this important way.

Further, God calls us to practice kindness, to love mercy.   Kindness was desperately needed in Israel during the prophet Micah’s time.  So it is true today.    God is merciful, compassionate, kind and God’s word to us is to love kindness.

Herbert Prochnow wrote: “You may be sorry that you spoke, sorry you stayed or went, sorry you won or lost, sorry you thought the worst, sorry so much was spent.  But as you go through life, you’ll find you were never sorry, you were kind.”

Like the story a teacher writes about a little boy in elementary school.   “In our town's elementary school at the beginning of the year, the school secretary routinely collects the lunch money from the new kindergartners.  This solves the problem of lost money. But for nervous 5-year-olds, it took a while to understand what was happening.   For the first few of days, the school secretary would come into the classroom and announce:  "Does anybody have any lunch money for me?" Her question was met with no response.  On the third day, one little boy came in at the bell, walked hesitantly to my desk, held out his hand and whispered, "Here is money from my piggy bank for that poor lady who needs money for lunch.”

I recall the story of the woman who pulled up to a tollbooth at the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge, and said: “I’m paying for myself and the six cars behind me.”  The next six drivers arrive at the booth, money in hand, and were told: “Some lady ahead already paid your fare, have a nice day.”  The woman, it turned out, had read a note taped to a friend’s refrigerator, “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.

I personally notice it when I’m driving.  Those unexpected acts of kindness, which we used to call courtesy, when someone lets you change lanes or enter the street from a driveway.  If I were to ask tell me a story of when someone was mean or rude, or disrespectful or unkind to you or someone you know, we might be here all day.   But can you also point to stories of someone who was kind to you or to someone else?

When was the last time you were kind to someone?  When was the last time someone was kind to you?  People remember when you have been kind to them.  They don’t quickly forget.  Even small kindnesses make a big difference in another’s life.   Just when you are down, just when you are discouraged, a simple and timely act of kindness can renew your faith in God and humanity and lift your downcast spirit.

One of my favorite quotes is by Quaker William Penn: “I expect to pass through life but once.  If therefore there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”

Finally, the prophet says, “God has told you, O man, what is good; the Lord requires of you to walk humbly with your God."  Now let’s be honest.  In our aggressive, assertive, competitive culture who wants to walk humbly?  Who really believes Jesus when he says in Matthew: "Blessed are the humble, for they shall inherit the earth."

But God says there’s something good about being humble, something noble about being meek. It’s out of fashion in our culture, this is true, but God says be humble, which does not mean being submissive or subservient or passive!   It doesn’t mean being weak or being a doormat.   Walking humbly simply means you’re comfortable in your own skin.  You accept who you are.  You know yourself.  You are not racked by insecurity or neediness.  You aren’t always trying to prove something to others.

It frees you to do things for others without a need for recognition or praise. It doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself; it means you think of yourself less, and think of others more.    Walking humbly before God means we don’t take ourselves too seriously.  You can laugh at yourself. Humility enables you to recognize that life is a gift from God that you accept with gratitude, rather than an attitude of entitlement.  Pride, hubris, insecurity low self-worth are the enemies of humility.  Walking humbly means you put your ultimate trust in God and believe with all your heart that you are valued and loved by God.

Dr. John Ortman, pastor of a large church in N. CA. tells the following story. 

“We were with friends at an open-air street fair, when we spotted a mechanical bull that tries to buck people off. The guy operating the bull said, "Watching it isn't nearly as fun as riding." So I told the bull operator that I wanted to ride. He took one look at my middle-aged body and asked, "Sir, are you sure?”

He explained to me that the bull has 12 levels of difficulty. "It might not be easy," he said, “you have to follow the bull. You have to shift your center of gravity as the bull moves."  So I got on the bull and it started slow, and then it started moving faster and I was holding on real tight.

It kept moving and twisting and jolting and bucking and jumping.  I was huffing and puffing. I was hanging on sideways. My arms were flailing around. But I hung on and finally the bull slowed down and stopped, and I was still on the bull.  I imagined how impressed my friends were, not to mention the operator.  I felt pretty good.  I gave him a look and he smiled and said, "Nice job, that was level one."

Jesus says lead good lives.  True worship, true belief, true obedience must translate into an ethical concern for others.  And God clearly tells us what it means to be a good person: “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God."  Amen!

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