4th Sunday after the Epiphany
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Micah 6:8 Sermon
January 29, 2005
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
182 "O Day Of Rest and Gladness"
580 "My Jesus As Thou Wilt"
316 "O God Of Mercy, God Of Might"
229 "Saviour Now the Day is Ending"
TEXT: “He has showed you, O man, 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.”
When I was a boy in school, we used to take a field trip every year to the circus. We’d all pile into a yellow school bus, and make the 30-mile trip into Sioux City.
I always thoroughly enjoyed it. When I would hear on TV that the circus was coming to town, I would anticipate the announcement in school.
The year that I was in the 4th grade, I would have been 9 years old at the time, I heard the familiar announcement about the circus coming. However this particular year, there weren’t enough busses available for some reason. So some of the parents volunteered to drive the kids by car. As I recall, my own parents were out of town, so they couldn’t help. Anyway, my class was divided up as to who would be riding in which car.
When the day of the circus arrived, I went to school, eagerly anticipating my day at the circus. But as the cars were loaded, I came to the horrible realization that there wasn’t enough room for me. Mind you, this happened in the days before seat belts and other safety requirements, so you could pile as many people in a car as you wanted to.
But I was out of luck. I vividly remember standing there outside the car. I even remember that the car was a white 1955 Ford with red interior. To this day, I can still picture all of my friends sitting in the car, and the mother with a rather terse expression on her face as she drove away.
And there I stood, the only kid in my class who didn’t get to go to the circus. And I was bawling like a baby. My teacher tried to console me by telling me that we’d do some fun stuff in the classroom, but that did little to cheer me up. I’m sure my teacher didn’t really enjoy the task of baby-sitting a very sad little boy. I couldn’t go home, because mom and dad weren’t there. I don’t remember exactly what I did for the rest of the day, but I do remember that I was not a very happy camper, not in the least.
There are events that happen in people’s lives, sometimes quite traumatic, that help to shape them in the future. As for me, I believe that this event was instrumental in giving me a keen sense of fairness. I remember a fellow student in college telling me that I was the most fair person he had ever met. That was quite a compliment.
Maybe I haven’t been as fair in things as I should have been at times, but I try. For example, I don’t like it when school teachers have kids choose up sides for a team—somebody will always be the last one picked, and frequently it’s the same person. That’s just not fair. I don’t like it when an employer favors one employee over another, and someone gets raises and advancements while others are passed over. That’s just not fair. And if it would be in my power, I certainly would never allow a kid to experience what I did in the 4th grade. That's just not fair.
In the midst of Australia’s worst recession in history, former Prime Minister Malcolm Frasier said, “Life wasn’t meant to be easy.” I’m sure that those poor unemployed people didn’t appreciate hearing those words while they were having their cars repossessed or their homes foreclosed upon, but yet the words are true. Life definitely isn’t easy sometimes, and frequently things just aren’t fair.
Our text for today is from the prophet Micah. Micah lived during the time of the prophet Isaiah, which was some 700 years before the birth of Christ. However Micah was from the small town of Moreshath, which was in southern Judah, while Isaiah was from Jerusalem—the difference between a city boy and a country boy.
The Israelites were in sad shape. They had rebelled against God numerous times, and had frequently gone their own way. Micah especially knew how this was affecting the people in the smaller towns and villages.
So Micah uses some very strong language in speaking to these people, but he does so with a sense of affection and tenderness. The Lord hates idolatry, injustice, rebellion, and empty ritualism; but he delights in pardoning those who come to him in penitence. Dr. Luther says, “In short, he denounces, he prophesies, he preaches, etc. Ultimately, however, his meaning is that even though Israel and Judah have to go to pieces, Christ will yet come and make all things good.”
So even though the kingdom of David would come to an end, yet the line of David would still produce the promised Messiah. And if you remember back to Christmas time, we saw that Micah is the prophet that names the town of Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah.
As we get into our text for today, we see that the Israelites were offering the prescribed Old Testament sacrifices to God, which was all well and good. However, they were lacking faith and any sort of obedience, so their sacrifices were in vain.
If we look at verse 8, Micah gets close and personal with his words. He says, “He has showed you, O man, 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.”
This is the way that God’s covenant people needed to be living. These were to be the actions faithfully carried out in their lives. And the Israelites were falling terribly short.
This particular verse is a favorite of mine. Every time I have participated in an ordination or installation service of a pastor or teacher, when the time comes for the candidate to kneel and the pastors each lay hands upon his head and recite a Bible verse, this is the verse I use. I use this verse because it is simple, yet very profound.
A pastor has completed an 8-year formal education. His head is swimming in Greek, and Hebrew, and Dogmatics, and all sorts of classroom stuff. And here he is, ready to unleash all of his knowledge on the world, much less some poor unsuspecting congregation.
Through the study of the Word, the Lord has indeed shown him what is good. Now what does the Lord require of him? It can all be boiled down to this one sentence from Micah: “To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
The man is to be a man of love, compassion and integrity as he humbly walks with his God. His life is to be a living example of the faith he professes, and not just a walking library spewing forth incomprehensible religious terms and phrases.
Apart from using this verse as an exhortation to pastors, I’ve frequently used this verse as a kid’s confirmation verse for much the same reason. I’ve given them 56 weeks of confirmation instruction. As they are now being confirmed into full church membership, this is how they are to live as God’s people.
The application for all of us is just as obvious. How do we live our lives as God’s people? How do we react when others treat us unfairly or unjustly? How do our lives reflect the faith we profess?
Far too often, we become like the Israelites were. We go to church, we go through all of the motions, and we say all the right words. But when the rubber hits the road, our actions can fall far short of what God expects so often—more than we’d like to admit.
It’s that old nasty thing called “sin” which continues to rear its ugly head in our lives time and time again. Sin was the problem with the stubborn and rebellious Israelites. And we, just like them have the same problem.
It’s here where the last line in our text plays such an important part: “…to walk humbly with your God.” That encompasses so many things. By showing us our sin, God humbles us. He shows us that we have failed along the way so many times. He shows us that we cannot live up to his high expectations. He shows us that we cannot attain heaven by any merit of our own.
To humbly walk with God however means that we humbly walk with him, and not away from him. It’s here where we focus our attention on Jesus and what he has done for us. We won’t get into heaven by just being a pretty good person, nor will any of our past wrongs keep us out of heaven. Heaven is only attainable through faith in Christ our Saviour.
So for a person to humbly walk with God, he or she does so through faith in Jesus. It means forgetting the past wrongs that threatened to separate us from God. All of our past has been forgiven and forgotten. Jesus took it all to the cross just for us.
The prophet Micah speaks words of hope to the Israelites. The Messiah he proclaims is Jesus our Lord. Even though they rebelled against God time and time again, God still showed them love and forgiveness.
So as we humbly walk with God, we do so knowing that it is nothing but his saving grace in Jesus that will lead us to heaven. It’s not a walk of pride in our own good works, nor is it a walk of shame because of our past. Rather, it is a walk of faith, knowing that God will keep us and preserve us in this faith.
Several hymn writers have captured this thought in verse form: “No merit of my own I claim, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name” (from "My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less") and “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling” (from "Rock Of Ages). These words aptly describe the Christian’s humble walk with God.
I’d like to briefly take a look at our Gospel lesson for today, which are the familiar words known as “The Beatitudes.” These words are the opening lines to Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” where he teaches some very important lessons.
I’d like to direct your attention to the final paragraph of the Beatitudes, Matthew 5, 11-12: “Blessed are you when men 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 so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Jesus knows that life on this earth won’t be easy, especially for the Christian. All sorts of bad things can happen. And if we are short-sighted, we might be tempted to dwell upon the evil and cruelties of this world. We might be tempted to allow our emotions of the present moment to get the better of us.
But Jesus takes our thinking and re-directs our focus. He points our eyes heavenward, and basically tells us: “Hey Christian, don’t wallow in the worries of this world; don’t allow others to get the better of you; look and see what I have waiting for you!”
I’m sure that you’ve probably had many instances in your life when you’ve been treated unfairly, or when someone has done you wrong, or when someone has been downright mean and nasty. I’d also bet that you have had instances like my circus experience that have helped to shape your attitude and personality.
I believe that things do happen to us in our life for a reason. Experiences, both bad and good do build character. Situations frequently happen to teach us lessons. We can only hope that we learn from those lessons, and see them as growing experiences.
So how do we react when life deals us a nasty blow? Well, you can be like me when I was 9 years old and got left behind while everyone else went to the circus—I was crushed and I cried. That’s the only way I really knew how to react. I even did this in front of my friends—and of course 9 year olds weren’t supposed to cry any more. It was an embarrassing moment.
But somehow, I think that my friends understood my feelings. They didn’t tease me about it; in fact, a couple of them even tried to console me a bit after they had returned. I got over it, and I learned a valuable lesson because of it.
When life seems to be unfair to us, or when bad things happen, we can lash out with anger, or curse, or swear, or get violent, or get angry. But that’s not the solution; in fact, it often adds to the problem. Just because someone doesn’t act like a Christian to us, doesn’t give us the excuse to not act like a Christian also.
So what do we do? We learn our lesson from the experience. And how are we to react? We are to act justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.