Thursday, February 3, 2011

“What Does the Lord Require of You?” Micah 6:1-8 NSRV January 30, 2011

One of my favorite moments in elementary school was story time. I vividly remember that my teacher would sit in a big chair in the corner and our class would all sit on the floor at her feet. She would smile at us and introduce the book of the morning to us. Sometimes they were grand stories of kids like us from other parts of the world. Sometimes they were stories of whose rhythms and rhymes would make us laugh with joy. She made books something special. You wanted to learn to read so you could take your turn with these books and read the stories for yourself. I want to claim a moment like this one this morning and share a book with you that I found in our church library. The book I claimed is “I Can See What God Does” by Carolyn M. Wolcott. It was published by Abingdon Press in 1969. I have asked Patty Murcray, a first grade teacher at Charles Haskell Elementary School, and some friends, to share the story with us. Patty reads book with children around her.

Thank you Patty and kids. You helped take me –and probably a lot of others – back to one of my favorite childhood memories. The story we just heard helps sets context for a five week series that we begin this morning entitled, “Beyond Belief: Become the People of God.” Over these five weeks we are going to look at passages from Scripture that will help us to understand what it means to move from just believing in God to claiming the kind of relationship with God that allows us to become a living reflection of God’s Word and God’s way.

This morning’s passage emerges from the Old Testament prophet Micah. Leslie read our passage from the Contemporary English Version. I claim NSRV to give us a bit of a different take on the passage. It opens with a dramatic scene of God bringing a case against His people. He invites all of creation to serve as the jury. God has a controversy or case to bring against his people. One would think we would begin to hear a litany of complaints against Israel for its repeated choice to go their own way rather than the way of God. One would think God would describe the countless times where the people would lose heart and turn away. The Old Testament is absolutely full of stories of where the people of God fail to honor God, to follow God, to truly be the people of God. But as we so often see in Scripture, God does the unexpected.
Hear with me God’s complaint; “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.” Instead of offering a litany of complaints, God asks, “what have I done to make you tired of following me?” or “why is following me so burdensome for you?” Emphatically God demands a response. Rather than bring charges against his people, God begins to remind them their story as His people. God reminds them that when they were slaves in Egypt, he brought send them Moses, Aaron and Miriam to bring them out. God reminds them that when King Balack of Moab came to curse them, God turned the curse into blessings. God reminds them of the place he led them to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. God tells them he did all of those things so that they might know the His saving spirit.

Ultimately God’s complaint is that over and over again He had displayed His desire to bring salvation to His people. Over and over again God displayed His love for them. Over and over again God stepped in to history for them. And over and over again the people wearied of following God. It seems sometime we are like the people of Israel and find following God wearying and burdensome. Going our own way is just easier. It is the path of least resistance. I fear that it is too easy for us to become captured by the path that WE have chosen that we become deaf to the voice of God. I fear that it is too easy to be consumed by our story that we fail to remember that over and over again God has come to our rescue. I fear it is too easy to become so focused on fulfilling our own hopes and expectations we simply wander away from doing what is required to follow God’s way.

A single voice calls out, representing the whole of the people. The response starts simply; what should I do when I come before God – would you have me bow down to honor God? Would you have me bring a traditional sacrifice of a year old calf? But then, with rising voice and intense sarcasm the voice escalates; would you be pleased if I sacrificed ten thousand rams? How about oil? Would you be pleased if I brought you rivers of oil? Would you have me sacrifice the heart of my heart -my firstborn child? The response first seems to honor God and then progresses to an offensive hyperbole, implying that nothing would be enough. That the burden of being God’s people is just too heavy. That there was nothing they could do that would satisfy God. It is all about what they can do for God.

Before we judge them too harshly, we need to acknowledge that it is awfully tempting for our faith life to become focused on what we do for God. The story of what is going on in our church is a great story. We serve our community with passion. We send teams all over the world in missions. And we have staged musical events that have drawn thousands in our doors. These are all great things and it fill my heart with joy to see the way you pour yourselves out in service. But if we are not careful we can slip to the temptation that makes it our story of what we are doing for God – instead of making it God’s story of what God is doing amongst us. This perspective is narcissistic – self focused – and steals the glory from God.

The response to the people turns everything on its head. They hear that it is not about what they can do for God– it is about being the people of God. It is about having the kind of relationship with God where they display God’s character. 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? This short verse offers a powerful picture of what it means to be the people of God. It is all relational. Do justice – Look at people with the eyes of God so that you see those who deal with injustice, that you become a voice for the voiceless and an advocate for those with no advocate. It means that what we do in the name of God emerges from who we are in God. It comes from the reality that we who were not a people are now a people of God, we who knew no justice find justice in relationship with God. To love kindness – this is not a play nice and be kind of people kind pronouncement – it means that we love others and care for others like we would for our very best friends and the ones we love. It is about understanding that we need each other – that there is real and authentic value in our relationships with one another. It means what we do in the name of God emerge from the love we know from God. To walk humbly with God – acknowledging in humility that it is God who makes us who we are – letting go of pride – letting go of self - long enough to see the face of God. We are invited to walk with God – an incredibly intimate image that reminds of Adam and Eve walking in the Garden with God. It reminds us of Enoch walking so closely with God that God sweeps him into heaven. I love long walks with Beth where there are no phone and no distractions – just a focused time with one another. We hear that what God expects from us is the kind of relationship where we walk and talk together – no distractions – focused time when we can hear God speak to us –and direct us.
“’And people?’ asked Debbie. ‘Is God’s goodness in people?’ “Oh, yes,’ answered Mother. ‘When people are kind and love each other, when boys and girls are friendly and share with each other, then we see God’s goodness in people.’ Debbie jumped up and clapped her hands. ‘I’m glad,’ she said. ‘I’m glad I can see what God does. May people see what God does in us and through us. May we live lives beyond belief, claiming the kind of relationship with God that allows us to become a living reflection of God’s Word and God’s way.

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