“Micah 6:8” by oklanica, 2010 (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Micah 6.6-8 (NIV)
6 With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has shown you, O mortal, 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.
In my college art classes I could usually figure out what my teachers were looking for in their assignments. Usually, what they wanted to see in a drawing or painting was clear and I could come up with something they liked.
There was this one painting teacher … I had the hardest time figuring out what he wanted. For the life of me, I just couldn’t come up with a painting he liked.
He was difficult to understand. He spoke softly with a thick French accent. He would walk up to my easel, look at my painting and say something I couldn’t make sense of … usually, from the faces he made and from his body language, I had a feeling he didn’t like my painting. I just couldn’t tell for sure. I remember working on one painting, he walked up, looked at my canvas, crossed his arms, and said, maybe the clearest thing I ever heard him say, “You have ruined it … I liked it better before.” It was surprising – I had no idea he ever liked anything about that painting. I didn’t want to be a punk and just do my own thing, I wanted to learn, I wanted to grow, but I just couldn’t figure out what success would look like for my painting teacher.
I felt like I was guessing and missing.
In our scripture reading, the prophet Micah makes the point that the Israelites, don’t have to play the game of “guess what the professor is thinking” with God. Micah believes God has been clear. It is the people who have been missing it.
I would bet these are familiar verses.
“He has showed you, O man, 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?” (RSV)
Most of us have heard them before.
Have you ever read through what comes before or after this passage?
Micah shared God’s message with God’s people during difficult and unstable times. Israel was caught between empires. They watched as neighboring countries were conquered. Micah looked around at his people and was troubled. The people … their leaders … their government, as far as Micah was concerned, none of them were being faithful to God. He didn’t think the religious leaders were any better. They weren’t living into their responsibilities. Micah was disgusted and offered challenging messages … nothing and no one was safe from his rebuke;
Hear this, you leaders of Jacob, you rulers of Israel, who despise justice and distort all that is right; who build Zion with bloodshed, and Jerusalem with wickedness. Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they look for the Lord’s support and say, “Is not the Lord among us? No disaster will come upon us.” (Micah 3.9-11 NIV)
They were out of tune with their responsibilities. Micah wouldn’t let the people off the hook either. He was sure they shared blame. Even if the religious leaders and prophets would have spoken the truth, the people wouldn’t have wanted to hear it. Micah fumed,
“If a liar and deceiver comes and says, ‘I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer, that would be just the prophet for this people!” (Micah 2:11 NIV)
Micah was concerned. Like most prophets, he doesn’t have much patience. Micah saw his people turning away from God and called them back with intensity.
Our scripture reading, and probably the most famous words from Micah, in their context are from something like a courtroom scene.
6.1 Listen to what the Lord says: “Stand up, plead my case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say. 2 “Hear, you mountains, the Lord’s accusation; listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. For the Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel.
Micah sets the courtroom for his message. God calls creation, mountains, hills, even the foundations of the earth to be the jury. God questions his people,
3 “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me. 4 I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam. 5 My people, remember what Balak king of Moab plotted and what Balaam son of Beor answered. Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.”
God has acted on behalf of his people. God has led them out of slavery. God has rescued them from destruction. God has been so good to these people. Do they remember?
There is no argument. The people don’t even try to make a defense.
6 With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
What could the people do to make things right? The standard offerings? Maybe more extravagant offerings? Maybe a more extreme sacrifice?
What would it take? What would God want to make things right?
It turns out, God doesn’t really want any of that stuff. It’s not the mystery the people make it sound like it is. God has been clear. They know what it is. It isn’t about giving God stuff to make him happy … it is about something else.
8He has shown you, O mortal, 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.
It isn’t a mystery to Micah. God hasn’t been hiding it. They should have known this all along.
We don’t have to guess. (It’s not like that painting class with the hard to please and difficult to understand professor.)
God doesn’t seem to be interested in their repetitive religious motions – no matter how extravagant they may be.
God lays a bigger claim on his people.
God wants his people’s hearts. God wants lives that are shaped by his love and concern. God wants lives that reveal concern and care for others … lives that reflect God’s mercy.
God want’s you and me.
God wants us to live in relationship with him … God wants us in relationship with the people around us … God wants our hearts and lives, our words our actions, oriented towards him. God wants to transform us … to move us toward another way of living.
These sermons are supposed to match up with Our Future Story home groups … What is the connection as we think through and develop vision for our life together as South Park Community Church?
I think it has to do with how we measure success.
It moves us from looking at numbers (how many people … how big of a budget) … those questions and values that don’t seem all that helpful, yet pastors and churches keep getting caught using and comparing to measure success. It pushes us toward God’s values … It pushes us to ask what God wants from his people and what God wants for his world.
It pushes us to ask, are we walking with God? Do we understand God’s values?
We see God’s values vividly in Jesus – goodness, faithfulness, kindness, mercy, justice, love that builds others up and leaves them better than we first met them, lives changed, relationships restored, physical and mental pain healed.
Are we shaped by those values?
Do we measure success by our world’s measuring sticks or do we use God’s measurements? Are we open to God’s transforming work in us and through us? Do we understand growing in faithfulness, compassion, care, and friendship as the keys to success?
He has shown you, O mortal, 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.