Sermon - Brad Brookins
Micah 6:6-8 When all is said and done…
6 ‘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?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’
8 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?
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?”
In Micah’s day, something wasn’t working in the religion of Israel.
For hundreds of years the way to God had been carefully prescribed. You went to the temple in Jerusalem with a gift—the best of your gain or a prize animal to sacrifice. Then you went home and everything was supposed to be fine. Your crops would bear fruit and your flocks would bear lambs, your children would survive to adulthood and your enemies would stay away.
They followed the rules, but it wasn’t working out.
As often happens when faith is crammed it into a box full of rules and regulations—of do’s and dont’s and shoulds and shouldn’ts, the people of Israel lost sight of the original goal. They had begun to think the rules themselves were the point; that worshipping on a particular day in a particular way with particular words and music and rituals was what mattered. When what really mattered was to connect, deeply and authentically, with the One who created them and redeemed them and loved them. They forgot that; or maybe they had never been told.
God’s call to God’s people, you see, had never been simply a command to sacrifice animals and crops. God calls God’s people instead to relationship and to service. “I will bless you”, God said to Abraham way back at the very beginning, “and make you a blessing to the whole world”.
God doesn’t need our stuff, you know. So you can bring a year old calf if you want to. Fillet mignon is ok, I guess; but it’s not what God asks of us.
And the size of the gift is equally irrelevant. Bring a thousand prize rams if you can spare them; or tens of thousands of rivers flowing with fresh pressed, extra virgin olive oil, if you can engineer that. You can even offer up the life of your first born child, as was done often enough in ancient times (though that sacrifice was especially abhorrent to God).
You could do all that and more, Micah is saying, and still miss the point. Because God’s call to God’s people has always been a call to relationship and to service.
It’s no different today. God calls us today not to offer more prayers or to sing more songs or to give more money or do more good deeds. God’s call to us is what it has always been—a call to relationship with God and neighbor, and to service in the world God loves.
God has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you?
Do justice, love kindness,
walk humbly with your God.
We are the church. I’m sure you know that by now. We are the Body of Christ on earth and in Mt Vernon and everyplace else we wander in to. This means we are called—as Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all of Israel and all people of good will in all religions through all time have been called—to live in a right relationship with the Creator, with each other, with the Creation itself; and to serve and con-serve all that is good and true and beautiful in the world.
We’ve heard the words and read the stories over the past few weeks. This is what they have told us:
Love God with all your heart, mind and strength.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Do to others what you would have them do to you.
Religion that is pure before God is this: care for orphans and widows.
How does God’s love abide in anyone who…sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
Let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
God saw all that God had made and indeed it was very good.
And today, from the prophet Micah, we hear this:
Do justice—do the right thing. Even when it costs you something. Think for a minute and you will almost always know what the right thing is.
Love kindness—or, in other words, choose compassion. Meet the world with the same compassion with which your Creator meets you.
Walk humbly—you might think there would be no other way we could walk with God, but apparently we need to be reminded. God cannot be bought. I think that’s the point here. To walk humbly with God is to receive God’s grace—God’s justice, kindness and compassion, as the gift it is. Freely given. Freely given to you.
Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly.
Be the church.
Or, to borrow the words of Jesus that Margy read earlier, and to to change the metaphor, be “the light of the world”. Be the city set on a hill that cannot be hidden. Be the lamp sitting proud on the lamp stand and giving light to all in the house.
This, too, is a picture of our calling—we are to be the light that blesses.
This has been God’s purpose for God’s people from the first day there was a “God’s people”. As those first words to Abraham make clear: “I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” God tells him. “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1)
From the beginning, you see, God’s people have always been God’s people for…
We embody the Divine blessing for our neighbor (who, it turns out, is anyone we can help). We are here for the immigrant (who is to be treated as a “citizen” along side us). We are here for the powerless (the poor, the hungry, the oppressed). And we are here for God’s “indeed very good” Creation; our sustaining, yet fragile, home.
This is the light we shine.
And what’s also clear in this little parable, to me anyway, is that the light that we are is made to shine on purpose. A city set on a hill cannot, and should not, be hidden. Beacons are meant to be beacons. You don’t light a candle and tuck it away where it does no good. Light must shine. It can do no other.
If candles had feelings, a burning candle hidden under a basket would feel sad, frustrated and unfulfilled. Candles sing: “This little light of mine; I’m gonna’ let it shine!”
This little candle with feelings would also tell you it doesn’t much care what darkness it is shining into. It doesn’t go looking for trouble. It just shines—on any lamp stand and in every darkness.
It shines into the darkness of selfishness that tells the wounded neighbor she’ll have to find her own way home. It shines into the darkness of fear that insists on building higher walls when longer tables would be a better idea. It shines into the darkness of pride that says poverty is solely the fault the poor and powerless. It shines into the darkness of greed that devastates our planet home, and considers the destruction a small cost of doing business on the way to comfort and wealth.
The world is broken, the ancient rabbis said. It is shattered into millions of pieces. And we, the people of God from all times, places and religions, have been given the task of fixing it; of bringing all these pieces back together. The Hebrew phrase the rabbis used to describe this work was “Tikkun Olam”—the repair of the world; Tikkun olam is engaging with God in repairing the creation.
This work is accomplished, they taught, through acts of kindness. Not “kindness for us but not for them”; but kindness that erases differences when it can and bridges them when it can’t. It is intentional kindness for the healing of human kind.
Tikkun Olam—the repair of the Creation, is also, you see, what it means to be the church, the body of Christ, the light of the world.
So here is the end of it. When all is said and done this is what it means to be the church:
Shine the light you are where you are. You will see then that what you need to do is—
Justice—let your light shine truth into whatever darkness surrounds you.
Kindness—use your light to keep others from stumbling. Lend a hand where you can. Make the world a kinder place.
Humility—you’re a candle, remember. Don’t compete with the sun. Just shine the light you’ve been given wherever you have been placed.
That’s it. Be the church—and “give light to all in the house”. Amen.
Text and Questions
Micah 6: 6-8
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?
1. What is justice? How does one “do” justice? How do know when you have or have not done justice?
2. What is kindness? How does one “love” kindness” ? Is “loving kindness different from “being kind” ? This phrase is sometimes translated “love mercy”. What is mercy? How are mercy and kindness similar and how are they different? Which translation do you prefer and why?
3. What does it mean to “walk humbly with your God” ? Is it possible to walk “proudly” with your God?
4. In the 2 verses preceding Micah 6.8, Micah describes the people’s alternative for approaching God (their alternative to what Micah says God wanted from them): Micah 6. 6-7 “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 tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” How is what Micah says God wants different, in principle, from what the people are inclined to bring? (That is—I know a burnt offering is different than doing justice, but what is the principle behind the difference? Why don’t sacrifices satisfy God when earlier in the Old Testament animal sacrifices are central to worship? This is not an easy question but there is room for fruitful exploration here.)
5. If tomorrow morning everybody woke up and started doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God, what’s the first new thing you think you’d notice? The second thing?
6. Would there be winners and losers if the whole world became just, kind and humble? If yes, who would they be? What would it cost the losers and what would the winners gain?
Matthew 5. 14-15
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house.
1. “You are the light of the world.” Let’s meditate out loud on this line in class on Sunday. What does this image bring to mind for you?
2. Respond to this statement: The “you” in “You are the light of the world.” is plural—as in “Y’all are the light of the world”. There are no individual lights. There is only the one light shining from the one lamp. It is what the church is and does as a body that “gives light to all in the house”.
3. John 8:12—Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Matthew 5:14—Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” Both of these statements are true. How can this be?
4. What is “the light” in Matthew 5: 14-15? What is the bushel basket and the lamp stand and the house?