What does God want?

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

Micah 6:1-8

It is just not that complicated, is it? Oh, we have made it complicated. You know the story. By the time of Micah, Israel had become a full nation… Kings, leadership, military strength. By the Micah comes along Israel had developed complex religious system. Israel had not just 10, but hundreds of laws of God – everything from Leviticus laws that said you couldn’t eat shrimp, you couldn’t mix different types of linen into one shirt, you shouldn’t kill, steal, lie and cheat… I mean there was a law for everything. Laws about what you could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath. 

And then there was the worship… the sacrifices… the festivals… there were thanksgiving sacrifices, atonement sacrifices for confessing sins… there were more offerings than you could count for almost any occasion.  

All to please God. Or so they thought. 

But over time, a sad thing happened. They forgot. God’s people forgot what God really cared about. They really forgot who they were and all God had done for them.  They forgot what God had called them to be and do. 

Rob Bell said it clearly as he reminded me what God cares about:

“The Hebrew scriptures have a very simple and direct message:

God always hears the cry of the oppressed;God cares about human suffering and the conditions that cause it.God is searching for a body, a community of people to care for the things God cares about.God gives power and blessing so that justice and righteousness will be upheld for those who are denied them.This is what God is like. This is what God is about. This is who God is. 

To forget this, to fail to hear the cry, to preserve prosperity at the expense of the powerless, is to miss what God has in mind. 

At the height of their power, Israel misconstrued God’s blessings as favoritism and entitlement. They became indifferent to God and to their priestly calling to bring liberation to others. 

There is a word for this. A word for what happens when you still have the power and the wealth and the influence and yet in some profound way you’ve blown it because you’ve forgotten why you were given it in the first place. 

The word is exile. Exile is when you forget your story.

Exile isn’t just about location; exile is about the state of your soul.

Exile is when you fail to convert your blessings into blessings for others.

Exile is when you find yourself a stranger to the purposes of God.

And it’s at this time that we meet the prophets, powerful voices who warned of the inevitable consequences of Israel’s infidelity”[1]

No doubt, Micah would say to Rob Bell: “Amen brother… Amen…preach it.”  Because this is what he preached. 

After watching the leaders and people of Israel- God’s own people… take advantage of the poor… after watching rich landowners steal or swindle the property of poor farmers… after watching merchants who go to the temple on the Sabbath (Saturday) , use dishonest scales on Sunday… after watching people lie and steal and cheat … accept bribes — to get ahead… after hearing people justify their actions that hurt others by saying, “Well, it is legal”… Micah sends a message that has rung all to true over the centuries… for those who have ears to hear. 

It is more than a message actually. It is a lawsuit from God. God is suing his people.

God is filing  charges against his own family for failing to live up to the covenant. 

You remember the deal don’t you? “I will bring you into a land flowing with milk and honey… I will protect you… All I ask of you in return is to worship me alone… walk in my ways, make me your first priority—not your extracurricular activity…All I ask of you is to  follow my ways and laws… and do what is fair and just with a special care for the poor…  I will be your God, if you will be my people and if you will bless the world in my name. That’s the deal. “ 

But they had failed, they blew it and they know it. So at the trial, they ask God a very simple question (a plea bargain?):

 “What do you want?”Actually, they are asking, “what kind of offering do you want?”  And I am wondering if they are being sarcastic here. 

“ What will it take to satisfy you God? What will it take to make things right?  To make it up to you?  Offerings of calves, thousands of sheep, my first born child? What is it you want, God?” 

To which God gives that simple response you know so well:

“The Lord has told you what is good; and what does the Lord require of you (it is simple): but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God”

This message from the life of Micah and even the life and ministry of Jesus – who lived his life in this way, is simple—the message has real meaning for us if we seek to live lives that please God. 

We are all faced with concrete and real issues every day that call forth an opportunity to live life in this way: lives of justice, mercy that reveal we are walking in God’s ways.

Offering living wages is important not only to society, but to God. Providing shelter for the homeless… providing food for the poor… is important to God. Standing up for justice in the office, in the school, in our homes, in the boardrooms, council meetings and legislatures… this is important to God.  Because, justice is important to God. 

Oh how we forget. Last Friday I was reminded. Sharon and I went to see the Norman Rockwell exhibit. For most of his career, he was barred from showing African-american people in the Saturday Evening post with one exception. You could show them as servants. When he left the Post and joined Look, we saw some paintings that were different. One was called, “Southern Justice” recalling the time of the murders of three civil rights workers in Mississippi. The article with the painting started this way:

  “Sunday morning foot washing may precede Sunday evening killing. Justice is a weapon of repression.” 

It is important for us as individuals and the church to work for justice in the community and our nation. Micah worked for justice in his society… speaking to leaders and kings. 

And while the message is simple, I know walking the talk is not.Working for justice is not so simple. It involves more than works of charity. It involves politics which is always messy. As one person said, “Love is what justice looks like in public”So justice involves from the prophetic standpoint what happens in politics and society at the local, state and national level. 

But this is no easy thing. None of us is likely to find this a simple responsibility… to sort out what justice looks like in our society. 

It is easy to understand, then, why some people are glad enough for the church to tell them how to vote and what petitions to sign and which parties to join. It relieves them of the responsibility of their decision. But I am proud to tell you that the Presbyterian church does not tell anyone how to vote or which petitions you must sign or which groups or parties you must join. “God alone is Lord of the conscience” we say. 

But what we ARE called to do in our personal and political lives is to examine our motives, to beware of our motives that lie behind our politics and personal decisions. 

Often when an election comes up… or when you attend a council meeting or school board meeting, the question most people will ask is this:  “What is in it for me?” (or for my business, my bottom line, my child) Our decisions and commitments are determined too frequently by covetousness, self interest for some personal advantage. 

The Christian and the Jew for that matter, has the advantage of being aware of this temptation. We’ve been warned by prophets like Micah, Amos, Isaiah and so many others. We have been warned by Jesus. 

A person of faith can at least take heed. A person of faith can at least criticize their decisions in light of desires of God expressed in the prophets and in light of what Jesus has said. A Christian knows that our votes and our decisions ought to be determined by something more important than personal gain. This is true not only about how we elect our leaders, but also in providing health care, mental health care, adequate schooling, housing, wages- anything that affects the least, last and lost in our society. 

My  professor and mentor John Leith ( a very traditional  theologian) taught me this. He also said something way back in the 1950s that is still a warning and word for us today:

   “Material prosperity will damn us in the long run if it is bought at the price of human blood and suffering. An abundance of money in our pockets will curse us if gotten by the oppression or neglect of our fellow man. Special privilege will wreak vengeance upon us if it is based upon injustice…” 

He was preaching before an election. He also said,

 “The real question is not so much how we vote but whether our political loyalties go deeper than our loyalty to Christ. No Christian can ever be a reverent  member of a political party or of any human organization, for reverence belongs only to God.

Every Christian must be somewhat irreverent toward political parties and toward every human organization. Christians must not take such claims too seriously, and must criticize a party by a deeper loyalty to Christ”[2]

Let me paraphrase that again as Micah might have put it: “The real question  for the people of God as we live out our lives is this: do our political (and I might add corporate) loyalties go deeper than our loyalty to God who calls us to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with him? 

I think the call of Micah is the call to get back to the God who called his children to stand up for those who are crying in our world. 

So if we want to please God, let’s get back to the God in came in Christ to care for those who were crying – the least, the last, and the lost of his time. Let’s get back to the God of Jesus who called a young priest named John Ryan to champion child labor laws, fair wages, to fight for the unemployed and decent housing for the poor—ten years before the New Deal. Let’s get back to the God of Jesus in whose name EB McKinney and Owen Whitfield challenged a Mississippi system that kept sharecroppers in servitude and debt… The God in Jesus who called Millard Fuller to give up so much  to care for those who lived in substandard housing conditions and formed Habitat for Humanity… Let us get back to the God of Jesus in whose name a Presbyterian minister named Eugene Carson Black was arrested for protesting racial injustice in Baltimore. Let’s get back to the God of Barney, Carol, Virginia and Hal and all involved in Guatemala as we provide education for those in a Mayan village left behind. Especially teaching young women that they also have rights. [3]

For Micah makes it clear. Our God calls for justice and steadfast loving kindness. 

And this is no partisan issue. People of faith from every political party and faction can work for justice. It doesn’t matter if you are a liberal or conservative—God is neither… it doesn’t matter if you’re a democrat or republican or tea party member, God is none of those. 

What does matter according to Micah and what God wants from those of us who call ourselves the children of God and disciples of Jesus Christ–  is that we live lives that listen for the cries of those who hurt… that we see justice is done…mercy is our first concern and that we humbly walk and obey God.  

Do that and nothing could please God more. Amen.

 




[1]
P. 44-45 Jesus wants to Save Christians

[2]Section and quotes adapted from sermon “Christian Faith and Political Decisions” , Nov. 2, 1952 in Auburn, Alabama   found on pages 26 ff in Pilgrimage of a Presbyterian

[3]Adapted and expanded upon from an article by Bill Moyers

 


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