4. A humble walk with God
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Let us pray. Eternal God, along with your people in every age we too ask what it is that you require of those who are seeking to live faithfully in this troubled and troubling world. We seek not only your answer but the commitment to take that answer seriously; in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Do justice; love kindness; walk humbly with your God. That’s rather simple, simple enough for most of us to memorize, simple enough to put on a fridge magnet for you to take home today, simple enough for us to say together right now—do justice; love kindness; walk humbly with your God. For me at least, that is where the simplicity ends. Today then I want to explore a little bit of the background of Micah, then dig a little into these requirements given to us by God and then make some suggestions as to how we might be more committed to the style of life that is laid upon us by our God. But first, say it with me one more time: do justice; love kindness; walk humbly with your God.
Micah was a prophet who lived about 25 kilometres southwest of Jerusalem. In the opening verse of the book we are told that what we are going to hear is the word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Kings Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem. To make it clear, although this opening verse identifies only the kings of the southern kingdom of Judah, this word of the Lord is for all of God’s people, those in Judah and those in Israel.
Micah wrote to warn God’s people that judgement was coming but that God offered pardon to all who repented of their sin. The theme throughout these seven chapters is judgement and forgiveness. What Micah makes clear is that God hates unkindness, idolatry, injustice and empty ritual. These are things that God still hates today.
We return then to our text, chapter six, verses six to eight. As that chapter opens we hear God speaking to his people about their relationship. God wonders what it is that he has done, how it is that a people who were saved from the slavery of Egypt have become weary of their God. Micah takes up the part of the people in verse six. I wonder how we are to hear this—it strikes me as if a worshipper is saying to God, “What exactly is it you want? What would make you happy? Notice there is a rising level of intensity in what is offered.
Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old? Burnt offerings were those in which the whole animal was consumed in the fire, with none of it saved for eating. Calves could be sacrificed as early as eight days old, but a year old would be of greater value. You can hear then in this first sentence that the question is based in some sense of reality. But in the next inquiry we begin to lose touch with reality. How about thousands of rams? The Bible records that King David at one occasion and his son, Solomon on another occasion offered huge numbers of animals as part of the entire nation offering thanksgiving to God, but such an offering would never be thought of as being within the capabilities of an ordinary individual.
Despite that, the stakes are kicked up even higher. What about ten thousand rivers of oil? Now just to be clear a “river” is not some ancient measurement, as in four pints in a quart, four quarts in a gallon, four gallons in a river. It is an unmeasurable amount of oil that is being suggested, and, of course, once again, no individual can offer to God anything beyond measure. It then truly gets worse. How about if I offer up my first born child as a sacrifice?
Here we stop to admit this is one of those biblical puzzles that tax the abilities of greater minds than mine. Despite the fact that we have in the Bible that ancient story in which it appears that God demands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a means of testing the patriarch, in every other place where child sacrifice is mentioned in the Bible, it is forbidden in the strongest possible terms. In fact, this horror is one of the practices that is used as a justification as to why God insisted on removing the nations who were in the promised land; in other words, this is such an offense to God, out you go!
Back to our text—I think what the prophet is telling us is that God’s people are completely out of touch with what God wants. This worshipper begins with the expected ritual and very quickly turns this inquiry about God’s expectations into a farce. How about entire herds and flocks? How about oil without end? How about the sacrifice of a child? Would that make you happy, God?
In the words of the prophet God responds. Let me tell you a story. Crossing the border into the United States of America makes me nervous. I should explain; there is nothing about being in the U. S. that makes me nervous, it’s the border crossing itself. Last month I was in the Chicago area to attend the annual theology conference at Wheaton College. I flew Porter to Midway Airport and entered the labyrinth known as Customs and Immigration. There is, of course, a machine at which one makes their first foray into the breach. Put your passport in here, the on-screen instructions tell me. I thought I did it right; not so, the kind lady in the uniform came to help me. Then I was to look into the screen while pressing a button on the screen, the result of which was my picture being taken. It is uncanny how a person my age who has completed several years of university can look like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. The next button to push was the one that spit out my receipt. Out it came with a unmistakable X prominently covering most of the receipt. The next step was the line for all the X people where, of course, the guard looked like he might have played defensive tackle for the Chicago Bears in an earlier chapter of his life. “Don’t know why they sent you over here,” he said to me as if I might have an answer to that question.
The reason I tell you that story is the only reason it had a happy ending—I did get to the conference and I was allowed to return—the only reason that story had a happy ending is that despite getting Xed I met the requirements for getting into the U. S. I had my passport, I was not carrying on my person more U. S. currency than is allowed and I had not visited a farm in the last 14 days. It’s all right there on the form the smiling Porter flight attendant hands to all the passengers. In fact I could not have boarded the flight at the Billy Bishop Airport without my passport. That’s why if you had seen me that day on the way to the airport or in that lovely Porter lounge where you can get free lattes you would have seen me patting my shirt pocket just to make sure my passport is where I thought it was. The passport and all the rest of the stuff I mentioned are required if one is going to be allowed to cross the border. They are not optional extras; a passport is required. And the prophet telling us the word of God says here is what the Lord requires of you. Say it with me again: do justice; love kindness; walk humbly with your God.
We discover within this answer a principle that I think is one of the threads that runs through the entire record of God’s Word—that is, God expects us to make the connection between Sunday and the rest of the week or between worship and how we live out that commitment to God on a daily basis. I think the place we ought to start in our examination of the requirements is with walk humbly with your God. One scholar tells us that the word for ethics in Judaism is “halacha” which means “walking.” The idea behind this is that the response one makes to matters of justice and fairness and compassion is to be a normal part of my walk through life. I think of it this way: my normal day, my normal walk includes a little break around 10 a.m. for a coffee or cappuccino and something on the sweet side. My willingness to do justice, and to love kindness ought to be as normal in my day as the muffin break. So let’s talk about what those things mean.
God requires us to do justice. Justice is something we do. I think a great example of this is the She Matters campaign of Canadian Baptist Ministries. She Matters is a catchy and clever way of telling us that this emphasis has to do with girls in the places where we are involved in mission and also that it is important for us to do something because we need to say that females are important, they are, just as much as any male, made in the image of God and worthy of every opportunity that can come their way. Our partners at Canadian Baptist Ministries (CBM) explain: “Without access to educational opportunities, girls are at a higher risk to become marginalized and exploited. She is more likely to contract HIV and AIDS and has a higher chance of dying during childhood than her educated female peers. She is also less likely to own land, get a decent job, have a say in society or break out of the crushing cycle of poverty.
“CBM believes that gender bias in education is a social injustice. We desire to see all children have the opportunity to learn and thrive. Help us provide innovative programming where girls are given equal opportunities to develop their gifts and abilities. Help them reach their full, God-given potential.”
Recently I met someone who is a pastor serving a church of one particular denominational stripe. We talked for a bit and I asked him what seminary he attended. It was a school that trained pastors of a different denominational family. My curiosity was piqued so I asked why. He told me the story. A few years ago his father was dying. There was no mystery, no surprise here, he was terminally ill; no treatment was prescribed, no cure was anticipated. No one from the church asked how he was; no one asked about his father; no one said they were praying for him, or his wife and his mother. In other words, for whatever reason, no one was kind to him. In the aftermath of his father’s death he decided he simply needed a break from being a pastor; he left that church.
I contrast that with you folks here at Blythwood. I remember your incredible kindnesses to our family when my father died. I am asked all the time about my mother and how she is doing. I know a number of you pray for me and our family on a weekly basis. That’s part of what it means to love kindness.
A number of years ago someone came up with an idea that got turned into a way to sell christianized junk. Many of you will remember it—W. W. J. D.—what would Jesus do? Our world does not need any more junk; I maintain, of course, that the handy-dandy fridge magnet is entirely useful and not to be confused with junk. But the idea behind the W. W. J. D. campaign was quite sound, I think. The reason I say that is the call of Jesus, the call of our Lord, is to be a follower, a disciple, a learner, in other words Jesus calls us to take note of the sort of things he does, of his unswerving commitment to the justice of God, of his profound love of kindness toward the people with whom he walked through everyday life.
I think we ought to say it together one more time. People of God, what is it that the Lord requires of you. Do justice; love kindness; walk humbly with your God.