What Does the Lord Require Of You? Gulp…

November 9, 2014

Last week, Namaan was trying desperately to get rid of his leprosy. He stacked up clothing and hundreds of pounds of coins, ready to be healed. He was a general in the army after all, so this would be a big deal. But it didn’t work that way. His money and clothes meant nothing. He was simply to bathe in the Jordan River 7 times. After he complained about the quality of the river and this whole thing being just a little too easy, he did it and was healed.

Today, the prophet Micah confronts a nation that is grinding its poor into the ground while political corruption has poisoned life and religious show offs are so busy making a show of their praying that their worship leads to nothing. Although we don’t hear it in today’s reading, the backdrop for the book of Micah is corruption of political and religious leaders.

We live in our own wild times, not unlike the times Micah was speaking into. We’ve got a new political landscape rolling itself out as a result of last Tuesday’s elections. Some of us are pleased. Some of us are not. Yet no matter our political affiliation, we know what it’s like to be dissatisfied with political leadership even in our own camp, or to watch elections get bought and sold or things done in our name that we’d never do. We know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed by injustice. We’ve all experienced “faithfulness” that results in a little more quality me time and reflects no care for the neighbor.

The Israelites in today’s story – well their days of being the big, powerful nation are done. The kingdom has split into north and south and the north has fallen. Micah is there to speak to his own people, the southern kingdom, and tell them not to wag their fingers at the fall of the northern kingdom cuz they’re just like them. So Micah is there to tell them that things are going to change.

Micah’s not from Jerusalem. He’s a country bumpkin come to the big city to point fingers at the damage the city has done. And what comes out of his mouth? Hope for the future found in Bethlehem. You may have missed it – Bethlehem was the 3rd or 4th word in the reading.

Now here’s what the ears of those folks would have heard from Micah when they heard the name Bethlehem. They would immediately make a connection to King David. He was from Bethlehem, after all. So they would think a flawed but powerful king was on his way. And indeed, God brings about a new king – an entirely new kind of king, ushering in hope and promise for a new reality. And all from this little po-dunk town. Bethlehem is a place of little worth, no status. Yet, Micah says, and we know, it’s where their hope will come from. Hope grounded in ancient days.

Then the reading shifts and asks this terrifying question: With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Do you ask yourself this question before you come to worship on Sunday? With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? I know when I was not the leader of worship every Sunday, there were times, quite frankly, when I was waking up during worship. Seldom would I ask if I could bring my heart or my life to worship God, much less extravagant goods.

It’s sort of comical, the ways that are put forth in the reading to honor God. From a burnt offering of calves to tens of thousands of rivers of oil to a first born child. Each offering gets more extravagant, more impossible. Should we come before God with the most tender meat, just falling off the bone? Or how about a pipeline that will bring the equivalent of thousands of rivers of oil, just to honor you, God? Or how about my first born? Will that be enough to show honor and praise to God?

That list may seem disconnected to us or even a little funny because, really? Will these things please God? And if we actually had them, would we give them to God in the first place? Or would our fists tighten around them even more?

And, Micah says, put down yer stuff. Put down your overblown, human ideas of what pleases God. And then Micah asks another terrifying question:

What does the Lord require of you?

What does the Lord require of me? What a terrifying question. Yet Micah answers it before we have time to botch it for ourselves: and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

I’ve been reading a book with a group from here called Overrated by Eugene Cho. His premise for writing the book is that we, as Christians, like the idea of changing the world more than the actual reality of changing the world. In it he tells of he and his families attempts at living out what they believe God wants not only for their lives but for the lives of other people all around the world. It’s led them to take huge risks personally, financially, spiritually. After all, to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly is to be made uncomfortable for the sake of another.

Each day, the author asks himself these questions:

Who am I?

Whom do I serve?

What are my values?

Where am I going?

This daily answering of these questions keeps his feet on the ground, doing justice; his heart in the daily test of loving kindness and his life in humble gratitude for that very life. It’s like Micah is asking the Israelites – who are you? Have you forgotten? You see, God cares who we are and what we do. God cares enough to never leave us alone. You are children of God – chosen by God – loved by God. And because of that, our lives show this identity, this gratitude, by serving all other people in God’s name not for our sake but for their sake, for God’s sake, and for the sake of the world. Because throughout Israel’s forgetfulness, God has remained faithful.

That is the good news we hear today. We are called into lives to serve others, to love others. It’s not easy. No one expects it. But it is who God made us to be. It is who we are at our core.

Thanks be to God.