WHAT GOD EXPECTS

MICAH

 

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            One liners.  Some people are known for them.  For example, there’s Henny Youngman and his line:  “Take my wife.  Please!”  There’s Rodney Dangerfield: “I get no respect.”  There’s Dirty Harry: “Go ahead make my day.”  There’s the church lady from Saturday Night Live:  “Isn’t that special?”    And there’s Groucho Marx:  “I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll make an exception.”  Well, the next minor prophet in our sermon series is also known for two one-liners, one about the Bethlehem being the birthplace of the Messiah.  In fact, take out your pew bible and turn with me to it.  Turn to page 756 of your pew bible, to Micah chapter five, verse 2.  Listen to it ...

 

            But you, O Bethelehm of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.

 

            The Gospel writer Matthew quotes this one line in his story about the visit of the wise men, about where the Messiah was expected to have been born.  

            In addition, to this one line, however, Micah is also known for another of his one liners, and it’s this second one liner that I want to focus our attention upon today.  Look with me at chapter six, verse eight.  It reads as follows ...

 

            And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.

 

            Have you ever noticed how much we're into lists?  On Monday morning I did a search on Amazon.com and came up with 153,799 matches of books with the word list in their title.  These books about lists contain such fascinating lists as:

            17 Questions You'll be Asked When Applying to Become an FBI Agent.

            9 Visitors Who Died at Disneyland.

            18 famous brains, and what they weighed.

            15 famous events that happened in the bathtub.

            10 Words you can't pronounce correctly

 

            We have a fascination with lists, and many of us keep ongoing To Do lists, some of us writing the list down on a note of paper others of us putting it on a digital device.  Even God has lists like the 7 days of Creation, and the 10 Commandments, the nine Beatitudes.  Today we're going to unpack Micah’s short list for a faithful life.  Now, let me say something quickly about Micah, the prophet, before we turn to this short list for a faithful life.  He lived in the southern kingdom of Judah and he was a contemporary of the great prophet Isaiah, and the two prophets one major and one minor, complemented one another.  You see, Isaiah was the thoroughbred, the aristocratic, highly educated prophet who prophesied before kings and queens in Jerusalem.  Micah, on the other hand, beat the bushes.  He was the “out state” prophet.  Today Isaiah would live in Lincoln, Nebraska, hanging around the capitol building and prophesying to Governor Heineman, whereas Micah would make his rounds “out state” ... in Ogallala, Kimball, Broken Bow.  Micah was the rural prophet, Isaiah the city prophet.

            OK, back to Micah’s short list for a faithful life.  The list came into being in response to God calling the people of Israel to task in almost a courtroom setting.  Listen to it.  You can follow along in Micah chapter six, beginning in verse one ...

 

            Hear what the Lord says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice.

            Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the Lord has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel.

            "O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me!

            For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.

            O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord."

            "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 ten thousands of rivers of oil?

            Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"

            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?

 

            DO, LOVE, WALK.  That's Micah's short list.  Notice, they're all action words. They're all verbs and imperative verbs at that.  Let’s begin with the first verb on his list.  Do.  Do what?  Do justice.

            What is justice?  And how do we do justice?  Ethicist and Episcopal priest Joseph Fletcher said, "Justice is nothing other than love working out its problems."  Benjamin Disraeli said, "Justice is truth in action."  Someone else said that justice is doing what is right even if it's uncomfortable or unpopular.

            I think of Billy D. Strayhorn.   He’s a Methodist pastor and he was in an office supply place and a young girl waited on him.  It was obvious that it was only her first or second day on the job.  He paid in cash with a $10 bill.  As the girl was counting out the change, she gave him change back from a $20 bill.   He checked his wallet to make sure he wasn't mistaken and had given her a $20 instead of the $10.  He hadn't so he handed her back the extra $10 and told her she'd given me too much change back.  She looked shocked and grateful all at the same time.  She thanked him and said it would have come out of her salary, and she asked him, "Why did you do that?  I mean, you didn't have to.  You could have kept the money and no one would have known. Why?"

            He told her, "Because I'm in the honesty business."  She looked confused so I said, "I'm a preacher.  The Bible says, 'Thou shalt not steal.'"  And then she smiled and said, "Oh, I get it."

            That's what God wants us to do.  He wants us to do what is right.  That’s justice, and sometimes we confuse justice with fairness.  Let me say something.  Justice is not about being fair.  Johnny Carson once said: "If life was fair, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead."  Justice isn't about being fair.  Justice is about DOING what is right in God's eyes.

            A story is told about a crime figure who was on trial for first-degree murder.  His lawyer was hired and paid to win this case or at least have the charges reduced.

            Everybody knew he'd done it.  It was pretty clear that he was guilty, but the lawyer was willing to do whatever it took to reduce the charges.  The lawyer approached one of the jurors and was able to bribe him to hold out for the verdict of manslaughter. He impressed upon the juror that no other verdict would do or he wouldn't get paid.

At the end of the trial, the jury deliberated for over a week.  They finally returned a verdict of manslaughter.  When the lawyer met with the juror to pay the bribe, he asked, "How did you convince the other jurors to reduce the charge to manslaughter?"

            The juror answered, "Well, that's not exactly what happened.  You told me to get them to return a verdict of manslaughter, or I wouldn't get paid.  It took me the whole week to convince them to vote with me on that verdict.  They all wanted to acquit him."

            Sometimes God takes care of the justice, but in the meantime, we are called to DO justice.

            The second item on Micah’s list is LOVE.  We are to love kindness or love mercy as some translations have it.  We can't have justice without mercy and we can't have mercy without justice.

            The Scottish author and poet and Christian minister George McDonald, who inspired C.S. Lewis’ fictional writings, said, "I believe that justice and mercy are simply one and the same thing; without justice to the full there can be no mercy, and without mercy to the full there can be no justice."[1]

            A man was caught and taken to court because he had stolen a loaf of bread.  When the judge investigated, he found out that the man had no job, and his family was hungry.  He had tried unsuccessfully to get work and finally, to feed his family, he had stolen a loaf of bread.  Although recognizing the extenuating circumstances, the judge said, "I'm sorry, but the law can make no exceptions.  You stole the bread, and therefore I have to punish you.  I order you to pay a fine of ten dollars."

            And then the judge continued, "But I want to pay your fine myself."  He reached into his pocket, pulled out a ten-dollar bill, and handed it to the man.

            As soon as the man took the money, the judge said, "Now I also want to cancel the fine and remit the sentence to time served."  That is, the man could keep the money and go free.  "Furthermore, I am going to instruct the bailiff to pass around a hat to everyone in this courtroom, and I am fining everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a city where a man has to steal in order to have bread to eat."

            I love that story, because it's an example of justice being meted out in full and paid in full, while at the very same time, mercy and grace were also enacted in full.

            You and I are called to act in the same manner as that Judge.  We're called to not just do mercy and kindness but to love kindness, and to love mercy because we have experienced both through the outstretched hands of Jesus on the Cross.

            Finally we're called to WALK.  That’s the third item on Micah’s list.  We are to walk humbly with our God.   When it comes to humbleness, a story about actor Tom Selleck comes to mind.  He reflects back to his days on Magnum P.I.  He says, "Whenever I get full of myself, I remember the nice, elderly couple who approached me with a camera on a street in Honolulu.  When I struck a pose for them, the man said, 'No, no, we want you to take a picture of US.'"

            To walk humbly with God is living in fellowship with God in modesty and without arrogance.   To walk humbly with God means we understand that God is in control, not us.  To walk humbly with God means understanding that we're all sinful human beings who've made wrong choices, but have been forgiven.  We deserved justice but through Christ's sacrifice on the cross, we've received God’s kindness and mercy.

            Let me close with this.  Comedian Bob Hope was accepting a plaque at an honorary dinner. He listened as his many contributions to humanity were lauded.  When it was his turn to speak, he said that he had stopped letting such honors go to his head.  "I just got a call from a fellow who said I'd been named Man of the Year by their organization because I was America's outstanding citizen, greatest humanitarian, and so forth.  It was going to be the biggest dinner, biggest civil reception ever.  I told him I was sorry, but I was going to be tied up that night.  There was a long pause and then the caller said, 'By any chance would you have Red Skelton's phone number?'"

            It's an honor to serve God.  It's an honor to be called forgiven and a child of God. But we can't let it go to our heads.  We have to walk humbly with God.

            DO, LOVE, WALK.  Let’s live Micah’s Short List.



[1] George MacDonald in “Discovering the Character of God,” Christianity Today, Vol. 35, no. 2.