Pastor Sherry’s message for January 29, 2023
Scriptures: Micah 6:1-8; Ps 15; 1 Cor 1:18-31; Matt 5:1-12
I heard an interesting, true story this week: A high school student I know—Jake–was called down to the office and told another kid—Sam–had accused him of bringing drugs to school to sell. Now Sam had been caught red-handed with illegal substances. When the school authorities asked where Sam got the drugs, he falsely named Jake. They brought Jake in, told him what he had been accused of, and searched him. Jake defended himself by saying he doesn’t do drugs and he certainly would neither bring them to school nor sell them. Because they had Sam’s story 1st, the authorities seemed reluctant to believe Jake. They frisked him and searched his locker and backpack but found nothing. Finally, they let Jake return to class yet would not tell him the name of the student who had falsely accused him.
The grown-ups must have forgotten that this is a small town. Word got out—as it generally always does–and Jake learned the identity of his accuser. Jake’s parents were furious at Sam—and wanted to address the matter with Sam’s parents straight away–but Jake asked them to let him handle the situation. Jake calmly confronted Sam, asking him why he had lied about him. Sam “stone-walled,” would not answer Jake, and would not give him eye-contact.
I was appalled when I heard this and I wondered if this is indicative of the value system of most teens today. Jake, a Christian, has taken a wise stance: he is now praying for his false-accuser…Praying that Sam would come to know Jesus; and Praying that Sam would regret lying and trying to get an innocent person into trouble. I commend him and would only add my hope that Sam comes to know the 10 Commandments—bearing false witness is #9.
Thinking about this incident over the last few days, I realized Jake’s response is right out of our Micah 6:1-8 lesson, as well as our psalm and Gospel:
The prophet Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah in Judea, and of Amos and Hosea in Samaria, during the 8th century BC. It was a time of great prosperity and wealth in Judah. It was also a time of extensive apostasy. Political corruption was rampant; the rich and powerful felt free to exploit those who were weaker; and many had fallen away from God.
When they did worship Him, their worship was pro-forma, mind-less and rote. Mostly, they just went through the motions. And their moral behavior was despicable. Actually, they were behaving a lot like modern Americans today.
So God appointed Micah as a “whistle-blower” to his time period. His job was to challenge the people on their arrogance, dishonesty, and hypocrisy. He was also tasked with warning them of the judgment to come if they did not turn back to the Lord.
Chapter 6:1-8 forms the climax of Micah’s prophesy: He portrays God as confronting Judah, as though they were adversaries in a court of law.
Listen to Peterson’s paraphrase (The Message) of verses 1-2–Take your stand in court. If you have a complaint, tell the mountains [powerful nations]; make your case to the hills [smaller. Less influential nations]. And now, Mountains, hear God’s case; listen, Jury Earth—For I am bringing charges against My people, I am building a case against Israel. God is telling the world to watch and listen.
But instead of going on the offensive, God asks what He is guilty of that His people have all but abandoned Him. He reminds them of their salvation history with Him:
(1) He has rescued them slavery in Egypt.
(2) He provided them with good leaders like Moses, Aaron and Miriam.
(3) When the king of Moab, Balak, hired the false prophet Balaam to curse them, God protected them by blocking any curses.
(4) He also provided for them when Joshua assumed leadership from Moses (at Shittim), and protected them at Gilgal as they recovered from circumcision. (They had not circumcised anyone on the wilderness march, so all the adult males now needed to take the sign of their covenant with God. Doing so required about 3 days recovery time when they would have been too vulnerable to resist an enemy attack). God had been faithful while they have been faithless.
Then the prophet anticipates the people’s response to God’s indictment: (verses 6-7) —Should we bring an armload of offerings topped off with yearling calves? Would God be impressed with thousands of rams, with buckets and barrels of olive oil? Would He be moved if I sacrificed my firstborn child, my precious baby, to cancel my sin? They are essentially asking, “What do we do to make amends to God?” “Is God mad because we didn’t do enough?” “Should we do more to try to please Him?” But God does not want extravagant offerings from us. As if we can do something for God! A much later generation will ask the same thing of Jesus, and He will answer (John 6:28-29) —This is the work of God [that you can do], that you believe in Him Whom He has sent [faith in Jesus]. All we can do, and the best we can do, is to have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
And in verse 8, Micah summarizes the issue: He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Listen to the way Peterson paraphrases it: But He’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what GOD is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously.
They are dwelling in darkness, as are many in our country today. . Psalm 15: 2-3 says [Those who please God are] the one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander, who does not wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others. Sam’s behavior demonstrates he is dwelling in darkness. The folks back then—much like many “religious” folks today–are focusing on external religious practices, while neglecting their internal experience of God. They need to know and relate to God’s heart.
So what does Micah mean in verse 8? This side of the Cross, we know that we must believe in Jesus to be saved. What God wants from us is to demonstrate our faith by living a life that pleases Him:
(1) To act justly means to do what is right and truthful in God’s eyes. Sam lied to get the focus off himself—he threw Jake under the bus. If Sam had acted justly, he would have admitted his own fault and left Jake out of it. To act justly means exhibiting honest practices in business; not cheating on your taxes or your spouse; giving your employer a full day’s work for a full day’s pay (and employers should give their workers the pay they have earned; playing by the rules in sports and cards, etc; in other words, doing the right thing in God’s eyes.
(2) To love mercy means to offer others grace—i.e., treat them better than they deserve. Justice is a great starting point, but it’s not enough. Grace is Jake forgiving Sam for having tried to ruin his reputation and get him into trouble. God has saved us, through Jesus, when we did not deserve it. We offer grace to others because Jesus offered/offers it to us.
(3) To walk humbly with our God means to do God’s will instead of our own. Humility says “God made me and He knows what is best for me. I’m not as smart as He is, so I will submit to Him and follow His will.” Pride, on the other hand, says, “I’m in charge of me and I will do what I want to do.” It puts self ahead of God. In fact, it makes self a god instead of the One Who is God. Prideful people lack a “teachable spirit.” They are unwilling to admit they don’t always know what is best and are therefore unwilling to listen to someone who might be wiser or more experienced.
No wonder God says in Isaiah 66:2–But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My Word.
No wonder Jesus lists humility of spirit as the 1st characteristic to be blessed in the Beatitudes of Matthew. As Peterson phrases it, You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and His rule.
So what’s God want from me, from us? What defines a life that pleases God? First, we must have faith in His Son, Jesus. Next, we try to live a life that is characterized by the following: Acting honestly and rightly; offering grace to others, even when they don’t appear to deserve it; and being humble with regard to God, remembering to be grateful to Him for all of His blessings, and to be obedient to Him, even when it’s hard. I believe Jake pleased God when he confronted Sam face-to-face, rather than castigating him on social media. This righteous behavior took courage and humility. That young man certainly set an example for Sam, and for us.
May we all remember to act justly, offer grace/mercy to others, and walk humbly with our God! Amen!
©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams