Sermon for January 29, 2017 4th of Epiphany “God Requires?”
It was a glorious time. The pews were full with standing room only. The children and youth programs were at an all-time high. The finance committee was all smiles as they reported surplus in revenue year after year. The whispered chatter of a new and bigger building became a roar of insistence. The people know they could do it. It was a glorious time.
Nostalgia would take you to the 60’s and 70’s and they were a marvelous time for the church. But I am referring to a time about 700 years before Jesus. To the angst of Micah who knew in his heart that something was wrong, very wrong. The people had become so self-absorbed in their success that they only gave God lip service. Instead of: see and appreciate the generosity and bounty of God, it became see how good I and we can do this wonderful thing.
Micah calls the leaders and people to task for forgetting about God. And they respond, are you kidding, look how successful we are, how could we be more faithful, do you want more sacrifices, more vats of oil and bushels of wheat? Tell us, how could we be more religious. If it is more money then we will provide it, more time then it is yours, if it is more perfect liturgy then the priests will do better. Look at all the good we do. Where do you get off telling us that we are not doing good? Tell us then, what does the Lord require of us?
Micah does not have to think very long or hard for the answer. You say that perfect worship, extravagant sacrifices, a multitude of programs and giving from excess is what makes you religious. But I tell you, what the Lord requires is that you seek justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. Micah points out that it is not our stuff that God needs but our heart, our care and our love for others. That is a hard thing for the people to hear and they made certain that Micah knew it. Like many prophets he lived on the edge of exile.
The Jesus movement that John the Baptist started was just gaining traction in the region of Galilee. In the midst of a corrupt government, pluralist view of gods, huge separation between rich and poor, leaders who created their own truths and John in prison. Jesus speaks at his first news conference. As a pep rally to garner support and followers it sounded like a dismal failure. Blessed and happy are you: poor, mourning, meek, hungry, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers for you will be happy. Oh and for good measure: blessed and happy are you who are persecuted on account of me, rejoice and be glad.
For a people yearning to overthrow a corrupt government, a people looking for a better lot in life this was not encouraging. But instead of running away, instead of boo’s and hiss’ the people listened. Something in the words, the way they were spoken, who delivered them, lit a flame of wonder in their hearts and they followed. In this first speech or news conference there was no mention of sacrifice, purity laws, pure worship liturgy or any of the stuff of the temple. It was an entirely new thing, it was a tipping of the status quo and the ushering in of a life changing message.
The message is no less potent in our day. Jesus calls us one at a time to follow. To follow a way of peace, meekness, spirit and pureness of heart. It is not easy, it never was, but on this day Jesus is interested in your heart, body, mind and spirit. It is an invitation to a transformative and transforming way of living, acting, understanding and being.
You have heard the call, listened to the pep rally now it is time to answer.