Sermon for February 2, 2014

Micah 6:1-8 (4th Sunday after the Epiphany—Series A)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

February 2, 2014

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is the Old Testament Lesson today recorded in the prophet Micah, chapter 6:

Hear what the LORD says: Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. 2 Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the LORD, and you enduring foundations of the earth, for the LORD has an indictment against his people, and he will contend with Israel. 3 “O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me! 4 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. 5 O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD.” 6 “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? 7 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?” 8 He has told you, O man, 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?

            Every year on February 2, we wait to hear from the groundhog its prediction for an early Spring or six more weeks of winter.  It’s always a surprise to see what the verdict is—shadow or no shadow.  In our text from God’s Word this morning we also have a surprise.  What is God doing in Micah 6?  He’s suing the people of Israel!  God is announcing a lawsuit against His own people!

            God is suing His people for breach of contract.  God is suing His people for their failure to be His people.  We read in Exodus 6 God say to Israel, “I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. You will know that I am Yahweh your God, who delivered you from the forced labor of the Egyptians.” (CSB)  Also in Leviticus, “And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.” (Lev. 26:12 ESV)  The people of Israel agreed to the terms of God’s covenant, or binding agreement, that He made with them at Mt. Sinai.  “Moses came and told the people all the commands of the LORD and all the ordinances. Then all the people responded with a single voice, ‘We will do everything that the LORD has commanded.’” (Ex. 24:3 CSB) 

            But they didn’t.  God’s people had agreed to these terms, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:5 ESV)  Time and again through the Holy Spirit-inspired pages of the Old Testament we see God’s people reject Him and His Word in favor of false gods like Baal, even going as far to worship these gods with sexual immorality. God’s people had agreed to these terms, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”  (Lev. 19:18 ESV)  Yet again and again through the Holy Spirit-inspired pages of the Old Testament we see God’s people reject Him and His Word as the rulers and the power-people of Israel who had the responsibility to understand and execute the law were abusing their authority by oppressing the powerless.  In their greed, they were consuming their own people and destroying social harmony. (Micah 3:1-3)

            Now the Lord God files suit.  He calls on the mountains and the enduring foundations of the earth to be witnesses against the people of Israel.  The charge: failure to do what God requires—to love the Lord and love their neighbor.  As a masterful attorney God ironically poses the question, “Could I possibly be at fault for Israel’s failure?”  “O my people, what have I done to you?  How have I wearied you?  Answer me!”  The Lord then reminds Israel of four specific examples of His saving acts for them!  God caused them to go up from the land of Egypt, from the house of slaves.  God provided for them excellent leaders in Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.   He guarded them from harm when Balak king of Moab hired Balaam to curse Israel.  The Lord brought them all the way into the Promised Land.  And even though the Lord did all this saving work for His people, His people treated Him as though serving the Lord by loving Him and their neighbor was completely wearing them out. 

            Now, is God some kind of oppressor?  Is the Lord some kind of tyrant?  I fully realize this is simplifying things too much, but on a certain level, there are just 10 commandments.  That’s not really overdoing it, is it?  That shouldn’t be too overwhelming for us, just Ten Commandments that pull together the commands to love God and to love neighbor.  (Be reminded that “neighbor” is anyone to whom we can show love and mercy.)  There shouldn’t really be that much for Israel or for us to whine and complain about, as if loving God in response to His great loving acts of service to us was such a chore.  There shouldn’t really be that much for Israel and for us to whine and complain about, as if loving our neighbors was such a really difficult thing. 

But ten proved to be too much for Israel to accomplish.  They didn’t and couldn’t love God and love neighbor as they were commanded.  And ten proves to be too much for us to accomplish also.  We don’t always love God and our neighbor as we are commanded.  So the same lawsuit filed against Israel can be filed by the Lord against all who fail to keep His commandments to love Him and to love others.  The Lord could file His suit against you and me:

Thus says the Lord: What have I done to you, O My people, and wherein have I offended you? Answer Me. For I have raised you up out of the prison house of sin and death, and you have delivered up your Redeemer to be scourged. For I have redeemed you from the house of bondage, and you have nailed your Savior to the cross. O My people.

Thus says the Lord: What have I done to you, O My people, and wherein have I offended you? Answer Me. For I have conquered all your foes, and you have given Me over and delivered Me to those who persecute Me. For I have fed you with My Word and refreshed You with living water, and you have given Me gall and vinegar to drink. O My people.

Thus says the Lord: What have I done to you, O My people, and wherein have I offended you? Answer Me. What more could have been done for My vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? My people, is this how you thank your God? O My people.  (Reproaches, Good Friday, Chief Service)

We have not always feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things.  We trust in ourselves far too much, in our abilities, in our own pleasures.  Our love for the Lord and trust in Him hasn’t always been evident in our daily lives.  We do not always love our neighbors.  We’ve lost our tempers and have hurt our neighbors by thoughts, words, and actions.  We often ignore the plight of the helpless and are sometimes callous toward genuine need.  We can be far too threatening, abusive, or overbearing in our homes and in our workplaces. 

            So what will appease God and remove us from His suit against sinners?  What if we offered Him burnt offerings like the people of Israel did—sheep, goats, bulls.  And not just one or two, but thousands?  Would that take care of us and get us out of the lawsuit?  Would that appease God’s anger and wrath at our sins and our failure to love Him and neighbor completely so that we won’t be convicted and sentenced to death?  Certainly not!  There is not an offering that we could give to God, a sacrifice of animal, or our time, or our good works, that can fix things between us and God.  As with Israel, God has told us what He requires of us—that we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him.  When we fail in even the smallest amount to do these things—to love God and to love neighbor—we sin.  And not even the sacrifice and offering of our firstborn could merit forgiveness and save us from death and hell. 

            But the sacrifice and offering of God’s firstborn could and did.  He told us what is good, what He requires of us, and we failed to do it in desire, thought, word, and deed.  So God who loves us more than we ever loved Him, God who loves us more than we ever love our neighbors, did justice and loved mercy in order to enable us to walk with Him humbly as sinners who are declared to be forgiven! 

God’s just and right judgment against the sins of Israel, against your sins and mine, was poured out on His unique, one-of-a-kind Son, Jesus.  Because you and I fail to always love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, Jesus endured God’s anger and the punishment of hell on the cross.  Because you and I fail to always love our neighbors with mercy, God’s mercy was taken away from Jesus as He suffered and died on the cross without help and mercy from His heavenly Father. 

It is the death of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior that has purchased and won for us the complete and total forgiveness of our sins.  It is this Good News, this Gospel, the power of God unto salvation, which delivers to us by an act of God’s grace and mercy His gifts of repentance and faith.  God declares us to be “not guilty” of our sins, our failures to love Him and neighbor, because Jesus took the punishment of the lawsuit for us.  Along with the faith that trusts God’s promise in Christ, “You are forgiven,” we also receive the abundant, rich life of repentance, a life that lives for God in love, a life that demonstrates that love of God in Christ to our neighbors. 

While the Gospel is the fact that you and I stand forgiven of our sins because Jesus died and rose again for us, the Gospel is also the power to live a life, the life, which God asks us to live in His name.  The Gospel gives us the ability to love God and to love our neighbor, not as a means or an offering or a sacrifice to appease God, but as a way of life that reflects what God did for us in erasing our debt of sin! 

Doing justice, doing what is right according to God’s Word, loving mercy by showing mercy to others, and walking with God in humble faith and repentance while receiving from Him forgiveness and eternal life is, for the Christian, a way of life.  It is who we are now as Christians who have been claimed by the Lord as His people, as His beloved children.  God’s Word encourages us in this new life of love and mercy when, through the Spirit-breathed words of St. Paul we hear, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:1-2 ESV)  This is our guide for Christian living.  God has shown His undeserved mercies and love to us in Christ and He has transformed our lives in Baptism and continues to renew us every day by the Holy Spirit to truly live lives of mercy and love. 

As we walk humbly with God with a repentant faith in Jesus as our Savior, we leave behind our former ways and attitudes.  Yes, the world and its patterns constantly pull at us, demanding conformity.  But with the help of the Holy Spirit, we say no.  Through the gift of faith and forgiveness in Christ we are called to greater love and service to the Lord and to others.  A brief example: why do we, as a congregation, have a Food Shelf Ministry that distributes personal care items?  Well, you might say, we do this because SNAP (food stamps) doesn’t cover things like shampoo, dental care, deodorant.  We’re helping those who are of low income stretch their dollar further.  Yes, while that is true, that’s not why we have a Food Shelf Ministry.  Surprised?  Let me tell you why we, as the body of Christ at Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, have a Food Shelf Ministry.  Jesus loves those people.  That’s why we collect and go and distribute.  We are showing the love and mercy that Jesus has for all people, some who know Him by faith, but others who don’t yet know of His love for them.  Our love for the Lord is made known in doing what is right because we love mercy.  We walk humbly in faith with our God and Savior and so give away His love to our neighbors. 

I encourage you, every one of you, to think during the rest of this day about the ways you can demonstrate the love you have for God in Christ in specific ways in which you show mercy to others in your unique day-to-day situations.  Jot them down.  Pick a couple.  And do them!  Live out the new life of faith in love toward God and in fervent love toward your neighbors.  It is for this reason that Jesus died and rose for you, winning your forgiveness and new life.  In the power of the Holy Spirit, as you walk humbly with your God, do what is right—love God and do mercy to others.  God grant you zeal to do this for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.  

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