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Sermon for Feb. 2, 2020

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

“The Lawsuit”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

February 2, 2020

 

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text is the Old Testament lesson recorded in Micah, chapter 6:

1Here, now, what Yahweh is saying: “Arise, present the lawsuit before the mountains and let the hills hear your voice.” 2Hear, O mountains and the enduring foundations of the earth, the lawsuit of Yahweh, because Yahweh has a case against his people and against Israel he will argue. 3“O my people, what have I done to you and how have I wearied you? Answer me! 4For I caused you to go up from the land of Egypt and from the house of slaves I ransomed you and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. 5O my people, remember now what Balak, king of Moab, advised, and what Balaam answered him, [remember] from Shittim to Gilgal, in order to know the righteous acts of Yahweh.” 6With what shall I come before Yahweh? Shall I bow myself to the God of heights? Shall I come before him with whole burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7Will Yahweh be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten-thousands of rivers of olive oil? Shall I give my first born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sins of my life? 8“He has declared to you, O man, what is good, and what is Yahweh seeking from you except to do justice and to love mercy and showing a humble walk with your God.”

Today we have before us Case #M6.1-8, Yahweh v. Israel.

The mountains and the hills, those enduring foundations of the earth, will hear this suit as those who have seen what Yahweh has done for His people throughout the course of the ages, and how Israel has rewarded God for it all. They will bear witness on behalf of Yahweh and against His people.

The charges are as follows, the words of Yahweh against His people:

“O my people, what have I done to you and how have I wearied you? Answer me! For I caused you to go up from the land of Egypt, and from the house of slaves I ransomed you, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people, remember now what Balak, king of Moab, advised, and what Balaam answered him, [remember] from Shittim to Gilgal, in order to know the righteous acts of Yahweh.”

We hear now from the prosecution.

Thank you. What has God done to you, His chosen people, that you have become so tired of Him? You, O Israel, have fallen away from God. You have broken His covenant. How has God wearied you? You claim that God has wearied your patience by giving you demands that are too difficult, too severe. You imply that God has failed to keep His promises. So today He gives you opportunity to show Him where He has wearied you.

Has God done you harm? Has He not continually, despite your sins and rebellions against Him, been faithful to His promises? God brought you up from the land and Egypt and ransomed you from the house of slaves! This is the greatest manifestation of divine grace, to which you owe your rise into a nation in the land which God promised to give to you. What’s more, Yahweh gave you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam as leaders for you.

Let me remind you of another great display of His grace. God frustrated the plan formed by the Moabite king Balak to destroy you by using Balaam to curse you. Instead of letting curses come from Balaam’s mouth, each time Balaam spoke, God poured out blessings.

Think about the whole journey into the land of promise—the defeat of the Midianites who attempted to destroy you by seducing you to idolatry. There was the miraculous crossing of the Jordan where Yahweh parted the river for you to go through into the land. Then God allowed the generation that grew up in the desert to receive the covenant of circumcision, being received into Yahweh’s covenant promises, being reinstated in your relationship to God as His people. So what has God done to you that He wearied you?

The defense may speak on behalf of God’s people.

Israel cannot deny these gracious acts of God. Remembering them brings to mind the deep ingratitude with which they have repaid God by rebelling against Him. The people’s response is this: “With what shall I come before Yahweh? Shall I bow myself to the God of heights? Shall I come before him with whole burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will Yahweh be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten-thousands of rivers of olive oil? Shall I give my first born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sins of my life?”

Israel offers to bring sacrifices, the means appointed by God for maintaining fellowship with Him. The people of God offer burnt-offerings to Yahweh—calves, rams, olive oil. They are even willing to offer Him the sacrifice of their firstborn for their transgression and sins, realizing that an animal may not be a sufficient substitute for a human person.

The prosecution may respond.

The surrender which God desires is that of the spirit not of the flesh! Israel should have learned this, not only from the sacrifice of Isaac required by God, but also from the law concerning the consecration of the firstborn. This offer from Israel shows that the people have no true knowledge of the will of their God. They are still entangled in the delusions of unbelief, that the wrath of God can be paid for by human sacrifice!

Let me remind you of the moral demands of the law, which God has already laid out for you: “He has declared to you, O man, what is good, and what is Yahweh seeking from you except to do justice and to love mercy and showing a humble walk with your God.”

It is not outward sacrifices of any kind, but only the fulfillment of doing righteousness and exercising love. These embrace all of the commandments of the Second Table, numbers 4-10—love your neighbor as yourself. Instead you have been addicted to the opposite—injustice, oppression, and want of affection. Yet we dare not forget the First Table of the Law, commandments 1-3, that deal with your relationship to God. You are to walk humbly with your God, in fellowship with God, not in rebellion against Him.

“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 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.”[1]

Like God’s Old Testament people, we are guilty of unfaithfulness to God. We are guilty of sin and transgression and rebellion against God’s Word. And what is there that you and I could have done to make up for it? Sacrifices? What would be sufficient? How much would be enough to pay the tremendous debt we owe? Sacrifices would gain us nothing.

That’s why God did everything for you and for me, His people. When we were still sinners, God gave up His Son, the firstborn of the Virgin Mary, into death (Rom. 5:8). Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross on our behalf rescued us from slavery to Satan, sin, and death. Jesus’ body given in death and His holy, precious blood poured out for us saved us from the power of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.

Jesus saved us from our sins so that we can do that which the Lord requires of us. In the forgiveness of Christ, by the work of the Holy Spirit which He accomplishes in us through the Gospel and the Sacraments of Christ, you and I are able to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God and Lord. In fact, because God declares you and me forgiven by the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, God also announces through the mouth of Jesus Himself that you and I are “blessed.” Because of what Jesus accomplished on our behalf, you and I receive the blessings Jesus talks about in the Beatitudes in the Gospel lesson. It is because we are forgiven in Christ that the reign of heaven is ours. It is because we are forgiven in Christ that we are comforted. Because you and I are forgiven in Christ, we are satisfied by His righteousness; we are recipients of His mercy in order to be merciful.

So what of the charges of God against His people then and now? They were paid in full at the cross when Jesus suffered and died to purchase our forgiveness. They were left dead and powerless in the tomb when Jesus rose again to give us resurrection and life.

So what of our lives now in Christ? In the power of the Gospel, we do justice. This means we harm no one. We give to each person what is their own. We strive to prevent damage and violence. We promote the welfare of others.

So what of our lives now in Christ? In the power of the Gospel we love kindness. We serve as blessings to others in the name of Jesus. By grace through faith alone, we walk humbly with our God as His redeemed and forgiven children. We are modest and reverent, always aware of our total dependence on the Lord for life and salvation.

 

We have a verdict:

 

NOT GUILTY.

FORGIVEN BY CHRIST JESUS.

SET FREE FROM SIN AND DEATH BY HIS BLOOD.

GIVEN A NEW LIFE IN WHICH TO WALK HUMBLY WITH GOD AS SONS AND

DAUGHTERS BY FAITH IN JESUS.

 

GO IN PEACE.

YOU ARE FREE. AMEN.

[1] “Reproaches” from Good Friday, Chief Service, Lutheran Service Book.


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