Preached at First Presbyterian in Beaver Falls on 1/29/2017
Micah 6:1-8: What is Good
In the passage from Micah today, the Lord brings a lawsuit against His people. They have questioned His justice, especially as He has prophesied through Micah judgment against their abandonment of His Law. The Lord calls the mountains and the hills to witness to His defense: “I have delivered you from the power of Egyptian slavery, I have sent you prophets to guide you, and I have turned those who sought to curse you into a blessing.” How can they question the Lord’s righteousness? Has He not been for His people, tenderly caring for them, healing them, disciplining them in love? Yet they turn away from Him. We wonder, looking at systemic injustice, looking at current events both at home and abroad, looking at the tragic moments of our own lives: where is God? Where is He amidst the pain that we see and feel everyday? Where is the fulfillment of His promises? Where is His justice that we “hunger and thirst” for (Matt. 5:6)?
And He responds with the Cross of Jesus Christ.
Look upon it and marvel at the strange righteousness of God: “God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us...For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom. 5:8, 10). God’s justice is not strict judgment according to merit, to what is deserved: His justice is in saving, in freeing, in justifying those who were enemies. Out of love for the fathers, not for anything they had done, did God free the Israelites from Pharaoh; out of love for us, not for anything we have done, did God free us from sin, death, and the devil. What both Paul and Micah are saying is, God’s righteousness is His love “poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (5:5).
And how do we respond? Don’t we, caught up in the emotion of His salvation, try to offer the extravagant, try to outdo God? In Micah’s day, it was no different: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression? The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (vv. 6-7) How does the Lord respond? “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that Day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your Name, cast out demons in Your Name, and done many wonders in Your Name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matt. 7:21-23) The Lord, in response to His salvation and justice, does not want our sacrifices, does not want our firstborn, does not even want us to do mighty works: He wants us to know Him, to do the will of His Father in Heaven. What is that will?
“He has shown you, o mortal, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
This is the essence of all our Lord’s commands, which can be summed up, “Love the Lord your God will all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength...and love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk. 12:30-31). In the end, there is then only one command through which all other commands are brought to completion: love. “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the Law” (Rom. 13:8-10). The will of the Father in Heaven is to love.
Love is a light that exposes darkness in our hearts, calling us out of the condemnation of our deeds: “this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (Jn. 3:19-20). We long for the Day of Lord, when all things will be set right, but we fear it too: for our own lovelessness will be revealed. We find it hard, near impossible, to love: to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. Who will be able to stand in that Day? Who may abide in the tabernacle? Who may dwell in the Holy Hill? (Ps. 15:1) We cannot obey the commands out of our own power and so we are tempted to despair, tempted to hope for some other way of life: maybe prophecy, maybe casting out demons, maybe offering our firstborns for our sins.
But God has already offered another way: the Lord Jesus Christ.
“In this the love of God was manifested towards us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the expiation for our sins” (1 Jn. 9-10). And this love, this love that is Christ, “has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5). Once that love has been poured out (and it will never cease), we will be filled past the brim, filled to overflowing, so that as we turn to God in love, we will be able to fulfill His commands to love, for love will cover all our actions, become all our thoughts, guide our whole lives, for “without [Christ], you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5), but we “can do all things through Christ who strengthens” us (Phil. 4:13). As we are filled with the love of God, we will find no room for hate, no room for pride, no room for anxiety, or shame, or control of others: the love of God is freedom, for “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). And this freedom will be to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God”; this liberty will be to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the refugee, clothe the naked, visit and comfort the prisoner and the sick (Matt. 25:37-39); this love will be doing the will of the Father in Heaven, who “sends rain upon the just and the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). God is love (1 Jn. 4:8) and wants us to be “perfect as [He] is perfect” (Matt. 5:48): God wants us to become love.
“By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us” (1 Jn. 3:16) -- let us not think, even for a moment, that the love of God is like the love of the world; this is no emotion, focused on getting something for one’s own self. Divine love is self-emptying (Php. 2:7), it pours itself out (Is. 53:12), even unto death, for the sake of the other. To love as God loves is to “deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Christ” (Lk. 9:23). For us who still fear death, this is a terrifying thought. But, be of good comfort, Christ has trod this road before us, He calls us to do nothing that He Himself has not already done. And notice, when He is carrying His Cross to Golgotha, that God doesn’t do it alone: Simon of Cyrene carries it for Him. God knows our weakness, and knows that “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18) and so He gives to us His Bride, the Church -- all of us who are in Christ -- to bear us up as we seek to “grow up in all things into Him who is the Head -- Christ -- from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:15-16). We pour out God’s love in our hearts to one another and so build up each other to love God and love our neighbors: we deeply need each other, as each part of the body depends on the other. We will not be able to sustain love by ourselves in isolation: a hand cannot survive long if it is no longer attached to its arm. Look around, this is your body, the parts you depend on, now look to Christ, the Head, who has joined this Body together. He did not do it haphazardly, but called each of you for a purpose: to love, according to how He has gifted you in the Spirit.
The end of this is life, for that is what the outpouring of love in the Cross, and in our hearts, always leads to: resurrection. Every act of love, from prayer to tangible intercession for the weak and marginalized, is an act of being crucified with Christ, but it is also an act of being raised with Him, where we see in a glimpse what God has planned for us: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now life in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who love me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20), so “beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:11).
Now, what shall we do? We know that all our lives are to be love, are to be the Way of the Cross: what steps shall we take to grow in love? First, friends, we must pray, we must pray as St Paul commends us: “without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Our communion with God in prayer, not just in private, but as families, as neighborhoods, and especially as the Church, is our conduit of His grace. Second, we must take a hard look at our lives: what does the Way of the Cross look like as citizens? Christ tells us that, while going to the nations, we are to teach them all He has commanded: He has commanded healing of the sick, care of the poor, the refugee, the widowed, the orphaned; He has commanded forgiveness of the enemies and doing good to those who have done you wrong. The Church, sojourning here in the United States, has this prophetic role. It will not be easy, it will be the Cross.
We must also ask, what does love look like in our “private” lives? When we get our paycheck, we must bathe it in prayer, asking, “Lord, show us how we might become like Christ in this gift You have given us.” We must trust him, not our economic productivity, for all things: the paycheck is a means for us to further become like Him. It will not be easy, it will be the Cross.
And we will find, as we take on this larger understanding of repentance, that we will be freed from the weeds, the cares of the world, that daily choke us and cause us to think only of ourselves, our ease, our comfort, our tribes. The weeds will, by Christ’s hand, be pulled and we will find ourselves in that liberty of the Spirit where to “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” is our true delight and will be the life of the world. Amen.