Sublime Religion in Micah 6
Sermon #292 St. Martin’s #50 1/29/23
Hear what the Lord says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice.
Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth;
for the Lord has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel.
“O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
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.
O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”
“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?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, 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?
In our reading from the Prophet Micah tonight you may have heard a portion that sounds familiar, but a lot that probably wasn’t. Walk through any Hobby Lobby store and you’ll find decorative wooden signs that you can go up in your kitchen or living room with the words painted, “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”
We’ve got a couple of these biblical wall décor around our house—what else would you expect at the home of a priest? But I know some folks who have gone all out and put them all over their house.
That’s not to say that Bible verses dispersed throughout your house are a bad thing, but we must never mistake them as simple decoration—they are the very words of God that calls and inspires the faithful to be the people of God we were created to be.
The eight verses we have in front of us from Micah add a lot of depth and color to the final phrase at the end, which many of us know. In very simple terms, these eight verses can be broken down into three sections: the first is a call to listen, or as the prophet says, Shema: Hear. The second portion is a call to Remember, and the final is all about what to Do.
Hear. Remember. Do.
The first seven verses are not nearly as chipper as you might expect—if you know the final outcome in verse eight. In fact, God has put forth a legal case against his chosen people in those early verses. “Plead your case to the mountains…” he says, “for the Lord has a controversy with his people.”
The legal documents have been submitted: Yahweh vs. Israel, and it is not looking good for Israel. They have run off with other gods, sought out the voice of someone other than Yahweh—and Israel cannot contradict the accusations. They know exactly what they have done.
And God says, “Don’t you remember what I did for you in the past? Have you already forgotten the Exodus, or how I watched over you when you settled into the Promised Land?
“Have you been so busy looking for another covenant-partner that you forget the saving acts that I have done FOR YOU? Have you forgotten that I have always been faithful to you—from Abraham to this very moment; I have not waivered in my loyal love towards you.”
It’s adultery plain and simple, as the Lord says through Micah, but what comes next is shocking. We could expect our eight verses to end with a prophecy of doom—that judgment is coming their way—or that God has wised-up and, he too, will look for other people to cut a covenant with.
But no, somehow, someway the door isn’t closed.
God tells them to hear his case against them (which will undoubtedly convict them), and remember all the ways he has been faithful in the past, but then he leaves the door cracked open and you can even see the light coming from the other side—a pathway back to him and his will for their lives as individuals and a whole nation.
What the Lord requires is to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly (not with another god or another idol), but with their God…the only God there really is.
So simple…simple enough to paint on a wooden sign and place in your kitchen, but oh so hard to actually do.
In Martin Luther King Jr.’s personal notes on this verse, he wrote, “Here again we find one of the high watermarks of the O.T. The divine demand upon men is expressed in terms of elemental simplicity—justice and kindness between man and man, and a humble walk with God. This was religion as Micah saw it. Jehovah’s good will is served not by a careful observance of the ritual, or by the bringing of sacrifices, whatever may be their intrinsic value, but by a life in accord with the principles of righteousness, by the diligent practice of kindness and brotherliness, and by a living fellowship with God in the spirit of humility.”
And Dr. King ends by profoundly saying, “Few notions so sublime have been conceived in the whole history of religion.”
After reading this quote, I’ve gotten the feeling that what God lays out in this passage may simplify the commandments, but that doesn’t mean God has made it easier.
By going to the heart of the matter, we are reminded just how hard it is to do justice, to want to love kindness (in all circumstances), and to keep walking with God when it is easier to walk our own way.
Hear. Remember. Do.
Jesus recalls this model throughout the Gospels, and he too simplifies (or rather completes and enhances) the commandments of God in his ministry. There may be no better example of this than the Beatitudes.
To a people who are longing to find purpose and meaning in their life, who are as much wrestling with their daily needs as they are their spiritual longings, Jesus says quite plainly to them, as they sit on a grassy hill:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
Dr. King’s final comment about Micah could easily summarize this portion of Scripture as well: “Few notions so sublime have been conceived in the whole history of religion.”
Jesus calls us to hear his words, and in hearing them we are to trust that they are true—they are reliable. And we can know that for a fact when we recall how he has been faithful to us in our lives, and how he has worked through the lives of our mothers and fathers through the generations—all the way back to his initial promise to our father Abraham—the father of faith.
How can we even conceive of living out our faith if we are divorced from this sacred remembering? How can we ever imagine relying on God if we have not taken time to reflect on how he has proven faithful over and over again?
Hear. Remember. Do. Because out of that comes a blessedness that only God himself can give.
It is good that we are together this evening. As Episcopalians, we love the Eucharist—and we can’t always say why we love it. Maybe it’s the rhythm of the service, possibly it’s become a habit, or it brings us some sense of comfort.
But pay close attention as we make our way to the altar. In our time together we have heard Scripture read, and in this moment we are engaging with it, wrestling with its meaning. Soon enough, though, we will hear the familiar phrase: “Do this in remembrance of me.”
Week after week we hear the story of the Last Supper—as if we cannot ever hear it enough—and in so doing, we partake in this sacred remembering. “This is my Body…This is my Blood” Remember and then eat.
At the end of the service, the deacon will say something along the lines of: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” And so, we are sent out to Do, to be the Body that we just consumed.
Religion has become so institutionalized; it’s been that way since the time of Constantine. Some even see religion as the enemy, the old thing that more of our friends and family are putting aside. Religion means it’s archaic, and out of touch these days. Soon enough it’ll be in museums next to fossils.
But may we never forget that religion can actually be sublime.
When rooted to the simple, yet transformational, call of the Gospel, it can only be sublime because, in some strange way, we are rooted in God’s faithfulness in the past, we recognize his provision in the present, and, day by day, we stumble but still walk humbly with our God on a road that is marked blessed.
So, my friends, blessed are those who hear, remember and do.
Micah 6:1-8. Matthew 5. https://www.dbu.edu/news/2019/01/rising-to-the-call-of-christ.html#:~:text=In%20Martin%20Luther%20King's%20personal,a%20humble%20walk%20with%20God. Photo by Josh Eckstein on Unsplash.