SCRIPTURE READING Micah 6:1-8
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 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?
God 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?
MESSAGE “What Does the Lord Require of You?” Rev. James Renfrew
Have ever been in court? Maybe as a spectator, maybe to give support to a family member or friend? Or maybe it was when you were the defendant as charges were brought against you. Usually the most serious court appearances have to do with traffic infractions, and the worst consequences ae traffic fines. Sometimes it’s more serious than that, as we are about to see, with the bailiff ready to snap the cuffs on you and lead you to jail.
Our reading from the Old Testament prophet Micah should remind you of being in a court room, not as a spectator, but as the defendant. Yes, in this scripture reading you are the defendant. Who else is in the courtroom? Well, it doesn’t look good for you because God is the chief witness, prosecutor, jury and judge. It doesn’t look like you even have a lawyer. It’s just you and God in the courtroom, and things don’t look good for your case. The bailiff has the cuffs all ready for you.
God announces the serious charges against you and declares that you have created a controversy with heaven because of the poor choices you have made, the people you have hung out with, and the big mess you have made with your life. I don’t know about you, but I definitely would not be trying to make any controversies between myself and God!
Even without a lawyer you think you have a strong defense. You describe all of the things you have done to deserve mercy. Now this is from 2700 years ago, so the evidence you provide would be compelling in terms of those times, all based on the sacrifices you have presented in the temple; “I have given countless burnt offerings in the temple, with calves, rams and other animals. I have donated tens of thousands of rivers of precious oil. What else could I do to convince you of my innocence? Do you want me to sacrifice my own first born? “
Just pause for a moment concerning this defense. It has a strong echo with Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his own son Isaac long centuries earlier to prove his loyalty to God, and it is a strong hint of the son sacrificed on the Cross to save the world long after Micah’s time.
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?” In modern English, the defendant’s plea, your plea, comes down to this. “I’ve given you everything, what else is there for me to do?” Prized calves, a thousand rams, ten thousand rivers of oil, even my first born, God, what else do you want from me? But this is a big controversy between you and God and it looks like all of the good things you have done don’t measure up at all, and God is about convict you!
I was in traffic court many years ago, and one of the defendants rose to speak to the judge. Yes, I went through the red light, but I’m a social worker and I was on my way to help someone in desperate trouble, can you cut me a break?” I could see that the judge wasn’t impressed at all, and sure enough the judge levied a big fine.
But ask yourself this, as you await sentencing: is God tying to destroy you, or is God trying to help you?
Here’s the truth: God is not a dispassionate judge eager to punish you. In fact, God is in anguish over your case. God has been on your side from the start and there is actually no eagerness about passing a stiff sentence. God is the judge, the prosecutor, the jury, but it turns out that God is also your defender. Remember how God rescued the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt and lead them to a new home of safety in Israel. God is digging deep to find some shred of evidence that will rescue you from the terrible fate that awaits, that appears to be inevitable.
The judge, the jury, the prosecutor answers, “I’ve told you how to live. It’s not thousands of animal sacrifices or ten thousand rivers of oil. It’s something very simple. You appear to have forgotten, so with your sentence not yet announced, I will remind you again. “What does the Lord require of you? Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”, one of the most beautiful verses in all of Scripture.
So how does the court rule in your case? It’s not clear from the text we’ve read, but I think the sentence is on hold as God gives you a new chance, a new start. Or maybe the jury is still out deliberating about your life. Or maybe it’s a sentence of probation, to give you an opportunity to demonstrate what you’ve learned here.
I once got a traffic ticket for going 50 mph in a 35 mph zone in Gates a long time ago. Rather than pay the fine I decided to go to court to see if I could sway the judge. When my turn came the judge said I could be fined $400 dollars, have points added to my record, or I could attend a driver safety class and the fine and points would be reduced. I took that option, of course.
Your controversy with God will not be settled by a single class, though I would point out that we always have room for more in our Bible studies, and obviously not by donating a barn full of livestock or rivers of safflower oil. And I also think that your first-born can rest easy!
To live the good life that is pleasing to the court, the message is simple: do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.
So take your piece of paper, and jot down some immediate ways you think you could do this. Think of three things, a practical way to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with God. You don’t have to show this to anyone else. It’s between you and God. Your judge and defender!