Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, January 29, 2017
The Lord’s Indictment - January 29, 2017 - Fourth Sunday after Epiphany - Text: Micah 6:1-8
Today is the fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, the appearing of the Wisemen before the baby Jesus. Today marks the half-way point of the Epiphany season as we have three more Sundays of Epiphany, then Transfiguration Sunday and the beginning of our Lenten Season. Over the past couple Sundays the prophet Isaiah has continued to point out the sin of Israel which very much reflects our same sins in our world today. He also continued to point to the answer that is he continued to point Israel and us to the Savior, to Jesus, and as we always say, we get it right when we point to Jesus. This morning we move to hear words from the prophet Micah as he also points us to Jesus.
God, through the prophet Micah brings accusations against the Children of Israel and challenges them to give an answer for their sinfulness. He begins by reminding the people of the witnesses of their life, their words and actions, verse one: “1Hear what the Lord says: Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. 2Hear, 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” (v. 1-2). The witnesses God brings forward are the mountains and hills. The mountains and the hills have been around since creation. The mountains and the hills, although not animate things, are able to bear witness as they hold the remains of what has been left behind by the people who have been there and can therefore give a definitive sound judgement.
Also, the Lord calls to bear witness the foundations of the earth which are sure and solid. Here again, just as archeologist dig up the remains of past civilizations and uncover clues to their life and activity, so the Lord calls the mountains, hills and foundations to bear witness of the life and activities of the children of Israel. Indeed, He might do the same for us today.
The Lord calls for accusations against Him. The questions the Lord asks are, verse three: “3O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me!” (v. 3). As the children of Israel constantly and continually forgot the Lord; as they continually and constantly rebelled against Him and went following other gods and doing the things they were not supposed do, God finally has His fill and so He calls them to account. His question is rather simple, “has He harmed Israel in any way?” Perhaps the Israelites might be able to give some excuse or reason for their disobedience and straying.
He also asks, if His demands are too hard? In other words, are the words of instruction, the laws; ceremonial, civil and moral; laws meant for their good and to protect them, are these demands too hard? The Lord’s desire is to discern the reason for the continual rebellion of His people.
In response to the questions He asks, the Lord moves ahead and reminds the children of Israel of the things that He has already done for them, verse four, “4For 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. 5O 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 saving acts of the Lord” (v. 4-5). How easily we forget, especially how easily we forget the good things our Lord has done and continually does for us. Here God lays out a reminder of some of the good things He has done for His people. Certainly they remember that He delivered them from their bondage of slavery in Egypt. Certainly they remember the passing over of the angel of death because they celebrate the Passover every year. Certainly they remember God’s hand of deliverance.
Certainly they remember His delivering Israel from Balaam. As you might recall, Balaam was hired to curse Israel and yet at every turn all he could do was to bless Israel. And yet, Balaam’s words of instruction to Balak were more condemning for Israel than any curse he might have given, that was to lead Israel astray through idolatry. God’s accusations and witness are well founded. He has done everything for Israel and His demands are not burdensome, but are for the good of the people and yet they are guilty in their constant rebellion.
Although Micah knows the simplicity of God’s desire, to His accusations the prophet makes a suggestion, verse six, “6With 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? 7Will 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?” 8He 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?” (v. 6-8). The prophet, Micah is asking, “How can we make this right?” What do we need to do? Notice the prophet focuses his attention on the people as if there is something they can actually do to appease God.
So he suggests, “How about a sacrifice of a calf a year old?” The ceremonial laws continually required sacrifices for sins committed, perhaps a sacrifice of a calf a year old might appease God. Or better yet, how about sacrificing a thousand rams and with a thousand rams ten thousand rivers of oil. If one calf is not enough, maybe more sacrifices will appease the Lord. And to top off this wonderful offer of appeasement, how about the sacrifice of the firstborn, a human sacrifice?
God’s response is that His desire is to do justice and love kindness. To do justice is to do what is right and good, to be fair and honest. To do justice is to live as God has called you to live. To love kindness is to love as we have been loved, to love as we have first been loved, which is simply a reflection of love. To love kindness is to love others more than oneself, it is to be loyal and steadfast. And more, God’s desire is to walk humbly with God. God’s desire is that we are imitators of Him. God’s desire is that we are modest and reverent, that we are always conscience of our dependency on Him and Him alone.
What does this mean? What does this mean for us today? As in the days of the children of Israel so it continues even today, the mountains, hills and foundations of the earth continue to bear witness and even more so they continue to bear witness against us and our sins and sinful living even today.
We live in a world, in a culture and society that continually rebels against and rejects the good and gracious gifts our God has to give for us. We live in a world which continually desires to walk in ways that are contrary to God and His will and Word. God’s Word is seen by many as being restrictive, being judgmental and taking away one’s freedom. Perhaps we should ask again, “Has God harmed us or are His demands on us to hard?” I would suppose that many in our world would answer, “yes.”
So we too need the constant reminder of all that God has done for us. All the good gifts and blessings He has delivered to us. Indeed, He has given us life at conception and new life and faith at baptism. At our conception God gave each one of us life. At our conception we had all the genetic coding we needed to be born as the person we are, the only thing that was needed from the moment of conception was nutrition so that we might grow in the womb, be born into the world and grow to be children, teens and adults. God has given us new life through the waters of Holy Baptism. For most of us this was before we even knew it, for others it may have been later in life. If He did not give us faith through the waters of Baptism it was through His Holy Word that He worked such faith in us. Yes, we point to Jesus as being the One who has given us life, physical life and life, eternal life through the faith He has given us in our hearts.
God has given His Son and His life for ours. As we are reminded that God’s demand is that we are perfect, that is that we live a life of perfection, obeying all of His laws and demands perfectly, so too are we reminded that this is not a life we are able to live. Because we are conceived and born in sin we begin life in the negative, we begin life owing, owing a debt we cannot pay. Jesus was born in perfection, true God, conceived and born of a true woman, being truly man. Jesus was born to live for us, to live perfectly for us in our place because we cannot. Jesus was perfect. He obeyed all God’s laws and commands perfectly. He also fulfilled all God’s prophecies perfectly. He did all that we cannot do for us in our place because we cannot. And even more, He took our sins, all our sins, our sins of thought, word and deed, our sins of omission and commission. He took our sins and suffered and paid the price for our sins on the cross so that we might have forgiveness of sins and be seen in God’s eyes as being perfect as He demands.
And so, what do we suggest? What do we offer to God? More often than not we suggest that we really are not that bad of persons. Or we suggest we will try to do better. In other words, we too act like Israel, we point to ourselves. We think we are not so bad and that we can do better. We continually lower the bar of our expectations on ourselves thinking that if we can be so good then Jesus will only have to suffer and die a little for us. What we continually fail to understand is that he who has been forgiven little loves little. It is only as we come to understand, admit and confess just how sinful we truly are that we can begin to fathom how great God’s love truly is.
So, as Micah reminds us, so I remind you, God created us to love us and He does. God’s love is seen first and foremost in the knowledge and in God’s foreknowledge, that although He knew what was going to happen, that man would sin, that Jesus would have to suffer and die, yet He created this world anyway. God’s love is seen in that although we continually and daily sin much, He continually and daily forgives us. God’s love is seen most especially in His Word and Sacraments, in Confession and Absolution and in His Son, Jesus.
We do need the constant reminder that God has done everything that He demands of us for us in Jesus. All history, all of Holy Scripture points to Jesus. We need to be constantly pointed to Jesus. Do not look inside yourself, but look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith. And most certainly the desire of one having faith is seen in one’s desire to be given even more of God’s good gifts and blessings, that is in one seen doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God, not because we do this in and of ourselves, but because God is working this in and through us.
So I remind you again, God gives and we are given to. God gives and we mess up what He gives. And so God gives and gives and gives even more. God gives forgiveness and then He gives even more forgiveness. God loves you so much and He has so much He desires to give to you. And indeed, the desire of those who have faith is to be given even more of the gifts and blessings of God, as He gives His gifts. I encourage and exhort you, be given the gifts of God so that we might all together stand before the Lord, with all the saints who have gone on before us, and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.