Compassion = Just, Kind, Humble

“Compassion = Just, Kind, Humble”

Micah 6-8 word cloud

Micah 6:6-8 – August 27, 2017

Familiar things, familiar words. Even familiar bible verses. When we see or hear familiar things—like a familiar family member, a familiar couch or chair, a familiar saying or expression our best friend says—what goes through our minds? Do we take it in? Do we pay attention? Do we understand that what we are seeing or hearing is important? Or, do we just dismiss it?

Do we dismiss a loved one who just happens to live with us because she or he is always underfoot? Do we even hear an expression from a friend because he or she says it all the time? Or, does familiarity encourage us to ignore the loved one, the sayings, or expressions?

Can this happen to familiar bible verses, too? I am thinking now of John 3:16. Can that beloved verse become so familiar, so same-old, same-old, that it has absolutely no power in our lives or hearts? What about some other super-familiar Scripture verses, too? What about them? What happens to our sensibilities now, now that I have highlighted this important point?

Let’s take a closer look. When we hear the same old thing (even in a bible verse) repeated over and over, week after week, our ears can stop hearing it. It might make some people sick and tired, or bored to tears. We can say, “yeah, yeah,” and ignore it. Go on our merry way. As bible commentator Tyler Mayfield said, “There is a danger to familiarity. The familiar can be overlooked or neglected.” [1]

We have for our Scripture passage today one of the most familiar commands from the Lord, ever. Micah 6:6-8. I will read it in the straight-forward modern translation for all ages provided for us by the Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Starting at verse 6: “How can I even begin to approach God? How can I honor who God is? What gift could I bring, what sacrifice could I make? Would God like it if I made offerings like those made in the past—rams, oil, or whatever is most precious? Does God want me to give up what means the world to me?”

That translation puts a new, different twist on things, doesn’t it?

In this chapter of Micah, the people of Israel pose several questions, and this one is a biggie. How can we even begin to approach the awesome God who made heaven and earth? Isn’t God huger than huge, more righteous and holy than anything else in the entire universe? How can you or I possibly bring anything to God that would please this Holy One?

As Dr. Mayfield says, the central issue with all of these questions concerns the gift, the sacrifice. “What is it, O God, that you want from us? What do you require? Just tell us your favorite offering, and we will surely sacrifice it—even if it is a rather extreme request.” [2]

This is a rhetorical question, of sorts. Micah follows it up with God’s response, in this very familiar verse, Micah 6:8. Is it “same old, same old,” or do you think we ought to sit up and pay attention? After all, this is a verse that lets us know God’s own requirements of how to come to God, this Holy One who made heaven and earth. Listen to this very familiar verse.

The prophet says: “No, listen, people, we already know the answer to this one.  God has told us, this is what counts; this is the compassionate life God wants for us: that we would do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly, together with God.

Let’s turn to the playground and the schoolroom. What do you think children value? What are ways they like to be treated when they are together? Do you think children want things to be fair and equal in the classroom? Do they want people to be kind to them when they are in line at the store, or at the restaurant, or at home? And what about showing respect to other people? Do children want others to show them respect and courtesy on the playground, school, in the mall, or on the sidewalk? What about at home, too? These are important questions, since they not only apply to children, these questions apply to each of us. Every day.

“That’s not fair! He got more! She cut in line! They shoved me! That’s not fair!” Sound familiar? Does it sound like children bickering at home? This is exactly what the prophet Micah mentions, right off the bat. He tells us that God wants us—all of us—to act justly. And, to remind all of us, justice means fairness. Making things right. Got integrity? Do you act in an upright manner? That is exactly what God wants us—all of us—to do.

But, wait a moment! I know we have been through this before, but I thought the people of Israel were eager to know what kinds of stuff they could offer to God.

I can hear the conversations now: “Just tell me, I’m ready to bring the special animal offerings! I’ll bring really expensive stuff, Lord. Just tell me what it is that You want me to bring!” The problem is, the Lord may not give the answer the people expect. In fact, it is not the answer they seek. They have focused on expensive animals and special oils and fine wine offerings—small and large. The people of Israel have over-emphasized super-special sacrifices, and showy gifts in worship; they have ignored justice and kindness to others. [3]

Do you think children want other people to be kind to them? What about us? Do we want others to show care and consideration toward us? Let’s go even further. Being humble is a difficult concept for children to understand. (Gee, sometimes it’s difficult for me to understand!) However, being respectful is simpler to understand. Do I want others to be respectful to me? Just as important, am I—are you—respectful and courteous to others, no matter what? No matter who they are, and no matter where they come from, which side of the tracks they live on, or what they smell like, or who they vote for?

As we can see, Micah “turns the questions asked in verses 6-7 away from their focus on the types of offerings and toward a focus on the type of person. God does not want a specific type of offering. God wants a specific type of person.” [4]

Are you that type of person, the type God wants? Someone who regularly does just things with integrity? Someone who loves kindness and mercy and does kind and merciful things for others, regularly? What about someone who walks humbly, and is respectful and courteous to others, no matter what?

I think the prophet Micah would say that this is a truly compassionate life.

I wonder what this kind of life looks like, in our setting, here in the Chicago suburbs? How do you imagine this kind of life looks in our world today?

The prophet says our life is a journey, and we walk with the Lord, each day. We walk with integrity, in kindness, and we walk humbly. Imagine God is asking you to do one thing this week that would bring more compassion to those around you.

What would our lives look like if we lived like this? Would other people stop short in their tracks and say, “That person definitely is kind!” “That person goes out of her way to help people!” “That person certainly values the newcomer.” “That person displays genuine integrity, for sure!” I challenge all of us: choose one (or more) of these attributes each day for a week, and live it out.

Act justly—with integrity. Do kindness and mercy. Walk humbly with our God, showing compassion to all we meet. And, guess what? This is the way to truly please God.

Let those with ears to hear, let them hear. Amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3152 ; Dr. Tyler Mayfield, Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3152

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3152

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3152

(A heartfelt thank you to An Illustrated Compassion: Learning to Love Like God. Many of these sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this series.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my summer sermon series on compassion. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

What the Lord Requires

Micah 6:6-8 – January 29, 2017

micah-6-8-word-cloud

“What the Lord Requires”

Many people have very particular ideas about how to do things. Ask the editors at Vogue or GQ, or other high fashion magazines, and they will tell you precisely how a well-dressed person ought to look. What about Emily Post, Miss Manners, and Ann Landers? Don’t they let everyone know how to act and how to behave in polite society, in just about any situation?

What about the police and lawyers, and what is legal or not? Aren’t there basic rules and requirements for behavior and actions in this community? You and I have a right to wave our arms as much as we like. Except—my right ends where your nose begins. And what about public intoxication? Drunk and disorderly? There are many examples I could mention about recommended behavior.

Welcome to our mainline American culture, here in the 21st century. I’m not even going to go into the multitude of different cultures and the differences of practice and of culture, world-wide. Yet, many people have quite particular ideas about how to do things, and what types of activity are recommended, even required.

One of our Scripture passages today gives us a short list of what the Lord recommends for each of us. A summary statement, if you will. Let’s read Micah 6:8: “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?”

Let’s unpack that summary statement, and take a look at the two verses that come before. Verse 6: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?” This is a sincere question, I believe. It’s sincere for the prophet, and sincere for all of us here today. What is the best way to come before God? How can we come to the sanctuary, to the holy place? Who may approach God? What kinds of things do we all need to do (and say, and think) to be acceptable and worthy in the sight of the Most High God?

These verses do not concentrate on what we ought to wear. Different people wear different things, depending on their culture, their context, and their preferences. At some churches, the minister wears super-fancy robes (like at my priest friends’ Episcopal churches in Maryland and Virginia). I have several friends who attend church in Chicago at a very youth-oriented congregation. Their minister wears blue jeans and an open-collared shirt for a Sunday morning service. Clothing choice is NOT what this sermon is about. The choices of what we do with our lives, how we treat each other and live together—this IS what the prophet is talking about here.

What does the Lord require of us, anyway?

Some people and some churches think God wants a showy service, and spectacular offerings. As one of the commentators said, “Perhaps our worship is wrong; perhaps we have not been serious enough in our acts of praise? “What do you want, Lord? Burnt offerings, year-old calves, thousands of rams, tens of thousands of rivers of oil?” (6:6b-7a) [1]

In the time the prophet Micah wrote, a small portion of people did not stop there. They went even further. Listen: “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

Yes, sometimes, in the Old Testament times, when people from other tribes and nations thought they had sinned so severely—so grievously that their god could never, ever forgive them, they would actually turn over their firstborn to the temple. In some cases, their firstborn would even be killed by the priests. (This was NOT in Israel. The Lord considered this practice an abomination!) However, in certain places, at certain kinds of temples with horrible blood sacrifices (for example, at the temples of the horrible, bloodthirsty god Moloch), this was true.

Again, NOT the case in Israel. And, NOT the case here, today, either.

The people were too preoccupied about what they could do to please God through their religious ceremonies, only on what happened in the sanctuary. They did not care about the rest of their lives, and how they behaved the other six days a week. How could these people live their lives during the week any old way they wanted to, but just wanted God to put a stamp of approval on their foreheads when they came to Temple (or church) on the weekend? Because, that was what they were trying to get away with.

Which leads us to the general summary in Micah 6:8. What is it that God requires of us? First, to do justice. Justice is dynamic! Not just written down in some dusty book. Justice means that we “work for fairness and equality for all, particularly the weak and the powerless who are exploited by others.” [2]

Who speaks out for those who have little or no power or influence? Throughout history, Christians have felt strongly that they ought to speak for those who have no voice. Like, children, the elderly, and the mentally disabled. People in asylums, prisons, and orphanages. All of these need fairness, equality, and help against exploitation.

Second, the Lord requires us to love kindness. Yes, one meaning of the Hebrew word chesed is kindness, but the full meaning can hardly be conveyed by one single English word. It means a whole lot more than simple kindness! Chesed “has to do with love, loyalty, and faithfulness. It can be used to describe the key element in relationships, whether in marriage or between human friends or between God and humanity.” [3]

This is more than just “being nice” to each other. Much, much more! It all comes down to relationships.

Third, the prophet says to walk humbly with our God. The key word here is “walk.” Not to do things pleasing to God every once in a while, but be “careful to put God first and to live in conformity with God’s will.” [4] Our life’s journey—our continued walk with God—is a journey with our loving, giving, embracing God as our constant companion.

Again, this verse, Micah 6:8—is NOT about worship practices on Sunday mornings, and that’s all there is. This verse is NOT about how to dress for church, or other kinds of exterior behavior, just for show. This verse is about our inside attitude.

This is one verse where the expression “What Would Jesus Do?” has pertinent meaning. What would Jesus do, with that homeless veteran on the street, begging for money? What would Jesus do, with the elderly woman in subsidized housing, trying to make ends meet on only her Social Security check each month? What would Jesus do, with the pregnant teenager kicked out of her home because of an unwise choice?

Is this requirement from God easy? No. Not easy. Is it simple and straightforward? Yes. In plain language, the prophet tells us what God expects of all followers of God.

Let’s close with Micah 6:8, again: “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?”

Let those with ears to hear, let them hear. And do, and love, and walk with God.

[1] http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Justice-Not-Worship-John-C-Holbert-1-20-2011 Justice, Not Worship, Reflections on Micah 6:1-8, John C. Holbert, Patheos, 2011.

[2]  Daniel J. Simundson and the The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Vol. 7, The Book of Micah), (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)