With what shall I come to the LORD and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my first-born for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Sermon for Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity 11/05/23
What Does God Require?
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Guilt is a monster. When we feel guilty, we will do almost anything to assuage our sense of guilt and feel better. That is part of the problem in so many broken homes, today. One parent, or maybe both, feels guilty for what the division of their family is doing to their children, so they try to make up for it. Now, I am not saying that they maybe shouldn't feel guilty about what they are doing, and what their decisions in life are working in the lives of those around them – and not just the children! But the response is frequently wrong.
Too often, parents coddle a child who needs discipline. They create an atmosphere around the child, particularly if the parent is the non-custodial parent, that injures the child by too much pampering, too much patience with wrong-doing, with too little normal life and too much of living every day as an exception to the rules. It does something to the minds of the poor children. Plus, many divorced parents continue their battle through the children, saying things to their kids, or in their presence, that children should not have to hear – about themselves, about the other parent, about the dissolution of the family. Guilt makes people do really unfortunate things, at times.
We all stand guilty before God. Guilt will work on us and our relationship to God and to everyone around us who is connected to us and to our relationship to God. Once we believe that we are guilty, our hearts cry out with the words of our sermon theme, "What Does God Require?"
Our reactions to guilt are as varied as our personalities. I am going to assume that each of you here is guilty, and knows it. I know that you are guilty, and I assume that each of you senses that guilt to one degree or another, for one sin or another – probably many more than one sin. I assume that you are aware of your guilt because you are here. This is the guilt place - where we learn of it, and where we learn what to do about it. If you have no guilt, admit no guilt, and sense no guilt, then you do not belong here. Your presence here, among us sinners, marks you as a hypocrite! It means that you are here pretending, for some reason, what the rest of us are sincere about.
Now, I didn't say that you all felt guilty. I was careful not to say that. Some of you know that you are guilty, but you don't feel it. When I preach the law, and it strikes too close to home, you are the ones who get angry. You know that you are a sinner, but you have quieted the feeling of it down, or learned to ignore it. You can sense it, but you just don't want to. That is just one response to guilt.
Some of you may not want to be made aware of your guilt because you intend to continue in your sinning, and you don't want the guilt to stop you until you have accomplished everything you aim to do. Businessmen who are doing something under-handed – or under the table – are often like that. They want to "do the deal" or make a lot of money, or simply don't want to acknowledge what they know to be true about the way they do, or their company does business. So they deny it to themselves, they block the sense of guilt out, and they chafe mightily when someone, like me, brings their guilt into sharp focus.
Adulterers are often like this. They want to believe that they are still Christian, that their circumstances are utterly unique, and that they are not guilty. Gossips are the same. Everyone knows the pain of being gossiped about, lied about. But Gossips pretend that what they are doing is NEWS, that they are just speaking the truth, and that somehow, in their case, the evil of Gossip, listed in Romans one as several steps below homosexuality in the list of sin and corruption there, is a good thing, and that their wickedness is justified and holy. Pretty much anyone who wants to do what they know is wrong and evil will try to bury their sense of right and wrong, and ignore their own awareness of guilt.
But guilt will come to the fore, if not now, then later. Guilt is a monster. It is like a living thing, and once it has its teeth in you, it is almost impossible to shake. So, eventually all Christians – and many who are not Christian, and never become Christian – find themselves facing the question of our text, "what does the LORD require of you?" It is uncomfortable to face that question, but it is the best thing in the world, if you face it honestly, and listen to God's own answer. Our text does little more than ask the question, particularly the way our guilty souls ask it, and then gives the godly answer.
Micah approaches the question like this, "With what shall I come to the LORD and bow myself before the God on high?"
How . can . I . face . God?
How can I go to church and worship, as guilty as I am? Then Micah explores the normal responses of the guilty human heart, "Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves?" This is the first answer. Shall I just go to church? If I am really sincere, and if I do everything that my religion says I should, and if I pour myself into the worship service, then I will feel better. Human experience, and the Word of God, teach us that this is not enough, and we will not feel any better. Nor will our guilt be assuaged. Micah says, "Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil?" These are rhetorical questions – questions that the writer assumes the reader will answer in a specific way. The obvious and anticipated answer to these questions is "No." God does not take delight in the sacrifices of the unrepentant, nor can He be ‘bought off' with our meager gifts and efforts.
The problem here is the nature of sin – something we just don't want to face. Sin is always against God. You may do it to me, but you sin against God! Joseph in Egypt understood that when he rejected the temptation of Potiphar's wife, saying, "How then could I do this great evil, and sin against God?" It is still true – sin is an assault on God, Psalm 51:4, "Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned, And done what is evil in Thy sight, So that Thou art justified when Thou dost speak, And blameless when Thou dost judge."
Micah then cranks it up a notch: "Shall I present my first-born for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" He asks the question of the super-works of repentance. He asks if he goes far enough, does something great enough or hard enough, will it make Him right with God? He talks here about sacrificing one's own child for one's sins. Would that be enough? Again, his question is rhetorical, and he expects us to shout "NO!" back at Him. God doesn't want, demand, nor will he accept such payment from us. Nothing we can do is enough. So, what does God require?
"He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?" What does God require? He wants you to do justice. Don't worry about making up for the past, just do what is right and good and just from this moment on. Do justice. It is a simple concept, and yet it is one that we so often overlook. We want to do something showy, something noteworthy, something BIG. God lives in the details. If you do justice every day, in all your stuff and in all your doings, God will make the big picture work out. It's called faith. On the other hand, if you do the big things, and ignore or fail to do the daily, small things, those big things make no difference at all.
Then God says "to love kindness." It's like the Golden Rule – Do unto others what you want others to do unto you. Be the sort of person that you personally want to deal with. Love kindness. He doesn't mean simply to enjoy it when others are kind to you. He means love doing kindness. Be consistently kind in thought and word and deed.
A member of one of my previous congregations, Chris Horton, once wrote something to me in an e-mail about how when he gets good and angry and is about to say something unkind to his wife, she cools him down by asking if what he is going to say is really something he wants to say to someone that he loves. That is the sort of thing that "to love kindness" means. It means to think about what we are doing, and what we are saying, and measure it by the question of whether it is kind or not? Is it something that you would want to say or do to someone you really loved?
All of the conflicts of our lives could be eased if we began with these two principles - do justice and love kindness. If we did that, and followed the last instruction of Micah – "to walk humbly with your God" – we would be doing all that God requires of us. We would be doing everything we can to battle the monster of guilt.
Walking humbly with your God is just as easy – and just as hard – as it sounds. "Walking humbly" means, at least in part, repentance. It means that we face the truth of our sins, and humble ourselves before Him in repentance. We need to come to the point that we ask God for forgiveness for all of our sins, not just the ones that we are comfortable admitting. Walking humbly also means that we surrender to the idea that God is right, and we are wrong any time we disagree with Him or withhold ourselves from Him. God's Word is right and true, even when it doesn't seem expedient or effective in accomplishing what we want to accomplish.
We need to confess our sins, and ask God's forgiveness. That, and that alone, will effectively deal with guilt, because only when we humble ourselves, confess our sins, and ask for forgiveness does God pour out on us personally the forgiveness we need and for which we hunger. He has won it for us already. Jesus paid the price with His death on the cross. Our sins have been forgiven already! We simply cannot apply that forgiveness to ourselves until we trust in it, and we cannot trust that God has forgiven us when we deliberately hide sins from Him and from ourselves, and pretend that ungodly behavior is okay, or, worse yet, it's the right thing to do.
When we confess, God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. That comes from 1 John, chapter 1, verse 9. God stands ready to forgive us, and cleanse us, and comfort us, and to put the monster of guilt to sleep, and ultimately to death, when we trust in Him, and walk humbly with our God.
God speaks His forgiveness to us in the absolution, and He gives it to us to eat and drink and take personally into ourselves in the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in this blessed Sacrament. He doesn't ask a price. There are no hurdles to jump over to get to the altar. You don't have any great works or supererogation to perform so that you might be acceptable to God. Jesus Christ has done them already, and God is giving to those who take Him at His Word all of the righteousness and life and salvation that we need. If is a free gift by grace, through faith.
Walking humbly also means not taking yourself too seriously, or counting yourself as more important or worthy of the attention and admiration of others than anyone else. This life in Christ is a team sport - God never intended us to go alone, and He is the leader. Each of us is but a member of the body and support for others just as they are to be support for us. Walking humbly with God means following His example - who did not count Himself too prestigious to save us, but humbled Himself, and became one of us to save us all. We walk with Him - in the path that He walked, when we humble ourselves to be of service for others, and give of ourselves to help and support them.
These three steps are everything we need to lead God-pleasing lives. These three principles are also the foundation for a truly godly congregational life: do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.
And they are the answer to guilt from God Himself. He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? Do justice. It is so right. Love kindness. It is so good. And walk humbly with your God. God grant each and every one of us the gift of Holy Spirit that we may do what God requires – that is, that we may believe, and so be saved.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)