There is an old story about a self-employed painter who had come on hard times. There was very little work in his area, so when he was asked to bid on the painting of a local church, he figured a little to closely to the bottom line. When he got to the end of the job he realized that his estimate was so low, he would never make a profit. Feeling desperate, he decided to water down the paint. As the job was nearly finished, the sky began to grow dark, and it was not long before a raging thunderstorm washed the fresh paint completely off the church.
“It must be an act of God,” he thought. He got down on his knees, and looking up to heaven, he prayed. “O God, I am sorry. How can I make this right?” A big, deep voice from heaven said, “My son, repaint and thin no more.”
On a more serious note, in our Old Testament lesson today, the prophet Micah asks the same question, “How can I make this right? How can I do what is good in your sight Lord?” Or “What does the Lord want from me?
Thinking of the religious heritage of his people, Micah wondered if burnt offering were the thing God most wanted. Then he asked if God would be happier if we gave up one of our own children.
In today’s Old Testament text, Micah is charged with confronting a smug, self-satisfied Israel. Not only did God’s covenant community fail to see how far it had fallen into the ways of sin and selfishness. Israel even felt indignant that God was slow in saving them.
Foreign empires of Assyria and Egypt were constantly threatening the continued existence of Israel. Despite repeated warnings from God’s prophets, Israel’s kings and priests had an attitude of disrespect towards God.
Micah is God’s mouthpiece. Micah first reminds the people of their miraculous history, liberation from Egypt, the dynamic leaders like Moses, safe passage into the promised land itself.
Still Israel doesn’t seem to get it. Israel ungratefully responds, “So want do you want from us God? Thousands of sheep? Rivers of oil? The death of our firstborn? What are we supposed to do?”
To such disrespectful, even blasphemous words, God’ s response is restrained, but simple and clear. With infinite patience, God’s message is that just three things are required to reestablish the covenant relationship between the people of Israel and their God. They can be summed up in three Hebrew words, God is saying, “Israel, just do these three things, “mishpat, hesed, and hasnea” (Micah 6:8). Let’s say these words and learn a little Hebrew this morning.
Mishpat, Hesed, and Hasnea.
Or maybe we should translate them to English, repeat after me. 1) do justice, 2) love kindness, 3) walk humbly with your God.
Micah’s words are simple and eternal. What God required of people in those days of Micah is the same thing that God requires of us today. Today in this sermon, let us focus on these three phrases as they apply to our lives.
First, to do justice.
The word mishpat, in Hebrew means justice. It is used 450 times in the Bible. It means that following God’s law means that we treat other people with fairness. Now there are nine words that are associated with the word “justice” in the Bible. They are “widow, fatherless, orphans, poor, hungry, stranger, needy, weak, and oppressed.” These are the people we are to be concerned with. We are to work for fairness for those who lack justice. Justice is helping the widow, the fatherless, orphans, the poor, the hungry, needy, weak and oppressed, so that they are treated with fairness.
Micah and his partner prophets in the Old Testament are very clear that a follower of the Lord does justice. Moses says, “Justice, and only justice shall you follow.” The psalms say, “God loves justice, and righteousness, and steadfast love.” Amos says, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Micah 6:8 is so clear. It is so easy to learn. The question: What does the Lord require of you?
Do justice, What’s next?
We all know what kindness is, compassion, sympathy, gentleness, sharing, helpfulness. One of the old-time preachers of my youth used to say, that love is more than being nice to Grandma and the cat. And when we look at the Hebrew word for kindness, chesed, we see that it is used over 250 times in the Hebrew bible. It means unconditional love, even for people you don’t like. It means never writing someone off as worthless. It mans going out of your way to help someone even if there’s nothing in it for you.
Chesed, kindness, mercy, gentleness…No matter what word you use, this is the trait required by God’s disciples for family, friends, work and school associates, and even for our enemies.
Micah 6:8. You all should know it now. What does God require of us. Requirement doesn’t mean you can’t get into heaven if your don’t do it. Requirement doesn’t mean you have to do these things in order for God to love you. Rather requirements are those things that are critically important to God.
Please repeat after me. Do justice, love kindness, and the third thing is…
Walk humbly with your God.
Let’s focus on the word, “walk.” Walk means slow, measured, the opposite of running. Walking is a slow deliberate pace.
Focus on the word “humbly.” Humbly, is not full of yourself, not preoccupied with what you need or want.
Jesus said that the greatest person in the kingdom of God was a person who was humble like a little child. The followers of Christ were called servants. Humble servants are the opposite of kings and queens, the powerful and the domineering.
Humility is sacrificing yourself and your concerns to listen and respond to the needs of others and the desire of God. Humility is a part of the art of listening, when you forget yourself for a moment and actually listen to what God wants you to know or do.
The key to worshipping God is to sacrifice your own desires, your own busyness of mind, in order to give your attention to God and your fellow human beings.
To walk humbly with God is to sacrifice the ego-centered self, your comfort, your pleasure in order to focus on a greater good.
Let’s notice one more word in this verse, the word “your.” Micah says, “Walk humbly with your God.” Your God. You belong to God. God is personal. Your God made you and set you in this life. Your God is with you in every valley and mountaintop of life. Your God is there whether you are paying attention or not.
I have to tell you. I love Micah 6:8. It will not steer you wrong. The words are so easy to remember (in English anyway). Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God. The truth of them is so profound.
I bet you know these words by now. Take them with you every day. Write them on a piece of paper and put them in your pocket. Never lose them. Hold them in your heart. Meditate on them. Pray with them. Share them with your family and friends.
One last time. Micah 6:8 “What does the Lord require of you?
And the answer is “To do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”
My friends, may we earnestly seek to meet this requirement. Please pray with me that we may follow these wonderful guidelines.