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Edward F. Markquart

Series A
Micah, What does the Lord Require of You?

Epiphany 4A   Micah 6:1-8

Requirements? What are requirements? Requirements are absolute necessities. You have to do them. There is no way around them. You might as well get used to them because requirements are part of everyday life.

For example, one of the most important rituals of American life is getting your driver’s license. Do you remember when you got your driver’s license for the first time? Or when you taught your children so they could get their first license? Yes, that was a great day in my your life. Freedom. Movement. Big shot. Growing older. A sign of finally growing up. The first driver’s license.

There are requirements to get that first driver’s license here in the State of Washington. You must be 18 years old. Yes, 18 years old I said. Unless you are sixteen years old, and have proof that you passed an approved driver education course that includes both classroom and behind-the-wheel instruction. Also if you are sixteen, you must have permission from your parent or guardian.

Those are the rules of the game. If you are sixteen years old and not eighteen, you must take an approved driver’s education course that involves both classroom and behind the wheel instruction. You must have approval of a parent or guardian.

No arguments. No discussion. No wiggle room. These are the requirements if you want to get a driver’s license in the state of Washington at sixteen years of age.

Or if you want to drive the school bus or the 24 passenger van here at church, you have to have a CDL, a certified driver’s license, a commercial driver’s license. That is a big deal around this church. We need to find more drivers who are willing to get their CDL, their certified driver’s license, their commercial license.  You cannot drive the “church” bus without a CDL. You cannot drive the 24 passenger van without a CDL.

There are no arguments, no discussion, no wiggle room. These are the requirements.

Or if you want to travel internationally to most countries, you must have a passport and visa. I know, not to the neighboring countries of Mexico and Canada and some countries in the Caribbean. But if you go to France, England or German; to Australia, New Zealand or Fiji, to China, Japan and Taiwan, you MUST have a valid passport and a valid visa. Those are the requirements. Don’t argue. Don’t fuss. Don’t wiggle. Don’t try to get around them. These rules are requirements.

Or if you want to be on a team or part of an orchestra or band, there are usually a set of requirements. You cannot be on this soccer team unless you make the practices. You can’t be in the band or choir unless you attend so many practices. There are requirements. Bottom line. No argument.

Requirements are part of everyday life. I am required to pay my federal taxes by April 15th to avoid a penalty. I am required to send in my absentee ballot in the state of Washington by 12:00 PM on the second Tuesday of November of the election. I am required to purchase an airline tickets 21 days in advance if I want to get that cheaper rate. Requirements are part of life.

Life is full of requirements. Get used to it. No arguments. No fuss. No making a stink about it.

It is with this mood that we approach one of the greatest passages in the Old Testament. It is from the Book of Micah. None of us remember much about the Book of Micah in the Old Testament except for one Bible verse. Micah 6:8. There is nobody in our congregation who is six feet, eight inches tall. Micah 6:8 is like Mount Rainer on our skyline of the Cascade mountains. Mount Rainer stands apart, stands alone, stands tall and beautiful. And so do the words of Micah 6:8.

Many of you learned this verse many years ago. Many of you didn’t, but should have. Micah 6:8 is one of those highlight verses, one of those great memory verses, one of those “stand-apart-from-all-the-rest” Bible verses.

What does the Lord require of you. Do justice. Love kindness. And walk humbly with your God.

Would you say these words after me:

Micah 6:8 The Big Question is this:

What does the Lord require of you? (all repeat)

Do justice. (all repeat)

Love kindness. (all repeat)

Walk humbly with your God. (all repeat)

Let us all say those words together: Do justice. Love kindness. And walk humbly with your God.

These words of Micah 6:8 are so simple. The words are clean. The words are easy to learn and carry with us.

These words of Micah 6:8 are similar to the words that are found in Deuteronomy 10:12-13. But the words in Deuteronomy 10 are more complex. Deuteronomy 10 is another one of those classic passages in the Bible where the great leader Moses summarizes what it means to be a faithful Jew. Type in the word, “requirement,” into your Bible Soft program and you will find the following:  Moses asks:  “What does the Lord your God require of you.” Moses asks the same question. But his answer is more complex: “To fear the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and to keep the commandments and the laws of the Lord this day for your good.”

These words are more complex. It’s a mouthful of words. You can’t easily recite them.

Micah 6:8 says the same thing but is much simpler. You know Micah 6:8 by now. You can say it with me.

“What does the Lord require of you?

 Do justice.

Love kindness.

And walk humbly with your God.”

See, you got it. You know it. Take those words home. Stuff them in your pant pockets with your keys. Slip those words into your shirt pocket along with all pens and pencils and carry those words with you. Put those words into your billfold along with the other credit cards and have them available any time. Put those words into your heart and mind and easily carry them within. To do justice. Love kindness. And walk humbly with your God.

Let us briefly talk about Micah. A very little bit about Micah. Why a little bit about Micah? That is all we know about him. Just a little bit.

We know that he was one of the twelve minor prophets in the Old Testament. There are twelve “minor” prophets. These are twelve short-winded prophets. Each prophets is only a few chapters long. All these twelve shorter prophets could fit on one scroll. Micah is a little book, only seven chapters long..

We know that Micah was a contemporary of Hosea, Isaiah, and Amos and Micah said similar things that these prophets said.

We know that Micah was preaching at what I call, the “end of the good times” and just before his nation fell apart. There had been forty years of prosperity and peace. Forty years of prosperity and peace. During times of prolonged prosperity and peace, people often forget God, ignore God, drift away from God. People get caught up in “the good life” for forty years and slowly begin to forget God and his ways.

It was just before the end of the good times, just before the fall of Israel and Judah. In other words, the prophet Micah spoke to the people of God just before their country and their life began to fall apart.

We sometimes worry that we are living at this moment in our own nations’ history, at the end of the good times, at the apex at just before our country, the USA, started to fall apart. Sixty years after WW II and we perhaps are starting to go downhill.

So it was with the time of Micah.

Micah’s words were both simple and eternal. What does the Lord require of you? What God required of people in those days of Micah are the same things that God requires of us today.

Today in this sermon, let us focus on these three words or sentences as they apply to our life today. 

To do justice.

The word, mishpat, means judgment. It means God’s wisdom, God’s law, God’s judgment…that there would be fairness, fair play and equity within the human family.

There are nine words that are associated with the word, “justice,” in the Bible. Widow, fatherless, orphans, poor, hungry, stranger, needy, weak and oppressed.  In this list of words, you did not find the word, “rich.” Rich is often associated with injustice. You don’t have to worry about the rich, because the rich will be able to afford justice. Worry about the widows, the fatherless, the orphans, the poor, the hungry, the strangers, the needy, the weak and the oppressed.

We are to work for fairness for the little people of our world.

Let me share three stories with you.

For example, Robbin McFarland in our parish gave birth to a handicapped, developmentally disabled little girl by the name of Sherri some fifty-two years ago. Robbin, has been a good and loving mother to her developmentally disabled daughter. Now, Mother Robbin is an older member of our parish, and does not want me to reveal her age but simply tell you that she is “on the short end of the string.”  Robbin has visited Sherri at Sherri’s group home in Buckley for 34 years now. The threat is that homes and shelters for handicapped people like Sherri are being closed up. Mother Robbin, approaching the end of her string, spends time working for justice, so that she is assured that daughter will be cared for when she has died. Sherri can’t take care of herself. The whole world knows that. Robbin says the language is easy that “no child is to be left behind.” It is easy to say it but not so easy to do it.  

In the Old Testament, that is mispah. That is justice. Justice is not simply being nice to Sherrie or kind to her, as important as that is. Justice is making sure that Sherri has a roof over hear head, three meals, people to take care of her today and also in the future when her mother has died. Mother Robbin is passionate as she works for justice for her developmentally disabled daughter.

Christians and other people of good will work for justice all the time.

A second story. I talked with Karen Keiser the other day. Karen is a state senator from our parish who sings in our traditional choir at the 8:30 service. Karen is the chair of the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee for our state. The other day she mentioned to me in the hallway as we walked by each other that she had been working on restoring health care to 19,000 children in our state who do not have health care. There are still another 100,000 children who don’t have health insurance.

This past, a Lutheran pastor showed up at my office for a conversation. He uses my website for pastors, SERMONS FROM SEATTLE. He wanted to come by and chat. I said OK. He was about fifty years old, two kids, wife, working part time as a pastor up in northern Washington. He has been unable to get a fulltime job nor does his wife have a fulltime job with medical benefits. He told me that he and his wife don’t have medical coverage but at least his kids do. As this pastor and I talked, I discovered that his two children were being cover by medical insurance that Karen Keiser had worked for

Justice? People of good will work for justice for poorer children in our state who do not have medical and pharmaceutical coverage. Poor kids here in Washington need medical care, just like my children, my grandchildren, your children, your grandchildren do.

Karen is doing justice. Justice is working for the little people of our state so that they will receive their “fair share.” Working for justice is more than having feelings of compassion.

I remember that story from Charles Dicken’s England some two hundred years ago. At that time, many twelve year old boys were working below in the coal mines, down in the cold mine shafts. Their life was miserable but that is what was expected of the little boys in England at that time: a life of work in the coal mines beginning at age twelve. The church would offer presents at Christmas time to the little boys working away in the coal mines. The church would offer charity and tom turkeys for the poor families at holiday time. The church would offer prayers for the little boys working away in the coal mines. One day, the law was changed so that little boys could no longer work in the coal mines and the law insisted that they go to school instead of go to the coal mines to work. Charity is giving Christmas presents at Christmas for the disadvantaged boys in the coal mines and charity is giving tom turkeys away at sacred holidays and charity is giving prayers for the little hungry boys. Justice is working to change the laws so that it was illegal for little boys to work in the coal mines.

Justice is working for the little people of our society and world, working for the widow, fatherless, orphans, poor, hungry, stranger, needy, weak and oppressed, so they get their fair share, 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: “Justice and only justice you shall follow.” The psalmist, “God loves justice and righteousness and steadfast love.” Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”

Micah 6:8. It is so clear. It is so easy to learn. The question: What does the Lord require of you?

Do justice.

Love kindness.

We all know what kindness is. Compassion, sympathy, gentleness, benevolence, helpfulness. We see it every day and we are grateful.

I wasn’t there but my partner John O’Neal told me about it. Debbie Garrow’s father recently died. He had been painfully sick for the past five years. Debbie’s mother had died two years ago. And Debbie and her siblings were there to take care of her father as he was dying up at a retirement home in Federal Way. There they were in a circle of love, surrounding her father’s bed, day after day, night after night, going through that circle of life ritual where you take care of loved one who is dying. Sisters, brothers, grandchildren, uncles, aunts: they were all part of the circle of love taking care of Debbie’s father as he died.

Two weeks ago, several of our congregational members attended THE LION KING down at the Paramount Theater. It was one of the best if not best theatrical production that I have ever seen. Those costumed people playing animals from Africa were mind blowing as you saw giraffes, elephants, gazelles, and wildebeests glide across the stage. The theme song was also terrific. It was “the Circle of Life,” music by Elton John and words by Tim Rice (from Godspell and Joseph and the Technicolor Coat).  The circle of life is the circle of love, that circle of a family that gathers together to take care of a father as he dies, that circle of love that you and I are part of. In that circle of love, we learn the essential ingredient of simple kindness to each other.

I remember a story about theological students at Harvard who were preparing for the ministry. It feels like a preacher’s story, but I like it anyway. These theological students were taking their final examination on the topic: Kant’s Moral Imperative. Kant is spelled, K A N T. Kant was a French moral philosopher. The final examination for this class gave the students two hours to write their philosophy with a ten minute break in the middle. The students wrote furiously for fifty five minutes. Then the bell rang; the students all took a break and went out into the hallway. There in the hallway was another student, not part of their class, sitting humped up on the floor, disheveled, looking like a mess. The theological students were busy in conversation with each other, getting a drink of water, taking a bathroom break, and into the classroom they returned for the second hour of writing their philosophy of what it meant to be a moral human being. Weeks later, the theological students received their test results: they had all failed. That is, all the students thought that their test was what they wrote for two hours in the classroom. The professor meanwhile was standing out in the hallway during the ten minute break and grading them on who approached the man humped down on the floor and spoke a kind word. Nobody did.

Jesus told the story about the Good Samaritan. A man was robbed and left for dead on the side of the road. Three people passed safely on the other side of the road. A Jewish priest. A Jewish rabbi. A third religious mucky-muck. It was only the Samaritan who stopped, knelt down and offered to help.

Kindness. Mercy. Gentleness. The ingredient that God requires from his disciples is fundamental human kindness…to family, friends, work associates, classmates, and strangers in the hallway.

Micah 6:8. You all know it now.

The question is this. What does God require of us?

Requirement does not mean that you can’t get into heaven if you don’t do the requirements. Requirement does not mean a person is required to do these in order to earn God’s love. Hopefully, you are more sophisticated that thinking such thoughts. Rather, requirements are those things which are crucially important to God. Such as…

To do justice.

Love kindness.

Walk humbly with your God.

Focus on the word, “walk.” Walk implies slow. Walk implies measured. Walking is the opposite of running. Walking is a slow deliberate pace.

Focus on the word, humbly. Humbly. Not full of yourself. Not preoccupied with yourself.

Jesus said that the greatest person in the kingdom of God was a person who was humble like a little child. Jesus said that the greatest virtue of all the virtues was humility. The Apostle Paul, who wrote more than half of the New Testament, said that Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but humbled himself, becoming obedient onto death.” In the New Testament, the followers of Jesus were called by the name of Christian only once, but they were repeatedly called servants. Humble servants were on the opposite continuum as kings, queens and royalty.

Humility is sacrificing yourself to listen to the needs of others and the desires of God. Humility is part of the art of listening to another, whereby you forget yourself for a moment and actually listen to what another person is saying to you. Humility is the art of listening to God, whereby you forget the busyness of your own mind for a moment and actually listen to what God is saying through his Word. Such as right now. If you are actually listening to my voice right now, and hearing God’s voice through my own, it is because you have sacrificed yourself and are listening to another.

The other Wednesday night, I was struggling to teach my seventh grade confirmation class. Like many a seventh grade teacher, I am somewhat of a failure in keeping the attention of the seventh graders. At the first of the year, the seventh graders didn’t know each other very much and I wanted them to talk to one another. Now, I can’t shut them up.

Anyway, the Bible verse that we were reading was an invitation to give our sacrifice and praise to God. We were reading the story from I Samuel about old Eli in the temple and Hannah who came to pray in the temple. Hannah could not have children and Penninah had so many children. Hannah came to the temple to pray. I was sharing with the seventh graders is that to worship God is first to offer a sacrifice to God, the sacrifice of one’s self in order to focus on God and listen to God. Hannah gave birth to a son by the name of Samuel, and Samuel learned to listen to the voice of God.  I told the kids that we needed to give themselves to me in that moment, to listen to my words, to listen to my spirit and the spirit of God inside of me. For a  moment, they needed to forget themselves and their conversations with their friends at the table. Humility is forgetting yourself and your own needs and focusing on another.

The key to worshiping God is to sacrifice your own thoughts, your own conversations with others, your own business of minds. You need to sacrifice what is going on in you right now in order to give yourself in worship to God.

To walk humbly with God is to sacrifice your busy and self centered self and focus on someone other than your self and your pleasures.

To walk humbly with and then circle the word, “your.” Your God. Your God belongs to you. It is not that God is your possession but that your God is personal to you. Your God, who made you. Your God who walks with you every step of every day. Your God who walks with you in the valleys of the shadows of death. Your God who walks with you when you climb the highest mountains of life. Your God who walks with you as you walk the circle of life.

I need to tell you the truth. I LOVE Micah 6:8. The words are so easy. The truth is so profound.

You also know those words now. They are with you. Never lose them. Always carry them with you. Put those words in your shirt pocket with your pens and pencils. Put those words in your wallet with the other credit cards. Put those words in your hearts and minds and carry them with you every day.

One more time: Micah 6:8. It is soooo easy.

The big question is:

ALL: What does the Lord require of you?

And the answer is:

ALL: To do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.

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