February 2, 2020. Micah 6:1-8, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Matthew 5:1-12
I think it is appropriate to use some sport-related references as an introduction to today’s sermon. Today is after all Superbowl Sunday. People love to gather around food, drink and TV to watch Football and/or Commercials. You don’t need to be a football lover to appreciate the rituals surrounding Superbowl. Don’t feel sad if your favorite team did not make it to the big occasion. You may simply root for the underdog or bask in the glory of the favorite!
It is not complicated to watch the game – you simply turn on the TV and you are one of about 100 million people who are watching the spectacle. It is a bit more complicated, and at least $4,000 more expensive to actually be one of the 65,000 people in Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium.
Hopefully the game will be a display of good football, sportsmanship, and fairness. If the past is any indication, though, then there will be some controversies and even cheating involved. Hardcore fans will recognize words like: Spy gate, Snowplow gate, Formation gate, Tuck gate, Headset gate or perhaps the best known, Deflate gate.
We all expect the commercials to be funny, thoughtful and in good taste. Or, as someone said: pick one for you can’t have all three: either funny, or thoughtful or in good taste!
And then there is of course the Superbowl halftime show. Artists who perform at a Superbowl halftime show become part of a very eclectic group. The expectations every year are sky-high – no wonder that the halftime show often turns out to be a disappointment. Superbowl Sunday is exciting, it is fun, and everyone appreciates the athleticism of the players.
NFL rules are not easy to understand and yet tonight, wherever fans are together in front of a TV, there will be at least one person, with more knowledge of the rules than the combined knowledge of the referee and 6 officials on the field. And that person will not be shy to share his views with others!
Did you know that the NFL rulebook contains 82 pages of rules? But then devotes another 119 pages explaining how to apply them in specific situations?
This contrasts with the world’s most popular sport, soccer. Soccer has only 17 rules. More than 3.5 billion people watched the last World Cup. I think one of the reasons soccer is more popular than other sports, is that it is a rather straight forward game with few rules. In spite of the fact that there is much more action, points scored, and variety in NFL, NFL will most likely never be as popular as soccer.
Perhaps this observation can teach us something about our faith in Jesus Christ. It is not, nor should it be complicated to be a Christian and to follow God’s will for our lives. It in fact is really simple. It is so simple that we sometimes think we have to make it a bit more complicated, more challenging. We think we have to add some rules and regulations to it, so that we can feel we accomplish something by keeping the rules. And when we, through hard work or discipline manage to keep the rules, we feel a sense of success or superiority over those who are not as hardworking, disciplined or devoted as we are. Then we question their faith in and love of God! Now in all fairness we are not the first one who want to make our faith a set of rules to follow.
Most people know that the Pharisees and Sadducees in the time of Jesus were very strict. They had many laws, at least 613, that they kept diligently. We know that Jesus did not withhold any punches when he dealt with the Pharisees and Sadducees. Why? Because the Pharisees and Sadducees thought that by observing the laws mechanically or automatically they would please God. They considered that they served God well when the followed the letter of the laws. Jesus criticized them because he knew that God wants people to serve him with love and conviction, not with a cold heart.
We all know that Jesus summarized the Divine laws into two equally important parts: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. And a second is like it. And you shall love your neighbor as you self.” Nothing complex about these commandments unless you are looking for an excuse not to love your neighbor. Nothing complicated about these rules unless you think that your faith should be more spiritual by pretending that your love of God is more important (and easier) than your love of neighbor! But if you take this route, then you ignore the words: “a second is like it”. The one does not go without the other! Very simple!
The Prophet Micah in essence is saying the same: The 8th Century prophet was clear that exploitation of the poor is against God’s will. He was so certain about this that he gives it as a reason why the Assyrians were going to destroy Israel and her capital Samaria.
The Hebrew word, Mishpat forms an essential key in Micah’s sermons. Mishpat, means social justice and according to Micah social justice has to do with the way you treat others. The way you treat others is an expression of your love of neighbor. Micah and Jesus would frown upon any notion that you can say that you love your neighbor and yet exploit him or her. So once again, not complicated!
It reminds me of the words of John in his letter: “Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”
Micah in one of the most familiar paragraphs in the
OT asks these questions: “With 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?
7 Will 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?”
And then he gives his answer for the
ages: “He 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?”
We don’t have the time to discuss the book of Micah but I do want to point out that Micah’s answer is profound. This is what is good (creation) and this is what the Lord require:
1. Do justice (Mishpat). Micah is saying that the covenant people are called to do justice. This means that people of faith do what God wants them to do when they treat others fairly, when they refuse to exploit people who are vulnerable, when they do whatever they can to make the world a gentler place for those are vulnerable. A careful reading of the prophet in chapter 3 shows that everyone in the society is responsible for mishpat, social justice: “heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel”. These were the political leaders.
The prophets and priests: These were the religious leaders.
And in chapter 6 we read: “O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! 4 For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery”.
These are all of God’s people.
So, Micah is saying that everyone in the society, political leaders, religious leaders and common folk are responsible to do mishpat, justice!
2. Love kindness: The Hebrew word for kindness is hesed! The meaning of this word is kindness or literally to show yourself merciful! The word is used of kindness or love between people, of piety of people towards God as well as of love or mercy of God towards humanity. So, in this sense it has to do with my relationship with God, and my relationship with my neighbor and God’s relationship with human beings.
It implies that our relationship with our neighbors and our relationship with God are linked. The one is connected to the other! Furthermore, in showing kindness to others, people reflect the Divine! Jesus in Matthew 5:7 says this: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy”
3. Walk humbly with God. Walking with God means serving God, following God’s commandments and being obedient to God. This is an action that is directly focused on God, a humble and faithful action. This shows that one loves God above all.
Micah shows that all three of these are equally important: Doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with your God!
Let me repeat this: In Christian faith all three of these are equally important. One cannot say I love God and say I don’t care about the wellbeing of my neighbor.
Now some would say that such an approach is naïve, foolish or even dangerous. People should take responsibility for their own lives. We cannot be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, can we? The theological truth is that Jesus took responsibility of our lives when he sacrificed himself to give us life. He was willing to become our keeper!
I believe this is the reason why the Apostle Paul states so clearly that some may consider such a merciful approach foolish; some may consider doing justice and walking humbly with God, as foolish. Some may argue that such an approach shows weakness, it may render you vulnerable. Here is the Apostle’s response: “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
Gospel message is simple and easy to understand. Love God, love your neighbor.
Or as Micah said: Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.
The challenge today is to hold onto this message, to embrace this approach to life. It is God’s wisdom even as many others may consider it foolishness, or not practical or naïve! God’s way is not complicated and it is good for humankind! I suspect that if and when we hold onto this divine truth, when we implement this and live this way, we will not only find God’s blessings, we will also become blessings to many. Amen