il_340x270-892424125_8l45     What does God require of us? This is the question Micah asks the people of Israel, who are clueless regarding how they should respond to God’s abundant grace in their lives. What does Jesus require of us? This is the question we should be asking ourselves who are often clueless regarding how we should respond  to Jesus’ call to “fish for people.” The good news is that both Micah and Jesus provide an answer to this question. Not surprisingly, their answer is the same. The bad news, is that it might not be the answer we want to hear.

What does God require of us? To do justice, to love kindness or mercy, to walk humbly with God. What does Jesus require of us? To hunger and thirst for righteousness, work for peace, and stand in solidarity with those who are persecuted; to be merciful and comfort mourners; to be humble in spirit, meek, and pure in heart.

Dang it! This is hard stuff! Can’t we have an easier list than this? Can’t it just go to church, sing a few hymns, listen to a sermon, place our offering in the plate, take communion and leave it at that? If God requires us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly, this means we’re gonna have to change the way we live our lives. If Jesus requires us to hunger for righteousness, to be merciful and humble in spirit, this means we’re gonna have to work hard to change who we are at the deepest core of our being. Yes, that’s EXACTLY what we’re called to do. If we’re going to be serious about all this God stuff, this is our To-Do list. If we are going to answer the call to fish for people, this is what that call looks like.

I suspect some of you are probably thinking, “Why can’t love be our guideline? After all, didn’t Jesus say the greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbor as yourself? This seems like a good enough list to me.” Well, I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but it’s a terrible list if love only means having a warm, fuzzy feeling in our hearts. Jesus told us “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” [Jn 15:12-13] He also told us to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.” [Mt 5:44]

     Does that sound like a warm, fuzzy feeling to you? Not in the least! It’s sounds a lot like doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God. So there is no escaping our original list. This is what God requires of us. This is what it means to be disciples of Christ.

Personally, I’m glad we have this list because it helps us to define ourselves clearly in a nation that currently has many different answers to the original question. Some say God requires us to believe in the inerrancy of Scripture and only read the King James Version of the Bible. Others say God requires us to accept every statement contained in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. Some say God requires us to support specific views on social issues such as gun control, abortion, immigration and LGBT rights. Other even say God requires us to belong to a specific political party.

These multiple lists of what God requires of us have caused us to argue vehemently with one another and demonize those who dare to disagree with us. In the midst of this cacophony of heated words and mean-spirited debate, i’s easy to lose our way. It’s easy to lose sight of what makes up our core beliefs as disciples of Christ. Thankfully, this morning we have list that is not up for debate. In fact, both the Old and New Testaments support it. What I would like to do is briefly explore each of these three core requirements so that we have a clear understanding of what is expected of us as disciples of Jesus.

THE FIRST REQUIREMENT IS TO DO JUSTICE. Naturally, there are many disagreements in our nation regarding what it means to do justice. However, if we look at the prophetic tradition in the Old Testament, doing justice, more often than not, means being an advocate for the poor and powerless.

Rabbi Andrea L. Weiss, professor at Hebrew Union College and the Jewish Institute of Religion In NYC, writes “The message of Micah 6:8 echoes throughout the Hebrew Bible, teaching us what it means to do justice and to love mercy.  The book of Exodus commands: ‘You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or orphan’ (Exodus 22:20-21).

Again and again, the Bible insists that we safeguard the most vulnerable individuals in our midst and treat them with dignity and empathy. The Prophets voice this expectation loud and clear, as when Isaiah instructs: ‘Cease to do evil; learn to do good. Devote yourself to justice. Aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan. Defend the cause of the widow’ (Isaiah 1:16-17).”

In the gospels, Jesus affirmed this understanding of what it means to do justice. He often reached out to the powerless, the afflicted, and the rejected; those who lived on the margins of society. In one of his most memorable parables, Jesus reminded his disciples that taking care of the “least of these,” the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned, is what it looks like to do justice and answer the call to follow Christ. [Mt 25:31-46]

These overarching principles of doing justice, tie the Body of Christ together. There should be little or no argument regarding what the Bible teaches about this. While we may disagree on the social issues of our day, taking care of poor and powerless, should be a no-brainer.

THE SECOND REQUIREMENT IS TO LOVE KINDNESS. The Hebrew word here does not mean we’re supposed to be nice to each other. It goes a lot deeper than that! Kindness can also be translated as mercy, compassion, or faithfulness. To do kindness is to have mercy on others because God has been merciful to us. To do kindness is to take the time to feel what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes, especially when that someone is poor or in dire circumstances.

In the New Testament, kindness is listed as one of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5. The Greek version of this word can be translated as “moral excellence in character or demeanor, usefulness, gentleness, and goodness.” What a beautiful thing it is to love kindness; to have a heart filled with compassion; to strive for moral excellence in character or demeanor.

If there is any doubt as to what loving kindness looks like, Ephesians 4 gives us a wonderful description of it: “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

If loving kindness was the benchmark for Facebook, it would be an infinitely more pleasant experience. However, we know that social media is often filled with hatred, paranoia, misinformation, slander, fear-mongering and the list goes on. The way people conduct themselves on Facebook, mirrors how they conduct themselves in real life. Most of us have witnessed people being less than kind in lots of different social situations. We may have been guilty of being less than kind as well. Therefore, the challenge is to practice the art of kindness, so that we may not add to the misery our world is already inflicting on itself.

FINALLY, THE THIRD REQUIREMENT IS TO WALK HUMBLY WITH GOD. While this sounds easy, it might be the most challenging requirement of them all. Surprisingly, the word used in Micah 6:8 only appears one other time in the Old Testament. Proverbs 11:2 says, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace; but wisdom is with the humble.” However, there is another word translated as “humble” that appears more often. It’s usually a description of what God intends to do to those who think too highly of themselves.

Jesus offers this same warning in the gospels: “The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” [Mt 23:12; Lk 14:11; Lk 18:14] James reaffirms it as well: “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.” [James 4:10]

     What walking humbly boils down to is not thinking more highly of ourselves than we should. Jesus distilled the essence of humility is a brief teaching about two men who go to the temple to pray: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'”

He concludes this teaching by saying “I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” [Lk 18:9-14]

     Yet, humility is about more than attitude. It also involves the way we act. Philippians states it best: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.” [Phil 2:6-11]

     Giving of ourselves, becoming servants of others, following the example of Jesus. This is what it looks like to walk humbly with God. Like I said before, this may be the most challenging requirement of them all. As I bring my thoughts to a close, we have before us a list of what God requires of us. These are also the things that Christ taught us to do that are contained in the Beatitudes and spoken of all throughout the gospels. In a nation that has many different answers regarding what it mean to be a Christian, This is the only benchmark we need to follow. AMEN

Copyright ©2017 by David Eck.

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