Epiphany 4, 2017
"What can we give?"
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Joe worked for a large construction company and couldn’t wait to get to St. Louis, where his oldest friend owned a prosperous business. “Sam,” he said to his friend the moment they were alone, “I want you to lend me $2,000.” “Positively No!” said Sam. “But, Sam,” he protested, “when the markets crashed, who gave you $10,000 to keep you from defaulting on your mortgage?” “You did,” admitted Sam. “And when your daughter fell and broke her leg, who took her to the hospital because you couldn’t get away from business?” “You, my friend, you did.” “And last year when we were fishing together, who dove into the freezing water and saved you from drowning at the risk of his own life?” “You did, Joe. It was wonderful.” “Well, then, Sam, in heaven’s name, why won’t you lend me $2,000 now when I need it?” “All the things you say are true,” said Sam, nodding his head slowly, “but that was in the past…what have you done for me lately?”
The nation of Israel had split into two kingdoms. Israel to the north and Judah to the South. Judah was enjoying prosperity it had not seen since Solomon was King over a united Israel. They had much!..even as Israel to the North did not. Micah proclaimed to both kingdoms that they were falling away from God and would see punishment. Israel would fall during Micah's life and Judah would fall 136 years later. They fell because they rejected God. But why did they fall?
In our text God brings charges against His chosen people. "O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD." (Micah 6:3-5)
The people had forgotten. So God reminds His people about what He has done for them. God recalls how He delivered them from slavery in Egypt, where they were tortured and killed, and guided them to the promised land. God recalls how He protected them from their enemies, even when they severely outnumbered them, how He led them through the wilderness, and carried them to a land flowing with milk and honey. God recalls the promises He made to them...to give them a nation of their own...to give them prosperity...to love them, forgive them, and send them a Savior.
But these people weren't even alive when many of these things took place. They happened 700 years before they were born. How many of us remember what happened yesterday, or last week, or last year much less hundreds of years ago? In essence the people hear these words...and maybe even acknowledge its historical truth...but still ask God "what have you done for me lately?"
Why did God remind the people? Micah proclaims: "that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD." (Micah 6:5b) God wanted His people to remember the righteousness of God's law in punishing sin; the righteousness of God's loving kindness and forgiveness, the righteousness of His promises...giving them a land of their own...giving them a Savior.
The people's response is damning. The people didn't ask for forgiveness. The people didn't give thanks to God. Instead the people respond by asking "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? Will the LORD be pleased with 1 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?" (Micah 6:6-7)
What does it sound like the people are trying to do? They are trying to satisfy and appease God. They are trying to pay God off. "Hey God...you make a good point...you did some great things... here's a little something...we'll call it even..." They even offer their own children as sacrifice...something they adapted from the idolatrous nations around them; damning evidence of their fall from faith. But notice there is no hint of admission of guilt for their sin. They assume they can satisfy and appease the justice of God.
Things haven't changed. We often forget what God has done for us. We weren't around two thousand years ago when Jesus walked on this earth and lived a holy life for us. We weren't standing there at the foot of the cross when he offered his life as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. We weren't there on Easter morning when he rose victorious from his grave. We often forget just as the Israelites did what God has done for us. We also don't recall and remember what the Lord continues to do for us as he protects us from evil and daily pardons and forgets all of our sins. Often like the people of Israel we think that we can do something to appease our God and win his favor and acceptance. We too don't like to admit that we are sinful and helpless and can't do anything to get in God's good favor.
Micah proclaims to the people "He has told you, O man, 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?" (Micah 6:8)
Micah tells the people to show the fruit of their faith. For it is only by faith that we can truly do what is just. Only by faith can we keep God's commandments. It is only by faith that we truly show loving kindness. It is only by faith that we “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31) And it is only by faith that we may walk with God.
Maybe instead of asking God "what have you done for me lately? or "what can we give you, Lord?" we should be asking ourselves "what hasn't God done for me?" "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:32-39)
God gives us all things. God gives us life here and now. God gives us life with Him for all eternity. For God our Father gave us Jesus. He gave us Jesus to live and to die for us. He gave us Jesus to rise for us. Through Jesus we are more than conquerors...we are God's beloved children and heirs of heaven! No one can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. No one! That's God's promise made yours in Holy Baptism. And God's promise never fails. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.