Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
Text: Micah 6:8
O.T.: Micah 6:1-8
N.T.: Matthew 5:1-12
Biblical Israel’s story is curiously parallel to America’s national story.
The story of God’s covenant with Israel is about a nation whose founders believed it was holy from its origin. Israel was holy because God chose Israel as His own. Israel was forged by God’s will. God liberated His people from tyranny.
Moses lead God’s people from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. On the way, Israel discovered God’s identity in the wilderness. God’s law defined who He is.
God isn’t many deities. God is one, with a single purpose. He gives life. God isn’t fickle like humans who change their minds based on the circumstances of what benefits them. God isn’t like man-made gods who resemble human fickleness. God is consistent, coherent.
God is not arbitrary or unfair. God is just. He demands His people to be just. God doesn’t care more for the rich and powerful than the poor. He cares for all people and expects His people do the same.
God’s identity separated Him from Egyptian gods, the Assyrian, Babylonian and Canaanite fertility gods and the false gods of every other nation around Israel. God stipulated His chosen people obey ten laws – or commandments. Obey them from love and joy.
When you do that, you will show God and the world who God is.
As Israel’s national life progressed, it lost its spiritual direction. Israel lost its commitment to worshipping God. This is not to say that Israel completely stopped worshipping God. Israel continued to worship Him – sort of. Israel’s worship rituals did not reflect how they lived.
High priests offered sacrifices in David’s Temple for Israel’s sins. Parents taught the Ten Commandments to their children. But all too many thought they were right and good just as they were. They didn’t need to turn back to God. Their passion for honoring, worshipping God’s righteousness was missing. A spiritual crisis descended upon God’s people.
Micah expresses this spiritual crisis in verse 7. He describes the endless sin offerings in the Temple that Israel’s priests performed. “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
The repetition of sin offerings in Jerusalem’s Temple was constant, unceasing. But over 500 years, God’s people were bored with the restrictions of God’s laws. They were like a teenager straining at the bit of their parents. They didn’t want to live how they were taught by God’s law.
Israel saw wealth and power in surrounding nations worshipping gods who were not pure. What harm would there be to worship these other gods. They worshipped fertility gods and began to loosen the moral boundaries God’s law set around them for their protection and life.
One by one, family by family, child by child, pagan worship infiltrated the homes of Israel.
It began in the highest offices of the government and spread to the people. Once Israel’s King began worshipping Canaanite gods of sexuality, the rest of the people followed. The king – the leader chosen by God – was most responsible for falling away from God. That king was Solomon.
The worship of God by Moses’ founding generation was forgotten. Obeying God’s law was more a ritual to be performed than passionate obedience from a heart of loving God. King Solomon didn’t even pay attention to the rituals in the Temple, or the prophets who warned him.
Solomon began worshipping gods of the Canaanites and Babylonians. Israel followed its king.
Sexual fertility gods of the Canaanites and Babylonians became more important than the one true God for families throughout the land. Pagan worship centers arose away from Jerusalem that satisfied the needs of younger generations to be like the young people from other lands.
Micah charges the Temple’s sacrifices for sin were empty rituals. The priests were following the law. But the people’s heart was elsewhere. They were worshipping gods of sexuality. The meaning behind the Temple sacrifices became lost to children. New generations arose that left behind the God who saved Israel from Egypt.
They thought God’s everlasting covenant gave them a free pass to ignore the commandments that had been taught. The simplicity of Micah’s prophecy challenges the emptiness of worship that has lost its spiritual focus on God. Worship is being a man or woman of integrity who is just, loves being merciful, and walks humbly with God.
“God has shown you what is good. What does the Lord require of you? To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
When you read Jesus broadly, He is just as concerned as Micah about empty worship that has lost its enthusiasm for God in Judea.
Jesus deepens the interpretation of God’s law. Adultery is not just an act, it’s thoughts off fantasy about someone other than your spouse. Prayer is not for others to see how religious you are. Prayer is private – for only you and God to hear. It’s an authentic, honest word of gratitude for heavenly blessings without wanting to look good.
God is not an arbitrary bestower of good or bad luck. God is Abba – Father – the heavenly parent who cares deeply for His children and is involved in their lives. God protects those He loves. God is steadfast.
Jesus’ portrayal of faithful worship goes far beyond simple obedience to Ten Commandments, or dutiful legality in Leviticus. Jesus talks about the inner condition of God’s people. God’s people worship when their mind and heart are devoted to God.
Doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God are never empty rituals. They’re a way of living that separates God’s people from pagans. They show gratitude to God for who He is.
Worship, is being God’s people day in and day out. Being poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering after righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaking, suffering for faith in God: these are not rituals for people who are offended by God’s restrictions for purity and holiness.
The poor in spirit are humble enough to know they need God. Those who mourn are thankful for how God has overcome the loss of someone they love too much to lose with the resurrection. The meek submit to God, not their own interests at the expense of others.
Those who hunger after righteousness want to do what is right by God, even if everyone around them wants them to do otherwise. It takes courage to hunger after righteousness.
The pure in heart are cleansed by God’s love of ulterior motive. They want to follow Jesus. The peacemakers stand between opposing factions can call everyone to the way of God’s goodness and mercy.
And those who are willing to suffer for righteousness’ sake – for God’s name’s sake – they aren’t willing to return evil for evil. When they are bullied, they pray for the bullier. Being a Christian day in and day out is much harder than simply going to Church.
It’s taking what we say in church outside a sanctuary’s walls and living the gospel in the real world. When we get in the real world that does not know Jesus, why should we be surprised at what we see?
You and I live in a Pennsylvania that doesn’t reflect the Beatitudes. We live in a country where the coarseness of our language pits us against one another. Why are we surprised by this.
We live in an America where the law of the Bible is separated from the civil law. Why should this surprise us. If family after family has fallen away from worshipping God, why would our justices and law-makers be any different? They carry into their civil service a loss of Christian basics.
“Just do it!” is the mission of the new American religion. It’s the language of a sexually driven culture that surrounds our young people.
We’re surrounded by temples of post-Christian Americana. Drive down McKnight Road and see more than one business dedicated to gods of paganism. They’re legal. They’re protected by the Constitution and First Amendment. They compete for children’s minds and hearts. They’re winning the battle for our children’s souls.
When 60% of Presbyterian confirmands stop worshipping with a faith community on Sunday morning, the battle is being lost. When churches invest millions of dollars in youth ministry and Christian Education over decades and its children are lost to secularism, its spirituality is wanting.
Christianity in America doesn’t need to be condemned to losing its children to the neo-pagan revival around us. There are compelling reasons to refute neo-paganism. Those compelling reasons come from the Church’s devotion to worship through 2,000 years of prayer, Bible study, meditation, mission, and community commitment to Jesus Christ’s teachings as the pre-eminent lessons a society lives with joy and not obligation.
No country survived that believed it was free to do as it chose whenever it chose to whoever it chose. Whether it was the Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks or Romans from the Bible, or the Germans, Japanese, al-Qaida, or ISIS. We know this from Christianity’s experience with paganism’s failure to be just, merciful, and humble.
America stands at a cross roads today.
The Greatest Generation is almost gone who remembers when Christian discipline limited our families to God’s righteousness. They remembered when most Americans felt grateful to God for His goodness. They cared for God from the justice, mercy, and humility inside their hearts.
Families accepted Micah’s teaching and Jesus’ teaching from the Sermon on the Mount as restrictions upon American morality and life. Today, we need officers of the court who stand behind the civil law following the personal and social restrictions taught in the Bible.
God’s justice and mercy is righteous. A holy people want no less for themselves. They aren’t subject to the political whim of the moment imposed by those in power. We face an immense challenge to recover the national unity that comes from agreeing God is sovereign over us.
Future generations will do justly, give mercy, and walk humbly with God when we elevate worship of God and God alone as the center of life – for ourselves, for our children and teens, and for America.
Future generations will do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God when we call civil government to look beyond the will of the majority to see the will of God. God defines justice and mercy. Not the people.
We need to get to the basics today. We need to take what we’ve learned about the basics from God into the world around us.
Live the basics. Teach basics. Amen.