MICAH 6: 6-13
6“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? 7Will 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?” 8He 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?
9The voice of the Lord cries to the city (it is sound wisdom to fear your name): Hear, O tribe and assembly of the city! 10Can I forget the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the scant measure that is accursed? 11Can I tolerate wicked scales and a bag of dishonest weights? 12Your wealthy are full of violence; your inhabitants speak lies, with tongues of deceit in their mouths. 13Therefore I have begun to strike you down, making you desolate because of your sins.
JAMES 3: 13-18 AND 4: 11-12
13Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
11Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?
“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” If you have exchanged emails with me in the past several years, you recognize this verse as the footer at the bottom of every email I send. I love Micah 6: 8! In Old Testament scripture, it stands as like a tall pillar, a huge measuring stick! “This is the way you should live, mortals, I have told you what to do,” God says. This verse comes as close to being my personal credo as anything else I have ever thought or read. In fact, it is a ready-made mission statement for churches: “What is it we believe?” “We believe that we are called by God to follow the example of Jesus Christ — doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God.”
Who was the prophet who spoke these words? We don’t know very much about Micah. He is called a minor prophet – one of twelve minor prophets. The term “minor” prophet simply means he was short-winded. The Book bearing his name contains only 7 chapters. Contrastingly, Isaiah – whose prophesies occupy 66 chapters—is a major prophet. If you have your Bible, you will find Micah near the end of the Old Testament, between Jonah and Nahum.
What Bible scholars know about Micah is that he lived around 750 years before Christ, was a contemporary of Isaiah, and prophesied to the Jews living in and around Jerusalem. He spoke out against greed and oppression. He was the conscience of the people, warning that God would punish the arrogant who preyed on the poor and helpless. He prophesied at the end of 40 years of prosperity, and – sure enough—just before Israel and Judah came crashing down.
Although Micah’s prophesies are all worth studying, they can be condensed into a single verse: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” So that is our text for today. In fact, I’ll narrow it even more. I want us to think about the command to “walk humbly with your God” – starting with the humility part.
We don’t hear a lot about humility these days! Generally speaking, athletes, actors, politicians, business leaders don’t strive to be humble! They strive to be famous, to be celebrated. They beat their chests and puff out their feathers to signal their status as alpha males or alpha females.
What does it mean to be humble? The dictionary says “marked by modesty in behavior, attitude or spirit (Modesty is another very old fashioned word!). To be humble is to show deference or respect, to be unpretentious. To be humble before God means our role and our thoughts change: (1) We realize we are not God and do not presume to have the mind of God. God’s mind is pure, inscrutable, far beyond our power to understand. James says describes the perfect wisdom of God this way: “ . . . the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, wiling to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” Can any of us claim to have this kind of wisdom? The Holy Scriptures point us to God; and Jesus Christ showed us what God-become-man looked like. Of God, we know something, yes. But all that we know may be but a fraction of a percentage of what there is to know about God. “For now we see in a mirror, dimly,” says the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, “but then we shall see face-to-face. For now we see only in part; then [we] will know fully, even as [we] have been fully known.”
When we realize our pea-sized mortal brains are not equal to the mind of God, then our behavior changes. For one thing, we take greater pains to interpret the Holy Scriptures – to see them as our best witness to God and Jesus Christ but, at the same time, cryptic writings that are not easily explained and dismissed. When we take a position of humility before God, we no longer presume to think we can determine our own future. We understand that God’s wisdom and purpose may lead us in a different path than we had so carefully plotted. We no longer believe that we are self-sustaining or somehow the authors of our own lives and our own good. When we take a position of humility before God, we acknowledge that God alone is the judge of all 7.4 billion of us; and we are not. Against all baser instincts, we are not to judge one another
The NT Letter of James says it well: “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law . . . . There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor.”
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 said that Jesus himself “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but humbled himself, becoming obedient onto death.” In all of 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 athletes, actors, and politicians.
How what does it look like to live humbly before God?
The July edition of Guidepost magazine carried a story called “Discovering Dad.” In it, Chris Edmonds tells the story of his father’s long-hidden heroism during WWII. His dad, says Chris, was “outgoing yet humble, not the type to go on about himself.” “The only one he ever bragged about,” says Chris, “was God.” But through his daughter’s project for history class, Chris learns that his father was taken prisoner after the Battle of the Bulge and sent to Stalag IX-A. In his diaries, he wrote the names of the men in his barracks and the conditions at the POW camps, but later shared none of the details with his family other than to say that they “were humiliated,” and subjected to “things too bad to share.” Chris’s research led him to a New Yorker named Lester Tanner who had had been a POW in the same camp, andsaid that, had it not been for their brave officer, Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds, he and all the other Jewish men would have been killed.
It turns out that more than a thousand American POWSs were held at this prison camp – all noncoms with Edmonds the highest-ranking NCO. There was an announcement over the loudspeaker that only the Jewish POWs were to fall out the following morning to be counted. “We knew whatever the Germans were planning, it was bad.” Your father turned to us and said, “We are not doing that. Tomorrow we all fall out.”
1,275 American soldiers stood outside their barracks the following morning, with Edmonds standing in front. The commandant was furious. “You cannot all be Jews!” he screamed, incredulous that this starving ragged American sergeant had the audacity to disobey him.”
“Today,” said Edmonds, “we are all Jews here.” The commandant held his Luger to Roddie’s forehead and ordered him to tell the Jewish men to fall out. But Edmond’s looked him in the eye and said, “According to the Geneva Convention, we are only required to give our name, rank and serial number. If you shoot me, you will have to shoot all of us, and when we win this war, you will be tried for war crimes. Within hours, Soviet troops were liberating prisoners at Auschwitz, and within weeks, Stalag prisoners would be released.
Roddie Edmonds survived, married, loved his family, loved God and was too humble to tell his story. But he models for us what it means to be humble.
1. It means to rely on God – to increase our understanding of the Word, to inform our decisions, to supply our needs, to grow our faith.
2. It means to give thanks to God. Thanksgiving isn’t an event, it is a posture. It is deep acknowledgement that everything we are, and everything we have is a gift from God.
3. It means to give honor to God – We honor God with our conduct, and with our speech. “We tame the tongue,” as James puts it. We don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, we let our yes be our yes, and our no, our no. We refrain from gossip, mean-spirited jokes, course humor. If “Out of one side of our mouths, we bless the Lord and Father but, out of the other, we curse those who are made in the likeness of God,” then, says James, we are not honoring God. (James 3: 8-10).
4. And it means that we do not judge – who is right and who is wrong, who “gets saved,” and who doesn’t, who will get to heaven or . . . ? WE DO NOT JUDGE. Those decisions are not ours to make! Our task is to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.” Further, turning off all judgment and the need to feel superior allows us to truly see, hear, experience, and be present without the exhausting work of forming and supporting judgments. And it’s okay to do that. To simply experience, to join the human race, to watch, to listen, to stand with others, to give ourselves for others, and to let God show us how we are to love.
Walking humbly with God. The notion somehow reminds me of a snapshot of my husband Randy walking down the road with 3-year-old Andy. They are facing away from the camera, but just as I snap the picture, Randy turns slightly to look proudly down at Andy. The photo captures Randy’s long legs in running shorts, and Andy’s short chubby legs in baggy knee-length pants. Randy is taking baby steps to match the pace of a 3-year-old. He has slowed his pace and dropped his shoulder so their hands can touch. Andy is walking hand-in-hand with his dad, trustingly, not tugging him ahead or lagging behind. Andy trusts the hand he’s holding. Randy makes all the adjustments. It is a human snapshot of our walk with God.
God adjusts His pace with ours. He carries our burdens. He gives us all we have. He surrounds us with His love. Our job is to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly. AMEN