Meditation on Micah 6:1-8
Feb. 2, 2020
The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton, OH
Hear what the Lord says:
Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. 2 Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord,
and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the Lord has a controversy with his people,
and he will contend with Israel.
3 “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;
and I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam.
5 O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”
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?
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?”
8 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?
On Wednesday, we celebrated the life of Duke Walters, a longtime member and friend to many. I had gotten to know Duke and his wife, Nellie, through home, hospital, and care center visits. Duke always had a smile, even when he didn’t feel well. And he was always a gentleman, insisting on walking me to the door of his home, though he used a walker and had difficulty getting around.
Duke didn’t come from a wealthy family. He didn’t finish high school. He was busy working, going out west with his brother to drive machinery on a large farm when he was 15 or 16 years old. He served in the military during the Korean Conflict, working as a truck mechanic. He worked for Clow for 39 years. He could fix or build almost anything. He repaired and restored old cars and built a hot rod out of a Model A with a V-8 engine. He passed on his mechanical skills to his sons and gave his grandchildren tool boxes. He was a natural teacher—patient, playful, and generous. He was also a good dancer, square dancing with Nellie on a float in Coshocton Canal Days’ parades.
Duke and Nellie lost their first spouses to death much too early–when they were only in their 50s. But they found each other, fell in love, and were together, inseparable, after that. They were married here, in the Presbyterian Church, on January 18, 1992, where Duke had served as an elder and where his son, Denny, and his wife, Patty, were married. Nellie’s children were never treated like stepchildren. He treated everyone’s children like they were his own.
Mark Granger, who shared memories of his Uncle Duke at the service on Wednesday, said that he would lay in bed at night as a child, wishing that Duke was his own Dad. He shared how he loved to stay over at Uncle Duke’s house and play with Denny, Mike and David, when they were kids. How Duke had given him gifts, taken him on vacations—camping, fishing, biking, to the beach, and to Cedar Point. And how he had once spent all day and a tank of gas trying to teach him how to waterski. He wasn’t going to stop until Mark stood up.
Finally, he did.
“There’s not many kind people left in the world,” Mark said. “He was kind. He was always kind.”
The ancient message of the prophet Micah still rings as true and relevant today for the people of God as it did thousands of years ago. “What does the Lord require of you,” Micah asks, “but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
We seldom come across passages from Micah in the lectionary readings. The only two passages that receive attention are today’s and Micah 5:2, a prophecy of the Messiah we read at Christmastime: “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.”
Micah is a contemporary of the prophets Hosea and Isaiah, preaching to God’s people beginning in the 8th century BCE. Little is known about his hometown, Moresheth-gath, mentioned in 1:14—just that it is west of Jerusalem in a rural area hit hard by King Hezekiah’s economic and military policies.
Micah, though he doesn’t come from a wealthy family and we don’t know how he was educated, has considerable skills as a poet. He likes to use similes and metaphors. For example, he writes in 1:4, “When the Lord comes, the mountains will melt like wax or flow like water.” He is sensitive, “grieving over a message of doom that he feels he must bring.” But his message is tempered by hope of a future restoration.
Micah begins his book in 1:3 with “Maranatha,” which may be translated, “The Lord has come!” or “The Lord is coming” or “O Lord, come!”
Social and economic injustices abound in Micah’s time. Wealthy landowners “lie awake at night devising new schemes for increasing their accumulation of property at the expense of the small farmer.” This is in chapter 2:1-2. Women and young children belonging to Micah’s social group are evicted from their homes (2:9). The political leaders are cannibals who destroy then devour those over whom they have power (3:1-3). They engage in building projects in Jerusalem that are executed only with the exploitation of labor and at the cost of human lives (3:10). The courts, where those oppressed should have a chance at righting the wrongs done to them, are infected with bribery (3:11).
The religious situation is equally corrupt. Like Hosea, Micah denounces the worship of pagan gods in Israel (1:6-7). The so-called prophets of the land are in their vocation only for pay; priest and prophet alike have sold out to greed (3:5, 11). When a prophet who brings an authentic word from the Lord does appear, that prophet meets opposition (2:6-11).
In today’s passage, God and humanity are in a courtroom. God is the plaintiff, bringing a complaint against Israel, acting the role of the defendant. Acting as judge are the mountains, hills and foundations of the earth. The Lord reminds Israel of the wonderful acts of mercy and kindness that God has done, including sending Moses to redeem Israel from slavery in Egypt.
But humanity’s response is almost sarcastic, as if Israel is tired of being reminded that God is faithful and they are not. So what do you want from us, they demand, offering what God never required for them to offer as a sacrifice — thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil—or giving their firstborn?
God’s answer is a reflection of God’s own character. The Lord is saying, “You who I have made in my own image, my children, I want you to be like me. And the only way you can do this—do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with me—is when you are in intimate relationship with me.”
The word for kindness here is hesed, which is better translated loving kindness. This isn’t like our random acts of kindness to strangers, whom we might never see again. This is kindness that comes from a heart of love and often within a covenant relationship, such as a marriage. This is the same word Hosea uses and the same word in the book of Ruth, which values both God’s hesed and human hesed.
Friends, this call to love kindness, to do justice, walk humbly with God—this is the call of the Church. This is what the Lord requires of us!
And yet, we get distracted, much like the people of Micah’s time. We get discouraged by the darkness around us. We think the problems are too big—and we just don’t have enough resources to address all the needs. We worry about keeping up with the costs of ministry, instead of just living by faith, giving by faith of ourselves and our resources, trusting that if we obey God’s word, humble ourselves before him and seek to do justice, the Lord will bless our hands and hearts to serve and prosper our ministry.
The most powerful thing we can do for the community of faith and for the entire community—is simply to be kind and teach kindness to the children. Model kindness, for actions speak louder than words, and encourage and appreciate the kindness of others. Show the lovingkindness or hesed of Jesus, who was willing to give his life for us.
What does the Lord require of us as we wait and long for His return? In a world where kindness is seen as weakness—and “nice guys finish last?” Where, as Mark says, there aren’t many kind people left?
Be kind. Always be kind. For the Lord has come. And he is coming again!
O Lord, come!
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, we humble ourselves before you now. We confess that we aren’t always kind, that sometimes we have been overwhelmed by our own problems and the darkness around us. We have worried too much about our own finances and the church’s finances, instead of laying our burdens at the cross. We have forgotten that what you require of us is very simple and straightforward, as your prophet Micah proclaims. Strengthen and guide us to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with you. Help us, Lord, to live by faith and give by faith, of ourselves and our resources. Give us patience and hearts of compassion so that we are always kind. In your Son’s name. Amen.