Theme: Walk Humbly with God
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of youMicah 6:1-8
but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?”
When asked by friends to name my favourite verse in the Bible, I always say Micah 6:8. It’s not exactly my favourite, because the word favourite implies something much simpler than what I really feel. Truth is Micah 6:8 found me, and it keeps coming back, with a resonance that never seem to fade over the years.
In the words of G. W. Anderson on Micah 8:8, ‘Nowhere is the prophetic message more concisely and powerfully expressed.’
If you are observant, you know that I have rearranged the order of what the Lord requires – “Walk humbly with God; Do justice; love kindness.” I’ll go in a reverse order and start with the last – walk humbly with God.
I know there are members of MUC who do not believe there is a god,
small or capital G. Let me be clear before I am accused of judging anyone. I am simply stating what I know. Micah 6:8 clearly begins with the question: ‘What does the Lord require of us?’
It assumes that Micah was speaking to those who believe in God. It assumes a covenantal relationship. Again, I am aware that some can’t conceive a god who would require us of anything.
I believe we begin with wrestling with what this means because to live Micah 6:8 we need to be fully understanding what god means not only in this context of Micah but also, in our lives — even if some do not believe that such an entity exists.
You ought to know by now that Dr Walter Brueggemann is one of my favourite OT biblical scholars. In his classic work, The Prophetic Imagination he writes:
“The liberal tendency has been to care about the politics of justice and compassion but to be largely uninterested in the freedom of God. Indeed, it has been hard for liberals to imagine that theology mattered, for all of that seemed irrelevant. And it was thought that the question of God could be safely left to others who still worried about such matters. As a result, social radicalism has been like a cut flower without nourishment, without any sanctions deeper than human courage and good intentions.”
Brueggemann also levels criticism on the conservative religious:
“Conversely, it has been the tendency … to care intensely about God, but uncritically, so that the God of well-being and good order is not understood to be precisely the source of social oppression.”
He later adds that a foundational element to social oppression is “the establishment of a controlled, static religion in which God and his temple have become part of the royal landscape, in which the sovereignty of God is fully subordinated to the purpose of the king.”
Let’s now look at Micah 6:1-8. Micah paints the scene of a courtroom in which God is the prosecutor and the people are the accused. In delivering his prophecy, Micah alternates among the roles of narrator, the people and God.
The courtroom drama has four scenes.
In scene one (vv. 1-2), YHWH initiates a juridical disputation—a ‘controversy’ or ‘covenant litigation’—against Israel. The people are summoned to plead their case before the witness of the mountains.
In the second scene (vv. 3-5), YHWH calls this cosmic court to order with his opening statement. The argument is blunt: YHWH has been relentlessly faithful
to a fickle and faithless people. The rhetorical question ‘O my people, what have I done to you?’ points not to a litany of wrongs, but rather to a narrative sequence of liberation, transformation, and generosity.
The third scene in our courtroom drama depicts Israel’s rebuttal (vv. 6-7). YHWH has kept his side of the bargain. What does the Lord require of his covenant partners? What should Israel bring before the Lord? Are burnt-offerings sufficient? What about calves? A thousand rams? Ten thousand rivers of oil? A firstborn child as an atoning sacrifice for sin?
For all the trappings of religious hyperbole, the answer given here is ultimately a false one.
As Walter Brueggemann points out, “It is commonly noticed that the answer builds from the least valuable to the most valuable. But every part of the answer is a commodity. The answer ponders how one offers something ‘of value.’ The re-asking of the question in verse 8 indicates, without explanatory comment, that the ‘commodity answer’ is wrong and rejected. YHWH does not want ‘stuff’ from Israel or from humanity.”
In the fourth and final scene of the drama (v. 8), YHWH stands to give his closing arguments. The answer takes us right back to the beginning of our inquiry, to that summative message at the heart of the prophetic witness of the Old Testament: Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.
Each phrase is charged with theological and political significance, which has enormous consequences not only for how one lives rightly in the world, but also, for how one worships faithfully before God. Remember God is not rejecting all forms of sacrifice but is rejecting the notion that visible sacrifices are a replacement for justice. Justice entails caring for the poor and oppressed.
God is pressing the point that Israel’s violation of the covenant has less to do with them failing to sacrifice enough for God and more to do with them not sacrificing enough on behalf of their neighbors. God is calling for a form of social justice, but it is important to note that Micah is not replacing religion/God with social justice. Unfortunately, I have seen it happen so often!
And so, Micah summoned those who had betrayed the covenant to walk humbly before God. I believe this is the prescription for a vital and thriving community and society.
Often individualism breeds selfishness and selfishness paves the road to greed, ill-will, distrust, and division. Walking humbly with God creates an altogether different dynamic. When we walk humbly with God, we seek a rich spiritual life.
And a life close to God becomes aware that every person matters because each is a beloved of God. If each of us is a beloved of God, we are connected to each other, and expected to look out for one another. We are one human family. I do not want what is best for me at your expense. I want both of us to thrive.
Believe it or not there’s a false belief that god’s sole purpose is to protect our standard of living and our way of life. The god of well-being and good order
has become the god of many who claims to follow Jesus. This is the god that wants all of us to be rich. This is the gospel of prosperity that is dangled like a carrot in front of the poor and then holds them down in submission like a weight around a chicken’s neck to ensure their place as servants of the 1% or blame the poor for being lazy.
It’s human nature to create social hierarchies that benefit the most powerful.
By suggesting that humans walk humbly with God, we need to remember it’s God who models humility by desiring to come amongst us and walk with us.
The other reading that I have chosen for this morning is Philippians 2:3-8:
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped,7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, assuming human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human,
8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death —even death on a cross.
If God in Jesus can walk with us, then we can and must walk beside those less strong, those less competent, those less fortunate. In this spirit, R. A. J. Heschel’s words about the prophetic impulse take on a deeper hue:
“The more deeply immersed I became in the thinking of the prophets, the more powerfully it became clear to me what the lives of the Prophets sought to convey: that morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”
Walk humbly with God.
Walking is a metaphor for a life journey. To walk humbly with God is a call to do more than to come to God with offerings thinking to buy God’s favour, but to spend time walking, living life, with God in ways that would work out in every aspect of life.
To walk humbly with our God means to place our trust only in God as the firm foothold that holds us on the mountain of life.
To walk humbly with God is a deep desire to see the world through the eyes of God, to act in the world as God would act.
To walk humbly is the opposite of walking proudly or self-righteously, and invites us to the faith journey of self-giving, self-sacrifice, and self-emptying like Jesus.
If we walk humbly, then we acknowledge others who will be our companions along the way.
As Paulo Freire succinctly put it, “Oppressors dehumanize others and violate their rights,” and dehumanization is a distortion of the vocation of becoming more fully human. In contrast, the command to walk humbly will lead us to the restoration of God’s image, and we all become agents of transformation in the world.
In his book God Has a Dream, Desmond Tutu writes,
“You are the indispensable agent of change. You should not be daunted by
the magnitude of the task before you. Your contribution can inspire others, embolden others who are timid, to stand up for the truth in the midst of a welter of distortion, propaganda, and deceit; stand up for human rights where these are being violated with impunity; stand up for justice, freedom, and love where they are trampled underfoot by injustice, oppression, hatred, and harsh cruelty; stand up for human dignity and decency at times when these are in desperately short supply.
God calls on us to be his partners to work for a new kind of society where people count; where people matter more than things, more than possessions; where human life is not just respected but positively revered; where people will be secure and not suffer from the fear of hunger, from ignorance, from disease where there will be more gentleness, more caring, more sharing, more compassion, more laughter, where there is peace and not war.”
On this first Sunday of 2023 we know what God requires of us – “to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God”
The challenge is will we heed the call and do what God requires?
And what does that mean in your situation and context.
I want you to pause and reflect on what walking humbly with God looks like for you?