I focused on the Old Testament reading, Micah 6:1-8. The gospel text was Matthew 5:1-12.
Today is February 2nd, which means it’s Groundhog’s Day: the day when a furry little rodent comes out of his hole in the ground and forecasts the future. If he sees his shadow, BAM! 6 more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t see his shadow, then winter will end early and there is much rejoicing in the world.
As a kid, I remember believing in the Groundhog’s prophesy. I thought it was a pretty darn good idea, spring coming early. About this time in Minnesota, you are sick of winter snow and cold weather, and want spring to arrive. I would watch TV or listen to the radio and hope beyond hope that the groundhog would NOT see his shadow, and spring would come early.
And you know what? I remember after what had been an especially nasty winter, tons of snow and cold, the groundhog emerged from his hole and it was reported, that he did NOT see his shadow. And there was much rejoicing for me – I would soon be able to play outside in the warm weather. And spring did arrive soon…..BUT SO DID SPRING FIELDWORK. Prepping farm equipment, plowing, planting, picking rocks from the fields……and that was not a time of rejoicing. And during all that fieldwork, I cursed that stupid groundhog for bringing spring so early.
It was a quick lesson for me: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR.
In our reading from the prophet Micah today, things get a little confrontational and heated between God and the people of Israel. God makes it known he’s not pleased with how the relationship is going, and God wants to know why. And the people, they sort of throw it all back in God’s face. They reply back: “With what shall we come before the Lord and bow myself before God on high?” In other words, “What do you want from us? What would be acceptable to YOU God?”
Now I don’t know about you, but any time a person or people ask God or Jesus what he wants, what’s required of them, the disclaimer’s there: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR. Because the people think that what God wants is better worship – a greater sacrifice. And it gets a bit absurd: offerings of wealth that no one in the ancient world had – 1000 rams, rivers of oil….it’d be like one of you putting $10,000 in the offering plate this morning. And the most absurd – the sacrifice of their own firstborn child. And through the prophet Micah God responds: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good: and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with God?”
And I think there’s something to take from this: God isn’t interested in our individual sacrifice – our dedication to a religious life and religious things. It’s not about how many times we worship, the quality our worship….it’s not even about what style or form we worship in. It’s not about how much time you spend or how active you are at church, or even how good your devotional or prayer life is.
So if it’s not about our individual sacrifice, our dedication to religious life and religious things, than what is it about?
God makes it pretty clear: It’s about relationship – it’s about our attitude towards others – an attitude of care and concern – and our attitude towards God. What is good? Justice, mercy, and humility. And these attitudes extend not only to those within the Christian community, but they extend to those – especially to those – outside of it. Those attitudes are extended to those considered the least, the outsiders, the weak, the broken – those that typically go unseen and unnoticed.
The bottom line is this: our attitudes shape and move us in how we act – how we live our lives. And that means that those attitudes of care and concern turn us from a life of dedication to religious things to a life of care and concern for all people – regardless of race, class, job status, or opinion. God calls us to a life of service, showing mercy, and love. A life of faith is not proving to God – or perhaps more honestly, to others around us – how holy and good we are, but simply opening our lives to be shaped and moved by God – to “walk humbly with God.”
Well, it’s Super Bowl Sunday….and I’m sure many of you have made preparations for the big game. Or have made preparations to avoid the big game. Either way, you probably made a checklist of those things that need to get accomplished. The checklist helps you see how you’ve made progress in your preparations….if you’re ready and on the right track.
And I think about these words from Micah today – justice, mercy, and humility – and perhaps they make a really good checklist of how we’re doing as a church and as God’s people. They raise good questions on how we’re doing and if we’re on the right track…..
…..do we think, act, and serve and even SPEAK in ways that honor people as created and loved by God, worthy of our care and concern?
…..are we quick to show love and mercy to others, or at least strive to move in that direction, when hurt, conflict, and misunderstanding enter into our relationships?
……are we humble enough to open ourselves to God’s vision for our lives and our church, rather than dictate what WE think that vision ought to be?
A hard list to swallow today perhaps…….that’s often the tone of the Old Testament prophets’ message: blunt, direct, and harsh. But I think it’s an important list to adopt. Because for a myriad of reasons, we tend to look past others. We look past those different from us, who we don’t know so well, those we fear and those who make us uncomfortable. And in those we do know well, we don’t often see the struggles going on under the surface. And honestly, if you think about it, you’ve probably been in those shoes before yourself – we’re all people longing…wishing, perhaps…. for a BLESSING from God.
And we certainly should wish for a blessing…but be careful what you wish for from God – that blessing might not be exactly what you think or expect. But what a blessing it would be – if it took the form of people and communities showing care and concern for one another, just as God does for us in Christ.
Be careful what you wish for…..because what you get from God is a call to a life of justice, mercy, and humility. Maybe not what you thought or expected when you came here this morning…..but it might end up being great than anything you or I or we could ever imagine! Amen.