Text: Micah 6:1-8
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
A week and a half ago I was in Edmonton to talk to the students at the seminary there. I knew some of the students, but most of them I did not know very well. Even now I don’t know all of their names. But I discovered that I could very easily tell which of the students was in their first year at seminary and which of the students are in their second year at seminary.
First year students at the seminary have a kind of excited energy about them. Everything they are learning is new and exciting. Daily new opportunities are opening up for them and it is an exciting time. Second year students, on the other hand, have kind of seen it all before. Nothing seems quite so exciting any more. They’ve been there and done that. So, as I spoke with the students and looked around the room I could pick out the eager excited first year students and the somewhat downtrodden second year students pretty easily. One of the first year students smiled at me almost the whole time (3 hours) that I was lecturing. One of the second year students sat in the corner and hardly lifted his gaze off of his computer screen in front of him.
The energy of the first year students, on the one hand, and the kind of weariness of the second year students, on the other hand, is kind of like the difference between our Gospel reading and Old Testament reading today. Our Gospel reading today comes on the heels of our Gospel reading last week where Jesus called His first disciples: Peter, Andrew, James, and John. These guys are like first year students. They are eager and excited to follow Jesus. When Jesus says “Follow me” they leave everything behind and follow Him. Today in our reading they are sitting with Jesus on a mountain and listening to Him teach about what it means to follow Him. It’s the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ introduction to being a disciple.
Our Old Testament reading, on the other hand, is addressed to the people of Israel under very different circumstances. God is speaking to them through the prophet Micah. These people aren’t so energetic or enthusiastic. They have long since settled in to the idea of being the people of God. They are more like second year students who have been there and done that. God rescued them from the Egyptians and brought them through the Red Sea about 700 years ago. They’ve been living in the Promised Land for a long time now and things have grown kind of stale. These people are weary, they are tired, and they don’t have the energy to throw themselves into being the people of God any more.
Which one of these groups, the excited, energized, freshly called disciples of Jesus or the wearied and tired Old Testament people of Israel, do you think that we as a church best relate to? Are we energetic and enthusiastic or are we tired, weary, and a bit worn out? What do you think? I’d say we are probably more likely to be in that latter category, a little tired and a little weary.
The church everywhere is a little weary, I think. As our culture and world turns farther and farther away from God’s Word and from Christ we start to grow tired of holding on to Christ and God’s Word. As the world goes the opposite direction more and more the temptation grows to give up and give in. Going to church and hearing the Word starts to get tougher and tougher as less and less people come to church with us. Following Jesus and living the Christians life He has called us to live gets tougher and tougher as the world around us goes and does the opposite. We get weary and tired following Jesus and living like a Christian and some days we might be ready to give up.
For that reason, I’d like us to focus our attention this morning on our Old Testament reading directed to the weary people of God. There, in the words that the prophet Micah speaks to the people of God, we see God respond to the weariness. He says, “O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you?” God puts the question to His weary people, what have I done to make you weary? Why do you feel so tired and burned out? Is it something I did?
Then God goes on to recount everything that He has done for them. “I brought you up out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from slavery,” God says. Then God reminds them of something else He had done for His people. A king named Balak who hired a wicked prophet named Balaam to curse the people of God, but God would only let Balaam bless the people. God stopped Balaam from cursing them. Then God mentions two places, Shittim and Gilgal. Both of these places are significant milestones of Israel’s journey as they finally enter the Promised Land. What has God done to weary these people? Nothing. Instead He has done everything necessary to save them.
For us we can add even more to the list of what God has done for us. We are the New Testament people of God living in the completed reality of God sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Saviour. What has God done? How has He wearied us? He sent His Son born in a manger to be our Saviour from sin. Christ healed diseases and performed miracles to show us His power over sin, death, and evil. He died on the cross to take away the sin of the world and He rose from the dead to give us life. What has God done to us that would make us weary? Nothing. Once again, God has done everything necessary to save us. God has not made us grow weary, we have grown weary all on our own.
After God kind of calls out the people for their weariness in following His Way the people have their turn to respond. That starts in verse 6 of our Old Testament reading. Having been called out for their weariness the people respond by going in the opposite direction. They aren’t going to be weary any more, they are going to do everything for God. If God wants burnt offerings they will make them. If God wants them to sacrifice thousands of rams they will do it. If God wants ten thousand rivers of oil they will give it. If God wants their first born child they will sacrifice him or her. Put simply, the people over react. In response to God’s rebuke they go too far. God hasn’t asked them to do any of those things (God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, but then provided a ram instead!) and God has not asked us to do those things either.
For us following Jesus, being a disciple, being a Christian, does not mean some life of great sacrifice in which we need to give God some kind of ridiculously large gift. Instead our life as Christians and followers of Jesus is laid out simply in the last verse of our Old Testament reading: “God has told you, O man, what is good: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.”
Our life as the people of God means doing justice. That means caring for the needs of our neighbour, the people around us. It means ensuring that the needs of others are being taken care of. It means that the 7th commandment “You shall not steal,” means more than not taking stuff from other people. It also means making sure that our neighbour’s possessions and income and family are protected. Being the people of God means that we do not simply live for ourselves, we live for our neighbour. God does not need us to do great and wonderful things for Him, there is no need for massive sacrifices. God does not need our good works, our neighbour does.
Life as the people of God also means loving kindness. The word kindness there means more than what we might think of as kindness. This is not just random acts of kindness and doing nice things for people. What it really means is more like mercy, God’s mercy for sinful people like us. The people of God, you and me, are called to love mercy. God’s mercy for us that forgives our sins and God’s mercy that forgives our neighbour. We pray forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Loving mercy means loving God’s forgiveness for us and forgiving those around us.
Finally, life as the people of God means walking humbly with our God. Life as the people of God is not a proud life boasting in what we have done or accomplished. Even when we have done justice to our neighbour and loved kindness/mercy for our neighbour we walk humbly with God knowing that we remain sinners who have been forgiven only for the sake of the blood of Jesus. It’s like Jesus says in Luke 17, “when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” We walk humbly with our God when we confess that we are unworthy to walk with Him, but know that we are welcome there because of Christ and His death for us.
Our life walking with God and following Jesus can feel complicated. It can feel tiring and wearisome. But it is much simpler than we think. When it feels like we need to do everything we have this reminder that all God has called us to do is love our neighbour and walk humbly with Him in the forgiveness of Christ. When we feel weary and tired we have the reminder of what Christ has done for us giving up His life on the cross for us to accomplish our salvation. He is also the one who said, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Following Jesus is not a burden too heavy for you to carry, it’s not a life of sacrifice to God, it is not a wearying task; it is living in the love of Jesus for us and for our neighbour. Let us, the people of God, no grow weary of doing good, of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God. In Jesus name, Amen.