Read This Page in My Language
Sermon: Micah 6:1-8
Epiphany 4 – February 2, 2020 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
There’s a conversation that has been repeated millions of times in homes for a thousand generations. It’s a conversation between parents and children and probably most often between parents and teenagers. And saying it’s a conversation is probably putting it politely. These conversations are more like arguments between a parent and a not so respectful teenager.
The conversation goes something like this: The parent confronts the teenager on some bad behavior. The parent even asks why the teenager is behaving so badly especially since the parent has treated the teenager so well. The teenager responds with anger and sarcasm and says something like, “Well, I don’t know what you expect of me. I just know you expect too much. What will ever satisfy you? As far as I’m concerned, nothing will ever satisfy you.” And if the mother or father has enough patience at that point they will try to calmly explain to their child what kind of behavior they want to see from him or her.
That description of a conversation between a parent and a teenager is surprisingly similar to the conversation that goes on in our text today. The LORD God confronts the people of Judah on their behavior. The people respond with words that seem to ask God with some exasperation and maybe even a little sarcasm, “What will satisfy you, God?”
Maybe you and I have had this conversation with God ourselves. So today we ask the same question as the people of Judah did:
WHAT WILL SATISFY YOU, GOD?
Micah is one of the twelve Minor Prophets at the end of the Old Testament. We call them minor, not because they were unimportant, but their prophecies were quite short compared to those of Isaiah or Jeremiah. Micah wrote about the same time as the prophet Isaiah, that is, about 700 years before Jesus.
The words of our text are indeed those of a father confronting his not so obedient children, God the Father confronting the people of the Southern Kingdom of Judah.
We can also compare this confrontation to a courtroom scene. The LORD says to the people of Judah, “Stand up, plead your case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say.” God calls upon the mountains and hills of Israel to be the jury who will listen to the people’s defense. The mountains and the hills are also the witnesses. Those mountains and hills witnessed a lot from the time that God brought the people out of Egypt, settled them in the Promised Land, and then preserved them for almost 800 years as a nation. And much of what they witnessed from the people of Israel and Judah was not so admirable.
The LORD sounds like a prosecuting attorney and a frustrated father at the same time. As the prosecutor he lays out his charge against the people: “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me.” Those could also be the words of a frustrated parent: “What have I done that’s so bad? Why are you acting this way? Why are you treating me the way you are?”
The LORD’s frustration was due partly to the fact that he had treated the people of Israel so well for their entire history. He could have brought up countless examples of his preservation, goodness, mercy, and love. He mentions four examples. The LORD had brought them up out of Egypt and redeemed them, set them free, from their slavery in that nation. Two, he led them by Moses, perhaps Israel’s greatest Old Testament prophet. Three, during that journey from Egypt when King Balak of Edom tried to use a magician named Balaam to curse the people of Israel, the LORD actually caused Balaam to bless the people a number of times. And four, the LORD also mentions their journey from Shittim to Gilgal. Shittim was their last settlement on the east side of the Jordan. Gilgal was their first stop on the west side of the Jordan as they finally entered the Promised Land. In other words God richly blessed them as a caring and protecting Father all the way from Egypt to the Promised Land, not to mention all the years they had lived in the Promised Land.
The people knew all of this goodness of God from their history. Their parents, and their parents, had passed this history down to each generation. That’s why God told them that they knew, “the righteous acts of the LORD.” Everything that God did for his people was right and good all of the time.
If God were to remind us of all his goodness to you and me, what might he mention? There would be a lot. He created us in his image. Out of all the plants and animals that God created he created you and me to be like him, to think like him, to be holy like him, and to rule over the world as God’s caretakers and stewards.
And he didn’t just create us and then leave us. He preserves us, protects us, and provides for us. Our individual experiences in life, our blessings in life, may vary a lot, but generally we can all say that God has blessed us far more than he has blessed millions of others in the world going a back hundreds of generations. I personally have to say that I have lived my whole life in the wealthiest, freest, most abundantly blessed nation in the whole history of this world and in the most blessed years of that nation. Sometimes I think, “God has blessed me with too much of everything.” Most of you might say the same thing.
And then remember that God has blessed us with all that we have after we sinned against him. Martin Luther in his explanation of the 1st Article of the Apostles’ Creed comments, “All this [all of God’s blessings of creation and preservation] God does only because he is my good and merciful Father in heaven, and not because I have earned or deserved it.” And then on top of everything that God has given us in life he most important of all and most graciously of all sent us a Savior to take away the guilt of our sin.
The people of Judah were not always so thankful for all of God’s blessings. Sometimes they were like spoiled, disrespectful teenagers. Micah records their defense in this divine courtroom: “With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
Emails and texts are a wonderfully convenient and quick way to communicate with others, but one of the disadvantages of this communication is that you don’t always know the emotions that motivate the message. People have completely misread the emotions behind an email or text and made mistaken conclusions about the person sending the message.
We have a similar situation with these words of the people of Judah. Are they honestly asking the LORD what it is that they can do to please and satisfy him, “What can we do to satisfy you, God?” Or, are they angry at God like disrespectful teenagers lashing out with sarcasm at a parent, “Well, what can do to satisfy you, God, since you never seem to be satisfied?”
I think they’re not being honest and respectful. I think they’re speaking like sarcastic teenagers imagining they’re victims of an overbearing parent. So they go on to suggest what might satisfy God: the sacrifices of animals and goods, exaggerated and inflated numbers of sacrifices – thousands of animals, ten thousand rivers of oil. And then they suggest with the most disrespect of all, “Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” “Shall we offer our own children as human sacrifices like the Moabites and the Phoenicians? Would that finally satisfy you, God?”
Have you ever been angry at God like that? Have you ever disrespected God? Have you ever spoken to him with such sarcasm? I think a lot of us have, if not all of us. We experience a tragedy, an injustice, a loss, a disappointment, and we lash out at God like angry teenagers. We are sinners who don’t always trust God perfectly or love him perfectly.
In the human scenario this is where the parent often loses patience and control and the whole situation unravels into anger and fighting. But we’re dealing with God, and God is the perfect parent. He’s the perfect Father. And he answers the people of Judah with patience, control, love, and instruction. God uses the prophet Micah to speak to the people: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
First of all, God doesn’t need a thousand sacrifices from his people, not even a million. God doesn’t need us to sing a thousand hymns, or have ten thousand worship services here in church, or put a million dollars in the offering plate. God doesn’t even need a billion good works from us all. First of all, God wants our hearts. He wants genuinely godly hearts. He wants humble, repentant hearts that simply love him and love their neighbors. He wants people who act fairly and decently with others, people whose hearts ache with mercy for those in need or are treated unjustly. He wants people who bow regularly before him honoring him with their obedience and how they live. And when we have humble, repentant hearts then we can offer God a thousand hymns and ten thousand worship services, abundant offerings, and millions of acts of love for him and our neighbor.
Jesus had a heart that loved us rebellious children so much that he died on a cross to atone for all of our sins. Jesus’ holy life and innocent death on the cross fully satisfied God. What will satisfy God? Jesus. Jesus satisfied God. He was so satisfied that he raised him again from the dead.
Sometimes it takes children a long time in life before they understand how much their parents love them. Sometimes it takes us a long time to understand how much God loves us. God loved us so much that he gave us Jesus. Now give him your heart. Amen.