Micah 6:8 is one of my favorite verses in all of scripture. I’m not alone as many writers list it as one of the top 10 due to its focus on doing instead of just thinking about faith. In North America and even in the Vatican these days there is a shift from religion as being something one studies and thinks about, to being faith experienced and lived. Even our own Evangelical Lutheran Church in America uses the tag-line God’s Work. Our Hands. to articulate and encourage this shift in religious life.
Many want religion to be a simple, a bunch of rules to follow, a prayer to say, a formula to happiness, wholeness, and heaven. Just tell me what you want from me, what I need to do… Preachers on television use this model: believe this, don’t do that, act this way and God will bless you, God will give you what you want, what you’ve earned, and your life as a “Christian” will be full of perfection and prosperity. But you and I know that God isn’t a puzzle to be solved or a program to be worked.
God who created us and loves us, pursues us as we wander and wonder about what we need to do. God sent prophets to shape us up and assure us of God’s blessings. And when we ignored them and insisted on our way, God send Jesus to save us from our sins and ourselves. Today we hear from Micah and Matthew Messages to realign us and remind us of what God does for us first, what God dreams and hopes our response is, and both of those are love.
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In my experience as a student, my writing teachers always stressed the importance of using strong verbs to make your point. In Micah that verb is “require”. It’s a word we know well. It focuses us on what one needs to do and serves to focus and direct the verse:
what does the Lord require of you…?
Seems pretty easy to understand, but here is where the nuances of language, particularly the original Hebrew get in the way. Sure it would be easy to tell you to:
do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.
THAT is what the Lord requires, wants, and demands.
Require means those are “the rules”, that’s “the law”, color within “those lines”… but the Hebrew points to something more. The Hebrew word for “require” here is darash and the subtleties of this very strong verb are nuanced and fascinate me. The Lord is not requiring us in the sense of the IRS, as in “U.S. Tax Code › Title 26 › Subtitle F › Chapter 61 › Subchapter A › Part V › § 6072” which says: “the time for filing income tax returns shall be filed on or before the 15th day of April following the close of the calendar year.” Simple right? The U.S. government tells us what the code “requires” of us.
The Hebrew word darash does not translate directly, equally, or fully as our English “require.” The verb darash has a foundation of love, concern for, or healthy dependence, as in “the child requires her mother’s love,” or “the plants in the community garden require rain and sunshine.” There is a feeling or encouragement of seeking in darash in the way lovers seek each other out, or a shepherd seeks their lost sheep. In Hebrew Scripture, these examples use this strong and nuanced verb darash.
What the Lord requires of us is seeking love. We are beloved and blessed and called or “darash-ed” to do God’s work with our hands doing blessings of justice, kindness and mercy. Darash, we aren’t contracted, or demanded to do these, God doesn’t require them as a condition of our being loved or blessed with forgiveness and life everlasting…
- God seeks them as God seeks us.
- God yearns for them as God yearns for us.
- God needs them from us as we are beloved and blessed partners in creation’s story, God’s big adventure, the kingdom of God we share here and now.
[James Howell, The United Methodist Reporter, Unpacking the Message of Micah 6:8, June 13, 2012]
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In the reading from Matthew called The Beatitudes, many see another list of what is required. If only we could be like those Jesus said are blessed, we would be good and moral Christians, able to earn the keys to the kingdom. We fall into the trap of seeing Jesus words as law and not gospel, as rules and not as grace-filled word of encouragement and guidance for his beloved and blessed. But the good news of Jesus is that because…
- being blessed is an unconditionally gift from God,
- being blessed is not conditional about what we do, and
- being blessed is not about making bad people moral, but about making dead people alive.
We are dead because we sin and just want “to know what to do”. But the “be-attitudes” are not a list of “how-to or must-do-attitudes.” Jesus goes up on that hillside to remind those gathered and you and I that we are beloved children of God, and that he meets and blesses us always. Jesus doesn’t make being any of these things (poor, mourning, meek, hungry, merciful, pure, peacemakers, persecuted, or reviled) a condition of being beloved or blessed.
God through Jesus meets us whoever we are,
where ever we are, whatever we are.
But the world today is filled with morality done in the name of Jesus. But Jesus calls us to a different be-attitude, to be more. An example of this was in an interview I read with popular Christian cartoon Veggie Tales creator Phil Vischer. After many years of producing cartoons based on beloved bible stories, he realized that the very “Christian message” he was trying to teach wasn’t Christianity at all, it was moral-ism…
I looked back at the previous 10 years and realized I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, “Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so,” or “Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!” But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality. . .
And that was such a huge shift for me from the American Christian ideal. We’re drinking a cocktail that’s a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we’ve intertwined them so completely that we can’t tell them apart anymore. Our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good so God will make all your dreams come true. It’s the Oprah god.
Thankfully we have scripture that holds up the mirror to our society and our selfishness. Scripture that calls us out of the box we put God in, the “I get what I earn God”, the God I can understand, the God of rules and repercussions. God’s Word from Micah to Matthew calls us to God, to repent and be with God, to know we are beloved and blessed in spite of our sins and ourselves.
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Often we see the beatitudes as calling us to be… humble, meek, merciful, pure in heart—or in other words, perfectly pressed and polished people who go along to get along. But discipleship is dirty, messy and costly. Jesus walked among and accompanied the meek, the mourning, the peacemakers, the poor in spirit, those who hungered for justice and mercy as deeply as any starving person hungers for a tiny scrap of food.
We are invited to be sharers, to be builders and believers of an abundant community of accompaniment, the kingdom of God here and now…
- a kingdom Micah shared through God’s darash,
- a kingdom of acceptance and accompaniment , and
- a kingdom modeled by Jesus teaching us how to be disciples.
Disciples of Jesus, being with those he would be with embody the be-attitudes.
It is in walking and being with Jesus that we too look into the eyes of others, seeing and sharing that they too are beloved and blessed. That experience the transforming power of the gospel is our mission, and that power moves us to be and do God’s work, not because we have to, or are required to, but because we can’t help living the be-attitudes that becomes being God’s hands.