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What Does the Lord Require of You?
March 2, 1975

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

MICAH 6:6-8

A man once said to his minister brother, “I would gladly do the Lord’s will if I knew what it was. If God would only write across the sky, then I would know what to do and I would do it.” The brother re­plied, “Why should the Lord do that when you don’t do what you already know is right. You know you should be honest, kind, loving; if you canIt do the will of God which you already know, why should you want to know more?” The prophet Micah summarized it all when he said, “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God?”

Today we are looking at Micah’s window with the succinct, simple, powerful words inscribed. Micah was a discerning prophet far ahead of his time, the time of decline in the nation of Judah. Micah was ahead of our own time for we have yet to catch the spirit, the wisdom and the power of his statement.

Micah asked, “With what shall I come before the Lord?”—an age-old question, a question asked since the beginning of time, a question still asked by moderns. How do I become acceptable to God? What do I do to get blessed? How do I go to heaven? How do I get rid of guilt, anxieties, frustration, and sense of failure? How am I okay? With what shall I come before the Lord? What does the Lord require?

Do I come with offerings, a burnt calf for sacrifice? Shall I sacri­fice my first-born? Do I come with good deeds? Fine prayers? Color­ful worship? Magnificent churches? Do I come with success, money, cars, televisions, horses, stunning clothes? Do I come with popularity, prestige, being well-liked? What do I give God? How can I be happy?

Micah replies with the statement that resounds through the centuries, that takes religion out of the abstract, out of emotions, out of elaborate worship, out of hypocrisy, and puts religion right into our daily living. “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness (mercy, stead­fast love) and to walk humbly with your God.” We find in a single sentence, Amos’ demand for justice, Hosea’s appeal for steadfast love—love of God and love of people—and Isaiah’s plea for the quiet faith of the humble walk with God. Micah took what was strategic from each of the great prophets who went before him, and com­bined their wisdom into one powerful sentence.

True religion, a true relationship with God, proper worship of God is
a life obedient to God in service to one’s fellows. Notice Micah’s use
of verbs, action words: do, love, walk. The Lord requires action, not talk, not just being good, but doing good. In fact, as I understand the ramifications of Micah’s theology, doing precedes being in fact and in importance. A person is good not because he does good; he does not do good because he is good. Being good implies inactivity, preoccupation with one’s morals, smugness, self-satisfaction, “Oh, I’ m good. Look at me. I don’t do this, I don’t do that. I don’t hurt my fellows. I never say anything bad against anyone.” We resemble the Pharisee who irritated Jesus by standing and publicly thanking God for his own goodness, for being so much better than other people. Goodness is not necessarily a state of being but a state of doing. We discover goodness, we dis­cover our true selves, life itself, a relationship with God, by doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly with God.

This principle is especially true when we examine what Micah meant by doing justice. Justice which has the same meaning as righteousness in the Old Testament is a different concept from our popular definition. We associate justice with the courtroom, with legalities. One who is fair is called just. Working so that others may be treated fair is doing justice in our terms. The Old Testament included this in its meaning but included much more. The Hebrew word and concept do not translate easily into English. Our words justice and righteousness do not carry the full meaning of the Old Testament definition. Justice and righteousness mean to fulfill the demands, the conditions of a relationship.

When a person fulfills the conditions imposed upon him by a relationship, he is called righteous. When God fulfills the conditions imposed upon him by the covenant with Israel, God is called righteous. To be righteous, to do justice, is not so much a matter of being righteous or being just (as in being good), but doing that which is expected of us in a relationship. As a minister, I am righteous, l am just and do justice when I fulfill the expectations, the demands placed upon me in the relationship you and I have as congregation-minister. A father is righteous and does justice when he acts as a father should in relation to his children.

The demands of a relationship are best met, according to Micah’s famous statement, when you love kindness, mercy, steadfast love. The word here is usually translated steadfast love. When you walk in humility, when a man fulfills the father role by meeting the demands of the relationship in love and humility, he is doing what the Lord requires of him. When a nation fulfills the demands imposed by a relationship with another country, it can be called a righteous nation. When a nation fulfills those demands in love and humility, it is doing what the Lord requires. When a nation meets the demands imposed by a relationship with the poor, or the minorities within its borders, with love and humility, it is doing what the Lord requires. When a teacher fulfills the conditions, the demands imposed upon him/her by the rela­tionship with students, that teacher is righteous, and when that teacher does it in love and humility, he/she is doing what the Lord requires. The serving of God, the worship of God, is inextricably involved with one’s dealings with his fellows. Jesus said it as strongly as anyone, “Whatever you do to the least of your brothers, you do to me.” “You cannot love God and hate your brother.” How goes it with you? Are you righteous? Are you doing justice? Are you doing what the Lord requires in your relationships?

Ronald Patterson has written, “I Searched for God.” “I stood in the midst of the twirling teeming city bewildered, alone and afraid. I looked for a sign of God, but he was nowhere to be found. I continued to search through the great cathedrals, the beautiful gardens, and storefront churches, but my quest was in vain. At last, exhausted and weary from my search, I slumped in the shade on the cool concrete, my feet hot and my head weary from the dusty day. It was then that l heard footsteps and a soft throated whisper, ‘Thirsty, Mister?’ There, in the smiling face and dancing eyes I knew that my search had ended, for l realized now that God comes not threatening, shouting, calling down vengeance from above, nor does he come only in the stained-glass fantasy of some master builder, but as one who sees, who understands, who listens and responds to the world around him.”

How about the demands imposed upon you in the family relationship? Theresa Greenwood has written, “Lord, it ain’t easy being a mama. Some­times l wonder if I’ll ever get the hang of it. Day after day goes by and I find none of them like today. It’s On the Job Training all the way. Sometimes I want to throw my hands up in despair, but when l look up to You, I find hope. I find that inner peace that cools my sweaty face, that helps me find joy even in the hot dishwater wrinkling and aging my hands, the constant churn of grime, watering neglected plants, feeding the dog, and remembering to crack the windows in the kids’ room at night. O Lord, I know it’s You that sustains and keeps me. I couldn’t do it alone.” 

How about your relationship with the disadvantaged, the helpless, the elderly? From Miami: ”Rejected by relatives and nursing homes, frail and elderly people live in wheelchairs and stretchers in a Miami hospital emergency room. Many were dumped on the hospital’s doorstep with DO NOT RETURN signs pinned to their clothing. Some are dumped at the hospital by relatives who sped away in their autos without talking to hospital personnel.”

How are you doing in your relationships with others that just require consideration and kindness? Irma Bombeck has written, “The other day as a motorist crashed a yellow light, ran over my left foot, called me a vile name and made an obscene gesture as he drove away, I said to my husband, “Some people just don’t make friends easily.” The incident bothered me. Where had common courtesy gone? Is there no place in this world where peace and love abide? No place where we are cognizant of the feelings of others and sensitive to their needs?”

“Of course there is,” said my husband. “There is the church. Last Sunday I
was heartened when the usher greeted me at the door. A sweet little old lady squeezed over to make room for me in her pew. A dimpled child offered to share his song book with me. A stranger in back of me leaned over and whispered, “Peace be with you.” My spirits were so up­lifted that I paused on the church steps to breathe deeply and reflect on the goodness of God’s people. ‘Hey, lady,’ boomed a voice from a car, ‘lf this Mustang belongs to you. MOVE IT. You’re blocking traffic.’ The voice brought me back to reality and the church parking lot. A woman I was sure I had seen on Roller Derby was making a left turn into three lanes of traffic. The sweet little old lady who had made room for me in her pew cut out a car that was trying to get into the exit lane. A pale, blue station wagon had the minister pinned to a no-parking sign. I could hear him praying silently, ‘ls this the thanks l get for working Sundays?’ A late arrival who had parked on the church lawn and was under attack by the automatic sprinkling sys­tem was shouting, ‘God is dead.’ A man with a flat was going up and down the line of cars knocking on their windows trying to get their attention. I saw the stranger who had wished me peace. ‘Peace be with you.’ I yelled. He swerved in front of me, nearly missing my fender. ‘And the same to you, fella.’ It was obvious—whatsoever you do the least of your brothers, he will do it unto you in the church parking lot.”

What about the condition imposed upon you by a relationship with the lonely? “Who Cares?” by Carole May. “And in a very large apartment complex she knelt and cried because she didn’t know how to pray. What cure is there for loneliness when the city has taught you to be afraid of people? A third-grader  felt the rough bricks of the school building on his back and watched the other children playing be­cause he was afraid they might not like him if he tried to join them.
So he stood and waited until recess was over. He didn’t like himself
at all. The children felt his fear and left him alone with it. And all over the country on Sunday morning people went to church and sat and listened and went home. Some of them sang and some of them slept, but they were all very careful not to look or smile at anyone. Everyone hugged their shells about them and went home and forgot.”

What does the Lord require of you? To fulfill the demands placed upon by a relationship, in love and humility? To do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.

© 1975 Douglas I. Norris