4th Sunday after the Epiphany (A)
January 29, 2023
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Old Testament reading from the prophet Micah.
If you want to get people’s attention you have a ton of options: a bell, a whistle, a shout, a gavel, a billboard. My favorite way of getting people’s attention is saying “Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Or maybe it’s “Amen.” I’m not always sure.
When God wants to get people’s attention, He does so a little differently. On Mount Sinai He used thunder, lightning, clouds, and trumpets. When He confronted Job He said, “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me” (Job 38:3). When Jesus wanted to emphasize a teaching, He would say, “Truly, I say to you”; sometimes there would even be two “trulies”. Today, God says, “Hear what the Lord says” and “Answer me!” And you can bet that when God wants your attention, you really need to listen to what He has to say.
God sets the stage with the picture of courtroom. He is the plaintiff, the accuser, who says He has: “An indictment against His people.” As witnesses He calls the mountains and the hills: “Hear what the LORD says: Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice.” How many hills throughout Israel had seen their idolatry and the abominable worship of gods who demanded child sacrifice? And the defendants? They’re His people. It’s His people that God addresses today. Not the unbelievers out there, but believers, Israelites, you, and me.
What’s unusual when God gets their attention is that He doesn’t start by accusing, He starts with a question: “O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me!” In other words, what has He done to deserve their lack of love and their failure to respond to His gifts? Hasn’t He taken care of them?
He says, “For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.” He rescued them from slavery in Egypt, then, even though they were so ungrateful at times, He kept them safe for forty years. When the king of Moab wanted his prophet Balaam to curse Israel, God made Balaam bless them. Then He gave them faithful leaders like Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to lead and teach them. For forty years He fed them and kept their shoes and clothing from wearing out, and how did they repay Him? By being ungrateful, by turning their backs on him for fake gods and their hedonistic worship, and by not being sorry for their sins. They had lost sight of God who had given them everything! He had worked constant miracles for them, and they just forgot, or more accurately, they just didn’t care.
Thankfully we didn’t have to wander about in a wilderness for forty years. Still, life is a journey in the wilderness where you never know what can happen from one day to the next. It’s a tough walk! It would be even tougher if God wasn’t taking care of us, right? God gives us what? Clothing, shoes, food, drink, house, job, health. Or does He give us clothing, shoes, food, drink, house, job, health, every single thing we have! These aren’t insignificant gifts! And how do we repay Him? Not very well. How often are you ambivalent towards God? How often do you pray for what you want, but not tell Him thank you when you get what you need? How often is He just a passing thought throughout the day? How often do you look at all your stuff and think that you’ve done pretty good for yourself? That maybe you have what you have because you deserve it, or you work hard, or that you’re better than others who are poorer than you? How often do you make sure your bills are paid, your hobbies are financed, then realize that maybe you should throw a few bucks in the offering plate occasionally? Let’s be brutally honest, failing to give thanks to God by not giving back to Him a portion of our blessings is a sin. Maybe God should ask us: “O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me!” How can we respond to that? How did Micah’s listeners reply? Well, their response wasn’t very good.
They responded with a question of their own: “With what shall I come before the LORD…with burnt offerings, with calves a year old…with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” Do you see what they’re getting at? They’re asking God what they must do to pay Him off. Will He keep doing what He’s been doing if they just pay a steep enough price? They even offer their own sons as payment, and it still isn’t enough. What was missing was true sorrow and repentance over their sins and a fervent prayer for the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness.
God isn’t a tyrant who has to be bought off or bribed! Everything He did for Israel, and everything He does for us and gives to us is only because He is a good and righteous God! He didn’t abandon Israel when they sinned and He doesn’t abandon us when we sin. When we lose sight of Him, He still watches us. When we’re ungrateful brats, He’s the Father who continues to inundate us with blessings.
The confused thinking of Micah’s hearers points us to the important truth that what we offer will never be enough. The author of Psalm 49 put it this way: “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice” (Psalm 49:7-8). Jesus states clearly: “What can a man give in return for his soul?” (Mark 8:37) So what can we give? Nothing! The price is so high that not even a man’s firstborn son is enough. Well, man’s firstborn son is not enough, but God’s firstborn Son is enough and then some.
Only God can pay what needs to be paid. Only God can do what needs to be done. Only God can sacrifice His Son to pay Himself back for our sins. Sacrifices in Micah’s day were bloody affairs; animals were killed and their bodies drained of blood, and still they fell short. It wasn’t until God the Father spared His Son nothing in bloody affair that true forgiveness was found. That’s how our broken relationship with God was fixed. Not the sacrifices of thousands of rams, but of just one Lamb. We can’t do anything to save ourselves, and that’s why God, in His great love, did what had to be done.
God is the giver of all good gifts, the greatest of which is His Son. The Son that was given even though we don’t deserve Him. God keeps forgiving us even when we keep sinning. God always remembers us even when we keep forgetting Him. So why wouldn’t we want to thank Him? Why wouldn’t we want to do whatever it takes to please Him? We do, right?! So, what do we do? Micah gives us the answer: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
What you do then is mourn your sins, repent of them, and hear me tell you that those sins, all those sins, are forgiven! That’s it! That’s all you have to do to be made right with God! That’s not the end though, right? What do we do now that we’re forgiven? What is our response to God’s constant generosity? It’s a change of heart. It’s not only changes on the outside, but also on the inside. It’s a heart of love towards our neighbors. It’s ensuring, to the best of our ability, that we do only what is right. It’s humbling ourselves before God, and not presuming we have something to offer. Humility is rightly acknowledging that we are lost and condemned creatures, who only by the power of the Gospel, have our sins forgiven. Everything God does is simply because He is good, gracious, and forgiving, and it’s only by His power that we have a change of heart.
When it comes to getting someone’s attention, no one is better at it than God. He grabs our attention through His Word so that He can show us our sins, and He gets our attention to show us our sins so He can forgive our sins. It’s because our sins are forgiven that God richly blesses us day in and day out. When He gets our attention and we realize all that He has done for us, we respond not by trying to earn His forgiveness but simply by praising Him and living as He wants – with love, thanksgiving, and humility.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen