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Sermon - 4 Epiphany

In the Name… A mother asked her daughter what she learned at Sunday School and the daughter replied, "Don’t be scared. You’re getting a duvet." The mother was perplexed so she looked at the child’s handout. It read, "Be not afraid; thy Comforter is coming." From our Old Testament lesson today, “Remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal.” I’m sure we all do, don’t we? Hmm. It's sometimes hard for us to relate well to the Old Testament. For one thing, it's ancient history and ancient history was probably not everybody's favourite subject in school. And, then again, a lot of good Christians have a perception that the Old Testament is something we can forget about now that we have Jesus and we should just focus on what he said and did. But the thing is that the Old Testament is 80% of the Bible and without it the 20% that's left doesn't make much sense. I mean, John 3 says that God so loved the world that gave his only-begotten Son, and that's great, but the reason he did so is to be found in Genesis 3 and the story of the Fall. Indeed, the Old Testament, with all its lengthy stories, unpronounceable names, grammatically difficult prophecies and other faults which we can pick apart, ridicule, and dismiss, is really relevant to our lives today because it is just as much the word of God as the Gospels. So, today, I’m going to look at our lesson from Micah and see why it matters what King Balak of Moab devised. Now, Micah was a prophet who lived about 700 B.C. In other words, a long time ago. Like most of the prophets, he was concerned about the spiritual and moral life of the Israelite people, and Micah saw this from a particular point of view. He lived in a small rural village and he saw poor farmers suffering at the hands of distant, powerful landlords. He saw merchants ripping off villagers by using false weights and measures - shrinkflation. And, so, not surprisingly, his prophecies focus on justice. But his most scathing criticism is for the hollow religious practices of his day particularly for an attitude which had grown up that because the Jews were a Chosen People they didn’t have to be choosing persons. That is, they thought that being part of a protected group meant they could do as they pleased as individuals and not lose that protection. As long as public festivals, sacrifices and ceremonies were observed, they were free to cheat, lie, kill, steal or whatever took their fancy. And he saw how that attitude had affected, or infected, everyone, rich or poor, urban or rural. Which is why, in the passage we heard today, he emphasizes two things. God is just, faithful and loving and because He is, we are to live the same way. So, Micah sets the scene of a legal hearing and has God take the role of the defendant, the accused, and say “O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me!” In other words, what have I done wrong that you should reject me and my words? He then goes on to show that far from doing them wrong, God had cared for His people at many times and in different ways. He had rescued their ancestors from the Egyptians and provided them safe passage through the Red Sea. He gave them Moses, the great lawgiver; Aaron, the high priest; and Miriam, a prophetess and poet. And, Micah reminded them of the time when King Balak of Moab wanted the pagan wizard Balaam to pronounce a curse on the Hebrews, as they travelled through the desert from Shittim to Gilgal. The Lord frustrated Balak’s plan by forcing Balaam to pronounce a blessing, instead. And, the reason for choosing this particular incident out of all of Israel’s history, was because afterwards, as the people went on their way, Balaam told Balak that the only way Israel could be cursed was if the people themselves turned their backs on God. And that is Micah’s concern. That by ignoring the precepts of God as individuals, the people of his time were cursing themselves, and, by extension, the nation, as well. Just as the pagan Balaam had predicted. The people of God should have been fully committed to God. Instead, they were fully committed to themselves. They were reciting empty words and offering meaningless sacrifices. So, Micah tells the people what God really wants. Not thousands of rams, or ten thousand rivers of oil, or even the firstborn child. “He has told you, O man, what is good; …do justice, …love kindness, and …walk humbly with your God.” Contrary to the prevailing belief in corporate salvation, these are all things that can only be done by individuals. To do justice means to do the right thing yourself. Oftentimes we focus on what we think other people ought to do, how they need to act justly, how they need to act rightly. But justice, to borrow a phrase, begins at home. In saying to love kindness, or mercy in other translations, Micah means by showing steadfast love and kindness with one another. Jesus told His disciples that it was by their love for one another that the world would know that they were His disciples and that is true today. If we love one another, the world will know that we are disciples of Jesus. If we do not love one another, what does that say? And, the last requirement in Micah’s response is to walk humbly with our God. Our God is a God we can relate to as friend to friend. But to walk humbly with God is also to remember our place and to know that we stand with God, not as equals, but as invited guests; never forgetting for a moment that God is Creator, and we are but part of God’s creation. Micah’s point in 700 B.C. to his people, and in 2023 A.D. to us, since we’re still reading him, is that the outward forms of religion should reflect our inner relationship with God. Justice, mercy, and humility are essential qualities of the Christian life outside of the worship building. Treating one another fairly, loving each other faithfully, and doing the things that God desires should merely be a natural outflow of a life which carries worship in the heart. So, let us, “Remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal.” In the Name… ReplyForward

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