What Does the Lord Require? A Stewardship Sermon for Pentecost 25B

Micah 1:3-5; 5:2-5a; 6:6-8

What shall we bring? This is the question that guides our stewardship season for this year. Over the past few weeks we’ve heard a word from Joshua, asking us whom we will serve. It’s a good question, because there are many claimants to our allegiance. We just had an election that asked us to commit to particular candidates, parties, and platforms. I believe in voting, but I also believe we owe first allegiance to God. That’s the way Joshua answered his own question. He declared: “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15). We’ve heard Jesus tell his followers to be salt and light. So, don’t let your salt lose its flavor and don’t hide your light under a bushel. (Mt. 5:13-16). Just remember that song we learned as children: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”
This morning we come to the word found in the Book of Micah. We’ve heard selections from three chapters of the prophet’s message, which leads to the question of the hour: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before God on high?” (Mic. 6:6).  This question has stewardship implications.
Now stewardship sermons are supposed to encourage faithful financial giving, and I’m going do that this morning. That’s because I believe that if one is able, it’s important to express our covenant relationship with God and with the congregation by making an appropriate contribution. Of course, we as a congregation confirm our covenant relationship with the broader Disciples church through our Disciples Mission Fund giving and Special Offerings, which helps support the ministry of both the General and Regional Church. This week you will find information about the Thanksgiving Offering inserted in your bulletins. This special offering helps support our higher education ministries. Then there is Week of Compassion, which allows us to support relief efforts here at home and across the globe. This weekend, Week of Compassion is focused on the California fires, including the Camp Fire which destroyed the town of Paradise, and with it First Christian Church and the home of its pastor.
When it comes to our gifts and offerings, what we give is between us and God. The Treasurer knows and the Bookkeeper knows and God knows! In terms of encouragement to give generously, we’ve heard three excellent words from Crystal, Chris, and Carol. They have shared from their hearts. Now we come to the day on which we celebrate the commitments made by members and friends to the mission of this congregation and beyond. I turned ours in earlier this week. You’re invited to do the same today. If you don’t have your card ready, see Rial! While the commitment cards might not include opportunities to check off time and talent, God knows our hearts.
The Word we hear today from the prophet Micah reminds us that God is always concerned about matters of justice and peace. Here in Micah, God is especially concerned about corruption among the rulers and the religious leaders. There are references in Micah to the Assyrian invasions in the 8th century and the postexilic period several centuries later. It’s pretty commonplace in the prophetic books to hear words of judgment and promises of peace and security. Micah is no different. Micah is concerned about our relationships with God and with each other. Jesus was also concerned about his followers’ relationships with God and neighbor. That concern continues on into our times.
In Micah 5 we hear the promise that out of Bethlehem will appear one who will rule Israel, bringing security and peace. As Christians we’ve taken hold of this promise as a word concerning Jesus, whom the angelic choir proclaimed on the night of his birth, that his birth was a sign of God’s peace on earth (Lk 2:14).
If the God of peace and justice is present in our midst, having been revealed to us in the person of Jesus, then we can begin answering the question of Micah 6: “With what shall I come before the Lord?” Should I bring burnt offerings of yearling calves?  What about thousands of rams or ten thousand rivers of oil? Will that do the job? If that isn’t enough, then what about my first born? Is that sufficient?
When we read Micah 6, it’s easy to skip over that reference to the first born, but it reminds us that down through history humans have sacrificed their own children to God as human sacrifices. So, is this what God desires? Abraham believed it was possible. He took Isaac up on Mount Moriah, and was about to offer him to God, when God intervened and provided an alternative gift (Genesis 22:1-19). Most of us recoil at this idea, but the author of Hebrews pointed to this act as a sign of Abraham’s great faith (Heb 11:17-19). One of our great philosophers, Soren Kierkegaard, famously praised Abraham for his great faith, his lack of doubt, and his willingness to offer his best to God. Yes, Abraham was ready to offer his one and only son. According to Kierkegaard, Abraham believed the ridiculous, and was rewarded for it. [Fear and Trembling]. But, I wonder about Kierkegaard’s interpretation of these events. And, as I consider Abraham’s willingness to give his son to God as a sacrifice, the words of a father who lost his “first born son” to a raging shooter in Thousand Oaks, who claimed he was bored, so why not, rings in my heart. Is this really what God wants? I don’t think so. That’s not the God I’ve come to know and serve. Yes, God wants our lives, but not in that way. Indeed, as the father of one and only one child, I recoil at this test. I expect you do as well.
There is good news, however. God doesn’t require us to sacrifice our first born. No, the prophet tells us: “he has told you, O mortal, what is good.” Yes, God has already revealed in Torah, through the Prophets, and in the various Writings that make up Scripture what is good and perfect.
Micah summarizes that word for us: “What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  (Mic. 6:8). This is a well-known and well-worn passage of Scripture that speaks powerful truths.  Daphne Gascot Arias summarizes the message of this passage, putting it in a stewardship context: “God isn’t asking for the same old regular offering or even a more extravagant sacrifice as offering. The Lord asks for a lifestyle of relationship manifested in our acts, our love, and our walk.” It’s not that our financial gifts aren’t important.  They are. However, we need to put them in the context of a greater calling. That greater calling is to live a life in relationship with God and with our neighbors that is just, merciful, humble. This is what it means to be a disciple or follower of Jesus. This is the foundation for the life of Christian stewardship.
Jesus spoke of two great commands. The first command asks us to love God with our entire being. With that command comes the second, the one that calls on us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The way we do this is through acts of justice, mercy, and humility. This is the salt that flavors our communities. It is the light that shines in the darkness. But, as Matthew Coomber writes in his commentary on Micah 6:8:

 What it means to live in justice, kindness, and humility is left open to interpretation, enabling the text to flow into the varied cultural contexts into which it is received. [Gale A. Yee. Fortress Commentary on the Bible(Kindle Locations 28366-28367). Fortress Press.]

In other words, we have to rediscover the message of Micah each day of our lives. So, what does God desire of you and me today?
This morning we will receive commitment cards, on which we promise to support the financial needs of the congregation as it seeks to be a community of justice, mercy, and humility that bears witness to the love of God revealed in Jesus, the one who brings peace to the world. As we make these financial commitments, whether large or small, I invite you to commit yourselves to bringing time and talents and gifts to the service of God in the world as well. May whatever we do, be done in the spirit of God’s love.  As Ron Allen and Clark Williamson remind us, what God wants is not things or stuff. God wants us. Yes,  “the God of compassionate justice wants to see us acting out our love for the neighbor in compassionate justice for them.” [Preaching the Old Testamentp. 20]. May it begin here in this place, as we gather as God’s church, committed to the mission of God.