Sermon by Pastor Esther Handschin, to Micah 6:1-8
DISCUSSION WITH THE CHILDREN
Do adults today still ask:
What would you like to be when you grow up?
Well, do you know yet what you want to be?
Some know this early on: I want to be a fire fighter!
And others have completed their university studies and still do not know.
Some also say: I am going to AMS.
How is the way to get there?
When we get into the teenage years, we want to become independent of our parents. But those parents are sometimes difficult. They do not want us to go out alone. They want us to come home on time. They always want to know where we are and with whom.
And if we are not very grateful, there are plenty of reproaches: What have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Do you not see what I have done for you? How I have done good to you? Have you forgotten the time when I fed you, changed your nappy, raised you, held your hand when you almost fell? Where I protected you and looked after you when you were still little?
Being a teenager is not easy, but it is an important time: your responsibility as a teenager is to find your own way, one that suits you individually.
And the responsibility of parents during this time is to have confidence in you that you will find and make your own way. And to let you go, to let you go in God’s care.
INTRODUCTION TO THE READING
It is a kind of dialogue between God and his people that is being held here. From what God says, it seems to me that he is in that parental role. He reproaches the people for being ungrateful and for not remembering all that God has done.
The people, on the other hand, are a bit confused. What does God want from us? How should we show him our gratitude? Does he want us to make a sacrifice to him?
And then there is the prophet Micah. At the end of the dialogue, he shows an alternative of what God wants from us people: no sacrifices or religious deeds, but orientation towards God’s Word, for the good of our fellow human beings and for the glory of God.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To keep God’s word and to practice love and to be humble before your God. This is how Martin Luther translated the words of the prophet Micah. Not the worship, not an overzealous piety, not sacrifices and gifts can be the answer to God’s goodness. Rather, it is about the way I live my life, i.e. how I act in everyday life, what I do, also towards other people. In this way, we can respond appropriately to God’s goodness. So what does this three-step approach mean: “keep God’s word” (or more literally “act justly”), “practice love” (or again, more literally, “practice an attitude of loving affection”) and “be humble before your God” (or more literally “live your life in such a way that it can be justified before God”)?
First: keeping God’s word, this is how Martin Luther translated it. More closely to the text, we would have to say: acting justly, i.e. to act in such a way that community becomes and remains possible. It is not about exactly following all the rules, of meticulously making sure that I make no mistakes, in regards to my relationship with God. Acting justly, this means to act in such a way that it does not compromise the peace and welfare that is needed in every community. In this, however, I may always remember that whenever I fail to act justly, God is the one who acquits me. For often enough in life, I find myself in this dilemma when it comes to “acting justly”: neither the one nor the other proves to be right. Whatever I do, someone is affected or harmed by it. In other words: life is lived at the expense of other life. We cannot escape this. We become guilty against each other again and again, even if we try our best to avoid it. That is why “acting justly” also includes the knowledge that I can fail in doing it. But where I do it with a sincere heart, repentance is possible when things go wrong. And where there is repentance, there is also reconciliation and restoration of peace, of shalom.
Second: practicing love. Again, a bit closer to the Hebrew text, we could translate: “to practice the attitude of loving affection”. We cannot simply love. We have to practice loving, especially with people we do not like. “Practicing love”, this does not mean obtaining God’s grace and care through the highest possible personal commitment and in this way responding to his goodness. Practising love, this begins with recognising myself as a being that is loved by God. Wherever I recognise God’s goodness in his good deeds and let the gratitude grow in me, I make myself aware of God’s loving care towards me. When I practice the awareness of God’s love in this way, then this love permeates through me to other people and I practice love on them.
Third: be humble before your God, this is how Martin Luther said it. Here, a literal translation is difficult, because the Hebrew word only appears in this one place in the Bible. Perhaps we could say it like this: walk the way with God in reverence. Reverence does not mean that I have to fear God. It is more about my attitude and about how I meet God. To walk with God in reverence, to have a humble attitude towards him, this means that in the face of God’s goodness I acknowledge his majesty and greatness. Many people not only lie to others, they especially lie to themselves. They justify their own actions as good deeds, even if they know that what they did was not so good. They try to put themselves and their actions in a better light. But God is God and cannot be deceived or lied to. This is why in one of our liturgies of the Lord’s Supper we confess: forgive us for having done evil and for sugarcoating it. Before God, this sugarcoating and these constructs of lies make no sense. He knows us and sees right through us. He does not allow us to trick him with sacrifices or nice words. This should not intimidate us. To know that I cannot fool God is also a great relief. With him, I am allowed to be the way I am. For he loves me the way I am, with all my faults.
The prophet Micah shows us where the strength to do good comes from: from remembering God’s goodness and as our grateful response to it, in acting justly, in practising loving affection and in a lifestyle of humility and reverence for God. I would like to conclude my sermon with a quote from Hannelore Frank from the hymn book. It is written at number 324 and goes as follows: ‘I would like to be how God wants me to be, because he treats me as if I was already like that.’ In experiencing God’s goodness, this quote becomes reality.