February 25, 2018 Series: Convicted
Passage: Micah 6:1–6:8
02.25.2018 Convicted Ordinances
Scripture: Micah 6: 1-8
If you were on trial for being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict? This is the question we have been asking ourselves over the past month. We have been looking honestly at our lives and at our actions to see how they square up and align with the faith we profess. How closely are we following Jesus? When people look at us do they see a follower of Christ?
We have been doing this through looking at Wesley’s three rules for Christian living: do no harm, do good, and attend to the ordinances of God. Well, to be fair, we’ve only looked at the first two. We talked about how the first step in providing evidence that you are indeed a Christian is to resolve to do no harm even as you live in a harmful world. In fact choosing to add no more harm to the world than is already there might be the most important step in living a virtuous life.
The second step was doing good. The second step was doing positive things in the world. And when we think about it, our world presents ample opportunity to do good. The key is simply committing to and being intentional about taking action. At the end of last week we wrote took a couple minutes to write down good things we were committing to do in our lives this week. How did we do with them?
This week we are tackling the most confusingly worded one. Attend to the ordinances of God. It sounds like it came straight outta Shakespearean England. Kinda because it did. The first two are written not only in, like, English but they are kinda self-explanatory. Attend to the ordinances of God needs a bit of unpacking. A bit of interpretation. A bit of explanation.
Bishop Ruben Job wrote a book on Wesley’s three rules and he revised this final one to be “stay in love with God.” He talked about how this final rule was about doing things that kept us connected to, growing with, and loving God. Worship. Prayer. Bible study. Holy conversation. And that’s a fine way of looking at it. We should continue growing in love and relationship with God. And God has given us ways to do that. And certainly coming to worship, praying, doing Bible study, these are things that would provide evidence to convict you of being a Christian.
And the holy ordinances as such are the means of grace, the sacraments. They are worship, Communion, scripture, prayer. So he’s not wrong.
But this morning, I want to look at it a different way. Another way.
Before we had a notion of holy ordinance, before the ordinances of the church were communion, baptism, etc, ordinances existed. And an ordinance is an order or decree made my someone in authority. Baptism and Communion being called ordinances is based on the fact that Jesus told us to do them.
Attend to the ordinances of God, therefore, could easily be restated to mean attend to the decrees of God. Or put even plainer, do what God told you to do.
Throughout the Old Testament and in the Gospels we see people of faith wrestling with the question of what is it that God has told us to do. God gave the 10 commandments and God gave the law filled with 613 decrees. And then for centuries Jewish Scribes, authorities, priests, etc debated how those law fit into the myriad scenarios that life offered. Ancient Israelites ordered their lives around following the law. On Friday they would cook enough food to last them two days because you couldn’t work on the Sabbath and cooking was work. However, real life presents problems and situations that static law can’t always adjudicate. A popular question of interpretation was what if your donkey falls in a ditch on the sabbath? To rescue your donkey would violate the sabbath. To leave your donkey helpless in the ditch would violate the statute calling for humane care for animals. So rabbis and teachers and priests and scribes argued over what a faithful Jew should do in that case.
Throughout Scripture we see these arguments taking place. Teachers of the law ask Jesus what is the most important commandment. Jesus’ followers are accused of working on the Sabbath, Jesus is accused of working on the Sabbath when he does a healing miracle. The prophets call out the ways that the people and the kind are violating God’s law. There is a constant tension between what is it that God requires of us.
This question is explicitly taken up in Micah. There is a verse in Micah that basically asks the question: What are the ordinances of God? What are the decrees of God? What does God require of us? And it is to that we now turn.
Listen to what the Lord says: “Stand up, plead my case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say. “Hear, you mountains, the Lord’s accusation; listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. For the Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel. “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me. I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam. My people, remember what Balak king of Moab plotted and what Balaam son of Beor answered. Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.” With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
The last verse of this passage is the most well known and it’s what we’ll spend the most time on, but I want to take a look at how we get there. The passage begins with God leveling charges against Israel. God says Israel has been missing the mark and he is going to prosecute the case.
Then God lists all that God has done for Israel. Which has, from the beginning, been the basis of Israel’s faithfulness to God. They are to follow the law because of what God has done for them. God brought them out of slavery in Israel. God brought them to the promised land. God kept them safe though enemies sought their destruction. For what God did with Balak and Balaam, come back to church after Easter. That story is coming. And it’s amazing. Anyways…God has brought the people Israel out of a horrible state and blessed them with peace and prosperity. And Israel has not responded in kind.
The speaker wants to make things right. The speaker wants to respond in a manner that befits God’s actions. And so the speaker says with what shall I come before the Lord, shall I bow down, shall I come with burnt offerings, will God be pleased if I come not with the proscribed sacrifice, but with a sacrifice over and above what is required?
For centuries the thing was if you transgressed the law, you offered the sacrifice that the law required. You brought some birds. You brought a ram. You brought oil. And the priests did their thing and presto-chango, you were right with God. The speaker here is not only offering the called for sacrifice, the speaker is offering to do more. But that is not what’s required. That’s not what God asks for. That is not the ordinance of God.
At least not according to Micah.
Micah chances it up, Micah flips the script.
What does the Lord require of you? He has told you, o mortal. What are the ordinances of God? What has God told us to do?
Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God.
So as we look at doing what God told us to do, let’s look at the three things God told us to do.
The first thing Micah tells us, or God tells us through Micah is that we are to act justly. We are to treat others equally. We are to work to make sure that everyone has what they need in order to thrive. Oftentimes in society we think that some people should receive more than others, some people deserve better than others. Attending to the ordinances of God means working towards ensuring that all people have basic needs met and can have a life and a future.
Christians have been doin this for centuries. I want to read an excerpt from David Bentley Hart’s book Athiest Delusions. In this book Hart systematically looks at the arguments the New Athiest movement makes against the Christian faith and shows how their arguments are caricatures and do not square with the historical record. In the section I’m going to quote, Hart is talking about how the earliest Christians set up public hospitals before such a thing ever existed. He writes:
There was, after all, a long tradition of Christian monastic hospitals for the destitute and dying, going back to the days of Constantine and stretching from the Syrian and Byzantine East to the Western fringes of Christendom, a tradition that had no real precedent in pagan society (unless one counts, say, the valetudinaria used by the military to restore soldiers to fighting form). St. Ephraim the Syrian (A.D. C. 306–373), when the city of Edessa was ravaged by plague, established hospitals open to all who were afflicted. St. Basil the Great (A.D. 329–379) founded a hospital in Cappadocia with a ward set aside for the care of lepers, whom he did not disdain to nurse with his own hands. St. Benedict of Nursia (A.D. C. 480–c. 547) opened a free infirmary at Monte Cassino and made care of the sick a paramount duty of his monks. In Rome, the Christian noblewoman and scholar St. Fabiola (D.A.D.C. 399) established the first public hospital in Western Europe and—despite her wealth and position—often ventured out into the streets personally to seek out those who needed care. St. John Chrysostom (A.D. 347–407), while patriarch of Constantinople, used his influence to fund several such institutions in the city; and in the diakoniai of Constantinople, for centuries, many rich members of the laity labored to care for the poor and ill, bathing the sick, ministering to their needs, assisting them with alms. During the Middle Ages, the Benedictines alone were responsible for more than two thousand hospitals in Western Europe. The twelfth century was particularly remarkable in this regard, especially wherever the Knights of St. John—the Hospitallers—were active. At Montpellier in 1145, for example, the great Hospital of the Holy Spirit was founded, soon becoming a center of medical training and, in 1221, of Montpellier’s faculty of medicine. And, in addition to medical care, these hospitals provided food for the hungry, cared for widows and orphans, and distributed alms to all who came in need.
In the ancient world it was just assumed that there were different parts of society and some parts were correctly entitled to receive privileges like medical treatment where others were not. Then Christians came along and insisted that if God is the God of all and if Christ is all in all, then everyone should have access to a doctor or to medicine if they were sick. This idea was so simple yet mind blowing and it turned the world upside down.
What systemic injustice exists in our community? What basic unfairness have we tolerated for far too long? And how can you work to bring about more justice in our neighborhoods?
The next ordinance found in Micah is to love mercy. There’s a distinct difference between justice and mercy. Put simply, mercy is giving a hungry person a sandwich, justice is asking why he is hungry in the first place. We as Christians are called to love mercy. We are called to love doing concrete acts of service to persons who are in need. We are called to feed the hungry. We are called to clothe the naked. We are called to love the lonely. We are called to visit the sick and in prison. We are called to reach out in love and service to the least, the lost, and the left out.
The concept of mercy has made drastic strides in the last century. Charles Mathewes examines this in his book The Republic of Grace. He writes:
Since 9/11, probably the most shocking single event for humans was the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 26, 2004 that killed at least a quarter-million people and left millions destitute. Some commentators compared the responses to the tsunami to the responses to the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, and noted that in 2004, unlike 1755, relatively little commentary addressed the implications of the tsunami for our thinking about the existence of a good God. But such discussions, or the absence thereof, were not the most interesting thing about the worldwide response to the tsunami. The most interesting thing was the worldwide response itself. Unlike Lisbon, the tsunami did not primarily provoke speculative philosophical discussions, and those only in Europe; it provoked food drives and massive financial donations from around the world. The question most asked was not “what kind of God can allow this suffering?” but “what human errors permitted this suffering?” and “how can we act in the present to alleviate it, and how can we act in the future to ensure it does not happen again?” The difference in response is not because people in the eighteenth century were more callous or parochial than we are today; the root of the difference lay in the relative power of humans before the onslaught of nature. In the eighteenth century, natural disasters would largely provoke wonder and awe, because that was the only possible response for humans to have for them. But today, we can act in response to them, and if we cannot prevent them, we will at least try to repair them.
That paragraph has stuck with me since the first time I read it nearly a decade ago. For untold millennia humans bowed before the power of nature and speculated what nature’s wrath said about the gods or God. Within the last century, that entire thinking has flipped. I think back to what we experienced this fall, the massive outpouring of support, money, supplies that has been sent to hurricane victims in Houston, Florida, and the Caribbean. Companies like Budweiser sending free water. We didn’t simply look at the unfortunate ones to live in the wrong place at the wrong time and thank God it wasn’t us. We didn’t say somehow they deserved it. We said no one deserves it and we did what we could to help.
What needs can we meet in our community? What can you do for a person in our neighborhood this week?
Walk humbly with God.
The last ordinance of God is to walk humbly with God. There are people who devote their lives to doing good for others and won’t stop letting you know it. They tout everything they have done, alt he sacrifices they have made. There’s a character on the NBC show called The Good Place who spent her life raising over 60 billion dollars for charitable causes. But she did it for all the wrong reasons. She wanted her parents to love her. She wanted to be a philanthropic celebrity. She was not walking humbly with God.
Contrast that fictional character with the countless saints in any church who commit their time to helping other people and go through life gently and quietly. Those who go in on Fridays to put together snack packs for school children on free and reduced lunch. Those who go serve at a homeless ministry on a weeknight. Those who carry food cards or bus fare to give to folks they encounter on the streets. And who do so not because they want to Lord their goodness over others, but because of an unconditional love for their fellow human.
Love others. Really and concretely. And do so humbly. And I’m loving others humbly you will walk humbly with your God.
If we did all that, if we reached out in acts of justice and mercy and did so quietly and humbly, there would be those who would give sure testimony that yes indeed we are Christian.
We have spent the last four weeks looking at how our lives can provide more evidence of the faith we profess. Do no harm. Do good. Do what God says to do. Now the time has come to put all this head stuff into action. What will you do? What steps will you take? How will you live differently as a result of this series? Take a few minutes to think about some next steps you can take.