THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR A
MICAH 6:1- 8
ST. AUGUSTINE’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH
THE REVEREND BARRY GRIFFIN
“He has told you, O mortal, 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?”
How did you learn to read? I learned to read with the help of some very special friends: Dick, Jane, Sally, Puff the Cat, Spot the Dog, and Tim the Teddy Bear. Are any of you acquainted with my special friends?
If so, these phrases may be familiar: Look, Jane, look. See Spot run. Run Spot, run! Dick and Sally see Spot run! Go Puff, go!
That’s how I learned to read. My Dick and Jane Reader and my first grade teacher Mrs. Hutchinson served me well.
Nowadays I struggle with a different language. For forty years off and on I’ve studied German. One of the benefits of learning a new language is often overlooked. When we learn a new language we learn the principles of language in general. We end up with a better understanding of our own native tongue.
For example, I’ve learned about the Imperative verb form. It’s a simple verb form. Imperative means command. When we tell someone to do something we use the imperative.
It occurs to me that the Dick and Jane Readers are based on Imperative verb forms. Dick and Jane live in a world of simple commands: go, look, run, see. Dick and Jane live and move and have their being in a world of imperatives. It’s a world that appeals to young readers. It’s very accessible.
There are three imperatives in today’s Old Testament lesson. The people of God have turned away from the Lord. Despite their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, despite God’s saving acts, the people have forgotten their covenant with the Lord.
So what will it take to make things right? Our sins are great. Surely God requires something great in return. We’ve got to pay and pay big.
What will it be? Burnt offerings? Thousands of rams? Rivers of oil? What about our firstborn children? Surely God will be appeased by human sacrifice.
No. God’s requirements are much less costly and much more simple. God’s requirements are summarized in three commands: “He has told you… 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.”
God offers three imperatives: do; love; walk. Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God.
Burnt offerings and sacrifices may have their place, but they never take the place of justice, kindness and humility. The simple approach is best.
There are those who wish to do great things for God. Watch out for those who wish to do great things for God. Take your time with such people. Don’t trust too soon. You may be unaware of their true motives. They may be unaware of their true motives. Consider things like the Crusades; the Spanish Inquisition; the People’s Movement of Jim Jones.
The prophet Micah reveals a God who is less interested in flash than substance. God doesn’t require excessive sacrifice. God seldom requires great things. Instead, God looks for the simple stuff: fundamental justice, basic human kindness, and sincere humility. These things restore us to right relationship with God.
The Beatitudes of Jesus amplify the prophetic teaching of Micah. The Blessed among us go about doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.
“God has told you what is good,” Micah says. It’s simpler than you think.
Years ago Robert Fulghum published a #1 bestseller called All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. The book begins with the author’s statement of belief.
“Each spring, for many years, I have set myself the task of writing a personal statement of belief: a Credo. When I was younger, the statement ran for many pages, trying to cover every base, with no loose ends. It sounded like a Supreme Court brief, as if words could resolve all conflicts about the meaning of existence.
“The Credo has grown shorter in recent years – sometimes cynical, sometimes comical, sometimes bland – but I keep working at it. Recently I set out to get the statement of personal belief down to one page in simple terms, fully understanding the naïve idealism that implied…
“Here’s my Credo: “All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:
“Don’t hit people.
“Put things back where you found them.
“Clean up your own mess.
“Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
“Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
“Wash your hands before you eat.
“Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
“Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
“Take a nap every afternoon.
“When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
“Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
“Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
“And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.
“Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.
“Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all – the whole world – had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.
“And it is still true, no matter how old your are – when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.”
Do justice, Sally. Love Kindness, Dick. Walk humbly, Jane, and you won’t go wrong.
If you would like to respond to this sermon or receive future sermons by email, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org