Walking Humbly with God (4 Epiphany, A)
“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
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?
The Prophet Micah speaks to us this morning asking an age old question. “With what shall I come before the Lord?” What is required of me to get right with God? How can I worship God on high in spirit and in truth (John 4:23)?
He walks through various ways that people try to accomplish this, namely ritual and ceremonial acts: Burnt offerings, offering rams and oil, even sacrificing children to the gods.
In the ancient Near East, these were all normal ways of doing religion, both for Israel and for its neighbors. Most people were farmers and they had some crops and some domesticated animals. The way you demonstrated your love, affection, or devotion to the gods was by giving your stuff to the gods. You bring your ram or your bull to the priests so they can slaughter and roast them. Or you bring vats of oil from the olives you grew. Or, in extreme cases, you bring a child to sacrifice to your god to show your ultimate loyalty.
In Israel, of course, only the wicked kings encouraged child sacrifice. The LORD God never wanted it. You may remember child sacrifice coming up when God tests Abraham by asking him to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22). Thankfully, an angel intervenes at the last minute to stop the uncouth, unholy “worship”.
Most of us are not farmers and our economy doesn’t really work on bartering anymore. So what is the equivalent for us? Giving money! Many people are taught that in order to get right with God, you have to give money to the church. They are taught that tithing, or even making a smaller offering is enough to get God off of your back.
God’s Law does ask Israel to make sacrifices of grain and oil and livestock. This is part of Israel’s normal religious life. And the Episcopal Church does teach that financial stewardship is good for your spiritual health. To regularly sacrifice a tenth of your income to charity is part of a balanced and well-rounded Christian life. So it is not that unusual for someone to think that these actions are how we get right with God.
But the role of the Prophet is to speak for God and call the people back into faithfulness. So the Prophet clarifies something for God’s people: Our sacrifices are not necessary to God. God does not need us to give us things.
Giving and sacrificing are not “the thing.” They are tools to help us arrive at “the thing.” The point of following Jesus is not simply to get your accounting straight or to give enough to satisfy God. There is no amount that is “enough.” The whole earth already belongs to God.
Rather, the goal is love and delight in God. Awe and wonder are the attitudes that change our hearts so we can love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30). Micah sums it up this way: You know what the LORD really requires of you: Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.
I have to give credit to Evelyn Reierson from our Education for Ministry group, who shared this insight in class last week: Walking humbly with God is a return to the Garden of Eden. We learn to walk humbly with God, by first looking to Adam and Eve, who walked with the LORD God in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). Walking with God is about respect for God, gratitude for God, and intimacy with God.
This is the kind of relationship the Scripture says Adam and Eve had with God before sin. Genesis tells us that sin had damaged their relationship with God by saying that Adam and Eve hid themselves when they heard God walking. They could not longer share in that kind of communion with God because they wanted to keep secrets. They were unwilling to be open and transparent with God because sin broke their trust.
So the call to walk humbly with God is a call to return to our original created state. Become who you truly are and who you were meant to be. This is what we are doing in Baptism. We are dying to the old life of sin and rising again to new life in Jesus Christ. And the New Life of Christ is a restoration of God’s intention for creation. It is a re-connection with humanity as it was created.
As St. Paul reminds us, Jesus is the Last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45). He came to do for the world what Adam failed to do. He came to set things right in a way that we could not on our own.To walk humbly with God is remember our own weakness and to turn to God for strength and help in time of need. It is to recognize that nothing in our lives truly matters without a deep connection to the God of Capital-L Love and Capital-P Peace.
The way to which God calls us is much more than simple religious giving. It is not about blindly following religious precepts. There is no way to satisfy God with our actions or devotions. We cannot appease God by doing external things without allowing God to transform us internally. “If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). If we don’t pursue this way of Love and Peace, walking humbly with God, then all our religious strivings are meaningless.
Micah and Jesus call us to a life that is both exterior and interior. Doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God affect the world around you while also changing your own heart. We can only follow this Way by the grace of God given to us in Jesus Christ. By this grace we can begin to see the world anew. We can find God in our everyday lives, giving thanks for all things. May God fill us with awe and wonder as we learn to walk humbly today. Amen.