************ Sermon on Micah 6:8 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 8, 1998
"Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly"
I Riches in the Midst of Poverty
A I've got great news for every student who will graduate from Central Valley Christian High School. Last year the school received a bequest of one million dollars. The bequest specifies that monies are to be used to send the graduating class on an educational European trip during Spring vacation.
This past week I obtained the diary one of our grade 12 students kept through last year's trip:
I am so excited about the trip. We are going to London, Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, and Brussels. I've never flown before. I wonder what that is like? Will I get airsick? How will I like European food? Just think – Buckingham Palace, Versailles, leaning Tower of Pisa, the Vatican, NATO headquarters, the Hague. I am going to see them all.
Day 1. We board our chartered plane in Fresno. But instead of going east to Europe, the pilot takes us south-east to the Caribbean. We land in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Eagerly we jump out of the plane. What a dismal sight greets us! Everywhere there are slums and other reminders of a desperate poverty. Sewage runs openly through the streets. Few children go to school here; they are engaged in something more important than learning – survival! They are busy begging, stealing food, selling their sister – whatever they have to do to put a crust in their mouth. The poverty, filth, hunger, and slums disgust us.
Day 2. I received four marriage proposals today from men who want me to sponsor them for immigration. Almost everyone wants to go to America because America means food, jobs, homes, and clothing. Unlike a few years ago, no one tries the journey by boat anymore: too many who've tried in past years have either drowned in the Caribbean or been quickly sent back by the coast guard.
Day 3. We spend today in the plane. Our next stop: Africa. We fly over Morocco, Algeria, Niger, Chad, Sudan, and Ethiopia. Our plane lands in Somalia. We don't sleep too good tonight. The gun fire keeps us awake.
Day 4. We don't do much sight-seeing in Somalia. After all, the only thing to see is sand. What else can you expect in the Sahara desert. There is one thing we did notice besides sand. We noticed a lot of people inside of barbed-wire enclosures – almost two million of them. Turns out these are refugees. Clans are fighting amongst each other for control. This war plus continued drought has created one of the world's greatest refugee problems. We noticed another strange thing – very few young children. I was told most children six years and under die of starvation.
Day 5. Another long day in the plane. We land in Calcutta, India. Outside of the airport and hotel beggars keep asking us for money. Some had no legs and no arms. Others were horribly disfigured.
Day 6. Temples, wild-life, and the Taj Mahal. Did you know they still use elephants to clear roads and take trees out of the forest. On the whole, we enjoyed India. It would have been nicer, though, if we didn't see complete families sleeping in the streets, and if we didn't see those desperate parents drown their starving children in the Godavari River.
The diary goes on like this for another five days and two more depressing countries. We pick up the travel narrative again when the plane lands back in the good old U.S.A.:
Because of fog we land in San Francisco instead of in Fresno. The airline promises to send us to Fresno by Grey Hound. Unfortunately, the only bus available is at the Grey Hound terminal in downtown San Francisco. Our shuttle bus driver brings us there via back streets and alleys. We couldn't believe our eyes. We saw drug addicts, prostitutes, street people with all their possessions in a grocery cart, alcoholics. Hard to believe there is such poverty and hopelessness in America.
We arrived at Fresno airport at 5:30 in the afternoon. Mom and dad sure were happy to see me. Dad could hardly wait to show me the Chrysler New Yorker he just bought. They thought I would be homesick for good old American food so I could pick the restaurant for supper. I couldn't decide between McDonald's or Burger King. Whose burgers are better and did I want Pepsi or Coke? Over supper mom reminds me that I have to see the doctor in the morning for typhoid shots – you never know what you pick up in those foreign places. She also breaks the news of a dentist appointment for next week – she thinks they might have to spend $1700 to take out my wisdom teeth.
We get home at 8:00. I turn on the TV – that's the first TV I have seen in ten days. After a while I go to bed. Never before has my bed felt so good.
I wake up at 1:30 wet with sweat. What a horrible dream I had. I dreamt we are poor. People from Somalia, India, Haiti, and downtown San Francisco invaded our home and strip it bear. "From now on," they said, "we will live like kings and you will live like us."
First, they took the furniture. Everything goes: beds, chairs, tables, television set, lamps. We are left on the floor with a few old blankets, a kitchen table, and one wooden chair. They have taken our clothing so there is no dressers or closets either. All of us are left with one outfit each – the oldest outfit we have. Dad is the only one in the family with a pair of shoes.
They move to the kitchen. The appliances – the fridge, stove, can opener, blender, microwave – have already been taken, so they turn to the cupboards. They leave us with a box of matches, a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt. A few moldy potatoes that mom threw out yesterday are hastily rescued from the garbage – they are tonight's supper. We also have a handful of onions, and a dish of fried beans. All the rest has been taken: the meat, the fresh vegetables and fruit, the canned goods, the candy, the cakes.
Next, they strip the house: the bathroom is dismantled, the running water shut off, the electric wires taken out, the light-bulbs unscrewed. Then they take away the house. We move into the tool-shed.
Communications are the next thing to go. They take our newspapers and magazines. Most of these won't be missed because we don't know how to read anyway.
Now they take away the government services: no more postman, no policeman or fireman. There is one school, a two room school, about five miles away. There is no doctor or hospital for miles.
They have taken our bicycles, cars, trucks, boats. We are left with our feet.
Finally, they take our money. We are generously allowed a cash horde of $5.00.
You know what was the worst thing: our neighbor isn't touched. He keeps his house and car, his refrigerator and stove, his job and clothing. Now he no longer sees us or talks to us.
What a horrible dream!
I am sure you realize that neither the bequest, the trip, nor the dream are real. What is real, though, is the poverty I have tried to describe in most of the world.
B On this World Hunger Sunday we desperately need to realize how blessed we really are. Imagine this scene: you come home from school or work and you want a snack. You look into the loaded fridge and check the equally full cupboards. Yet, what does mom so often hear? "There's nothing to eat." I dare you to say that in front of someone from India.
Or: your clothing is last year's style. Your closets are full. Nothing is worn out. Yet, you say, "I have nothing to wear." What would one of Haiti's slum dwellers say to that?
Or: you have a TV, stereo, radio, magazines, papers, ping-pong, video games, card games, monopoly, books. Yet you dare to say, "There is nothing to do."
You get the picture, I trust.
Suffice it to say that there were some in the Israel and Judah of Micah's day who were as callous as we are.
II Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly
A What does the Lord say to those with riches in the midst of poverty?
It is interesting to note that according to Micah's prophecy the people of Israel and Judah were searching for what it is that God wants of them. Micah quotes them as saying:
(Micah 6:6-7) 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? (7) Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
Israel and Judah thinks it knows what the Lord requires: a religious response, a Sabbath-day response, a worship response. The worshipers of Israel and Judah were quite prepared to give whatever is required; they were willing to bring any sacrifice that the Lord requested; if the Lord demands it they, like Abraham, were even willing to sacrifice their own children. In today's language, Israel and Judah thinks all it has to do is go to church.
Yes, the Lord does want praise and worship from His children. He loves their gifts and offerings. But, He wants much more than a Sabbath-day response. Micah tells us God's requirements extend to all of the week and not just to what happens in the church or in the Temple.
(Micah 6:8) He has showed you, O man, 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.
B In the first place, God requires His people to act justly. What does this mean? On this World Hunger Sunday we can say to act justly means to accept responsibility for the well-being of the weaker members of society: widows, orphans, disabled, poor, elderly, unborn. These weaker members of society are to be found not just here in the U.S.A., but also in Canada, Mexico, Haiti, and around the world. To act justly means to accept responsibility for the well-being of a hungry mother and her children in Bangladesh, an underpaid sugarcane worker in the Dominican Republic, a dispossessed farmer in Africa, a pensioned widow in inner-city Chicago, and a welfare mom or single mother here in Visalia. To act justly means to accept responsibility for the well-being of the one billion people who are chronically malnourished and who go to bed most nights with empty stomachs.
God's Old Testament people needed to hear from Micah the demand to act justly. They needed to hear this because their day-to-day life was marked by a shocking lack of care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the alien. In fact, they oppressed the poor and often made life more bitter for them. Listen to Micah's words of condemnation:
(Micah 2:2) They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud a man of his home, a fellowman of his inheritance.In another place Micah accuses them of using dishonest scales, weights, and measures in order to get for themselves ill-gotten treasures at the expense of the poor (Micah 6:10,11; cf Micah 3:1-3).
God's people are being asked to be like God here. Over and over again Scripture tells us about God's concern for the weak and helpless. Deuteronomy 10:18, for instance: "He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing." Or the prophet Isaiah:
(Isa 1:17) ... learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. (cf Is 10:1,2; Psalm 103:6; Amos 5:11,15).The Gospels present to us a picture of Jesus Who has compassion on the teeming crowds, Who wants little children to come to Him, Who is concerned about widows, Who heals the sick, Who has mercy on lepers, Who cares for prostitutes, Who can promise forgiveness and salvation to prisoners. He was angry about any and all injustice and treated all people equally.
Today when there is so much hunger and poverty, today when we are to be counted among the world's wealthy, we are to be like God and His Christ and act justly.
C God also requires that His people love mercy. To love mercy is to be filled with an intense longing to help others, to do kind and compassionate deeds for those who are in need.
Here too we are to imitate God. God, you see, is merciful and full of loving kindness.
How can we rich Christians in an age of hunger show mercy? One way, as I pointed out in the children's sermon, is to give money for the poor. A couple of years ago the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church challenged us: it set before us the goal of giving 1% of our monthly income for hunger relief – for most working families that amounts to $25.00 per month. That certainly doesn't sound like much, does it? What can you buy with $25.00 today? Dinner at McDonald's for the family? One month of cable TV? In some places in the world, $25.00 is enough to buy food for a family for a month!
Today when there is so much hunger and poverty, today when we are to be counted among the world's wealthy, we are to be like God and love mercy.
D Finally, what does the Lord require of you but "to walk humbly with your God." This is the most important of the three requirements. In fact, unless you walk humbly with your God you cannot act justly or love mercy.
What does it mean to walk humbly with God? It means, like Enoch, to live for God and make Him the center of your life. It means to live a life of fellowship with God. It means to give your heart to Jesus Who gave His life for you. It means to be filled with the Spirit and the power of Christ so that you are born again and are a new Creation in Christ. It means to spend time with God in prayer and Bible reading. In the New Testament this is called the life of discipleship:
Living for Jesus a life that is true,Living for Jesus is to walk humbly with your God.
striving to please him in all that I do,
yielding allegiance gladhearted and free –
this is the pathway of blessing for me.
O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to you,
for you in your atonement did give yourself for me.
I own no other master -- my heart shall be your throne:
my life I give, henceforth to live, O Christ, for you alone.
Today when there is so much hunger and poverty, today when we are to be counted among the world's wealthy, we are to walk humbly with our God for then and only then can we act justly and love mercy.
Conclusion I want to conclude this morning's message with an e-mail I received this week from Ken & Sally Vanderwal, our missionaries in Honduras, telling us the effects of Hurricane Mitch ...
(read the letter)
Why did I read this? I would say that Ken & Sally Vanderwal and their church are doing what the Lord requires: they act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. They are this way even though they have so little. Are we willing to be like them? Are we, who have so much, willing to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God?
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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