Sermon begins at the 3:12 mark after the music
Lay Reader = Proverbs 3:1-15
My child, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; 2for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they will give you. 3Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. 4So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and of people. 5Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. 6In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. 7Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. 8It will be a healing for your flesh and a refreshment for your body. 9Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce; 10then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine. 11My child, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, 12for the Lord reproves the one he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights. 13Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding, 14for her income is better than silver, and her revenue better than gold. 15She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.
This is our last week looking at the Words to Remember – the verses in the Bible that are worth memorizing or otherwise writing on your heart. When life goes sideways on you, these are the verses that can help bring you comfort, peace, and guidance.
Next week is the start of Advent, and we’ll be able to say it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. But for our last week in this series, we’re asking what we should do in our everyday life. How can we follow Jesus no matter what’s going on in our lives right now?
We’ll read two texts today. The first comes from the Old Testament prophet Micah. Micah was from a small town in Judah, and his prophecies reflect the faith, moral, ethical, and social problems that disproportionately affected the rural parts of the country. He alternates between prophesying judgment on one hand and salvation on the other.
Our second text today is one you know well – Jesus telling us the Greatest Commandment. Here he picks two verses from the Old Testament and puts them side-by-side to illustrate God’s character and God’s expectations for faithful living.
6“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? 7Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8He 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?
34When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
As I look out West to the Rocky Mountains, sometimes I think about Lewis and Clark laying eyes upon these majestic mountains for the first time. They had seen the Appalachian Mountains before, but you know what we would call the Appalachian Mountains if they were here in Colorado? Foothills!
I specifically wonder if they thought they were closer than they really were. The mountains are so large, they look close even when you’ve still got a couple hours left to drive, right? And that frustrates me in this phase of life. Because skiing is pretty much my top activity on earth – although leaving earth to go to space would probably top it. And I’m fine with snowshoeing, too, if the situation calls for it.
But it’s like the mountains are teasing me out there – I can see them. They look so close. But I know they’re far away. They’re tantalizingly close, but I have to make a special trip to get there. And as we all know, that special trip had better not be on a weekend or I’ll be sitting on I-70 the whole time!
As many of you know, my family moved to a different house this year. It’s an upgrade in almost every way except for one: it’s twelve extra minutes away from the mountains! But it does have some nice features. For instance, at my previous house we had to drive to find good sledding hills for the boys. Which means we went twice.
In our new house, we can walk around the corner to a decent sledding hill. We already made it out there in that random October snow storm. I bet there will be a lot more sledding since we can just walk around the corner.
There’s a big difference between the places you can walk and the places you can drive. Are you with me? Wherever you can walk is part of your daily life. Wherever you can drive is part of your horizon.
That’s what Micah is talking about when he says, “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.”
Many of the great pillars of the faith were said to “walk with God.” Adam walked with God. Noah walked with God. Abraham walked with God. They weren’t just close enough to drive their camels to God. They were next-door neighbors. God wasn’t a nice add-on. God was primary. God wasn’t a support to their plans. They were a support to God’s plans. They walked with God.
And Micah says we should, too.
I sometimes talk about the tree rings of faith. These are ways of thinking about how far your faith has come – how far you’ve walked with God and humbly conformed to his will, not your own.
The first tree ring is Exploring Christ. This is when you can say, “I believe in God, but I’m unsure about who Jesus is.” If you’re not sure if Jesus was really the Son of God, you might be Exploring Christ.
Once you’ve passed that tree ring of faith, you start Growing in Christ. That’s when you can say, “I am getting to know Jesus personally.” You believe Jesus is the Son of God. You start praying to him. You start asking him for guidance sometimes. You’re Growing in Christ.
If you continue to let Jesus transform your life, you’ll find yourself at the next tree ring of faith: Close to Christ. That’s when you can say, “Jesus is a part of my daily life.” You’re no longer visiting Jesus – you’re walking with him in your neighborhood. You’re probably doing something to take in God’s Word through the Bible regularly. You might have a journal or other way of tracking what Jesus is telling you and where he’s leading you. You’re Close to Christ.
And the final tree ring of faith is when you are Surrendered to Christ. That’s when you can say, “Jesus is greater than anything else in my life.” When Jesus gives you direction that is uncomfortable, you do it anyway because Jesus is worth it. You’ve walked with God so often you actually moved into his house. Not asking God to move into your house, you’ve moved into his house. You’re Surrendered to Christ.
I aspire to this tree ring of faith when I talk about my personal priorities. In order, my priorities are God, Family, Church. It can get fuzzy where the line is between God and Church, but sometimes the Church expects something of me but God doesn’t. If it hurts my Family, I probably won’t do it. But other times God wants me to do something and my Family doesn’t want me to. If I’m sure that God is leading me in that direction, I’ll try to do it anyway.
That’s what happens in your life if you keep walking humbly with God. Now most people stall out at some point. Sometimes people even move backwards. A lot of people get stuck in the Growing in Christ tree ring. The transition from Jesus being an occasional input to Jesus being a daily fixture in your life is a hard one.
Some researchers looked at this particular transition in faith. And they found a few things that helped people move from Growing in Christ to Close to Christ – from making special trips to consult God to walking with God regularly. If that’s you, pay attention to this.
One of the biggest catalysts is praying for guidance in your life DAILY. Not sometimes, not even frequently. DAILY. Pray for Jesus to guide you and lead you. That draws you closer to walking humbly with God.
Another catalyst is reflecting on Scripture frequently. We’ve talked about this over the last couple of weeks with the spiritual journaling, so I won’t belabor it again right now. But if you didn’t get a journal two weeks ago, I got a new shipment. Take one! They’re free! Go to fpcl.org/bible for a tutorial.
Another catalyst is having meaningful spiritual conversations with non-Christians. Interestingly, when we are able to talk about our faith – even when we don’t have all the answers – it actually causes us to grow. I can’t tell you how many times the act of teaching something makes me learn it better. I’m going to lead a class in mid-January called “My Gospel,” and this class will help you understand your own Gospel. Your own Good News. Your own stories of Jesus in your life. After that class, you’ll be ready to have those meaningful spiritual conversations.
The last major catalyst is actually through your giving. Jesus talked about how we earn, spend, and give more than he talked about heaven and hell. Jesus said that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” That’s why your giving is a catalyst for spiritual growth. One of the most tangible ways to trust Jesus more in your life is to trust him more with your finances. When you intentionally step out in faith with your finances, your faith follows suit.
Now, Micah makes it pretty clear that you can’t buy off God, so it’s about the heart, not the amount. If you’re looking to buy off God, it’s not gonna work. If you’re looking to change your heart to be more trusting of God, changing how you earn, spend, or give is an excellent choice.
So if you’re stuck in that very common range between Growing in Christ and Close to Christ, those are ways to kick-start your faith growth again. Those are some ways to help you move from driving to God on occasion to regularly walking with Jesus in his neighborhood. That’s what it looks like to walk humbly with your God.
So that’s walking humbly with God. But Micah also mentions “loving kindness.” And I gotta tell you, I had some negative memories arise within me on this one. When I was in high school, do you know what “nice” and “kind” really meant? “No, I’m not going on a date with you.” It’s kind of like the title of a song by the band Cake: “Friend is a Four Letter Word.”
I mean, think about some of the people we admire throughout history. What words would we associate with them? Bold! Courageous! Visionary! Brilliant! How many of them have the word “kind” as their calling card? Not many.
So what is “kindness” that Micah would lift it up as one of the three ways we can walk with God every day? Well it’s actually a much richer word in Hebrew than it is in English. This word is used to describe how God behaves toward us. So this isn’t just hold the door open for someone kindness. This is “I brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of slavery!” kindness. This isn’t just bring your spouse a cup of warm water in the winter kindness. This is “I went to the cross for you!” kindness. This isn’t just help someone to cross the street kindness. This is “Before I formed you in your mother’s womb, I knew you!” kindness.
Really, this means seeing yourself as bound to God and bound to the other people whom God has created and redeemed. This is, as Jesus summarized, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…and love your neighbor as yourself.” The stakes are a bit higher.
When you tutor at Whiz Kids, that’s God’s kindness because it shows that you are bound to that child. When you have a conversation with a difficult person at the community dinner, that’s God’s kindness because it shows that you are bound to them. When someone is sick or no longer able to drive and you go to their house – maybe just to sit with them or talk about anything other than what’s ailing them – that’s God’s kindness because it shows that you are bound to them. That’s loving kindness.
And finally we get to where Micah started – doing justice. There are two aspects to this. The first is to, “behave justly.” If you want to know what God considers to be unjust, keep reading in Micah 6. The next few verses call out businesses that cheat their customers. They call out those who use violence to accumulate their wealth and power. They call out those who lie to accumulate wealth and power. Those are examples of injustice. If you want a lot more examples, go read the book of Amos. Pretty vivid depictions of how God despises injustice. That’s “behaving justly.”
The second component is “creating justice.” It’s not enough to be honest yourself. If you know someone else in your company is being dishonest with customers, it’s not OK to just let it slide. We are called to create justice. As Edmund Burke wrote two hundred years ago, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” The only thing that has changed in the last two hundred years is that Burke should have said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men and women to do nothing.” Otherwise his phrase has aged quite well.
Whenever you see “justice” mentioned in the Bible, the reference point is usually God’s Covenant. If you wonder if something is unjust, ask yourself whether God would recommend it to everyone. Ask yourself if you can see someone in heaven doing that. Ask yourself if Jesus would look at it and nod his head approvingly. We are called to personally behave in a way that makes Jesus nod in approval and also work to create businesses and governments and communities that behave in ways that make Jesus nod in approval.
For the followers of Jesus, there is no such thing as “the end justifies the means.”
Sisters and brothers, Micah gives us a nice, short summary of how God expects us to behave every day. Jesus gives us a nice, short summary of how God expects us to behave every day. There are a handful of other nice summaries of how God expects us to behave every day.
I find this comforting. When you don’t know what to do, you can do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with my God. When you’ve lost your job and you don’t know how to make ends meet, you can still love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and you can love your neighbor as yourself. When your health is failing, you can behave in a way that makes Jesus nod.
No matter your circumstances, no matter your challenges, no matter how murky your future or how trying your present, this is a roadmap that can be used today. And that’s really all we need – enough for today. And if you keep doing that today and tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that…eventually you’ll find yourself walking with Jesus in his neighborhood, or maybe even living in his house. Amen.