“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 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? 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?” (Micah 6.6-8 NRSV)
Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with God. These words are familiar to many of us, but what does it really mean to live this way? That is what I would like to explore with you—through the Holy Spirit—this afternoon. Although I grew up in a faith tradition that emphasizes social justice, when I came to Bluffton I encountered people whose lives were a more radical example of the justice, kindness, and humility that the prophet Micah is calling for. I met people who go on Christian Peacemaker Team delegations, literally putting their lives on the line to stand in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. I met people who not only articulate, but embody, Christ’s call to enemy love. These examples were both compelling and overwhelming to me; I felt called to live a life of justice, kindness, and humility…but I knew that it wouldn’t be easy. In fact, I was pretty sure I couldn’t do it.
As it turns out, the people that Micah addresses in this passage were equally compelled and equally overwhelmed. God makes it clear in the first few chapters of Micah that God’s people need to clean up their act; they have been unfaithful, worshiping idols, abusing their military power, and distorting justice. But in chapter six, God’s people encounter God’s call—much like I did when I encountered people whose radical lives stretched my understanding of God’s call to a life of justice and peace. Through the prophet Micah, God invites God’s people to come home—to repent and live in righteousness. But much like me, God’s people are pretty sure this call is an impossible—or at least completely unreasonable—one.
So in verse six, we find them questioning God through the prophet Micah—
LORD God, how can I even approach you?
How could I possibly make things right?
Would everything I own be enough to deserve your love?
If I sacrifice my child to you, would you forgive me?
Can you hear the desperation?
With each question, the voices of God’s people become progressively more dramatic—they are desperate to be reconciled to God. They know they want to live out God’s call, but they know how hard it will be. So they propose a list of acts of piety and ritual holiness that become ever more extreme….even to the point of child sacrifice.
But the good news is that the story doesn’t end there. In verse 8, we hear another voice, a fresh perspective—the prophet Micah gives God’s response to the people’s questions.
“Silly people, God has already told you what you need to do. Here’s the deal— God needs for your faith to be shown in your everyday actions and in the way you treat others. And one last thing—remember that every step you take, every single day of your life, is a step that you are taking alongside God. Living that kind of life means more to God than any amount of calves or rams or oil. God wants you, not your stuff.”
God has blessed me with several Micahs in my life—people who have encouraged me and walked alongside me on my faith journey toward justice and peace. I remember one particular conversation I had with a friend, when I told her that I wasn’t ready to be a pacifist. I asked the question, “But what if I am not ready to die for this?” Today I hear echoes of the questions of God’s people in my own question—“With what shall I come before the LORD?” And in my friend’s answer I can hear the prophet Micah—she simply said, “Peace is a journey. Today is the first step.”
“He has told you what is good….do, love, walk...take the first step.”
So, who is your Micah? I hope you can identify people in your life whose voices interrupt your feelings of insufficiency and desperation. But I also hope you will let me be a Micah for you today as we think together about what it means to live out God’s call to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.
First, what does it mean to do justice?
In short, this means that actions matter. The verb here is “do,” and it is here to remind us that God cares about everything we do. And it is no accident that the word “do” is paired here with the word “justice”—God wants our actions to be just, reflecting God’s own character. This teaches us that justice is not something we simply think about, pray for, or believe in—justice is something that must be lived out. This has been the case throughout the history of God’s people, with calls for justice echoing throughout the Torah, the prophets, and the new covenant. Today, doing justice can take on many forms—buying fair trade coffee, reducing energy use, withholding taxes that would be spent on war, or even taking part in acts of civil disobedience to stand in solidarity with our global neighbors. Remember—this is a journey and this is an invitation to take the next step for you, which will probably look different for every single one of us!
The next way we are called to live righteously in God’s sight is by loving kindness.
Here, the Hebrew word for “love” has a unique meaning. The prophet Micah is not calling us to a warm, fuzzy kind of love, but a deep, all-encompassing life of love. In English, this kind of love is best described as loyalty. So, loving kindness means being loyal to kindness above all else. This loyalty to kindness in turn reflects our loyalty to God. So, what does it look like to be loyal to kindness? How about being kind in spite of feelings, turning the other cheek, acting compassionately toward personal and national enemies because loving kindness is our highest loyalty? Loving kindness means seeking the well-being of the places we inhabit, even if it is not our home—just as God’s people were called to do in exile. You see, loving kindness is not a one-time event, it is a way of life that echoes throughout the history of God’s people. The prophet Micah spoke in a different time than our own, but the call is for us as well. Love kindness. Be good. Be God’s people and build up God’s Kingdom in this place and this time.
The third element of a righteous life is to walk humbly with God.
Here, we find out how we are to live with and relate to God. This command is filled with meaning, and the Hebrew words hint at what God is calling for. First, the word “walk” in Hebrew is the same word used to describe ethics; this means that the way we live out our faith should be a natural part of our everyday life, just like walking— and we are called to walk and live humbly with God. The Hebrew word translated “humbly” can also be translated as “carefully,” so the call to walk humbly is really a call to live an ethical, conscious life. Doesn’t that sound a lot like the call to do justice and love kindness? As it turns out, while Micah gives three commands, he is really painting a picture of one whole and holy life, a life lived with God.
That brings us to the last three words of the text…
With. Your. God.
Those three words are the most important words that I’ve spoken today. They not only encompass Micah 6.6-8, they encompass the broad scope of Scripture as a whole.
We are called to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God—but we are not called to do this alone. Not only do we have Micahs along the journey to speak God’s truth into our lives, we have the Creator and Sustainer journeying along with us.
So, go and do justice—take the first step on this journey. Go and love kindness—be a loyal witness to God’s radical love. Go and walk humbly—be conscious of every step you take. And above all else, go with God and go for the world.
Today is the first step on the journey.
May it be so. Amen.
Anderson, Francis I. and David Noel Freedman. Micah: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Bible. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, 2000.
Limburg, James. Hosea-Micah. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988.
March, W. Eugene. “Micah.” Pages 660-664 in HarperCollins Bible Commentary. Edited by James L. Mays. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2000.
Smith, Ralph L. Micah-Malachi. Word Biblical Commentary. Waco, TX: Word Books, 1984.