Sermon Options: February 2, 2020

January 1st, 2020

PLAIN SPEAKING

MICAH 6:1-8

God has a complaint—what is sometimes called a covenant lawsuit—with the people of Israel. Micah becomes the voice through which this charge is leveled. The specific nature of the wrongs committed is not verbalized here, except in an indirect way: God asks the people, through Micah, what God has done wrong. In other words, God is asking rhetorically, "What have I done to lead you to separate yourselves from me?"

God's question is answered with another question, this time the formulation of the prophet on the people's behalf: "With what shall I come before the LORD,/and bow myself before God on high?" (v. 6). Then follows a list of liturgical acts, ritual options that traditionally function either to please God in worship or to appease God for sin committed: burnt offerings, calves, rams, oil, and—more farfetched—a firstborn child.

Here we are, then, with two questions—God's and ours. The dynamic sets up a distinct vacuum, begging for a declarative sentence, something to be spoken definitively rather than asked as a question. Verse 8 fills the void logically as well as in a literary sense: this is what you need to do. Then, in plain speech, what is good to do and be is elaborated: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with (or live in communion with) God.

I. Do Justice
The word justice is intended to mean more than merely "getting even" or "making others pay for what they did." Justice in Hebrew scripture has a far more comprehensive meaning: the restoration of balance, the righting of relationships, the application of fairness to all things. Justice is not a deal struck but an atmosphere engendered within a community. In that sense, it is close kin to the richly laden Hebrew word shalom. What does the Lord require? That we do justice.

II. Love Kindness
Kindness (alternately, compassion or mercy) is as plain and pedestrian a virtue as any. Not a day goes by that any of us would not have occasion to exercise kindness in some way—small or substantial. The kindness of a banker may spare a family about to be foreclosed profound heartache and misery; but the same kindness can bring a flower in a little child's hand across the street to the widow on the porch swing. For Micah, the size of kindness is immaterial; what is essential is that it be there when called for. And one thing more, and this makes all the difference: that kindness be loved. Not merely the exercise of mercy, but the love of mercy. Not merely the doing of a kind act, but the appreciation of the deed. Not merely saying the helpful word, but meaning what we say.

III. Walk Humbly with Your God
The rare Hebrew verb for "to walk humbly with" is difficult to translate clearly. But something like "to live in communion with" gets the point across. To walk humbly with God must mean, then, among other things, to get our minds and hearts around the notion that the Other is also with us. God, who creates us, gives us breath, and receives us at our death, also walks with us through every step of life.

Humility, then, is not really about learning to keep our mouths shut at dinner parties; it is learning to recognize holy ground when we see it until eventually we come to understand it's the only kind there is. (Paul R. Escamilla)

SEND IN THE CLOWNS

1 CORINTHIANS 1:18-31

The Broadway play A Little Night Music was never considered much of a box office success. But one bright result of the play was a song that became a hit: "Send in the Clowns." Some have suggested that that song expresses what it's like for Christians to be sent into the world. We appear peculiar to a world that lives by a different set of values.

In a circus or a rodeo, clowns create a shift in theme; they change the subject. After the breathtaking danger of the flying trapeze, a lion tamer, or a bucking bronco, clowns enter to remind us of our purpose—to be entertained. Much like Shakespeare's Falstaff, they produce a break in the action just when we were caught up in the drama of the moment.

Just so, it is our nature and calling as Christians to remind people what we are here for: to know and glorify God. And like the clowns, our message changes the subject and often seems silly and out of place in a world that is caught up in another purpose: satisfying self.

Paul made the same point in 1 Corinthians. He wrote that on the world's wise-foolish continuum, Christians and non-Christians are on opposite ends. The world looks at that continuum from one side and sees Christians on the foolish end. But the scale on God's side is reversed, so that Christians are the wise and the world is foolish. From the perspective of the crowd, rodeo clowns look silly in comparison with the brave and strong cowboys, but from the perspective of those who work in the rodeo, clowns have the sanest job in the arena—to protect the lives of the cowboys who put themselves in danger. What makes Christians so different from the world?

I. Christians Bear a Different Life Message
Paul wrote that it is the message of the Cross (v. 18)—through weakness we are made strong (2 Cor. 12:9-10). It is a message that is the inverted image of the world's philosophy. But the church looks at the cross and empty tomb of Jesus and knows that when we are crucified with him, we will be raised. What looks like defeat today will be victory tomorrow. What is a photographic negative, on which black appears as white and white appears as black, will soon be a beautiful picture.

II. Christians Face Persecution in the World
Jesus promised such opposition (Matt. 10:22; John 15:18-20). The message of the Cross was a stumbling block and foolishness in Paul's generation (vv. 22-23), and it is the same today. It is a stumbling block because people, like the Jews of Paul's day, still want a king with worldly power to wipe out their enemies and grant then prosperity instead of a Savior to die for their sins. It is foolishness because people, like the Greeks, still prefer to find wisdom through their own ingenuity rather than let Christ forgive them of their utter failure and give them his wisdom (v. 30), with the result that they boast in the Lord and not in themselves (v. 31)

III. Christians Call Attention to Their WeaknessThat God May Be Glorified
Paul urged the Corinthian Christians to consider their humble background (vv. 26-27). Christians are to remember and even emphasize that they were saved not by their own goodness or intelligence but by God's grace (1 Cor. 15:10 ; Eph. 2:8-9). It is not that Christians cannot be very capable and brilliant people—the most intelligent thing someone can do is to come to Christ—but we have a spiritual humility that causes us to emphasize what God has done, not what we have done.

We know that we are also weak, but we have found that his grace is sufficient in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9) , and that is what we share with the world. (N. Allen Moseley)

HAPPINESS IS A CHOICE

MATTHEW 5:1-12

God wants you to be happy. A mentor of mine in the ministry was fond of saying, "Some people get enough religion to make them happy, while others only get enough to make them miserable." Jesus wants you to be happy. "Blessed are you," Jesus says. "You are blessed with the choice of happiness because you are mine." This is "family talk." Jesus gathered his disciples to teach them while the crowd was allowed to "overhear."

I. Happiness Comes from a Christlike Life
This is where we preachers usually try to put words in Jesus' mouth and fill the air with admonitions of "ought" and "should." "You ought to be meek!" "You should be merciful!" That is not what Jesus is saying. Jesus is pronouncing a blessing. (Isn't it amazing how much light the Bible throws on the commentaries?) Jesus is saying, "You who have responded to my call with your faith are blessed. Because you are mine, you have the ability to choose a certain kind of life." When you make this choice, wonderful results can happen.

II. Happiness Comes from Our Inheritance
Here Jesus walks us around the inheritance we have as God's children: "Blessed is the one who acknowledges the personal need of God, for God shall reign in the heart. Be happy when you feel deep sorrow over wrong, for God's Spirit will be at your side. You will know joy as the relinquishment of your life to God's guidance and discipline molds you to receive what God has already promised. Blessed are you when the dissatisfaction in your life drives you to search after God's nature, for you will be satisfied. Oh, the blissful joy of the one who gives forgiving and healing love. You will receive what you have given. The joyful heart is yours because your singleness of purpose conditions you to see God. God's children are those who stand in the gap between forces of opposition, making peace to be more than the absence of hostility, but the presence of love."

In his book The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer asks, "Is there any place on earth for such a community? Clearly there is one place, and only one, and that is where the poorest, meekest and most sorely tried of all men is to be found—on the cross at Golgotha. The fellowship of the beatitudes is the fellowship of the crucified."

Even when you participate in the fellowship of the crucified, even when you are persecuted, even when you are a victim, you have the choice not to accept a victim mentality. Jesus has reversed the world's values. He blesses the so-called unblessed of society. He blesses the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the prisoners, and the grieving (Isa. 61:1-3; Luke 4:18-19). As God's child, you have the choice to accept God's blessing and to bless others. You can take initiative, choose beforehand how to respond in any situation. As Fred Craddock says, "We are no longer victims; we are Kingdom people."

Said the wealthy woman to the disabled young man at the door, "Sure I'll buy your magazine to help you through college. Possibly by education you'll overcome your condition, although I'm sure it colors everything you do." "Yes, ma'am, it does," he replied, "but, thank God, I can choose the color." (Gary L. Carver)

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