Sermon: Who Do You Love?

Our journey through Micah continues this morning in chapter 2, beginning in verse 1. Micah is in the Old Testament, one of the minor prophets, minor in size, not significance. Micah is nestled with Obadiah and Jonah on the left and Nahum and Habakkuk on the right. Micah 2, beginning in verse 1. But before we hear God’s word this morning, please take a moment to pray with me.

Father, may your Word be our rule, Your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern, Amen.

If you are able, I invite you to stand as we hear God’s Word.

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God:

Woe to those who plan iniquity,

to those who plot evil in their beds.

At morning’s light they carry it out,

because it is in their power to do it.

They covet fields and seize them,

and houses and take them,

they defraud people of their homes

they rob them of their inheritance.

Therefore, the Lord says:

“I am planning disaster against this people,

from which you cannot save yourselves.

You will no longer walk proudly,

for it will be a time of calamity.

In that day, people will ridicule you,

they will taunt you with this mournful song,

‘We are utterly ruined.

My people’s possession is divided up.

He takes it from me,

He assigns our land to traitors.’”

Therefore you will have no one in the assembly of the Lord

to divide the land by lot.

“Do not prophesy,” their prophets say,

“Do not prophesy about these things.

Disgrace will not overtake us.”

You descendants of Jacob, should it be said,

“Does the LORD become impatient?

Does he do such things?”

“Do not my words do good to the one whose ways are upright?”

Lately my people have risen up like an enemy,

you strip off the rich robe

from those who pass by without a care,

like men returning from battle.

You drive the women of my people

from their pleasant homes.

You take away my blessing

from their children forever.

Get up! Go away!

for this is not your resting place,

because it is defiled,

it is ruined, beyond all remedy.

If a liar and deceiver comes and says,

“I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer.”

That would be just the prophet for this people.

I will surely gather all of you, Jacob.

I will surely bring together the remnant of Israel.

I will bring them together like sheep in a pen,

like a flock in its pasture,

the place will throng with people.

The One who breaks open the way will go up before them,

they will break through the gate and go out.

Their king will pass through before them,

the Lord at their head.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

The living God gathered a people. Out of all the nations, he called Abram, made a covenant with him and promised that he would be the God of his descendants and that through them all nations would be blessed. God led this people out of bondage in Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. He led to them to Mount Sinai, where God gave them their identity and mission – a light to the nations, a holy people. God showed them how to live in right relationship with him and with their neighbor.

And God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

We heard last week, from the lips of the prophet Micah, how the people of God had failed to keep these commandments. They had placed other gods ahead of the one true God. They had made idols and images, bowing before them and offering them sacrifices. They had claimed God’s favor, claiming the benefit of God’s name, while their lives dragged his name through the mud.

That was bad enough. After generations of patience, Micah proclaimed that God would come to judge his people. He would discipline them by stripping them from the land he had given them. Their cities would be ruined and the people carted off into exile.

That was bad enough. Idolatry – placing trust in something instead of or alongside of God – was rampant in Israel. They disregarded their covenant faithfulness to God and were to be stripped of the land. We talked last week about the need for each of us to examine our hearts for idols, so that we might repent and again places our lives in the hands of God.

That was all bad enough, but that is not the end. If the first three of the Ten Commandments deal primarily with our relationship with God, the last seven speak to our relationship with one another. Having broken the first three, Micah reveals that the rest come tumbling down soon afterward.

Woe to those who plan iniquity,

to those who plot evil in their beds.

At morning’s light they carry it out,

because it is in their power to do it.

They covet fields and seize them,

and houses and take them,

they defraud people of their homes

they rob them of their inheritance.

God says:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

Instead of resting in the night, the people of God – particularly the powerful, the leaders – would spend the night plotting evil in their beds. While the rest of the world slept, they worked out ways take from others in order to support themselves.

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

While we do not know for certain, it is likely that many of those people being defrauded are those particularly vulnerable – children, widows, the elderly. Later in this passage, Micah recalls how the people drive the women of my people from their pleasant homes. You take away my blessing from their children forever. Instead of honoring their elders and using their power to protect the weak and vulnerable, the people of God remorselessly use their power to exploit the weak – even their elders.

God says:

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

We do not hear of adultery or murder in this passage, but stealing is rampant.

Fields – seized

Houses – taken

Inheritance (and therefore the livelihood of you and your children) – stripped away

Robes taken off the backs of strangers

All, it says, because it is in their power to do it.

God says:

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

The people favored lies over the truth. They attempted to silence the prophet Micah in favor of false prophets who would tell them that God was pleased with them. Verse 6: “Do not prophesy,” their prophets say,

“Do not prophesy about these things.

Disgrace will not overtake us.”

They do not want to hear that is displeased with their stealing, their selfishness, their wicked behavior, so they want to shut up Micah, so they can listen to prophets who will tell them what they want to hear:

If a liar and deceiver comes and says,

“I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer.”

That would be just the prophet for this people.

God says:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.

But:

They covet fields and seize them,

and houses and take them,

they defraud people of their homes

they rob them of their inheritance.

If only these were sins limited to the ancient peoples of Israel and Judah. Yet, as I studied this passage this week, it sounds all too contemporary.

It makes me so angry that I am shaking to know that what Micah spoke of then still happens today. We live in the a culture where the powerful regularly take advantage of the weak and the vulnerable for their own gain. Companies make fortunes duping and defrauding the elderly. Others readily take advantage of teenagers. The more powerful and the more rich one becomes, the more you think you can get away with it. Take what you want, do whatever you want, simply because it is in [your] power to do it. Leaders who should inspire us to goodness, righteousness, and truth only seem to care about themselves. In ancient Israel, as today, sometimes those people have the law on their side, they can even use the letter of the law to defraud people and take what they want. And our world calls them ‘go getters,’ praises them for their ‘business savvy’ and ‘ability to get things done,’ regardless of how they got there and who they had to step over.

Today, as then, those who selfishly oppress the weak believe they can do it without consequences, without repercussions, as if God was asleep. But Micah reminds us that God is not sleeping. You cannot gain enough power or money to make yourself immune from the judgment of God.

Therefore, the Lord says:

I am planning a disaster against this people,

from which you cannot save yourselves.

You will no longer walk proudly,

for it will be a time of calamity.

Those who spent their lives stripping anything and everything from others to promote themselves will find everything taken from them. Those who stole the inheritance of others will find themselves without an inheritance. Whether in this life or the next, those who live climbing on the backs of the weak will have to make an account before the judgment seat of God. The living God is not to be trifled with.

Reading the prophet Micah can feel less like receiving a warm hug and more like being on the receiving end of a scalpel. It’s not pretty and not exactly enjoyable, but at times necessary. Like a doctor diagnosing an illness, Micah speaks the harsh truth about sin because of his love for the people. He does it because he longs for them to turn to the Lord, their only hope of life and salvation.

Yet, the people of Israel and Judah did not want to hear it. When their hear Micah’s diagnosis of their situation, they want a second opinion. Verse 6:

“Do not prophesy,” their prophets say,

“Do not prophesy about these things.

Disgrace will not overtake us.”

Micah, stop with all the doom and gloom. God won’t judge us. We are God’s people. He chose us and placed us in this land. He is patient and kind, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He has made a covenant with us and there is no way he can judge us.

Israel presumed upon the grace of God – they took God’s promises of grace, love, and forgiveness as permission to do whatever they wanted to whoever they wanted with no consequences. God loves us no matter what we have done, so it doesn’t matter what we do, right? God’s love is not based on our performance, so it doesn’t really matter what I do, does it? God will forgive me anyway, so why not enjoy life a little?

The people of God had a heart problem. They knew better than anyone what God called for. But their hearts had traded love of God for love of themselves and abandoning love of neighbor quickly followed. What appeared at first to be freedom, turned out to be a form of bondage.

They didn’t want to hear the truth. They wanted prophets who would tell them what they wanted to hear – that life was good, God was happy with how they were living, and that they should eat, drink, and be merry.

Verse 11: If a liar and deceiver comes and says, “I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer.” That would be just the prophet for this people.

They wanted feel-good prophets. They wanted preachers who would tell them to serve themselves and be happy, that would make them feel good about the choices they were making, even when those choices involved exploiting the poor and taking advantage of others. They wanted to believe that because they were God’s people, judgment could never come for them.

If only this was limited to ancient Israel, but this presumption still shows up today. On the one hand, there are those who still proclaim that God will not judge us. They rightly hold fast to God’s grace and love and then ignore God’s justice and wrath. They, like the false prophets in Micah’s day, prophesy plenty of wine and beer – lots of joy and hope – and cannot image that God would ever be angry at sin or pronounce judgment upon it. That’s just not nice, and if anything, the god that these false prophets proclaim must be a nice guy.

On the other hand, Israel’s presumption shows up among those who have ‘prayed the prayer.’ Its the belief that praying the sinner’s prayer or something similar is a sort of eternal fire insurance, where now that I’m covered, it doesn’t matter what I do. I’m forgiven and free from judgment, so I can do what I want. And don’t you dare say anything different, because Jesus says not to judge. This presumption is the belief that we can have true relationship with God that has no effect on the rest of our life.

Micah takes out presumption at the knees. He proclaims God’s judgment on sin, even the sin of those within the people of God. As the apostle John says, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.

Pretending there isn’t a problem does not make it go away. When Israel tried to shut up Micah so that they could hear the feel-good prophets, their sin remained. Their hearts still stood in need of redemption.

In contrast to the false preaching of presumption, Micah offers hope in the Lord. In contrast to a world that wants to pretend that living for ourselves and serving ourselves is perfectly fine with God, Micah names sin for what it is. He diagnoses the problem – that our hearts have turned from God toward ourselves – and then holds forth the promise of healing.

Verse 12:

I will surely gather all of you, Jacob.

I will surely bring together the remnant of Israel.

I will bring them together like sheep in a pen,

like a flock in its pasture,

the place will throng with people.

The One who breaks open the way will go up before them,

they will break through the gate and go out.

Their king will pass through before them,

the Lord at their head.

Those who have been scattered will be gathered again. God will bring people from the four corners of the globe into his flock. And while at this time, they have leaders who model wickedness and greed, they will one day have a different leader. The One who breaks open the way for them out of bondage, the King who passes through ahead of them, the Lord himself at their head. Micah promises Jesus. Jesus, who breaks open the way for us out of the bondage to sin, out of the bondage of loving ourselves and bending our lives in on ourselves, out of the bondage of presumption into the true freedom of walking as disciples of Christ. Micah promises Jesus, who through his death and resurrection, and poured out grace into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, grace that comes from outside of us but does not remain there. Grace that enlivens our hearts, renewing us to love God and our neighbor.

Presumption says, “God will forgive me anyway” as permission to reject God and live for ourselves. Hope in Christ says, “Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The difference in the heart is drastic.

If we belong to this Jesus, to this one who breaks open the way for us, we are now born again to love God and our neighbor. The story of Israel is no longer the only chapter of our story. Because of his death, resurrection, and ascension, our stories are joined to God’s story and a new chapter begins, where we love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves.

In a world where the loving yourself and hating your neighbor is considered normal, we need those who have had their hearts changed by the love of Christ. In a world where worship of God has been exchanged for worship of the idols of self, success, and stuff, we need people walking as disciples of Jesus, daily dying to self and rising to love God and neighbor.

May the Holy Spirit dwell in us that we bear fruit of love and grace in our lives today. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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One thought on “Sermon: Who Do You Love?

  1. Pingback: Adar 6, Matan Torah remembering the giving of Torah | From guestwriters

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