Sermon: Empty Hands

I invite you to open your Bibles with me to the book of Micah. Micah, chapter 6, beginning in verse 1. Micah is in the Old Testament – Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk. Micah 6, beginning in verse 1. 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 to hear God’s Word.

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

1Listen to what the Lord says:

“Stand up! Plead my case before the mountains,

let the hills hear what you have to say.

2Hear, your mountains, the Lord’s accusation,

listen you everlasting foundations of the earth,

for the Lord has a case against his people,

he is lodging a charge against Israel.”

3“My people, what have I done to you?

How have I burdened you? Answer me.

4I brought you up out of Egypt,

and redeemed you from the land of slavery.

I sent Moses to lead you,

also Aaron and Miriam.

5My people, remember

what Balak king of Moab plotted

and what Baalam son of Beor answered.

Remember your journey from Shiitim to Gilgal,

that you might know the righteous acts of the Lord.”

6With 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?

7Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,

with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?

Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,

the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

8He has shown you, O mortal, 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.

9Listen! The Lord is calling to the city –

and to fear your name is wisdom –

“Heed the rod and the One who appointed it.”

10Am I still to forget your ill-gotten treasures,

your wicked house, and short ephod, which is accursed?

11Shall I acquit someone with dishonest scales,

with a bad of false weights?

12Your rich people are violent,

your inhabitants are liars

and their tongues speak deceitfully.

13Therefore, I have begun to destroy you,

to ruin you because of your sins.

14You will eat but not be satisfied,

your stomach will still be empty.

You will store up but save nothing,

because what you save I will give to the sword.

15You will plant, but not harvest.

You will press olives but not use the oil.

You will crush grapes but not drink the wine.

16You have observed the statues of Omri

and all the practices of Ahab’s house,

you have followed their traditions.

Therefore, I will hand you over to ruin,

and your people to derision.

You will bear the scorn of the nations.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God (You may be seated)

The book of Micah opens with a courtroom scene. The Word of the Lord comes to Micah of Moresheth and he declares that God is coming down to judge his people and that he is calling all the nations and the very earth itself as witnesses. God lays out his charges. The people have forgotten God and wandered after false gods. They has abandoned God’s ways, perverted justice, and perpetuated oppression. After centuries of patience, God says ‘Enough.’ The people will be stripped of the land and sent off into exile.

In the last two chapters, we have heard God promise that not all will be lost. God will not abandon his people or hide his face from them forever. While they are unfaithful, God remains faithful. He will save a remnant, a small portion of the people. God will send the Messiah, born in Bethlehem, anointed by God, to bring peace, wholeness, and salvation to the elect people of God. We have heard Micah promise Christ, both in his first coming in Bethlehem and in his return in glory.

This morning, we find ourselves back in the courtroom. Verse 2 says,

Hear, your mountains, the Lord’s accusation,

listen you everlasting foundations of the earth,

for the Lord has a case against his people,

he is lodging a charge against Israel.”

God reveals how the people have forgotten him, forgotten the wondrous deeds he has done on their behalf.

He brought them out of Egypt and redeemed them from the land of slavery

He sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to lead them.

God turned Balak’s plan to curse Israel through the prophet Baalam on its head, so that Baalam blessed Israel instead of cursing it.

God brought the people from Shittim across the River Jordan to Gilgal. God parted the waters so that the people crossed on dry ground.

Yet, they had forgotten and turned toward wickedness and evil. They gained their wealth through deceitful means. In particular, God accuses them of adjusting their measurements to gouge their customers – the equivalent of tampering with the scale so that you are selling someone 3/4 of a bushel of corn for the price of a full bushel.

These are the same charges we have heard before, but something has changed. Some of the people of Israel realize what they have and they desperately want to fix it?

Have you ever been there?

Have you ever blown it so bad that when it finally catches up with you, it hits you in way that is almost physical? You feel hot with shame and ice cold with dread at the same time?

Have you ever woken up to see your decisions, your actions, as if for the first time and wonder, fearfully, how can I ever come back from this? How can I ever make it right? How can what was broken ever be made whole again?

Have you ever been there? Are you there?

Israel sinned. When that sin was spoken aloud through the prophet of God, they did not know what to do. How do I get back? How can I make things right with God after all that I’ve done?

Verses 6-7:

6With 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?

7Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,

with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?

Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,

the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

While circumstances change, our hearts are just the same.

With their sin staring them in the face, the people of Israel scramble to try and make it right. Maybe God wants burnt offerings, like the sacrifice I might make if I have sinned against my brother or sister? No, let’s go bigger. Maybe quantity is the problem. I’ll just do more – thousands of rams, ten thousands of rivers of oil. That has to do it. No, maybe it is the significance of the sacrifice. I’ll give you my own children, my own flesh and blood. Anything to make this right, to make this go away, to make me stop feeling this shame and pain anymore.

Have you been there? Are you there?

When we realize the break in relationship that our sin causes, we can tempted to try and make things right by compensating. We get relentlessly busy trying to do enough or do the right things in order to make up for it. And when we recognize the break in our relationship with God, we can want to do all sorts of good things for God. We serve more, we pray more, we give more, we do more, and more, and more, and more. Good things, but they can hide a fear that we are not doing enough for God to love and forgive us. What do you want, God? What can I do? How do I make this right? We can try to cover our sins with good deeds.

8He has shown you, O mortal, 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.

Walk humbly with your God. Humility is knowing yourself truly in relationship to others. It is not thinking more highly of yourself than you ought to think. When it comes to walking humbly with God, it includes recognizing that we come before God with empty hands.

We cannot make up for our sins. There are not enough burnt offerings we could make, enough calves we could sacrifice, enough rams or rivers of oil we could pour out before God. There is not a sacrifice deep enough or big enough that we could make that would set things right.

Instead, God calls us to walk humbly with him, which is to say, come before him with empty hands, knowing we have nothing we can offer and say, “God, I can’t do it. I cannot make it right. I need you. I need you to do what I cannot. I need grace and mercy I do not deserve.”

Faith – walking humbly with God – is having our hands open to receive from God all the blessings we cannot give ourselves.

Have you been there? Are you there? Have you ever wondered, how do I get back from this? How can things be right again?

8He has shown you, O mortal, 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.

We come before God with empty hands and receive from him all that we need. For God has already done what was needed to reconcile us to Him. Romans 3: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith. Open hands of faith to receive what Christ has done on our behalf.

2 Corinthians 5: We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Have you ever been there?

Have you ever woken up to see your decisions, your actions, as if for the first time and wonder, fearfully, how can I ever come back from this? How can I ever make it right? How can what was broken ever be made whole again?

8He has shown you, O mortal, 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.

Walk humbly with our God. We cannot do it, but Christ has set us right with the Father, so that in him, we might be reconciled to God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Having received the grace of God in Christ Jesus, we no longer live for ourselves, doing what pleases the flesh, and we no longer live trying to make things right with God. Instead, we live in gratitude, giving to others what we have received from God.

8He has shown you, O mortal, 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.

We are called into the world to act justly and to love mercy. God is the god of justice, who cares for the weak, widow, and orphan, and who rescues those who cannot care for themselves. We are called to seek justice as God is just. God is the god of mercy, who – the psalmist proclaims – does not deal with us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. As those who have received the steadfast love and mercy of God, we are called to show forth love and mercy to others.

This is small, daily work. Instead of the big, desperate gestures we make when we try to earn God’s love and forgiveness, gratitude is the small, daily work of loving your neighbor as yourself. Loving mercy means being loyal in our relationships, forgiving when you want to hold a grudge, and loving your enemies even when it hurts. It is a calling that is not glamorous, but it is good.

Acting justly means dealing honestly with others, caring for the poor and the weak, defending those who cannot defend themselves and working so that they might flourish. It is work that is less like crashing in as the super-hero and more like getting up and doing the dishes.

8He has shown you, O mortal, 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.

With open hands, we come to God to receive his gracious gifts, and then we are sent out into the world to share those gifts with others.

Come to the Table, where we walk empty-handed to receive the gifts of God for the people of God. Come with your hearts open to receive nourishment from God. And I invite you to come literally, physically, with your hands open. We will be partaking of the Lord’s Supper by intinction this morning and our normal practice is that you are invited to come forward, tear off a piece of bread and dip it in the cup, but this morning, I want you to come hands open and the elders will tear off the piece for you and place it in your hands – come this morning, not to take, but to receive the very gifts of God.

But before we move to the table, please pray with me.

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