What Does God Require of You?

“Hear what the Lord says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the Lord has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel.”

Based on these opening words from the prophet Micah, it is clear, God has an issue with Israel. According to scholars, God had every right to be angry. After years of prosperity and growth, Ahaz has ascended the throne.

According to 2 Kings, Ahaz did not follow the ways of God, in fact, most of the aristocracy was not being obedient to Torah. To make matters worse, the Assyrian emperor was amassing land throughout the Middle East and was breathing down Ahaz’s neck. But Ahaz was wise and crafty, he knew the forces of Israel could not stand against the Assyrians. So, instead of taking a chance and being defeated, Ahaz brokered a deal with the Assyrians giving the Emperor all of the gold in both the temple and palace treasuries. Then, later on, desecrates the temple by adding an altar to the Assyrian God. To this new God Ahaz makes blood sacrifices in hopes of keeping the throne of his ancestors.

There is a problem when one’s own self-interests and need for survival supersedes the concerns of those you are called to govern and care for. Most often it results in an abuse of power and institutional injustice. As Assyria placed more demands on King Ahaz, King Ahaz in turn placed more demands on the people of Israel with higher taxes and little regard for the effect it had on the poor and most vulnerable. God’s laws of justice were ignored and in time, Yahweh became the forgotten God of the king and rulers of Israel.

This is why God is calling Israel, and King Ahaz in particular, to task. The covenant God had declared with Israel had been broken. . .Israel was not living into its part of the bargain and God was angry.

Court is now in session. Israel’s sins are laid before her, as God waits for her to respond.

But Ahaz does not respond, the ever clever and resourceful King, does what every good ruler does when his God is angry. Just like he did with the Assyrian King, Ahaz seeks to appease God through sacrifice. I suspect at first the sacrifices started with a few doves and then gradually grew to larger animals, but these sacrifices did not appease God. So Ahaz moved up the sacrificial ladder by eventually offering human sacrifices to Yahweh in order to keep the Assyrian forces at bay.

In the book of Deuteronomy, God states that the Almighty is a jealous God and we are to worship no other Gods or Idols but Yahweh. We are to be God’s and God’s alone. Ahaz did not understand this command, he failed to realize no matter how many burnt offerings he makes, his actions will never appease God’s anger. So, as Israel’s trial before God comes to an end, God does not to pass judgment, instead, God let’s Ahaz in on the secret. “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Since the beginning of God’s relationship with humanity, God has only asked these three things of us, to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with God. As easy as the commands sounds, humanity has never managed to get it right. During the first century, St. Paul attempts to articulates this same reality when he tells the Church at Rome of his frustrations over not being able to fully model Christ. “ I do not understand my own actions, for I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” It won’t be for another 1900 years until Freud unknowingly explains this dilemma with God through the structural models and the interplay of the Id, ego and superego.
It is hard to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with God. In order to do so, we must first fight against the basic instinct of self-preservation by placing the needs of others before our own.

In First Corinthians, Paul tells his audience that we are nothing without love. In the original Greek, the term Paul uses is agape, which was originally translated as charity by the writers of the King James Bible. A better word in today’s American English is compassion. King Ahaz is taken to task by God because in his efforts to preserve his throne, he showed no compassion for the needs of the people he governed. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus frequently calls out the Pharisees and the Sadducees because of they lacked understanding and compassion for the people they were called to lead. And in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells us in the end we will be judged, not on our piety, but on the compassion we show for others.

The late Henri Nouwen defined compassion in the following way:

Compassion is that which grows with the inner recognition that your neighbor shares your humanity with you. This partnership cuts through all walls which might have kept you separate across all barriers of land and language, wealth and poverty, knowledge and ignorance; we are one created from the same dust , subject to the same laws, destined for the same end.

Charles Cook completes Nouwen’s statement by writing, ”compassion requires not walking the same path with a companion, but walking in his or her own shoes.” It is from the heart of compassion the desire for justice is generated, that kindness is exalted and the ability to walk humbly with God is made possible.

This morning We found ourselves placed in the courtroom of the Almighty, as I end this homily, I invite you back to this same court room.
Several years ago I shared with you the vision of Judgment Day my former spiritual advisor offered me while I was living in Boston.

There will come a day he told me, when each of us will be brought before the Judgment Seat of God. The room will be filled with all the people from our lives. And the question we will need to answer is how we chose to love.

I am no longer convinced the question we will be asked to attest to will be about how we loved, instead it will be about how we demonstrated compassion for others and will be answered by counting the number of shoes we walked in throughout our lives.

Amen

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Lynn Milller says:

    One of my problems in reading this or most any sermon which harkens back to scripture is that the Jews/Israelis are always held up as failing to keep the covenant with God. However the failings of 2000 years of Christian worshippers–inquisitions, anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, genocide and other abominations against God are seemingly glossed over. Yes, it is alluded to that we all have failings and do not live up to God’s expectations for us to be compassionate, but the message implicates the Jews/Israelis as willingly doing evil, while the Christians are supposedly always striving to do good. I am sure that in your case, Craig, it is unintentional, but is not the effect on the listeners of years of such sermons to think of all Jews/Israelis, alive today as well as the ancients, as villains?
    The message of this particular homily is a sound one, the three things God wants of us, Nouwen’s definition of compassion and Cook’s and your former spiritual advisors exposition on this point are keys to both Judaism and Christianity. They are important lessons to convey to all people who are striving to be good human beings.
    Just my perspective, Craig. Hope all is well and you are keeping toasty.

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