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A Walk with God

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

January 29, 2023

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Micah 6:1–8 (ESV)

1 Hear what the Lord says: Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. 2 Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth, for the Lord has an indictment against his people, and he will contend with Israel. 3 “O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me! 4 For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. 5 O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.” 6 “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? 7 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?” 8 He has told you, O man, 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?

This year I challenged myself. Many of us make New Year’s resolutions, and most of us have already given up on those resolutions. But for me I challenged myself to give messages around the Old Testament Lectionary readings this year. And so far this is the first New Year’s resolution that I have made that has lasted through the first month of the new year. Granted I started this at the beginning of the church calendar which actually began the Sunday after Thanksgiving, so technically we are two months in.

The reason that I took on this challenge is because I do not know enough about the Old Testament. I do not know enough about the roots of our faith, which stretch into the deep past. Our faith tradition did not begin when George Fox heard the voice of God in a field as he prayed. It did not even begin when Martin Luther nailed a book to a door of a church in Germany. The roots of our faith stretch deep into history, to the very origin of humanity.

I am not of Hebrew decent, and most of those listening to this message probably lack that pedigree too. But through Jesus, every tribe, every nation, every people group that we have divided based on language, gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic class is grafted into the heritage of faith that runs as deep as mountains.

We cannot say that we are a New Testament church, because we would be an assembly out of context. We cannot say that we are an American, European, African, or even solely a Friends Church, because we would be a church out of context. We cannot be divided as the world divides. We cannot be Russian, Catholic, Orthodox, English, or Quaker. All of these things give us rich history and heritage but if we stop there, if we neglect to follow the roots deeper. The context of what we call faith begins to drift and we can have a skewed understanding of faith.

Our roots do run deep. We have been grafted into the universal faith, not that I am universalist, but I believe that there is one true faith that is universal. When I say this I do not mean that I believe that all people and all religious ideologies are good and that in the end we all get to heaven. That is not at all what I believe. When I say universal, I mean that there is one true faith. Not faith tradition or even religious expression but true faith.

“Hear what the Lord says:” Today’s passage begins abruptly, like a tornado siren. Hear what the Lord says! Micah is calling out to the people to stop whatever they are doing at that moment and pay attention. Have you ever been in a moment like that? A time and place where everything around us seemed to stand still? I have not been alive too long, but in my lifetime, I have experienced this a couple of times. January 6th, 2021, was one of those days. I do not care what your political leaning is, but on that day the United States of America as we have always known it nearly came to an end. It was not a war that nearly crushed our nation, but ourselves. Our own pride, our own prejudices, and our inability to be considerate of others. It baffles me, we are one of the most generous nations on the face of this earth and yet when we do not get our way we in a short period of history, we were willing to throw it all away.

The second day that I seemed to notice time standing still was September 11th,2001. I remember exactly where I was when I first heard that news. And I remember my first phone call after. It was the first time in my life that I felt vulnerable. There are other moments like these, December 6th might be one for some of you, the day Pearl Harbor was attached, Maybe the day President Regan was shot, or the assassination of President Kennedy. Maybe they were positive like your wedding day or the day you became a parent for the first time.  These moments are wakeup calls, they grab our attention and in many ways demand that we stop and examine our lives. Hear what the Lord says!

Micah, who was a contemporary of Isaiah, had one of those moments. We do not know much about this prophet. We know from Jerimiah that he prophesied in the days of Hezekiah, and beyond that we really do not know much else for sure. Even though Micah says where he is from we are not exactly sure where geographically it is. But from the few clues that we have from scripture, we can make some good theories. Isaiah prophesied and witnessed the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, and it is believed that Micah also lived during that time frame. It is believed that he lived between the central hill country of Judah and the coastal plain, which was in the direct path of the campaign of Assyria as they marched toward Jerusalem. This would mean that Micah lived through the horrors of that invasion and saw the glory of God revealed as Assyria fled from Jerusalem after God invaded their camp one night during their siege. That is one of the moments I am speaking about. And Micah was inspired by God to write these words.

“Hear what the Lord says: Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth, for the Lord has an Indictment against his people, and he will contend with Israel.”

The first thing I want us to consider is the symbolism of mountains. I mentioned earlier that our faith runs as deep as the mountains, but we may not fully understand what that means. This might seem like a flat earth conspiracy theory, but it is not. In ancient Israel they often explained the earth as being flat, with a vault arching over them like a great dome in ancient cathedrals. The earth as they knew it was situated in the great deep, which they saw as the sea. And the mountains were the pillars that extended into the great deep to keep the ground firm. We cannot always look at scripture to determine physical reality, because the people that wrote scripture were speaking of the world that they knew using the senses they possessed. When Micah speaks of the mountains, He is speaking of the things that have witnessed true history. The things that were before humanity existed. If the mountains could speak imagine the stories they could tell.

But that is not all that was believed about mountains. Last week I spoke briefly about sacred rivers, mountains also have a prominent role in ancient religious thought. Mountains were the dwelling places of the deities. In Hebrew the term Elohim which we often regard as God, was used for many different spiritual beings. And these spiritual beings were often regarded as sons of God. Some scholars might argue that when the people were divided at Babel, the Most High God, divided the people among these spiritual beings, and they became the nations. Each nation had their own Elohim to guide and direct them, and each of these Elohim were basically subcontractors to Yahweh. In most ancient near east religions mountains were the dwelling places of the Elohim. Consider the pyramids of Egypt. They did not have mountains around the Nile, so they built mountains. This is also what many scholars believe to be what drove those at Babel to build the tower, and that the confusion that was because humanity believed themselves to be equal to the divine. I want us to think of these two themes when we look at this passage. God’s divine council, that was created to rule over the earth seated atop sacred mountains, and the mountains as the foundation of the earth witnessing the deep history of humanity.

God is calling out to the mountains, He is asking them to consider his case. These mountains know all that has transpired. These mountains have witnessed every human activity, every war, every sacrifice, everything. They know the trips that humanity has made up their slopes in vain attempts to be closer to God, and they know the truth behind those journeys.

“O my people,” God says, “what have I done to you? How have I wearied you?” In this phrase God is asking Israel, what has he done to cause them to reject him. The mountains knew the history. The mountains witnessed the history. The mountains, some might say were, participating in this betrayal.

“For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron , and Miriam.”

This is the story of the creation of Israel as a unique people or nation. Sure Abraham existed prior to this but it was only after the Exodus that the nation was formed. But Micah suggests something interesting here. As I was reading through this, and I hope as you listened to me read it, I noticed something. God said, I brought you out of the land, and redeemed you. I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. Only twice is Miriam mentioned outside the first five books of the Old Testament. This led me to consider why Micah mentioned her here.

I have mentioned several times that bible study can be fun at times. And this side quest of Miriam opened my eyes in many ways. There are traditions within the Hebrew faith that attempt to explain areas that the rabbis find are not fully explained in scripture, these writings are called the Midrash. One of these stories or commentaries revolves around Miriam. And Micah includes her in this list because she was regarded as one of the leaders of the Exodus. Each of the three represented the necessities required for survival. Moses brought the Manna or food, Aaron the cloud of God’s presence since he was the priest. But Mariam was regarded as the source or the provider of water. I found this interesting especially since Moses was the one that struck the stone that became Mariam’s well. This striking of the stone was the thing that prevented Moses from entering the promised land. It was Moses’s punishment. This then led me to investigate Miriam’s punishment.

The story is that Moses married a Cushite woman. I have often wondered how Moses came into contact with a Cushite woman while they wandered through the desert, but that is not the point. Miriam was upset about this union. It is presented that she was upset because the woman was Cushite. Mariam was upset that Moses, the leader of Israel, took a wife from outside the nation. I always regarded Mariam as a racist, but I learned something this week. She might not have been upset because of the race, but because of faith. She was afraid that if Moses took a wife from outside their nation, God might leave their camp. And because of Miriam’s opposition she faced a punishment, God gave her leprosy.

Those with leprosy were removed from fellowship with Israel. They were outside the nation, No longer a participant in the promised people. My entire life Miriam’s punishment was taught as a sign of not questioning the authority of God’s appointed leaders. But was this really her punishment or was it a lesson? Aaron claimed that it was a punishment but God never did. The cloud came down upon them and God gave the three of them a stern talking down for their squabbling and then when the cloud lifted Mariam had the disease. She was removed from the tribe for seven days. The interesting thing is that the camp did not move those seven days. She was removed or excluded from the nation, and yet the nation remained until she was returned to them.

Scripture often leaves lessons in a vague state. We can easily to read into scripture that God was upset that Miriam spoke out against Moses, but I think there is more to it. Miriam spoke out against the inclusion of the Cushite woman in the nation. She was concerned that this outsider was going to pull them away from God, or drive God away from them. The lesson could be that God excluded Miriam from the nation by giving her leprosy so that she could understand that it is God that makes us acceptable or not. God excluded Miriam for a period, and then God made her acceptable once again. God did this, not Miriam. This taught me something. We should be slow to judge because it is God that makes us acceptable or not. The Cushite woman was accepted into the camp at that point because God accepted her just as he restored Miriam.

Miriam was included as a fundamental part of the Exodus story according to Micah. She was one pillar in the triad that formed their nation and faith. And she was a participant in a great lesson that we all need to learn.

“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?” This is where most people are. We are all striving to do religion. We want to stand before God as he cries out to the mountains and say I have been good. But the mountains know the truth. They know and God knows that for all the good that we do, there is just as much failure. Paul tells us in Romans, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:22-24 ESV)

What can we do to satisfy God? What can we do to be good?

This brings us to the eighth verse. “He has told you, O man, 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?”

What does God require? What is it that God seeks for us a humanity to do? What is his expectation? Justice, kindness, and humility.

 This eighth verse of Micah chapter 6 is often regarded as the one verse explanation of faith. This one verse explains the extent of the law that Jesus proclaimed, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37b-40 ESV).

God requires of you and of me three things. Justice. Today justice is a catchphrase. We have social justice warriors, and we have conservatives that often speak of those that seek social justice as being liberals. And yet justice is required by God. This is why I spent so much time speaking about Miriam. She wanted to exclude the Cushite wife of Moses. She had her reasons, and to her those reasons were justified. But she did not treat that woman with the dignity and respect that every human being deserves as a bearer of God’s image. Because all people were created in that image. Not just Men but women, not just Israel but the Gentiles. God’s image is not white or black, but includes us all. Every unique expression of humanity can give us a glimpse of God. Yes, every fallen person, even the vilest as much as it pains me to say.

The people God desires, the people God seeks, and requires do justice. This means we must step back from our own desires and look at those around us as being equal in the eyes of God. Each of us have needs and are needed from the lowest to the highest. But this is not all that God requires. He also requires us to love kindness.

Chesed, the Hebrew word we translate as kindness, is found throughout the Hebrew scriptures. Chesed is grace. It is hospitality. It is us giving to others not what they deserve, but what we ourselves would like to have done to and for us.

And the final thing that Micah lists in the righteous triad, walk humbly with your God. The verb to walk in this sense is a way of life or a lifestyle. To walk is to be mindful of your actions, to examine what you do and your intentions. It is to live the words we speak, in front of  all who know you, what you believe. We are to walk, but as we walk we should be humble.

The Hebrew word for humble is only used two times in the Old Testament, here and in Proverbs 11:2. “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” Often when we use humility improperly. Our parents humiliate us, as our children also do. To be humble is to live circumspectly or scrupulously. Yes, the books I read this week used big words and I had to look them up. This basically means to live in a careful, prudent, thorough, and discreet manner. When coupled with the verb to walk humbly it really means to live honestly. Know who you are, where you are, as you are, and strive to always improve. Humility is not acting as if you do not deserve honor or respect. It is accepting what is given and continuing on. To live in false humility is to be prideful. But this is all in relation to each other. Which is very important because we should love our neighbors as ourselves, but Micah tells us to walk humbly with your God.

If humility among men is to be honest. Humility with God is also honesty. Can you honestly say that you are good to all people? I am good most of the time, but not all the time. I have angered many people. I probably angered some even as I speak today, If I cannot stand before my peers and say I am good to all people, how can I say I am a good person before God? Humility. Walking with God is not about being perfect as much as the Wesley Holiness movement would like to believe, perfection in humanity is impossible. But humility is something that can be done. I can honestly say that I try. I can honestly say that I am a much better person today than I was even a year ago. And going back twenty years, you might not even recognized me. But perfect, no. God has told us what he desires. He wants us to participate in justice, live it out in all our actions. He wants us to extend kindness, grace and hospitality. And he wants us to live mindfully of who we are before humankind, and before him. This is the true universal faith of which I spoke. Justice, kindness, and walking in humility with God. These are not things that we do once and move on but they are things that we must continually participate in, every moment of every day. The moment we begin to think we have become righteous in ourselves, we, like Miriam are shown our own leprosy. But God is just, God is kind, and God humbly walks with us.   God knows that we are not perfect and yet while we were still sinners, while we were still at odds with Him, Christ died for us. He knows who we are and he loves us anyway. He brought each of us into that deep and rich history of faith as old as the mountains, and like Moses’s Cushite wife we are accepted into the camp of wandering Israelites. So as we go out this week let us not worry about being right or wrong. Let us not worry about who is right and who is wrong. Instead let us take a walk with God. Let us live lives of justice, kindness and humility. Let us become a people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others.  Amen!

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About jwquaker

I’m sure everyone wants to know who I am…well if you are viewing this page you do. I’m Jared Warner and I am a pastor or minister recorded in the Evangelical Friends Church Mid America Yearly Meeting. To give a short introduction to the EFC-MA, it is a group of evangelical minded Friends in the Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado. We are also a part of the larger group called Evangelical Friends International, which as the name implies is an international group of Evangelical Friends. For many outside of the Friends or Quaker traditions you may ask what a recorded minister is: the short answer is that I have demistrated gifts of ministry that our Yearly Meeting has recorded in their minutes. To translate this into other terms I am an ordained pastor, but as Friends we believe that God ordaines and mankind can only record what God has already done. More about myself: I have a degree in crop science from Fort Hays State University, and a masters degree in Christian ministry from Friends University. Both of these universities are in Kansas. I lived most of my life in Kansas on a farm in the north central area, some may say the north west. I currently live and minister in the Kansas City, MO area and am a pastor in a programed Friends Meeting called Willow Creek Friends Church.


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