"What Do You Give a God Who has Everything?" #69-21
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on February 3, 2002
By Rev. David Buegler, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2013 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Micah 6:1-8
Prayer: Heavenly Father, You provide for us in every way. You have given us this good land. You have made us among the most blessed peoples upon the face of the earth. And then, from Your great heart of love You gave us Your only Son, Jesus Christ as our Savior. We seek some proper response to Your great love. We seek to return just something of ourselves back to You. Show us, O Lord, what You desire and empower us to respond faithfully to Your great love in Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose great name we pray. Amen.
This story is told of the late George Bernard Shaw. It seems he was seated beside a duchess at a dinner party and in the course of the conversation, he asked: "Tell me duchess, would you live with a man for a million dollars?"
"Well," replied the duchess, "I suppose I would." So Shaw asked her: "Would you live with a man for $5?" The duchess was insulted. "What do you think I am?" Shaw quickly replied, "Oh, my dear lady, we've already established that. Now we're just trying to determine the price."
The punch line to that story is very revealing. It raises the same issue that faced the people of Israel thousands of years ago when the Old Testament prophet Micah spoke for God. It's also the same issue we need to deal with today in our modern lives.
In each and every age, human beings have had to make decisions about values. We call many of these ethical-right or wrong decisions in life - values. We ask: Do we teach values in our public schools? Do our new neighbors have good values? Is our daughter's boyfriend a man with good values? What are we willing to pay to establish our personal values in life?
As a matter of fact, if we are honest with ourselves, a big part of our day to day struggle is getting proper price tags on everything in our life. You know, how much is it all worth to us? What are we willing to pay? The question is put to each of us in hundreds of different ways. What are we willing to pay in terms of time, energy, output, skill, and commitment -- to have a life of security and meaning and comfort? That's what people are looking for in order to have the "good life."
If analyst Arthur Griffith is correct, the average American is willing to pay plenty. Griffith says, "We are driven to spend money we really can't afford to possess things we really don't need in order to impress people we really don't like." And then we really get frustrated when we realize this good life (whatever that is) can't be bought no matter what we're willing to pay. No one can ever pay enough to make life really worthwhile. I mean to hold it all together; to ensure a trouble free existence. Life seems to go haywire no matter what we're willing to sacrifice.
Well friends, join up with the plight of the human race. The prophet Micah said the same thing 2,700 years ago. Whatever you can pay, even in religious currency -- sacrifices and prayers and going to church and all that -- no matter how much you are willing to ante up, it'll never be enough to make life turn out the way you believe it should.
Let me read to you from Micah, chapter 6. "The Lord says, 'Stand up, and plead your case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say. Hear, O 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. My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me.
"And Israel replied. With 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? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with 10,000 rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, 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.'"
The times in which Micah prophesied were a lot like today. Israel experienced an almost unprecedented period of prosperity, peace and advancement. Only during the reign of great King David and his son Solomon had there been brighter days. And from all this prosperity, the people were tempted to conclude the reason things were "clicking" for them was because, obviously, they were doing something right.
They were like that married couple I heard about that for the first several years their marriage really had some tough going. They hardly had money to put food on the table and keep up with the mortgage. Then their prospects began to brighten up. The husband got a good job. Life started to turn around and the wife would tell anybody who asked, "Oh yes, Sam really managed to get us out from under it all."
That's the way Israel felt. They figured they had really done a great job of being God's people -- of getting out from under it all. Only, my friends, that kind of thinking can be dangerous. It can lead to spiritual disaster.
We know that thinking is dangerous because the Bible says, "With Israel, God was not pleased." Israel stood convicted before His holy throne. The confrontation was described in courtroom terms. It's like watching "Court TV" with the prosecutor being God and the defendant being Israel. The prosecutor puts the defendant on the stand and says, "Stand before the mountains and the hills and answer my accusations. What have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me! I brought you up out of Egypt. I redeemed you from the land of slavery. I gave you everything for the good life. Now, what are you going to return to me?"
One of the modern translations says the Lord actually brought a lawsuit against Israel. And the defendant is stumped. They don't know how to respond. And so they simply answer the question with another question. "OK, Lord. What do you want?" How do you want us to settle up? What do you want us to pay?
To which the prophet Micah, with some prophetic sarcasm says to them, whatever they are willing to pay it won't be enough.
And still they try. They respond in three interesting ways. They start to put the price tag on their good life. How about some burnt offerings, Lord? What if we offer up calves a year old? You see, those sacrifices were functions of the priest and the people were offering to be priestly in their payment.
Their second attempt: How about a thousand rams, 10,000 rivers of oil? These were the offerings Solomon the king brought when he first dedicated the temple in Jerusalem. Shall we now as a people repeat these kingly offerings?
Or their third attempt they asked shall we be like the Moabites, our heathen neighboring nation? They make offerings to their heathen gods by sacrificing their firstborn. Now that's a real sacrifice. Would that be enough Lord? Don't You see we are willing to offer You anything? We'll raise the ante to anything You want, Lord, for this good life of ours. They were bargaining with everything they had.
Before I share the Lord's answer, let's move forward 2,700 years to today. What about us? What if the Lord brought a lawsuit against us for the good life we enjoy? What if He put us on the witness stand? What if He questioned us about our values -- the price tags we attach to the important things in our life?
For example, what about the 24 hours each day we call time. With all the pressures of time in our life, would we be willing to sacrifice leisure time for family time? Or personal comfort time for volunteer time in our community? Would it be some extra sleep time on the weekend or time spent worshipping the Lord in His house instead? We only have 24 hours a day-all of us-no more, no less. No one gets anymore than anyone else. So what would get priority? What will we have to give up in order to join the bowling league and commit three hours per week? What would I be willing to pay to commit one evening per week to Bible Study at church or play a game with the kids? These are real questions as we try to manage our busy lives.
And they pop up all over our daily decisions - and not just over time. What about our social standing? What in life would we offer up to be part of a certain circle of friends? How important is it that I advance in my career even if it costs me a happy family? Teenagers have to ask what they are willing to sacrifice in order to be accepted by a certain group at school?
How in the world does God fit into all of this? With what shall I come before the Lord? Israel might have been misguided in its thinking, but at least they were thinking about God. Not everybody today can say that. Much of American society doesn't even acknowledge God in the equation of their lives. They establish their values with no consideration of how a personal relationship with Almighty God should impact those decisions. Their ethics have no divine foundation. Their answers leave out the most important parts of the question.
What a mistake. For it is only in our relationship with God that the genuine "good life" is possible. Micah says, "He, (that is, God), has shown you what is required." For a life that holds together, I mean really holds together, this is the price you have to pay.
Here is the answer the prosecutor gave to Israel when they asked what the Lord required. Simply this: "Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God." And with that simple challenge, I hope you realize the price for the good life is out of your price range. And if the truth were known, none of us can afford it. That's why Micah's value setting challenge is an invitation to come, not as you are, but as Christ is willing to make you. Jesus Christ is the only One to have ever lived this good life, and paid the price in full. Because, you see, the cost of the good life, a life that genuinely hangs together, is the life of God's Son. He lived a truly good life and then in perfect love died a death on that Friday we now call "good." He died a death that was the only effective sacrifice for a world of sin, and He rose in victory on the third day. He burst His rock tomb to pieces and declared because I live, you shall live forever. That resurrection served as the Father's acceptance of His ransom for you and me.
That brings us back to the courtroom. You see, in God's courtroom, the judge gets out from behind the bench, takes off His robe and pays the full cost of the lawsuit himself -- for each of us who can never pay on our own. There is now no accusation against us any longer. Romans 8 assures us there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
I've always enjoyed the part of a garage sale where you set everything out on tables, and then, with little pieces of masking tape put a price on all your junk that you think people will be willing to pay you. Well, the price tag that a loving God was willing to put on you was the price of His Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Don't ever doubt how much you mean to the Lord. Unconditionally, He would be willing to forgive you your debt, and empower you to make your decisions and live out your daily life through faith-filled eyes. And with Him at the heart of those decisions, oh how much easier they become.
Now let's visit some of those decisions again. You ask yourself, "Should I pay the price of lost sleep to get up and go to church on Sunday morning to worship and praise this loving God? That's a moot question, not even fit to ask when you live in the power of Jesus Christ. Should I join that third golf league on Wednesday nights when I sense my marriage is already stressed? That's an easy decision when we understand our relationship to Christ changes everything. Should I be concerned about world hunger or the elderly lost in the endless halls of nursing homes, or my unbelieving neighbor, or the work acquaintance that just needs to talk?
Should I consider all these questions in my evaluation of the good life? In Christ, I have no choice and by walking humbly with God, these decisions become so much easier. Living under God's daily forgiveness and love, first things really do come first. Our faith really does make a difference. The truly good life is really possible.
A good friend of mine has said, "Now I keep the main thing the main thing." St. Paul says, "The love of Christ compels me" or as another translation puts it, "God's love leaves me no choice but to take from my Lord's loving hand the good life won by Jesus Christ -- a life of forgiveness and peace, and then share that good life with everyone I encounter as Christ has shared it with me."
I challenge you to this wonderful faith-filled good life that empowers you to make decisions now to act justly, to love mercy and walk humbly with your God. Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for February 3, 2002
ANNOUNCER: Stay with us for a snapshot of parish life during wartime. I'm Mark Eischer, and joining me in the studio today is Pastor William Weedon of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Hamel, Ill. We'll be hearing more from Pastor Weedon later this month as he offers several sermons for us. First, Pastor, I'd like to get a sense of what's been happening in the local parish during this time of crisis. How has the war affected your congregation?
WEEDON: I suppose one of the chief ways it has shown up is that it's affected our prayer life as we gather together in service for the prayer of the church. We have been praying for those entities we often forget about -- our military, our nation. We've always prayed for our nation, but it has some very specific content now. As for the military, we do have a member who is stationed out in the Middle East in Arabia. His name is Derrick and we remember him as we pray for our military. We pray for all of our servicemen and women. You might not believe it but we have had an impact with Muslims there in our parish in Hamel, Ill. We have a couple of members married to Muslims and we also have a Jordanian family. She has been catechized and brought into the parish. The husband attends every week with her. He is Roman Catholic. They're native Arabic speakers in our parish, St. Paul in Hamel, Ill., which is just amazing. To them it's a very real thing. They experienced a little bit of difficulty in the community with the kids in the school and we have to work with them on that.
ANNOUNCER: What sort of issues do the members of the congregation bring to you -- things on their minds and on their hearts?
WEEDON: Well, I think the big thing that hit in the first several months of this conflict was the fear -- fear for themselves, their children and the general uncertainty and theological crisis. We, as Lutherans, believe very firmly that our God has all things in His power. The question they were struggling with is, "How on earth can we look at what happened on September 11 and still assert our God is the One who is in control." This is a difficult thing for them but it's the fact. Our God is the One who has all power in heaven and on earth and although we don't understand the way He works, we know He's the Master of taking evil and turning it to good and blessing.
ANNOUNCER: How has it affected your preaching?
WEEDON: I think September 11 became a real touch stone in our teaching. It was a way to test the genuineness of our message in a lot of ways. The big challenge is to assert that in Jesus Christ and in Him alone, there is salvation. It's to be found in no one else and there are no other substitutes. In America today, there are lots of people who believe, and dare I say in our Lutheran pews, any faith is fine. It doesn't matter what the faith is in and, as confessional Lutherans, we say no. It matters everything who the faith is in. Is your faith resting in Jesus Christ and in Him alone? He is our only hope. He is the only way. In our preaching we've had to repeatedly assert what we confess in our Athanasian Creed.
ANNOUNCER: Now, for individuals in our audience who may not be connected to a local parish during this time, what are they missing?
WEEDON: Wow. When I think of the initial days after the disaster, our congregation really came together. In fact, they embraced our community, too, in such a way that we were family. You know, in the Christian faith, it's never just me and God. Jesus taught us to pray, "Our Father," and He gave us a family -- our means. There's more than one of us, and the comfort and support we've given each other to get through this time is wonderful. As we've been listening to the Word of God offering our prayers and just standing with each other, it's been tremendous. I couldn't imagine facing it alone.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you. We've been talking with Pastor William Weedon of St. Paul's Lutheran Church, in Hamel, Ill. The next Lutheran Hour Message is titled, "How Did Moses and Elijah Get on That Mountain?"