“Are You a List Maker?”
Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
May 19, 2019
Recognition of High School Graduates
I have come to the conclusion there are only two groups of people in this world—those who make lists and those who should. I confess that most of my life I have been a list maker.
Years ago I began making lists on a pocket notepad I carried with me. I graduated to a Day Timer about twenty years ago, and now I use my cell phone to make my lists.
I am so connected to my to-do lists that I write down just about everything I need to do through the course of a day or week. One reason I do this is because I thoroughly enjoy marking something off my list.
As a matter of fact, if I do something that is not on the list, I will pause and write it down just so I can mark it off. By the expression of many people I am looking at right now, I do not think I am alone.
I don’t know if God is a list maker who needs a note pad to jog his memory and prioritize his daily duties, but apparently Micah was. Listen to the words of this ancient prophet.
“What does the Lord require of you? To do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
I like lists like this: clean and clear, simple and succinct, and easy to remember. Let’s examine it this morning to see what advice it holds for all of us, especially the graduates in the Class of 2019.
Micah was an Old Testament prophet who lived about 750 years before Jesus was born. He hailed from the village of Moresheth, a rural area southwest of the capital city of Jerusalem.
He was not taken seriously by the religious leaders in Jerusalem because they questioned his credentials. Who was he to come on to their turf and tell them anything about God’s expectations of them and God’s disappointment in them? By their standards, he had no right to critique them.
Micah was not intimidated by his critics. He had been given a message by God to deliver to the powerbrokers in Jerusalem and nothing or no one was going to stop him. And what was that message?
God was not pleased with his people, especially the leaders who wielded enormous power and influence. According to Micah, God was upset by the way they were living and treating one another, especially the most vulnerable among them.
They were guilty of exploiting or neglecting the poor and powerless who were struggling to survive. They were more concerned about their welfare than the needs of the people they were called to serve.
This is because they were addicted to power, prestige, attention and their lavish lifestyles. They had adopted the culture’s values and become greedy and grown complacent.
To make matters worse, they continued with their elaborate worship services, which in God’s eyes had become a farce. According to Micah, it was obvious to God that religion had become an outward show on the part of many of the religious leaders–empty, hollow and insincere.
When Micah voiced God’s displeasure and accusations, the religious elite became cynical.
“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God,” they asked Micah. “Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (Micah 6:6-7)
Their response to Micah’s stingy criticisms was to add more sacrifices to their worship ritual, which completely missed the point. God did not want more expressions of empty worship, but a change of heart revealed through an overhaul of their values, priorities, behavior, relationships and lifestyle.
God wanted them to reflect his righteous, just and loving nature in the way they conducted their affairs and treated one another. God wanted them to do justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with the One who made a binding covenant with their ancestors.
God’s expectations of his people have not changed since Micah’s time. What was required of the leaders and citizens of Judah almost 3,000 years ago is still required of us.
Graduates of the Class of 2019, I hope you will take this list of what is important to God with you wherever you go and keep it in mind as you make decisions. Filter every choice you must make through Micah 6:8 to discern what honors God.
What, exactly, does God it mean to “do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God?” In a nutshell, God wants us to be honest, compassionate and humble. Allow me to elaborate.
To do justly compels us to look at ourselves and beyond ourselves.
For starters, we are to be a good role models by being people of integrity. At all times and in all places, we are to be honest, trustworthy, reliable, dependable and fair in our dealings with others.
We are to speak the truth. We are to follow through with our commitments. We are to keep our promises.
We reject the temptation to lie, cheat or steal to get what we want.
We seek no special treatment. We play by the same rules as others. We accept responsibility for our actions.
To do justly is to reflect the heart and nature of God through our words and works. At no time do we have permission to do otherwise, sending conflicting and confusing messages to our family members, friends and neighbors.
There is more than a personal dimension to doing justly, though. We must also look beyond ourselves.
A just person works hard to create a just world for all people. Those who do justly know that corruption corrodes the foundation and pillars of a healthy society. They are convinced the two can never co-exist.
For this reason, they believe everyone is of equal value. No one is to be mistreated, exploited, abused or neglected.
Those who do justly expose and oppose injustice wherever it surfaces. They hold those responsible accountable and demand wholeness be restored to all victims.
They insist everyone be invited to the table where decisions are made because their stories need to be heard and their concerns addressed. No one is to be left behind.
They work to form communities of love in which all are embraced as worthy and treated equally. No exceptions. No hidden agendas. No playing favorites. No bribes. No double standard.
If you want to know what justice looks like and what just people do, look at the words in the bible closely associated to justice: widow, fatherless, orphans, aliens, poor, hungry, neighbor, stranger, needy, weak and oppressed. To do justly is to demand the same privileges and opportunities for the little, the lonely and the forgotten people of the world as the wealthy, the influential and the powerful receive.
“Do justly,” Micah boldly said to the leaders in Jerusalem. In his opinion, this was at the top of God’s list of expectations for those who claimed to be his children.
To love mercy compels us to be a compassionate people who help others meet life’s many challenges and carry their heavy burdens. The main objective of someone who loves mercy is to bring the best out in others and to offer them an opportunity to be the best version of themselves.
At the same time, mercy restores value, worth and self-esteem to those who have been beaten and bruised by the harshness of life. Mercy responds to their despair with actions that promote hope and healing.
What makes mercy unique is that it is offered to all people: the lovely and the unlovely, a friend or a stranger, someone on top of their game or a person struggling to live under a heavy load of guilt and shame. At times mercy is a random act of kindness. On other occasions it is a commitment to repair a damaged relationship.
What makes mercy a gift is that the one who offers it is willing to make sacrifices on behalf of the one who needs it. A merciful person makes it known that the commitment to the relationship is stronger than any defect that may appear.
For this reason, a merciful individual does not dismiss the offense someone has committed or ignore the pain that accompanies it, but he or she chooses to repair the relationship rather than abandon it. Healthy, long term relationships are built upon this kind of loving commitment.
Why would we make this kind of commitment to those around us?
Mercy is offered to others because we are recipients of God’s mercy, a concept referred to by Micah as ‘hesed’. God’s love for us is rooted in a commitment to a relationship that is stronger than our stubborn rebellion. It is steadfast, unconditional and unfailing.
It is God’s love for us that will not let us go. Rather, it seeks, woos, finds, forgives, restores, repairs, heals and saves us even when we do not deserve it. It is God’s love that gives us back our future, making it possible for us to move in new directions toward a better life.
How can we do any less for others? I don’t believe we can and honor God. We certainly cannot withhold mercy and reflect the goodness of God.
“Some people are as straight as a marble column,” it has been said, “but they are also as cold and hard.” Those who love mercy have big hearts.
To walk humbly with God compels us to rely upon God for the wisdom, strength and courage needed to be faithful to God in a world that does not share our values. Humility is crucial in building and maintaining healthy relationships and communities.
Only by God’s grace can we remain faithful to our mission to be the kind of people who honor God and make the world a better place for all to live. The temptation to adopt the world’s values and way of living will overwhelm us.
Challenging the social, political and religious systems that violate the covenant principles of justice, kindness and humility always comes with a price. Even Jesus warned us that a prophet will not be honored among his own people. He knew people do not like to have their way of life challenged, especially if they have been encouraged to believe their desires and pursuits are covered with God’s blessings.
It takes courage to speak truth to power and the power structures that contribute to the brokenness and poor stewardship of our world. Exhibiting a heart of compassion for all victims of injustice–its perpetrators as well as the intended victims–is not for the faint of heart.
Only those who walk humbly with God will pay the price.
I pray you will be one.