He 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.
As we continue through these Sundays after Epiphany, we ought to be reminded that one of our primary tasks as Christians is to be an epiphany for those around us – God not only invites us, but wants to use us to reveal Himself to our friends and neighbours. And that revelation, our task of bringing the message of God in Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth, is something we’re all expected to do, both in word and in deed; really, one of the questions we should ask ourselves before, during, and after every interaction with another person is, “are my words, are my actions, revealing God’s truth right now? Are they showing God’s mercy?” That’s our task, whether we’re having small talk at the grocery store or whether we’re hearing a bit of juicy gossip; are my words revealing God’s truth and mercy, even when I’m arguing about garbage disposal fees over at town hall?
We are to be epiphanies to those around us.
And, as we heard a couple of weeks back, the work God is doing is to make us as polished arrows in his quiver; arrows made to follow the pattern of Jesus, arrows that are able to fly straight and true and hit the target set in front of them.
After all, sin, as we know, is “missing the mark”, falling short of the target. And the work of the Holy Spirit, by the grace of God, is to pick us up when we repent and ask for another shot, as we’re slowly bent back into shape so that we can fly as we were intended.
So this morning, that brings us to the question of how.
We’re to be an epiphany, we’re to hit the target set by Christ, but how do we do that? What does that look like?
The surprisingly simple response:
A beautifully simple answer comes to us this morning from the prophet Micah, chapter 6. Micah is speaking to the people of God who, once again, have misunderstood their task. The people came to worship, they sang the good old hymns, they recited the prayers, they brought the right offerings just as their parents and their teachers taught them, but in spite of doing all the right stuff, there was a problem. Their religion wasn’t working. The God-given religion intended to put things right between humankind and God, the God-given religion intended to be a light so that all the nations of the earth would be drawn in to experience God’s glory, wasn’t doing what it was intended to do.
In Micah chapter 6, the prophet lays out the case against the people. The Lord God kept his side of the bargain, his end of the covenant: he freed his people from Egypt, he led them into the promised land, he protected them when their enemies plotted against them. Yet, while his people kept the outward demands of the law, their obedience ended there; the law, the discipline which was supposed to shape their hearts and minds so that they could be polished arrows in God’s quiver wasn’t working because their obedience was limited to the outward physical actions, it wasn’t allowed to sink in.
Now, it’s important that we don’t fall into the trap that many Christians have fallen into over the ages. Some Christians, some great Christian minds, have looked back and said, “oh, the problem is that they were being outwardly obedient; God doesn’t care about the outside, he cares about the heart”.
And, I mean, I suppose that’s a nice thought; except that the whole of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, totally disagree. Nowhere are we taught that we’re to toss away outward actions in favour of a purely mental or “spiritual” religion – quite the opposite, it’s our bodies, not our minds or hearts, that are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and we don’t believe in the resurrection of the mind, but of the whole person, body included. “Heaven”, the New Jerusalem where Christ is even now preparing us a home, is described as a city, with streets, and doors, and rivers, and trees, and tasty fruit on those trees.
God made us, body and soul, and the whole point of the empty tomb at Easter is that our bodies, this physical world, matters. After all, God made it and declared it good, and is restoring it so it will be made perfect.
The problem is not that God’s people were engaged in their God-given physical acts of worship; the problem is that they were stubbornly going through the motions without their outward obedience shaping their hearts and minds into the people God desired them to be, a people that revealed himself to the world, in thought, word, and deed.
It’s about alignment
True obedience means that both the outward and the inward are aligned.Like the arrow, being repaired and re-worked to hit its target, the whole thing needs to be aligned for the arrow to stay on course. And when your trajectory, when your journey, is spread out in front of you, even the smallest change in that alignment is going to have a huge impact on where you land.
Let me tell you a little story. The other night, Kristina and I went out to play a round of darts. Now neither of us are darts champions by any stretch, and she’s much better than I am, but it’s all in good fun. I gave her the little case of darts, hers have a French flag on the flight, mine have the good old Union Jack. We went in to play, and somehow, two of mine fell out in the van on the way. It was cold, and our coats were off, so instead of going out to get them, I borrowed some darts, and the first thing I noticed is that they were way lighter. And, you know what? It doesn’t take much to change your trajectory. We started playing – I hit the wall, one ended up on the floor.
It doesn’t take much, even a small change, can change how that arrow flies.
Even a small change on our part can be used by God in incredible ways.
So how, exactly do we conform ourselves to that pattern set by Christ?
In Micah we read, “he has shown you, O Mortal, what is good.
What does the Lord require?
to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God”.
Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly.
Now let’s be clear – these aren’t three boxes to check: it’s not about doing some just actions, enjoying the thought of mercifulness, and staying humble and kind.
Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly are not actions, but the trajectory, the course, that we’re on. Those describe our journey, our race to run, our flight toward the target.
And the problem and challenge is that, if we do one or two of those, without doing all three, we’ll miss the mark.
Examples of this are easy to find. Even in the Church today, there are those who work tirelessly for justice in our society and strive to show mercy to those on the margins, but if that’s done without humility, if that’s done without the recognition that we’re all sinners in need of that mercy, then it misses the mark.
If you’re humbly preaching the message of God’s mercy, but you leave out the justice that God requires – if you leave out right and wrong, and repentance – then it misses the mark.
If you’re the humblest person in the world, and like the people to whom Micah wrote, you do all the right and just actions, but in your heart you refuse to show mercy, to really, truly forgive as you’ve been forgiven, then in spite of everything looking right on the outside, it misses the mark.
As we recited together this morning in the Psalm, who can actually stand in the heavenly city, who can actually stand in the dwelling place of God?
The one who leads a blameless life and does what is right; who speaks the truth and means it; the one who loves his neighbour, yet rejects those who are wicked and honours those who fear the Lord; those who give their money regardless of if they’ll get something in return; one who keeps his promises. One who is on a trajectory, on a path, on a journey through life that is defined by just actions, a love of mercy, and humble obedience to God.
And, what would happen if we managed to do this? What would happen if God’s people to whom Micah wrote were, by God’s grace, able to live as God required?
Well, in short, they would live as God intended – not for their own sake, but as a revelation, an epiphany to the world: they would be a light to enlighten the nations, drawing the world to God.
If we lived as God intended – act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God – then, in short, we would look different. We would look different from the world around us. We would be a people, a church, that stood out, that attracted attention, like a city on a hill, or a lamp in a dark room.
If we lived this way, not as boxes to check, not saying “two out of three ain’t bad”, but combining justice, mercy, and humility, then we would be a Church, a community, that reflected the Beatitudes, we would be a community where those whom the world despises – the poor, the meek, those who mourn, those hungering for righteousness, the pure, those striving for peace, those who are persecuted – are not despised, but are known to be blessed, not just because they have favour with God, but because the Church, the Body of Christ, is gathered around them, blessing them, carrying their burdens.
What does the Lord require?
He wants you to be an epiphany. He’s shaping and re-shaping you to hit the mark. And he wants us to fly the course marked by justice, mercy, and humble obedience.
And… like those darts. It might take some practice, but even the smallest change you make today can totally change where your arrow ends up.
To God be the Glory, now and forevermore. Amen.