Text: Micah 6:6-8
We sang that great old gospel hymn this morning, “Count Your Blessings.” I remember singing it at the church I grew up in back in Southern Indiana, and a lot of you probably grew up singing it too. “Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”
When our stewardship committee met to talk about a theme for our stewardship campaign, we talked about how we have all been blessed, and how that blessing leads us to generosity – to passing on the blessings. Early this fall in worship, we were in Genesis and we looked at Abraham. God said to Abraham, “I will bless you so that you and your descendants may be a blessing to the nations.” I will bless you so that you may be a blessing.
An awareness of the ways in which we have been blessed can certainly make a difference in our lives. It can change our attitude about things. It can change the way we perceive the situation and open new possibilities. Remembering that God has blessed us in our life can give us confidence to face what may be a difficult future.
So we sang “Count Your Blessings” and we have tried to practice what we sing. You were all asked to jot down a couple of blessing or two in your life. I’m going to read those responses.
We been blessed in so many ways. And we have all been blessed by the ministry of our church – this is a place where we can learn and grow, where we build friendships and experience community. Through this congregation we experience meaningful worship and stirring music and those moments of revelation and inspiration and deeper connection with God.
For me, this is a family of faith where we can experience both the freedom to be ourselves and think for ourselves as well as have the support and community we need to follow Jesus together. It is a place to serve and to share and to connect not just with each other but with the wider community and the world out there.
That’s a little of my own personal testimony about my experience in this church, and I know so many of you have had that same experience: we have been blessed. We respond to God’s blessings by being generous – with our time, our talent, our resources, our relationships – so that others may be blessed.
We have been making our way through the Old Testament this fall and our reading today is from the prophet Micah. Last week we looked at the story of Naaman and the prophet Elisha. Micah lived about 100 years later and prophesied in the southern kingdom of Judah.
This is a very familiar scripture for many of us – I remember that this was Howard Johnson’s favorite Bible verse. And it fits very well with our stewardship theme of “Blessed to Be a Blessing.”
Micah’s understanding was that the nation had turned to elaborate ritual sacrifices while at the same time engaging in wickedness, cheating, violence by the wealthy toward the poor, and rampant lying. It wasn’t that God was against ritual practice per se, but ritual sacrifice was no substitute for living faithfully.
Micah brings an indictment against the people and then asks what it would take to set things right. Just what is it that God wants from us? Essentially, Micah says that God doesn’t really want anything. Because God is not after things; God is interested in us. Faith is a relationship. What God wants is a certain way of living from us, a way of living that walks alongside God.
The message of Amos and Hosea, Micah and Isaiah, all of the great 8th century prophets can be summarized in this one verse: “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with your God.”
This way of living is seen clearly in the life and teachings of Jesus. Jesus wasn’t concerned about the proper rituals of religion; he was about living in relationship with God. For Jesus, it all boiled down to love God and love your neighbor, which is pretty similar to what Micah is saying here.
First, we are to do justice. Not just like the idea of justice, but actually do it. This means that we work for the good of all people, especially those who are powerless. We work to change structures and systems so that everyone is treated fairly and equitably. As Christians we are to be salt and light in our communities. We are to live in a way that honors and respects and values everyone. We do justice and we work against injustice.
Righting wrongs, providing opportunities for those who need it, seeing all people as God’s children, full of worth and value – these are all elements of justice.
And then we are to love kindness. If you look in five different translations of the Bible, you might find 5 different words here. It may read mercy, or loyalty, or love, or grace. The word that is hard to translate here is hesed. It means something like loving kindness.
Hesed is when you are really hurting and there is someone who has no reason to help you but they do anyway – they go out of their way to help. That is what it is to be on the receiving end of hesed. And God is often described as being a God of hesed.
It is interesting that we are to do justice, but we are to love mercy or love kindness. So it’s not just that God wants us to do good toward others; God wants us to love doing good toward others. We are not just called to love our neighbor, God wants us to love loving our neighbor.
And then we are to walk humbly with God. The key word here is walking. Life is a journey, and walking humbly means that we journey with God; we learn from God. In Judaism, the word for ethics and morality is “walking.” It describes how one should go about one’s day-to-day life. Our walk is never taken alone. You might remember that Psalm 23 says, “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me.” We might walk through the valley of the shadow of death or we might be walking on sunshine, but no matter what comes our way, we are walking with God. This is what God wants.
The life of faith is not about outward shows of piety and goodness. It is about walking humbly with God. As that relationship with God grows, we more and more are led to do justice and love kindness. As we love God, we are more and more led to love our neighbor.
Micah says that authentic faith is not about outward appearances or ritual acts; it is about relationships. The focus on relationships extends to our financial giving. We don’t receive a bill from the church and we are not asked to pay our dues. We give willingly and joyfully, out of a relationship. The Old Testament idea was to give 10% of one’s income as a tithe, or gift to God. Jesus’ teaching goes beyond this and says that it all comes from God – it’s not that 10% belongs to God; 100% belongs to God. We are stewards of all of these gifts. So the question is: how do we use what God has blessed us with and entrusted to us?
We give out of relationship. God blesses us, and we want to give. We see needs, and we want to meet them. We understand how important our mission is as a church, and we want to support it. We are blessed to be a blessing.
I read a powerful news article this week. Romello Early – his friends call him Mello - couldn’t stand watching his friend and fellow seventh-grader, Melvin Anderson, get taunted for wearing old, worn-out sneakers. Other kids were just merciless in putting him down.
“I really didn’t appreciate other people talking about him that way,” Mello said. On October 24, he called his mother on FaceTime, which he does every day after school. That afternoon, Mello broke down in tears as soon as his mother answered the phone.
“Romello, what happened?” she asked.
“I’m getting tired of them bullying my friend about his shoes. It’s making me so upset,” he responded. He explained about his classmates mocking Melvin for having dirty, worn out sneakers.
Then, Mello asked her, “Can we go buy him some shoes?” His mother said they would talk about it when she got home from work. During their in-person conversation later, she said he was still distraught. Mello was adamant about buying his friend a fresh pair of sneakers to stave off bullies — and remind him that he has people who care about him.
“Can I use my allowance, or you can take something away that I would get for Christmas?” Mello asked his mother.
His mom said, “I was floored, because most kids are not willing to give up something to another child; most kids are about themselves… it touched me in a way that I almost can’t even describe.”
For Mello, the decision was intuitive. “You should always treat people the way you want to be treated,” he said. “I have a lot of stuff, so I was thinking, let’s bless somebody else today.”
So that evening, they went to a sneaker store and bought a pair of black-and-white Nike Dunks for Melvin. Mello used savings from his allowance to pay for the $135 shoes.
I read this story and I was so struck by what this 12 year old said. “I have a lot of stuff, so I was thinking, let’s bless somebody else today.” Mello understood that he was blessed to be a blessing.
We have been richly blessed in so many ways. And we have the opportunity to bless others. We do this through our living – by doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.
As a church, this is what we seek to do together. As recipients and stewards of God’s blessings, we are called to be a blessing to others. Amen.
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