All You Need to Do

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What does it mean to be a good Christian?

If you asked me what it takes to be a good baseball player, a good writer, or  a good musician, I could come up with an answer that most people would agree with. For example, I do not like the New York Yankees, but I would agree that Don Mattingly and Mickey Mantle were great baseball players. I do not like the novels of Henry James, but I have to admit that he is a great writer. I am not into rap music, but I will admit that musicians like Eminem and Kanye West are very good at what they do.  But when it comes to what makes a good Christian, it seems our agreements fall apart.

What does it mean to be a good Christian? Does it mean you are pro-choice or pro-life? Does it mean that you oppose same-sex marriage or support it? Does a good Christian go out and share the Gospel with other people, or do they go out and feed people? Does a good Christian believe every word of the Bible is true, or do they try to follow Jesus’ teachings as best they can? Does a good Christian attend Church every week, or do they worship God in their own way in their own time. Does a good Christian believe we ought to build a wall or open our borders to more refugees?

We could have some stimulating, or disturbing debate on these questions, but I think that is exactly the wrong way to approach the question. There are religions that require their adherents to perform certain actions on a regular basis, or to believe specific things, or to follow certain social and moral norms. If you are Muslim you pray five times a day. If you are Jewish, you don’t eat pork. If you are Buddhist, you meditate. But what does one do if you is a Christian?

But that is not the primary way of Christianity. It’s not about what we do.

In the Gospel of John, when Jesus is talking with the woman at the well, he says, “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” He says this in response to her question about whether it was better to worship on the mountain of her ancestors or at the temple in Jerusalem.

It’s not about where you do it, says Jesus. It’s not about how you do it, whether you stand, sit or kneel for confession, whether you raise your arms when you sing, whether you come forward for communion or have an usher bring it to you. It’s not about whether you dunk an adult for baptism or sprinkle a baby. It’s not about whether the sermon is before or after the offering, or whether you sing hymns or praise choruses. A person of God is not defined by any specific outward actions or behavior but they are defined by specific inward attitudes.

Today’s lessons do not tell us exactly what we need to do to be good Christians. But they do tell us who we need to be to be good Christians.

We start with Micah. The context of this passage is that God has a beef with his people. They are missing something, something very important.

1   Hear what the LORD says:
Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
…     for the LORD has a controversy with his people,
and he will contend with Israel.

When it says that God will contend with his people, Micah is saying that God is bringing charges against his people; He is essentially taking them to court.

3   “O my people, what have I done to you?
In what 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;

 

“What’s the matter, people?” God asks. “Are you getting bored with me? Are you looking to trade me in for a newer, younger, more sexy model?” And then God recounts all he has done for his people. He delivered them from slavery in Egypt. He protected them from the kings of hostile nations. He nurtured them, and gave them a law and most important, he made promised to his people.

Then Micah asks, “What can we do to please God? What does God want from us? More sacrifices? Should be bow 100 times during worship rather than 80 times? Should we switch our sacrifices from lambs to calves? Does God want our firstborns?

The text builds up to verse 8. It comes like a crescendo, like the Hallelujah chorus in the Messiah.

8   He has told you, O mortal, 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 want from us? To do justice. To love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.

So what does that look like?

Let’s go to the beatitudes to see that.

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Now this list is interesting in many ways.

For example, the first four items on the list imply that lacking something makes you blessed. It is not what you have, it is what you don’t have, or what you have lost.

The poor in spirit, those who lack spiritual wealth are blessed. People are not sure they are worthy before God, ironically have more status before God than those who are sure of their spiritual worth.

Those who mourn—well that is easy. You mourn for something, or someone you have lost. Mourning is perhaps one of the most basic human emotions, and here we are told that this is one of the places where God meets us. And God meets us with comfort.

The meek lack the kind of strength and power it takes to get what you want. They lack the ability to overpower people with their influence and authority.

People who hunger and thirst for righteousness—they are people who know the blunt end of oppression, the pangs of hunger, the indignity of an unfair law. These are people who know helplessness, who have no one to come to their aid when the chips are down. And for them, the chips are almost always down.

These are the people Jesus called blessed. It is a strange list, and few of us would want to trade places with anyone on this list. But this is who God folds close to his heart.

The strange thing about God is who he choses to hang out with. I mean, he reaches down and choses a people. Who does he choose? The Egyptians, who at that time, had the greatest economy, the most sophisticated culture, the highest level of technology, and the most powerful armies? No, God chooses their slaves! He does not choose the Egyptians, he chose those who felt the sting of the Egyptian whips.

Now if you ever in your life felt unworthy of God, if you ever felt like maybe you did not have what it takes to be the kind of Christian God would love, if you ever felt outside of God’s love, if you have ever felt that life was stacked against you, then I have some good news for you—you are exactly the kind of person who God cherishes! Perhaps more than any other person you know what it is like to walk humbly with God.

But there is more to the list. Not everyone experience a lack in their lives. Not everyone has to hunger and thirst for things they do not have. Some of us, myself included, lack very little in our lives. There is a blessing for you as well.

7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

You can only show mercy when you are in a position of power. That power can come in many ways—through the resources you have, the education you have, the opportunities you have had, the good luck you have had. When we have power, and we use to help others, we are showing mercy. When we use what God has given us to help others, we are merciful.

8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

We don’t work on impressing God or others with our faith. We work on our own hearts. Alexander Solzhenitsyn says the line of good and evil runs through every human heart. We work on making the good side of that line bigger than the bad side. We work on our motives, we work our intentions, and we work on putting into place the virtues of the Christian life, the characteristics and qualities of godliness into the core of our being. Paul wrote, in his letter to the Galatians, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” We work on having loving hearts, joyful hearts, peaceful hearts, patient hearts, kind hearts, generous hearts, faithful hearts, gentle hearts and disciplined hearts. The more we have these qualities in our hearts the more we will see of God.

9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

It is easy to cause strife. Anyone can start an argument. All you have to do is spend ten minutes on Facebook and you can see that in practice. But it takes work to make peace. It takes commitment, and the virtues I just mentioned to create peace between feuding peoples.

10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Here is a hard one. It is easy to do what is right when it is easy to do what is right. That is obvious, but its truth sometimes eludes us. You would think that being a truly good person would make you respected by most people. People like Abraham Lincoln, or Gandhi, or Martin Luther King would naturally garner the respect of all people. People like Bishop Oscar Romero who stood with the oppressed people of El Salvador during a bloody civil war. Or like Dietrich Bonhoeffer who stood against the Nazis in Germany. People like Jesus, or St. Paul. Those people I mentioned have one thing in common—they were all assassinated. Well, all but Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jesus and Paul. They were all executed.

It is usually in hindsight that a saint becomes a saint. During their lives they are usually known as a pain the neck—or worse. People who stand up against injustices are rarely rewarded for it. People who stand for what is right, especially when the world has decided that being in the right a bit inconvenient at the time, usually are not rewarded until after they have died. Or spent time in jail. Do not think that being a godly person will aways make you a popular person.

I started this by asking, what makes a person a good Christian. I am not sure I answered that, to be honest. I guess I didn’t answer because I am not sure that being a good Christian is what we should aim for. That sounds too much like trying to curry favor, or trying to prove to God or other people that we are up to snuff. I guess I want to end by saying that we are not up to snuff. None of will attain this. And that it doesn’t matter. What matters is this.

We are loved by God. And in return we love God. And God has told us the best way we can show our love for God is to love others. Especially those who need love the most—the hurt, the forlorn, the lost, the hungry, the widow, the orphan, the alien in our land.

In the end it is about love. Doing justice, being kind, and walking humbly with God.

ADDENDUM

The Greek word for righteousness, diakasyne, δικαιοσύνη carries a double meaning—it means righteousness and it means justice. Now I have said before that the biblical notion of justice is different from the way we use in the American political system. We speak of blind justice. The symbol for American Justice is the statue of a blindfolded woman. Lady Justice is blind, and does not see the differences between peoples. There is a sense where Biblical justice is like that, but it goes further.

Justice, in the Old Testaments sense is not seen as an impartial meting out of rewards and punishments. It is not a legal term, making sure we are all equal before God. It is not like the American sense of Justice, where people are expected to reap what they sow. Instead, in the Old Testament, it is more a vindication of those who have been hurt by that very process. It is when the tables are turned, and those who have gone without all their lives are given plenty, and those who have lived in plenty learn what it means to go without. It means that those born to a low estate are raised up,  and those who are born with all the perks in this life are taken down a notch. It is when those who have suffered are satisfied, and those who have been satisfied all their life

About tmrichmond3

I am the pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Medford, Oregon. I believe that faith should be able to sustain us, not oppress us.
This entry was posted in Beatitudes, Jesus, ministry, Salvation, Sermon on the Mount, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to All You Need to Do

  1. Pingback: Nazarene Commentary Matthew 5:1-12 Nazarene Mountain teachings: Blessed and legal commentaries | Belgian Biblestudents - Belgische Bijbelstudenten

  2. Pingback: All You Need To Do – Brianbrain

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