Alignment with God
Hear what the LORD says:Arise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the LORD,
and you enduring foundations of the earth, for the LORD has an indictment against his people,
and he will contend with Israel.
"O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery,
and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the LORD."
"With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"
He has told you, O man, 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?
I think I may have met Mark Taylor once but I did not know him. The guys who go onto the streets of Leeds every week to take food, drink, friendship and prayer to the Big Issue sellers and the street people did know him. They have ministered to him for many years.
Mark’s parents died when he was a teenager. He had a difficult life and spent much of it suffering the effects of alcoholism. He has two teenage children by one woman but had a settled relationship with another woman, had made progress in giving up drugs and had somewhere to live. But he hasn’t been able to hold down a job.
But Mark carried on drinking and last weekend he suffered liver failure. At lunchtime on Tuesday they switched off the life support machine. His girlfriend tried to stay with him but was unable to manage. His children couldn’t face it although their mother visited for a while. The only person who sat with Mark during his last, barely conscious hours was Alex. The nurses let Alex stay. He prayed over Mark, read him scripture and just sat there. When his girlfriend came he comforted her and gave her some money for taxi fare. Many of us were praying for Alex and Mark.
Mark died in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Who would give him the dignity of a funeral? Who would remember him? Does anyone know or care?
The team at the Vineyard have stepped in and helped book, arrange and pay for a funeral. We will ensure that he has a proper funeral and that such people that there are who know him are helped to get there.
It makes me ask, What sort of people does God want us to be? People who do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with their God. People who see that something is not right, that a person is going to die without anyone able to stay with them and give them the dignity of a personalised funeral. People who have that strong love for others that drives them to give of themselves. People who are walking closely with God and are listening to what His will is for them.
We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules: whereas He really wants people of a particular sort. C.S.Lewis, Mere Christianity
Shall we be a people of a particular sort? The sort of people God wants? That’s what I want and I think that’s what you want. I don’t want to simply obey one set of rules rather than another, I want to find out what God wants and to be that particular sort of person and part of that particular sort of people. The sort who help people die with dignity.
Every now and again we need to slow down for a little while and ask God to remind us who we are and what we are here for. Are we a people of the particular sort He wants? What is His will for us, here?
Over the first few months of this year we did this – starting with prayer and fasting in the New Year, and then again in March. We asked you to pray for this church and share what you thought the Lord might be saying. At our leaders’ weekend we reflected on Love God, love people and love in action. We gathered our leaders on one particular night to collect our thoughts and prayers together. We identified many things which were great and some things that weren’t so good.
There is an article on the website
which tells you more about this process and the conclusions we came to about where we are and where we are going.
For me the main output came in the form of a gentle rebuke from the Lord (mainly to me) along the lines of, “stop trying so hard and thinking that you can make the kingdom come”. We need to take our foot off the accelerator. Let us worship the Lord and let His power come. He is waiting to bless us in all sorts of ways but it needs to be Him - not us - making it happen.
We received scriptures, all good and important but one that particularly resonated and seemed to sum up a lot of what we think the Lord is saying is Micah 6:8 (ESV),
He has shown you O man what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.
So I have been studying this passage for a few weeks and have realised that it fits closely with the rebuke I heard from the Lord.
What is called for in my life and maybe in yours and certainly in ours; is a re-alignment. Not to something new and different but to something ancient and established. We are called to remember what God has always said to us and says again today. We are to align our lives with His will. His will is enshrined in a covenant, a promise, a contract. Micah calls us back to this covenantal relationship.
As we look at this passage please don’t hear me say that we are in the dock the same way as the people who Micah was addressing. But his message reminds us of what we are called to.
This week I just want to give you an introduction to Micah 6:8. It is all about alignment and recommitting ourselves to a covenant relationship with God. In the next few weeks we will look more carefully at the issues of sacrificial giving, justice, kindness and walking humbly.
This is part of our May Invitation - an opportunity to re-assess who we are, what we are doing and whether you want to join in for another year. We will be thinking about the Vineyard Nationally - hence the 14 May National Vineyard Celebration - and we will be thinking about the Vineyard locally. On 22 May I will be asking you to respond in whatever way you feel is right for you.
Micah was a fearless OT prophet at work between 750 and 701 BC. He spoke at a time when materialism had undermined the covenantal relationship between God and His people.
The strong theme in the story of God, the big story weaved throughout the bible, is that God is seeking a way to rescue us.
This is because He has established a covenantal relationship with us. A covenant is made up of two parties and a contract between them.
Here the parties are God and His people (Israel then and us now).
And the contract is made up of two parts:
1. His saving acts and our faith in Him
2. Our alignment with His will and commands.
God’s saving acts
It all started with Abraham. Abram, as he was then known, had a close relationship with God and had been promised blessings. But he was childless and getting old and couldn’t see how the blessings were going to come about. You can read the full story in Genesis 15 and 17.
So God sets up the covenant (changing Abram’s name to Abraham - he would only see the tip of the iceberg of the fulfilment of this covenant promise) in 17:7 where He says,
I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations.
This promise is repeated again and again throughout the bible culminating in the last book, in Revelation 21:3,
Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.
And throughout, God has kept His side of the covenant, doing his acts of saving grace: rescuing the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, protecting them against the curses of Balak, leading them into the Promised land, continually forgiving them and having mercy. This is ultimately expressed in the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross so that we might be forgiven. God has done the saving act.
And also clearly expressed, time and time again, were the expectations God has for us as partners in His covenant: faith in His saving acts and obedience in lifestyles of justice, kindness and worship.
The extensive laws laid out in Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy all arose out of a desire to protect the weak, to feed the poor to care for the sick.
In 1 Samuel 15:22, when Israel was establishing its monarchy, the prophet Samuel reminded them,
Has the Lord as great a delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.
Sometime later when part of Israel was falling apart another prophet, Hosea, continually reminds the people of the covenant and says,
So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.
And we have spent the last weeks examining Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount on how to live,
blessed are the poor, the merciful, the peacemakers, … love your enemies, give to the needy, forgive, live generously, build your house on me.
So the God of our covenant says, I will love you and save you. I will make you my own. I invite you to put your faith in me, join the dance. And let us do justice, love kindness and walk together.
This passage is made of two components culminating in the covenant reminder in verse 8.
Micah's cosmic courtroom
Mountains, hills and the foundations of the earth as witnesses. Then he introduces the prosecutor – God. And who is he accusing? His own people, us. The two parties to the covenant.
Verse 3 is where God makes his case and he starts with a poignant, “O my people”. It is a tender, winsome question such as a mother may ask of her wayward children. O my children.
God makes his case, see what I have done, rescuing you from slavery in Egypt, turning curses into blessings (Balak and Balaam), leading you into the promised land (Gilgal). I have been doing endless savings acts.
The Entrance Request
The accused answers, what do I need to do to get re-aligned with God. Micah sets this in the form of an entrance request - guest list request.
A bit like a plea with the bouncer outside a club – I am on the guest list…
Whilst watching the Royal Wedding this week did you not ask yourself about how the guest list was put together – some interesting omissions and inclusions. No Tony Blair or Gordon Brown but John Haley, the landlord of Kate's favourite country pub the Old Boot Inn; butcher Martin Fidler and local postman Ryan Naylor.
Apparently lots of people were pleading to go, I heard of someone going on hunger strike unless they were invited. You can imagine someone trying to get into Westminster Abbey.
Hi, I’m on the guest list.
I’m sorry sir, I can’t see your name here.
· Look I have designed my own fascinator.
· I walked to the North Pole with Harry.
· I wrote a hit song.
· I played for England.
· Here’s a big fat cheque.
Of course none of that would get you into Westminster Abbey.
In Micah 6 the accused offers increasingly expensive gifts and sacrifices. They move from the costly to the ludicrous to the obscene. Thinking there must be some way of getting an entrance ticket, there must be a price, there must be some way of dealing with my sin.
And then Micah resolves the court case and the entrance request with a simple reminder of who God is and what the covenant has always required.
Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.
My presence in your life shows in the way you live.
My presence in your life shows in celebration and worship.
Your worship and sacrifice can’t earn your way into my presence.
Micah turns our attention from the act of worship to the life of the worshipper.
By Micah’s day Judah was well established and prosperous. And, as is always the temptation when we have plenty, the people of Israel had lost touch with their part of the covenant relationship.
Government, society and religious leaders had developed a cocksure presumption of forgiveness, protection and the blessing of inherited righteousness. They thought they were it. Hey, we are God’s people, we’re good.
They sought to maintain that position by extravagant religiousness and sacrifice – because they could afford it. How do you want me to perform God? I can do it?
But it is clear that the hungry were not being fed, the powerless were not being protected, that the rich were ignoring the cries of the poor and abusing the weak.
So here comes Micah with his prophetic broadside to the people of Israel.
I don’t think there is a broadside like that for us right now – there may be for some individuals – what the Lord is saying to us at this time is, don’t rely on your wealth and gifts and organisation. Don’t get trapped in thinking that if you are passionate enough, work hard enough, plan thoroughly enough, train well enough that you can make the Kingdom come. My presence with you is dependent upon me not you. I am God, you’re not. I have promised to be with you.
Which takes me back to Mark Taylor who died this week. Our involvement in Mark’s life is an example of the way God‘s particular sort of people know His presence and fulfil the covenant.
We will serve the best coffee we can, rehearse the music thoroughly, plan good events and courses, train housegroup leaders. But they are not the way we will fulfil the covenant.
The issue for the people to whom Micah was preaching was that they thought they were doing OK, they were in pretty good nick, plenty of food and possessions, living in relative security. But they had forgotten that they were in a covenant relationship with God. They had forgotten the poor and the weak. They were out of alignment and had lost touch with justice and ceased to love kindness. They thought they could buy their way to forgiveness – as though God was a celestial slot machine.
Micah makes a clarion call for the old covenant. He reminds us to align ourselves with what is good, with the will of God – to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with Him. This is not new, it is ancient truth. It is a refrain we hear again and again throughout the story of God – from when He first calls the people of Israel into a covenantal relationship with him.
In verse 8 Micah is re-aligning our expectations.
Previously we heard the tender call of My people and here we have the other part, Your God.
O man, he says walk humbly with your God.
You are a man or a woman, just like Adam. Created and needing to be saved by God.
He is God and you are not.
Micah is reminding us of the covenant we have with our Father God. We must learn how to follow Jesus, grow in our discipleship, deal with the rubbish in our lives that comes between us and God.
To walk humbly, that is to seek His will for our lives and walk carefully with Him.
Our lives are to be ones that bring justice and demonstrate love.
With what shall we come before the Lord and bow ourselves before God on high?
Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.