Bible Reading Acts 4:32-35, 6:1-5a All the believers were one in mind and heart. Selfishness was not a part of their community, for they shared
everything they had with one another. The apostles gave powerful testimonies about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great measures of grace rested upon them all. Some who owned houses or land sold them
and brought the proceeds before the apostles to distribute to those without. Not a single person among them was needy.
During those days the number of Jesus’ followers kept multiplying greatly. But a complaint was brought against those who spoke Aramaic by the Greek-speaking Jews, who felt their widows were being overlooked during the daily distribution of food. The twelve apostles called a meeting of all the believers and told them, “It is not advantageous for us to be pulled away from the word of God to wait on tables. We want you to
carefully select from among yourselves seven godly men. Make sure they are honorable, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, and we will give them the responsibility of this crucial ministry of serving. That will
enable us to give our full attention to prayer and preaching the word of God.” Everyone in the church loved
this idea. (TPT)
Message Micah 6:4-8, Ephesians 2:4-5, 8-10, James 2:14-17
Reach Outward in Acts of Mercy and Works for Justice
In this series so far, we have learned that as we devote ourselves to God’s teaching, we discover compass points-- directions for living out the life of faith. The first was moving upward to God as he moves toward us; the second is outward, and last week we said we move outward by the example of godly living. This week, we are still moving outward.
The prophet Micah gets to the heart of what it means to be God’s people in short concise statements which some have called the Hebrew Beatitudes. Like the New Testament Beatitudes, it is easy to admire these poetic pronouncements as they roll off the tongue so beautifully. It is not as easy to apply their depth of meaning and put them into practice. Therefore, let’s lay some foundational groundwork.
Faith is Tangible
Most faith traditions of the world do not separate the spiritual quest from physical, emotional, mental, relational, or any other part of life, it is all one bundle. Our spiritual life is meant to be expressed in practical ways through our material world.
In a couple weeks, for example, Jews will celebrate Sukkot (sue-coat) or the festival of tabernacles, or booths. What they will do as part of that celebration is that they will build a shack, hut, tent – that is not weatherproof, and they will put it out in a yard of a field someplace. It is not weatherproof because while they are in there they need to be able to see the sky and see the stars and see nature around them. It was to help them relive what happened when they moved from slavery in Egypt through the wilderness and toward the promised land and to remind them that their true shelter in life was not their nice physical home that they lived in, or even this temporary shack that they had built, but God himself was their shelter. And through the holy days, as they relive the ancient stories, it becomes a story -- not of their ancestors and a God of long ago, but it becomes their story and their God who is still with them and moving along with them into their future just as he has always done; and the faith becomes life-giving and relevant for us.
Micah reminds God’s people of their story -- how, despite their consistent disobedience, the Lord has never turned his back on them, but faithfully saved them again and again on the journey. (See Micah 6:3-5) Paul says the same in the New Testament. After going on and on about how we were dead in sins, and living as sinners, and controlled by serving the evil nature and not obeying God…he concludes with these words,
But God still loved us with such great love. He is so rich in compassion and mercy. Even when we were dead
and doomed in our many sins, he united us into the very life of Christ and saved us by his wonderful grace! For
it was only through this wonderful grace that we believed in him. (Ephesians 2:4-5, 8a (TPT))
The people of Micah’s day reply to their reminder of God’s provision: What can we do? What offering should we bring to the altar to please him when we worship? What will make up for all our sins and everything we’ve done wrong? And the suggestions they list (which I won’t repeat) (See Micah 6:6-7) clearly demonstrate that they knew how ridiculously impossible it would be to even begin to try and earn or pay back God for his gracious salvation. And what they ask in rhetorical questions, Paul states clearly,
Nothing we did could ever earn this salvation, for it was the gracious gift from God that brought us to Christ! So no one will ever be able to boast, for salvation is never a reward for good works or human striving.
(Ephesians 2:8b-9 (TPT))
But that doesn’t drop the topic. It isn’t like “well I can’t pay you back, so (shrugging) --- have a nice day” and so we go back to our old life…of sinning. No, Paul gives the answer of response,
We have become his poetry, a re-created people that will fulfill the destiny he has given each of us, for we are joined to Jesus, the Anointed One. Even before we were born, God planned in advance our destiny and the
good works we would do to fulfill it! (Ephesians 2:10 (TPT))
The answer to the people of Paul is that while we cannot earn or repay God for this free salvation, there is an expected tangible response laid upon God’s people: to fulfill their pre-planned destiny of good works for which we are created in the first place. Or as Micah puts it in “beatitudes”: Having repeatedly accepted God’s faithful deliverance,
You must act with justice. You must love to show mercy. And you must be humble as you live in the sight of
your God. (Micah 6:8 (NIRV))
Upward to God and Outward in the Example of godly living
That last sentence has been covered the last three weeks by devotion to the teaching, which leads to a movement toward a relationship with God, and out of that relationship should naturally result in a godly example. But we also move outward in acts of mercy and works for justice. Our response to God is primarily demonstrated in how we treat others. Our faith goes beyond a muttering the right words or thinking the proper beliefs.
Outward in Acts of Mercy
One primary difference that Christ makes in our lives (if we allow him to make it) is an ever-growing heartfelt compassion for others. Biblical compassion, by definition, is feeling something so strong (so “with passion”) within our being that we can’t help but to take action, to do something about what we are seeing. It may be that the action leads to the feeling rather than the feeling to the action. It depends upon how you are wired and how God wants to work with you. Some people act, and then they start feeling, others feel, then they start acting. It doesn’t matter which way you get there. They generally build on each other, but whether we act because we care, we care because we act, we are acting in response to faith in God who has done more for us that we can ever repay. James talks about faith in action when he says,
Suppose a person claims to have faith but doesn’t act on their faith. My brothers and sisters, can this kind of faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister has no clothes or food. Suppose one of you says to them, “Go. I
hope everything turns out fine for you. Keep warm. Eat well.” And suppose you do nothing about what they
really need. Then what good have you done? It is the same with faith. If it doesn’t cause us to do something, [the faith isn’t real faith] it’s dead. (James 2:14-17 (NIRV))
One of the biggest hindrances to practical demonstrations of mercy is an impractical possession that our stuff has over us. We’ve all heard the saying, "Do you own your possessions, or do your possessions own you?” Right? A question that is formed in response to those who measure a full life on the basis how much stuff we have -- as is depicted in the old bumper sticker -- The one who dies with the most toys wins.
It is often our love of stuff that keeps us from offering ourselves to others when we should. You heard in the Bible reading what the early Christians did. And I am not suggesting we do what they did or how they did it -- but the early Christians clearly demonstrated that they were not owned by their possessions. Their stuff was just stuff. God was their true shelter -- and so they used their stuff as resources to help others who were in real need.
Some might say, “But I don’t have any stuff to start with, then what?” Compassion comes in many forms -- not all of them are giving of costly tangible resources…
Remember Peter at the Temple? The beggar was asking for help, they fixed their faces on each other, and the beggar was expecting to get money, and Peter said, “I don’t have any money, but what I do have, I give to you, and he healed him. (See Acts 3:1-10)
… the giving of time, and energy, a listening ear to someone who needs talk, a prayer with someone who is hurting, a no-cost or low-cost diversion for someone who is stressed. A random kind deed for someone who needs a happy surprise -- and who doesn’t’ need that once in a while? These too are tangible and valuable and critically needed.
Outward in Works of Justice
We may be able to give loving aid to people. But if the reason they need loving aid is because society hinders them from returning to or achieving the excellence they want, then, if it is within our power, we need to work at changing the system, changing the situation -- so that all can receive a fair opportunity, especially to receive forgiveness (when needed) and transformation, and find opportunities, and to be unconditionally accepted and loved -- as God loved us in Christ.
We can’t fix every flawed system. We can’t be everything for everyone. But just like with acts of mercy, we are called to consider our gifts and talents and resources and reach out in word and deed to the best of our God-given and God-empowered abilities and make what difference we can as God leads us.
A television detective struggled with his personal and professional life. His personal life would drag down his professional life and his professional life would drag down his personal life. It was a vicious circle for him. But in one episode, he was sent to South Africa for a conference in which he was called on to give a speech on how police make a difference. While he was there, before it was time for his speech, a crime takes place that involved people from his home country and so he is asked to help with the investigation. In his eagerness for justice, he ends up helping more than they wanted him to help, which led to several conflicts. Nevertheless, the case is solved and as the story ends, he stands up in front of a small group of police officers from around the world and says, “Do we make a difference? (Pause) Maybe? (Pause) Sometimes. (Pause) Not much. (Pause) What I do know is that we should never stop trying. (Pause) And we need to remember that every little counts…” (Wallander “The White Lioness” Season 4 ep. 1)
This past week Major League Baseball observed the annual Roberto Clemente Day, how many remember him? Many time all-star for the Pittsburg Pirates. On that day, each team presents a nomination from their team for a humanitarian award in Clemente’s name, for the player who demonstrates sportsmanship, community involvement and positive contributions, both on and off the field. Clemente is quoted as saying, “any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, you are wasting your time on earth.”
I think most of us want to see God’s justice and mercy forever roll down like waters as Amos told us (See Amos 5:24). And we crave for God to use us to help make that positive difference happen in at least the people around us.
Some of you may remember back in the 1990s (I know some of you weren’t born yet 😊) that it became popular to wear bracelets with the letters WWJD on them. It stood for --- do you remember? "What Would Jesus Do?" The intent of the bracelet was to remind us that in every given situation we would think about what Jesus would do in that same situation and then that is what would do too. Over time, some argued that the bracelet only succeeded in having us thinking about what Jesus would do but didn’t quite encourage us to begin to do it. It would be like admiring the paintings of a great artist or listening to a gifted musician play. But looking and listening -- even studying -- knowing -- is not the same as picking up a brush or playing a note. If we want to become an artist or musician, or a Christ follower, knowing what they know is only a first (and never ending) step. It also takes a daily doing of disciplined actions that will make us artists, or musicians, or disciples.
Perhaps a better acronym would have been: WWJHMD-DI. "What Would Jesus Have Me Do-Do It." More than knowing what Jesus would do is to know what [he wants that] we should do, and to do it. Micah and Paul and the early Christians saw a grace filled compassionate beauty in disciplining our lives according to the purposes of God as they saw in the actions of Christ. They had discovered that doing God’s will kept them from stumbling in this perilous walk through life, along which he continues to provide his wholeness and his fulfillment. Let’s pray.
Prayer Holy God, we live such cluttered lives. Society floods us with messages that: we need - and deserve - and find our status --- in stuff. We do not realize that to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly doesn't require us to own one material thing. Forgive us and help us turn from the destructive patterns of accumulation -- and seek first you as our shelter, our kingdom and our right relationship -- expressed in how we treat others. Remind us that in your will there is understanding, that in you there is healing, and while we may not do like others do, because our gifts are different, we can find our way of bringing justice, mercy and the love of Jesus to those around us, and it is in Jesus name that we ask for this. Amen.
Hymn # 375 There is a Balm in Gilead
Closing Blessing Now continue to move “true north” to Jesus that you may receive and share his healing as you go in his direction, receiving a full life.