“The Beautiful Attitude”

A SERMON ON THE 4TH SUNDAY OF EPIPHANY

Micah 6:1-8
Hear what the Lord says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the Lord has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel. “O my people, what have I done to you? In what 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 now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam 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 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?

Children’s Time: What makes you happy? Going to Grandma’s? Skateboarding? Being with friends? Does happiness come from what we “get” or could it be in what we “give” others? Sometimes we think if we had more friends, or more money we’d be happier. Or, if we were the best at something or really pretty or strong… we’d be happy. Jesus taught about a different kind of happiness that comes from inside us… even when we’re sad, or poor and hungry, we can be happy. When we’re being teased or even hated, we can find happiness inside. God lives inside you as the Holy Spirit and will always be with you.

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Are you happy? Or, do you spend a lot of time fretting about life – what people think about you – what you think about yourself? What are my children are up to? Is my lover is still interested in me? Do I have enough money? Do people like me? Am I successful? And by whose definition? Am I attractive? Strong? Powerful? What makes you happy? What gives your life purpose?

These are all questions we ask ourselves whether we’re religious or not. As people of faith, we search for the answer in God. Oh, I know we look for happiness in other people or things, too, thinking that someone “out there” is going to save us. Remember the old saying, “If momma ain’t happy t’ain’t nobody happy!”? Well, that may be true sometimes… but even momma has to face her maker someday!

Some of us obsess with “finding happiness.” Sheryl Crow sang about this in the 90’s:
“If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.”
“If it makes you happy, then why the hell are you so sad?”

With the Super Bowl coming up, I’m sure there’ll be some crazy commercials again. Last year, Dodge ran an ad for the Challenger muscle car, about all these men and how much they had given up for their wives… but the one thing they wouldn’t budge on was the car they drive! “Man’s Last Stand!” Now, I’m a big fan of cars… but in the end even the joy of an open road takes a back seat to God (and of course, my wife).

For believers in Jesus, no one thing or person holds the monopoly on your happiness. It is something we work out with fear and trembling in the quiet of our hearts and by the power of God’s Spirit within us.

Without God, we answer only to ourselves. YOU decide what makes you happy and you spend your life “being true to yourself.” But when it comes to having faith in God, there are the Ten Commandments to keep in mind… or, Jesus’ call to “take up your cross and follow me” and in today’s lesson, Micah’s call to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

Even our Psalm today (Ps. 15) has it’s own version of the Ten Commandments:
O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?
Those who
1) walk blamelessly, and
2) do what is right, and
3) speak the truth from their heart; who
4) do not slander with their tongue, and
5) do no evil to their friends,
6) nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;
in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who
7) honor those who fear the Lord; who
8) stand by their oath even to their hurt; who
9) do not lend money at interest, and
10) do not take a bribe against the innocent.
Those who do these things shall never be moved.

In Micah, we hear of a God who “will contend with Israel…” God is the next big contender, as if there were some prizefight going on between God and people…
“In this corner… weighing in at 195 pounds, we have mere mortals…
And in this corner, weighing in at infinity pounds give or take a few ounces: The Lord, God, Almighty!”

We know that God will always win in such a match… but the contending is important. When Jacob wrestled with the angel through the night (Genesis 32) refusing to let go unless God would bless him, we see the importance of engagement with God. Why is God contending with the people? From Micah’s point of view, there is no shortage of good will here. Plenty of acts of worship and devotion abound…

“Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression?”

…but all those acts of worship mean nothing to Micah. They are as sounding brass. It’s not a temporary act of devotion he calls for. Amy Oden, Professor of History at Wesley Theological Seminary (Washington DC) reminds us that the Israelites couldn’t just “write a check” and be done with the whole affair… Something much deeper is required of them… A change in how they see the world is put before them. Doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God are not individual acts… but a whole way of living.

As we gather this day for our Annual Meeting, we will also have to consider those same questions mentioned earlier: Are you happy? Do you spend a lot of time fretting about church – what people think about us – what we think about ourselves? What are our children are up to? Will they stay involved after confirmation? Will we continue to grow? Do we have enough money? Are we successful? And by whose definition? What gives our life as a congregation purpose and meaning?

This month our youth went on a mission trip into the Twin Cities. We spent the morning at the Marie Sandvik Center in the Philip’s Neighborhood in Minneapolis. They have a “Kids Club” every Saturday and we were able to help with games, crafts and serving food to these kids – many of whom come from broken homes with families who struggle with addiction and abuse.

To watch our girls serving tater tots to hungry children in our own community… made me happy. As I watched one of our boys hand out a free coat to a child who didn’t have one suitable for winter… made me happy.

I know we live in a world that bases one’s happiness on oneself. But there is something more to happiness. The happiness we read of in the beatitudes. This Sunday’s devotion (in the Christ in our Home booklet) says that one way to remember the beatitudes is to think of them as a “beautiful attitude” to have about life. Surely, there are days we will be anything BUT happy! So, I wrote a prayer to help sum up what I’m trying to say. It’s a silly kind of way to do it (but it made me happy):

Desperate with despair, I’m drawn into drudgery… duped daily by the diabolical distractions of the devil to deter me from my destiny! Days like that drag us down… but we are not defeated. Dance for joy on that day and be glad. Downers are deemed delightful by the one who died to destroy death. So, don’t delay, dear God. Deliver us from the disease of despair and destructive desires. Direct our paths, that we may do justice, devote ourselves to mercy, and dwell humbly with you always! …and all of God’s people said… Amen.

p.s. After church, a member gave me a note in response to my closing prayer: “Dat discourse in rhyme was a delightful destination!”

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