EPIPHANY 4, A – January 29, 2017

SCRIPTURES – Micah 6:1-8; 1 Cor. 1:18-31; Matt. 5:1-12; Ps. 139

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? Micah 6:8

“O my people, how have I wearied you?” God asks in Micah 6. Boy, being weary with God; who could imagine this? He is the One who has good reason to be weary with us! How often do we talk a good line but then not put into practice what we say and believe? More importantly, are you seeking to learn, and then put into practice, what God says? That’s what really matters. Are you doing so because you believe that what God says is good and right?

We live in a day when good is centered in the individual. What is good is what is good for you. Actually, it’s always been this way. Focusing on yourself and doing what you feel is good has been our main problem ever since Adam and Eve first sinned. It is the essence of sin. In our day this self-focused good seems to be especially prevalent and especially urged.

God calls you to look outside of yourself and to Him. “He has told you, O man, what is good,” says Micah. In fact, He has not only told you. God has put His money where His mouth is and has shown you what is good: He gave His only-begotten Son for you, and He did so before you had done anything to deserve this. And then Jesus, although being greater than all, humbled Himself to serve all: the lowest in society; the most sinful; even those who hated and opposed Him. Finally, He took upon Himself your sins, endured the curse of God’s just punishment of them, and laid down His life to save your life. He did so while you were in your sins: foolish; weak; lowly and despised; nothing but a wretched sinner before God. The apostle Paul sums it up by saying, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, [and even God’s enemies], Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8)

How can it be that Jesus took upon Himself your sins and delivered you from them, when you did not even exist when He lived? Maybe you don’t think about this, as you hear all the time that He died for you and is your Savior. But, it is amazing to think that something that took place long before you even existed nevertheless took place because of you and shapes your life; that someone who lived long before you even existed had you in His mind and heart, and so acted with you in His mind.

This is our God. He has always done this. Right at the beginning of the Bible He speaks, not only of us, but of blessing us. “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’… So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.’” (Gen. 1:26-27) God desired that we share in His holiness and goodness and eternal life, and so He made our ancestors, the first man and woman, to be one with Him in His image and likeness. This is the first message in the Bible. And then, after those first people turned from Him and disobeyed and lost His image, God promised to send a Savior who would deliver them from their sin while being hurt by it Himself. This first promise of God, given in Gen. 3:15, is the message of the cross. It is God’s main message. When Jesus comes it is the focus of His life, which He sums up this way: “I did not come to be served but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28)

The message of the cross is more than just the news that Jesus died for you on a cross. It is the message that by His death for you God has transformed your life and restored you to His image and likeness. Paul says in 2 Cor. 5: “One has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised… Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation! The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” How do you live for Him? “Do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”

This is far more than just being a nice person, not arguing or calling people names or speaking harshly but treating others with decency and respect. It is loving and sacrificing to help the foolish in the world, those despised by the world, the weak, and even those whom the world considers to be nothing. Today this especially includes the child in the womb. According to worldly standards, their lives are subservient to the desires of others. They can be brought forth into this world if they are wanted. But, if they are not wanted, they can be aborted and killed. This is our world’s wisdom; and it is evil. Abortion is the denial of God: of Him as the Creator of every person, and in His image; of Christ’s sacrifice for every person, including those in the womb. You cannot be silent about this. “Here I stand, with the child in the womb” you must say. You must “do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” This means speaking up to defend the lives of all.

When you love the unborn and speak up for them to save their lives, even to the point of bearing insults and having all kinds of evil uttered against you; when you love the sick and frail and those whom disease or age has changed so that they are no longer the people they used to be; is it you giving them value? Is it your actions that make them precious? No. God Himself has bestowed value on them:

Ø  The value of being “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God Himself, who begins acting upon our lives within our mother’s wombs.

Ø  The value of through the word of the cross being remade in His image in Christ Jesus, “whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1)

We speak up for others and serve them because in them we recognize God’s fearful and wonderful work. This is serving as Christ served. His life is being seen in your life.

We must stand up for the victims of abortion. But, proclaiming the cross of Jesus also means reaching out with kindness to the supporters and practitioners of abortion, and to those who have had abortions, to bring to them Christ’s redemption and life. The kindness of the One who laid down His life for sinners – for us! – must motivate us.

Anger and harsh words accomplish little. I experienced this myself on Friday at the March for Life in Washington, D.C. As I was walking to meet up with the LCMS group that was gathering, I passed several men who were carrying signs saying, “The pope is the anti-Christ!” and “Catholicism is evil!” When he saw my clerical collar, one of them told me to repent. “Look, I’m not Catholic, I’m Lutheran,” I responded, and he asked, “Why are you wearing a collar?” “You guys are really in the wrong place for this,” I said as I walked away, and the guy started yelling at me through a megaphone, “Repent of your pedophilia! Turn from abusing children or you will be destroyed!” I tell you, if repentance and heaven meant turning to such people, I’d take hell.

“Do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God,” says Micah. Kindness and humility must be what people see as you stand with Jesus, and so with those who have no one speaking for them or standing with them. It may happen when you do this that you will not receive kindness in return. People may “revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely.” If so, rejoice! Not only is your reward great in heaven; you are like Christ! He who humbly laid down His life for you – and then rose to life again to live and reign forevermore! – will hold you and will never let you fall. All honor and glory be His forever! Amen.