Sermon by Pastor Josh Van Leeuwen
Introduction by Phyllis Yearick
Remember when you were a kid, and you asked your mom what she wanted for her birthday? And she said all she wanted was for you to listen to her and your dad and do what they said (without talking back), work hard in school, and be nice to your brothers and sisters? So then you asked your dad to take you shopping and, oh, to give you some ideas for a real present? Because those things didn’t sound to you like much of a gift. If you’re a parent, you’ve probably experienced this with your children (and maybe been forced to recall your own youthful misadventures in this area). Why is it so hard for our children to believe that we’d rather have their love and obedience than another tchotchke?
In this passage, it’s easy to visualize God as a dad, hands on his hips, confronting his children who have done wrong, and asking them: what have I ever done to you besides liberating you from slavery, giving you good leaders, and constantly protecting you from harm? Were the Israelites sheepish? Did they look down, unable to meet their Father’s eye? What now? How could they make things right again? How could they mend the relationship, repair the covenant that they broke so easily? What material good could they offer to earn the favor they lost through their disobedience? Perhaps burnt offerings would do. If one ram was good, how much better would thousands be? If one small offering of olive oil was sufficient, how much more sufficient would rivers of olive oil be? Or what about sacrificing a beloved child? Even though it was strictly forbidden, surely that would appease God.
But no. None of that would please him. What did he want? Faithfulness. Obedience. The intangibles.
He wanted them to act justly. Creation is not as it was intended to be, all because of human willfulness. When we try to do what is right in his eyes, treating others with respect and compassion and caring for those less fortunate than ourselves, we are working toward restoring the world to its original and intended state of wholeness. He also wanted them to love mercy. When we don’t get the punishment we deserve, that’s mercy. God extends it to us every time we confess our sins to him and repent, and he expects us to extend it to the people who wrong us. If God doesn’t hold our sins against us, who are we to hold the wrongdoing of others against them? We have only to remember the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross—for our benefit, so that we could be restored to a relationship with God—to let go of condemnation and reach out to others with mercy. And finally, he wanted them to walk humbly with him. To remember their place in the hierarchy. When we put ourselves and our needs and wants ahead of him and the work he has for us to do, we have supplanted him as God in our lives. Although God became human to save the world, no human is capable of being God.
These three—acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God—are not just the expectation for the ancient Hebrew people. They are for us as well. Just like Mom, God doesn’t really want more stuff. It all belongs to him already, anyway. He wants us to listen to him and do what he says (without talking back). He wants us to develop the gifts and talents he gives us and use them to do the work he has prepared for us to do. He wants us to be kind to our brothers and sisters, wherever in the world they may be. What he wants money can’t buy: pure, selfless, enduring love. Love that wants the best for everyone. Love that sacrifices to ensure that all have what they need. Love that refuses to indulge wickedness and instead actively pursues good. When you get down to it, isn’t that what we all want?
You are welcome at Westview Church! Join us this Sunday morning at 9:30 for worship (Children’s Worship and nursery care available). Discovery Hour is on summer break and will be returning soon!