Thursday April 30, 2020
What can we bring to the LORD?Micah 6:6-8 (NLT)
Should we bring him burnt offerings?
Should we bow before God Most High
with offerings of yearling calves?
Should we offer him thousands of rams
and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Should we sacrifice our firstborn children
to pay for our sins?
No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.
The prophet Micah gives us some very specific guidelines for pleasing our God. In Jewish history there were things that people did to honor God. These involved making sacrifices of various kinds. There were five main types of grain and animal sacrifice. These included burnt offerings in which the whole animal was burned. This was the most extravagant offering since the entire animal was given to God. There were grain offerings of fine flour or unleavened baked goods mixed with oil. Then there were the well-being/fellowship offerings in which an animal was sacrificed but only the internal organs were burned, and the rest of the animal was divided between the priests and the one making the offering. There was the sin or purification offering which also was an animal sacrifice. Finally, there was the guilt offering that was given when there was something wrong in the person’s relationship with God. In such offerings only the inner parts were burned with the rest of the animal given to the priests.
These offering were seen as “gifts” given to God. When sacrifices were made, the Israelites saw these offerings as a way to give back to God some of what God had given them. These acts of sacrifice showed their desire to deepen their relationship with God. To the Israelites sacrifice always involved transformation. One of the most common ways to transform something was to destroy it, and the easiest way to destroy, to transform, something was to burn it up. Using an animal as a sacrifice took the animal from the ordinary and changed it into the extraordinary, from merely an animal to a gift pleasing to God. For hundreds of years, the people of Israel believed these sacrifices were sufficient to atone for any sins of omission or commission that they had done.
But Micah tells them that the sacrifices that they thought were pleasing to God were just the opposite. Animal and grain sacrifices were not enough. No longer was the smoke rising from the altar a pleasing odor to God. No longer was this the desired way of improving their relationship with God. God wanted something different. Instead of sacrifices God wanted those who love God to do what is right, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
To do what is right, show mercy, and live with humility – none of these behaviors take the extraordinary effort to fulfill as making the long journey to Jerusalem to sacrifice animals or grain. Animals do not need to be bought, lives do not need to be disrupted in order to make such a journey, nor is it necessary to involve others to help with the sacrifice. These behaviors involve only the person and God. No animals, no journey, no Temple, no priests, just a one-on-one decision by the person setting goals to deepen their commitment with God.
We may not always be successful in accomplishing these goals, but they are attainable. But there are times when following this advice becomes more difficult. In times like these when we are encouraged to stay at home, avoid crowds, and wash our hands, it is harder to do what is right, show mercy, and do things the right way. These actions are focused on relationships with one another. They help define how we should think about and act toward others. When we are separated and so much of our interactions is restricted, it is harder to stay focused on these ways to please God.
And this is not the only difficulty in following these guidelines from Micah. Age plays a part. As we age, we slow down; we may not have the same enthusiasm we once did; we are not as strong; our bodies show signs of wear and tear. These facts of aging do influence how we can fulfill God’s mission. In this time of pandemic, age keeps many of us from volunteering to help. Instead of accepting our offers of help, those in charge may look at us as folks who need to be protected rather than helping hands. And they would be right. Senior citizens are more at risk than younger folks.
So what can we do? We can keep ourselves healthy by staying home. By doing this we will not be adding to the already burdened health care system. Not only will we stay well, but we will not possibly spread virus to others.
But there are things we can do – we can pray for those who are suffering from COVID and for their families. We can pray for all the front-line workers – health care workers, police, EMTs, grocery clerks, garbage collectors, mail carriers – the list could go on. There are many, many others who are trying to keep our lives somewhat normal during this time.
As Governor Wolf considers how to reopen our state, we can pray that this is done in ways that will not increase the loss of life. We can pray for careful reopening of schools, businesses, and churches. We can pray for finding drugs that will shorten the duration and lessen the severity of this virus. We can pray that such drugs will reduce the loss of life. We can pray for a vaccine that will finally allow us to live our lives more like we did just a few months ago.
We can call our friends, our church members, and neighbors to make sure they are staying well. We can send them cards. If we are talented, we can make cloth masks or other needed items. We can help but from a distance. In these ways and many others, we can do what is right, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Amen.
-Pastor Joyce Donigian