What Does the Lord Require of You? from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.
13Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. 14And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? 15Should we pay them, or should we not?”
But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” 16And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” 17Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
6”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?
7Will 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?”
8He 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?
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
Jesus is out and about in downtown Jerusalem, and has been teaching there for the past couple of days. It’s a pretty typical scene for Jesus, and this story is one that’s probably familiar to all of us. This is the story where people ask Jesus what that should do with their money. Jesus is in Jerusalem, and he knows that the cross is coming. His answer is filtered through the cross, and points to God’s claim over every aspect of our lives.
Now Jerusalem is not just the big city, economic hub, cultural center that is so easy for Christians in the United States to picture. Jerusalem is occupied territory.
Like many occupied cities throughout history, the culture had divided into those who supported those in power, and those who continued to resist. In Jerusalem, the Herodians supported Rome, and the Romans kept them in power, and kept them wealthy. They cooperated with the occupiers so that life could go on.
The Pharisees, on the other hand, were the keepers of Jewish cultural identity. Their insistence on the law was out of a commitment to remaining God's covenant people. Their school of thought was an act of resistance against the pressures of the empire, and they sought to stay Jewish in the face of political and economic pressure to become just like Rome.
The Herodians and Pharisees are at opposite ends of the political spectrum for 1st Century Jerusalem. Neither of them are necessarily evil, it's more complicated than that. But in this story, both ends come together to try and trap Jesus.
When they start paying you compliments, you'd better duck.
If he sides with paying taxes, then clearly he supports the Roman occupation, and the Pharisees can turn the crowds against him for abandoning God's law. If he comes out against paying taxes, then he's a rebel and the Herodians can have him arrested.
Jesus refuses to pick the sides they have lain out for him. He is firmly on God's side, and deftly dodges their trap. Give to the emperor what belongs to him, but give to God what belongs to God.
The implied question, then, is what is it that belongs to God?
"With what shall I come before the LORD?"
God requires our whole selves. We may be tempted to try and offer just enough, and then withhold the rest for our own illusion of control. But God is not satisfied with only part of his people. God has already redeemed every part of us. That’s the reason Jesus is in Jerusalem, to claim us for God, forever.
Every thing we do, every aspect of the Christian life, is a response to the gospel. God has laid a claim on us that not even our own sinfulness can revoke, simple because God’s love does not end at betrayal, or even at his own death, it extends to empty tombs and sits at God’s right hand.
How then, can we approach a God whom we never repay, whose grace we can never earn?
We can hear and heed the word of the prophet Micah: “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high?” Micah asks the same questions we do, he too has seen the overwhelming and steadfast love of God. He asks, “Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?” These are the cream of the offering crop. But it’s not enough for Micah. “Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?”
The amount of wealth Micah is talking about here is getting a little silly. This is the wealth of whole kingdoms, yet for Micah, it’s still not enough. So the big question comes up: “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
But that’s not the answer either.
I think everything that Micah has listed is showing us that we cannot buy God off. God has already bought us, and we are not for sale. We cannot even buy a portion of our own lives.
When I was growing up, Dr. Matt Brown was our preacher. One Sunday, his sermon included a quotation from John Calvin. He included the quote as a bulletin insert, and it is one of my favorite statements on the Christian Life even after all this time.
“We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours.
Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’s: let all parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal.”
I still have the bulletin insert, tucked safely away at home, as a reminder to myself. We are not our own. We cannot buy God off and go our own way, God loves us too much to allow it. Christ grabbed us through the cross and the empty tomb, and by the grace of God will never let us go.
How do we answer that amazing, unending, and steadfast love? “With what shall I come before the LORD?”
The question hangs in the air, until Micah reminds us that the answer is nothing new. “[God] 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?” It’s nothing we can earn, or pay for, because grace is not a transaction. It’s not a monthly bill.
God’s grace empowers us to live transformed lives. God’s grace allows us to step out of a world that keeps score every step of the way, that grades our every action, and to not squabble for scraps that we may call good. “He has told you, O mortal, what is good.”
Do Justice: it’s an action that seeks the wholeness of all people.
Love kindness: it’s a perspective that takes delight in others.
Walk humbly with your God: it’s a direction that continually guides us to where God is showing us, so that we do not get caught up in our own egos.
“Give to God, what belongs to God,” Jesus tells us. Micah shows us what that looks like, “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.”
That’s a tall order. None of us get it right all the time, we all stumble, and struggle to live according the the faith God has given us.
So we struggle to live up to Micah’s charge, we slip and try to keep some of what is God’s to ourselves. But we never lose out on what God has already done for us. God’s giving known no ending, and stretches across our whole lives, not just the parts we are able to give.
One of the many gifts God has given us is each other. This peculiar thing called a church that is both a community and an institution is a gift from God. It encourages us and supports us, and challenges each member to keep moving, to do a little more justice, to love a little more kindness, to walk a little more humbly, and a little closer to God.