Today we conclude our series: What Shall We Bring? The first week I told the story about how much my grandfather had done for me and I felt a need inside of me to express how I felt about him but struggled to find the right gift. In the end it wasn’t a tangible thing, like a two-piece-custom-made-pool cue, but a decision to make my life a living legacy to him, to be shaped by his loving kindness, his sense of sacrifice for his family, his sense that every moment of life is a bonus, a gift meant to be treasured. I challenged you to think about your relationship with God in the same way. What does that relationship mean to you, what can you bring to God that expresses what is deep inside of you.
Today we turn our eyes to the prophet Micah. He reveals that it’s not that complicated to give God a gift because the Lord God Almighty saw fit to make a list for you. It’s not a long list. Just three items on it. Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.
Before we get too far into talking about how to give these three things, let’s remember the context of the passage. If you ignore the context you really do a disservice to what the Bible says and wind up twisting it to mean whatever you want it to mean. The context is that the majority of people were going along just fine in their lives. It was a time of great prosperity. They went to worship, sang praises, followed the rituals. They thought everything was hunky-dory.
But then one day God comes along through the prophet to say, “We need to talk.”
God says, as the mountains and rivers and meadows are my witness you aren’t doing it right. You act religious and holy but you aren’t getting the point of it.
The people are go into oppressed teenager mode, “Whatever we do it’s not enough. What do you want now, shall we sacrifice our livestock, our firstborn? You’re never satisfied.”
God shoots back saying in essen. “I care about how you live your life, the way in which you are connected to others. You do the spiritual stuff but it isn’t integrated into the rest of your life. You worship and then spend the rest of the week conspiring how to rig the system in your favor so that you get richer and the poor get poorer. You are so concerned about your own spiritual status that you ignore the needs of your neighbor. There are widows and orphans among you who have emaciated faces, twigs for arms because they don’t have enough to eat. Religion that doesn’t respond to the needs of the suffering is solipsism and I find it disgusting.”
God wants an integration in our lives, that our spiritual lives mean we are concerned, connected. When we give God’s love to others, we are reminded that we are loved unconditionally by God.
So God says there are three things that are required and the first is to do justice. Do everything you can in your ability to right the wrongs that you can. Be fair. Advocate for fairness for others. Share your resources to that others can have enough.
The second thing is to love kindness. The biblical word is Hesed. It’s the kind of love that God gives to us. God’s love endures forever. Be kind and loving always. Be merciful. Look for the best in others, see that they are doing the best they can with what they have available to them. Don’t waste your time figuring out ways to retaliate against people who have hurt you, let it go, forgive, be merciful.
Third, walk humbly with God. We are all on a spiritual walk with God. I used to imagine my humble walk as if God were my shadow, following me around, going where I go, helping me out if I get into a pickle. Then one day I realized that is kind of an arrogant, entitled walk, not a humble walk. I’m supposed to be the one following God on my walk, going where God leads me. And sometimes God is going to lead me to places I’d rather not venture. Get involved in this cause, help those people, and rearrange your schedule to be more available to what matters most to you. You see what I mean. I’ve found when I’m humbly walking my life becomes an adventure and it’s way more fulfilling than when I’m not listening and presuming God follows.
One thing we emphasize at Bay Shore is that no two of us are at the same place on that walk. Whether you are just starting out or you have logged many miles over the years close together, we honor your walk, and how what you may need is different than what I may need at any given moment but we support each other, we encourage each other to persevere—especially when it feels like a struggle or pointless. It’s not pointless, there is so much life and joy that come with it over time if you stick to it.
That’s what we celebrate as a church. It’s in our DNA.
You see the DNA of our church is our Bond of Union. It’s an official statement of the church that we read at every board meeting, we recite when new members join and at other times along the journey. It refers to the three requirements of our passage. The Bond of Union is a way of getting at what we are about as a church.
I fell in love with it the first time I read it. In fact the first time I read it was when I was trying to figure out if I wanted to be a candidate for this job. I came across it on the website and said, “O my goodness. This is a church that ‘gets it.’ A church that believes this is a church I want to serve.”
I mean, look at it. It’s got our passage from Micah 8. Talks about following the ways and teaching of Jesus on our humble walk. I love all that stuff.
But I also love that the Bond of Union also acknowledges we are on different parts of the journey with God. That we are all seeking after truth—the truth about our lives, the truth about spiritual things, the truth about how to be a person who lives a meaningful life that makes a difference.
Within the Bond of Union is this wonderful sentence that really gets the sense of our core value as a church. We cherish for each person the fullest liberty in the interpretation of truth, and we gladly grant others the freedom we claim for ourselves.
I just love that. And I love the fact that this statement has been there since the 1940s. It’s really remarkable that in a time when everything in our country was pushing toward conformity and churches were creating statements to make sure everyone believed exactly the same way about everything to belong, Bay Shore Church said we are all on different places on the journey. We’re truth seekers and we may see things differently, but we are going to support and love on each other.
It was written way back then and it is still an exceedingly rare thing to find. There are so many churches that are afraid of differing opinions, of having people take the responsibility to figure out what works for them and makes sense for them instead of having the pastor tell them how to think, how to live, who to shun, how to vote, how to dress.
I believe God has called our church at this moment in time to shine—as Susie preached about last week. At a time of so much religious intolerance where people are murdered in their house of worship we need religion that embodies love and grace and mercy for all people, an alternative to the hating religions to one that sees every human being as a creature of sacred worth, created in God’s own image. Do you have any idea of how many people have been constricted by their religion because they didn’t have the freedom to think differently? How many people have given up on faith because their church was abusive? How many people are seeking for a spiritual home where they can connect with others who are committed to these things?
There is such a hunger out there for the things we are about. The great challenge of our congregation right now is letting them know they don’t have to be out there alone, but they can come in here and find a home, a church family that will respect them and not insist they conform to anything that isn’t right for them.
People need Bay Shore. We need it. It is part of what makes this a great place. Get in touch with your why. Christian Kirksey. Put it someplace you see it.
For some at church it’s the sermons or music or people or commitment to community betterment or the water heater or donuts. It’s all part of the big wonderful mix that is Bay Shore Church.
With such a great need for this, in our own lives and for our community, this is no time to shrink back. It’s our time to shine, to really commit to it in a bold way. I say this at a time when we’ve been faced with budget deficits—and we feel pressure to shrink back, not do as much, give less. But I don’t believe we have to go there. My first Sunday as pastor of the congregation nearly 4 years ago there was a congregational meeting where we voted a deficit budget of well over $100,000. Your elected leaders and especially the Business Affairs Commission under Cassie Berrisford have worked diligently to keep us pointed forward while chopping away at the deficit. If we keep on track through the remainder of the year, there is a possibility that we won’t have to touch a dime of the special funds that people have left to the church to make up the difference.
The pledge drive is a challenge this year. Insurance increases, especially are very challenging. And for us to keep our shine we all are asked to step up to make sure we are faithful.
I’ve always been taught that we give our time, talent and treasure to things that make a difference in our lives, that touch our hearts, our noblest desires. Amen.