September 14, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Will Peace Come in the Mourning?
God of awesome majesty, silence in us each false word and turn our lives to Your obedience, so that every word on our lips may bring honor to Your name, and our very lives may be a holy and acceptable gift to You. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Doesn’t it feel good to be back in the groove of the program year? For some it means their entire lives get re-scheduled – school work and all; for others it means planning commute time differently; and for others it means a new routine for monthly meetings and weekly get-togethers. Here at LPC it means monthly fellowship opportunities and outreach groups are back in action (Breakfast Club and Livewires and Lighthouse Circle, for example), choirs get to plan for regular rehearsals and performances (Chancel Choir and Praise Team and Just-for-Fun), Bible Study groups rededicate (midweek and Sunday School).
It also means we look together at pieces of Scripture that we might choose to ignore if we didn’t have each other to read with. So this Fall, as we start our new Program Year, our Sunday mornings will explore God’s Word from a couple Old Testament prophets. We start with Micah.
Today I want to give you an overview of the whole book (7 chapters, about 6 pages in most Bibles), and then hear some main points from chapter 1.
This background might sound like boring minutia, but hear it out and you’ll see how vitally it effects our understanding of the book.
First, who is this prophet Micah? He’s a small town man, from Moresheth, whom God called to proclaim His word to the people of the big city of Jerusalem.
Second, when did this Micah live? He lived during the time just after the northern kingdom of Israel had been taken captive/sent into exile by Assyria, 120 years before the southern kingdom of Judah was captured by Babylon. Around 725BC to 680BC. This is important because God’s Word, which is for all people of all time, was written in the context of actual history with actual people during actual historical events. We learn from this that the Old Testament prophet Micah lived in a DIVIDED world – the powerful against the weak, the wealthy against the poor, and the people of God against God Himself!
Third, the name of this prophet describes the book’s most major theme. The name “Micah” means “WHO IS LIKE YAHWEH?”. In the whole book, every chapter talks about how NOTHING or NO ONE compares to GOD! No one is like Him! While the local Philistines had their own gods whom the people of God had started worshiping, and the Assyrians from the east had their own gods, and the Babylonians who would conquer Judah in a number of decades had their own gods – none of them compared to Yahweh, the God of the Jews, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob! Yahweh is God of the WHOLE world! – of the entire universe! There is nothing like Him!
Fourth, what are ways this main theme gets talked about? There are actually three ways this uniquely powerful and loving God displays His God-ness: Micah wants his hearers (and readers) to know that God is a God of JUSTICE! God is a God of JUDGMENT! And, God is a God of GRACE!
So with that overview in mind, let’s look at the first chapter of Micah, & see what it says about what causes God’s judgment, and whether peace can ever be the result of the hardships we find ourselves in. Listen to God’s Word from Micah 1:1-16…. —-
1 The Word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah—the vision he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.
2 Hear, you peoples, all of you, listen, earth and all who live in it,
that the Sovereign LORD may bear witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple.
3 Look! The LORD is coming from his dwelling place; he comes down and treads on the heights of the earth.
4 The mountains melt beneath him and the valleys split apart, like wax before the fire, like water rushing down a slope.
5 All this is because of Jacob’s transgression, because of the sins of the people of Israel.
What is Jacob’s transgression? Is it not Samaria?
What is Judah’s high place? Is it not Jerusalem? …
… 16 Shave your head in mourning for the children in whom you delight;
make yourself as bald as the vulture, for they will go from you into exile.
The prophet Micah summons the image of a vulture, some translations say “the bald eagle” as a symbol of a people! How fascinating that when Micah looked for something visible that would carry God’s message to Judah, he pointed to a large and powerful bird that had no feathers in its cap. And since in the ancient world, a shaved head showed grief, this bird’s baldness signaled a nation that would grieve, a people that would mourn. “Make yourselves bald and cut off your hair for your pampered children; make yourselves as bald as the vulture or the eagle, for they have gone from you into exile.”
Look at the old bald eagle, said Micah; look at his uncovered head. What a picture of loss! Your very symbol of power becomes for you a portrait of pain and powerlessness. The nation is under judgment. Grieve for it. A conqueror will take you away. Mourn for all of that.
Two questions this morning. One: If there is to be judgment, why? What is it that causes God’s judgment? What is it that would bring about the collapse of a great people?
And, two: what about this conqueror? Who or what might he be? Is this to be the leader of another nation, with superior military power? Is this conqueror to be a visionary with a new way of thinking? Just who or what is coming to take over the bald-eagle people?
First, what had the nation done that it should mourn like the bald eagle? What is so severe that they would bring about the collapse of a great people? Micah is confident that painful days are on the way for the people of Judah.
These things Micah will deal with over the course of his entire prophecy. He will go into excruciating detail about some of them. But the great high water mark of Micah’s prophecy gives us all we need to understand the reasons for God’s judgment. Micah 6:8 tells us: “He has told you … 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?” To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.
The judgment was to come on Judah because, first, she ignored justice; because, second, she was skeptical of kindness and compassion; and because, finally, she left God out of the equation. Judah was headed for a state of collapse – economic, moral, and spiritual collapse. Judah was going to look like a bald vulture, still flying around but showing signs of mourning.
On your Sermon Notes page it asks, “What causes God’s judgment?” And the answer is SIN. The sin that Micah describes for the nation of Judah where Jerusalem was the capitol was that they did not love their neighbors as themselves (justice and kindness), and they did not love the Lord their God with all their heart, all their soul, all their mind, and all their strength (walk humbly with God).
In this 21st Century, I tremble not for ancient Judah, but for my own country. I tremble for America. For we are going through a period of financial uncertainty, and those who will pay the price of it are not the stock speculators or the oil barons. Those who will pay the price of our troubled economy are those who are already on the margins, those who can barely eke out an existence day by day. We are hearing too many stories of people who must compromise nutrition for their children because they can no longer afford proper food. We are reading of homes foreclosed and families evicted because jobs have dried up. I do not have answers to these dilemmas; I am not an economist. But I do know that a land that lives on injustice cannot last long. I do know that those who prey on the dreams of the poor are undermining the nation. Bald eagle America, are we experiencing an economic collapse?
“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness …?” I tremble for a nation verging on moral collapse. A society where dishonesty and greed are so much the norm that a man who finds a diamond ring worth $40,000 and turns it in is reported as if he were a freak. When kindness and common decency are laughed at, we are on the way to full-scale moral collapse. And then, Bald Eagle America, what do we do and where do we go? I tremble for my country if we no longer love kindness.
And most of all, I think I am ready to point to the bald eagle as our symbol, for fewer and fewer of us walk humbly with our God. Fewer of us understand that we have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We no longer quake at the thought that a just God will judge us; we want only a nice, sweet, grandfatherly God who pampers us in our little indulgences. We do not want to hear Micah, trumpeting a God who will hold us accountable. We want a bland and generous God who really cares very little about how we live, a God who will give everybody, whether they acknowledge Christ Jesus or not, a nice retirement package in a golden heaven, presumably equipped with sandy beaches and golf courses where we always get a hole-in-one! We are a people who, if the surveys are to be believed, overwhelmingly say that we believe in God, but who refuse to understand that we are to walk with Him, pray to Him, live in and with Him, and live lives worthy of His name! Nor, for that matter, do many want a church that speaks God’s truth and holds out Jesus’ way of life. We want churches that demand little but attendance, and make us feel good but teach little of substance. We are on the way to spiritual collapse.
Economic collapse, moral collapse, and spiritual collapse. Micah is speaking directly to Judah in 700BC, but is he not also speaking to US in 2014AD?! “Mourn for the collapse of your nation. Mourn for the disrepair of your country.” “Make yourselves as bald as the eagle.” And mourn! What does the Lord require but justice and kindness and a humble walk with God? These things we are throwing away, and we will suffer for it.
But, will peace come in the Mourning? Micah also speaks also of a Conqueror who will come to Judah. Part of his warning is that God will send someone who will take them over. Who might that be?
Well, when Micah was preaching, it could have been Assyria. The Assyrians had already conquered the Kingdom of Israel in the north. But in the end, more than 100 years after Micah’s preaching, it turned out to be the Babylonians. Babylon and King Nebuchadnezzar was the raging beast that gobbled up the Assyrians and then they conquered Judah.
That’s Judah and her conqueror. What of us? What of America? Who will conquer us? Is God preparing a conqueror for us, as He did for Judah?
Are we to be conquered by the armed forces of another nation? That may seem preposterous right now, when America is the world’s only superpower. But you can bet that ISIS has got President Obama a little nervous right now. It could happen. We did just commemorate 9/11 last Thursday!
Or will our conquest be more subtle? Will it be that no outside force will be so dangerous as our inside forces? Will it be that conquest will come from our abandoning God’s requirements? Will the conquest come from within as we ignore justice, discount compassion, and make a mockery of true faith? Are the seeds of our conquest already sown in our failing economy, our moral misjudgments, and our spiritual anemia?
I know today that I sound impossibly prudish. To call for personal integrity, to summon us to treat all people with dignity, of whatever race or standing or opinion, is to take a stand in quicksand. To ask for respectful language, to work for faithfulness in marriage, to point out the evils of alcohol and marijuana is a struggle that no 21st century prophet will easily win. But God told Micah to call the people to kindness and mercy and integrity; how can we today do any less?
And I know that today it is no longer fashionable to utter the clear word of the Scripture, that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life; that outside of Him there is no hope; and that there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we may be saved. I know that the politically correct thing is to be vaguely spiritual in some non-committal way.
But the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of Israel and Judah; the God of Micah the prophet and David the King and Solomon the Wise; most of all, the God of Jesus of Nazareth permits no rivals and allows no imposters. Who is like Yahweh? He is God, and there is no other. If we do not take that message to a truth-starved world, then we have lost it all. We are conquered. Not by outside forces, but by our own reluctance to stand and be counted. Are we like bald vultures?
Will Peace, even Joy, Come in the Mourning?
Here is the Good News: Here is the wonderful Good News: Our God has already sent a Conqueror. Our God has already invaded us, and has sent us one who will conquer our hearts as well as our possessions and our bodies. Our God has already come among us in power, and has already gained victory over everything that threatens us.
Our God has sent a Conqueror, the Captain of our souls, who climbed Mount Calvary, and in His sacrificial death paved the way. We learn from Jesus the cost of our salvation and we see in Him the way to love.
Our God has sent a Conqueror, who in His glorious resurrection has defeated death and has destroyed the powers of evil. Our God has sent a Conqueror who has showed us more than justice, whose compassions fail not, and who has taken captive our very hearts.
For though we deserve to die, He gives life. Though we feel grief, He gives a reason to hope. He is a Conqueror, though not like any other. “For not with swords loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums; with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly Kingdom comes.” (from Lead On, O King Eternal)
Will Peace Come in the Mourning? May our sign no longer be the Bald Vulture, the raptor that signals mourning for a failing people. May our sign be the dove of peace, descending around the cross. The dove of Christ’s peace, doled out in justice, love, and presence. The Dove of Baptism which signals each of us as called by God to stand tall. Come. Come and find peace, even in the mourning. Amen.
Resources: (with special thanks and credit to Joseph Smith [cf below] for his insight and illustrations)
Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 464.
Smith, Joseph; “The Bald Eagle”; Takoma Park Baptist Church; Washington, DC; July 6, 2008.
Smith, Ralph L.; Word Biblical Commentary 32; Word Books; Waco, TX; 1984; Pp. 4-23.