What God Requires
“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?
Will 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?”
He 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?
~ Micah 6:6-8 (NRSV)
Once upon a time, a horseback rider came across a few soldiers who were trying to move a tree that had fallen across a path. Their corporal was standing by, just watching as the men struggled. The rider couldn’t believe it. He finally asked the corporal why he wasn’t helping. The corporal replied, “I am the corporal. I give the orders.” The rider said nothing in response. Instead, he dismounted his horse. He went up and stood by the soldiers, and as they tried to lift the fallen tree, he helped them. With his help, the task was finally able to be carried out. Who was this kind rider? Well, it was actually someone that we have a picture of in our upper room, where the kids go and ring the bell at the end of the service. He is famous because he was the first president of the United States. Does anyone know who it is? Yes, it’s George Washington.
I have to say, I have always wondered why there’s a picture of George Washington in our church. I guess it’s because he is a part of our history. After all, our church was celebrating it’s seventy-seventh birthday the year George Washington took office. Rumor has it that he traveled the Old Post Road and stayed at a nearby inn. But it’s also possible that the picture is here because Washington was a good example of living a humble life. And though he was the first president of the United States, he was a truly humble leader.
There’s another story about George Washington that speaks to his humble character. As the story goes, he was out riding with a group of friends and they came to a place where their horses had to leap over a wall. In the process, one horse knocked off a number of the stones from the wall. Washington said, “We better replace them.” His friends laughed, and said, “Oh, let the farmer do it.” But Washington didn’t feel right about that. When their ride was over, he went back the way they came. He found the wall, and he carefully replaced each of the stones. His riding companions saw what he had done and said, “You’re too big to do that.” His only response was, “On the contrary, I think I’m the right size.”
Friends, our sermon series for the past few weeks has reminded us that “In This House” we give grace, we tell the truth, we admit that we make mistakes, and today we are reminded that in this house we also say I’m sorry. There is a common bond between each of these concepts. Besides being nice things to do, you can’t truly give grace, tell the truth, admit that you make mistakes and say I’m sorry unless you are able to humble yourself to a certain extent.
We’ve just heard a few stories about George Washington who was a great American leader and yet was also very humble. Friends, being humble means being modest, or without an excess of pride. It’s not needing to put yourself first and get all the credit. It’s taking time to understand the other person, and not always focusing on yourself. As C. S. Lewis once said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.” Jesus was a great example of humble service. He never put his name in lights or called attention to himself. He lived a simple life, loving and serving others and encouraging them to do the same.
Earlier in our service today, we had a time of confession—a moment to talk with God and to admit or acknowledge our sins and the things that we have said and done that keep us from having a close relationship with God. When we make mistakes, saying “I’m sorry” is a good place to start, because when we humble ourselves and admit our poor choices and shortcomings to God or to those around us, saying “I’m sorry” gives us a place to start working together again. It opens the door to hope and possibility instead of struggle, conflict, and cynicism.
I’ve always loved today’s scripture reading from the prophet Micah because Micah is straightforward and honest. He says, “Do you want to make good with God? Then do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. Don’t look back, look forward. Don’t get stuck on your mistakes, instead, go out and do good works.”
One of my seminary professors used to end each class with a prayer and a benediction, sending us all out into the world to share the love of God. And he would always say, “Go out to do justice and to love kindness, but as you do, don’t take yourself too seriously. Just walk humbly with God.”
Friends, so often we get caught up in who we think we should be, and we lose sight of simply being who God created us to be. We think we need to have all the answers and to be able to fix everything. We think we need to know just what to say in every situation and how to control the world around us, when actually what really helps sometimes is the ability to say “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t know how to fix this.” This one is hard because we don’t want to admit that we don’t know or that we don’t have an answer. “I’m sorry, let me say that a little differently.” Sometimes, what we think and the words that actually come out of our mouths are two different things. We say things that hurt other people’s feelings or give false impressions, and sometimes we need to start again to think about what we are saying before we say it. “I’m sorry I never thought of it that way.” This is a big one because sometimes it takes being open to new possibilities and ideas, and we only truly get there by listening to others. The truth is, my friends, saying “I’m sorry” can be an empty statement if we are forced to say it or we say it without humility, or it can be an open door for hope and healing to begin.
Friends, in just a few moments, we are going to gather at the table that Jesus has set before us. And I say this week after week, month after month, and year after year because I mean it. Everyone is welcome at this table! It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you’ve been. It doesn’t matter if you were raised Roman Catholic, or Baptist, or Episcopal, or Methodist, or if you were raised with no religion at all. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, Republican or Democrat, rich or poor, gay or straight, conservative or liberal, or somewhere in-between. Because whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here!
But what that also means is that there might be people at the table today who you don’t agree with. There might be people at the table today who you might not like. There might be people at the table today who drive you absolutely crazy. There might be people at the table today who have chosen very different paths in life than you have. And there may even be people at the table today whom you consider your enemy. But you know what? That’s okay, because this table is not about us and our opinions. It’s about God and God’s unconditional love and grace.
This table is all about humility and it’s all about saying “I’m sorry.” Because this table welcomes us in our brokenness and our hurt, in our insecurity and in our humanness. What is offered here is not something that we can ever deserve. It’s simply something that we can choose to receive. And to make it an even more humble place today, on this World Communion Sunday, we are gathering at this table with brothers and sisters from around the world—brothers and sisters who may look different, who may act different, who may believe different, who may not like us and we may not like them. But here’s the good news: God loves all of us the same. And that unconditional love and grace are what this table is all about—the humble love and grace that not only welcomes us here but the humble love and grace that we are called to go out and share with the world too.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, remember that World Communion Sunday teaches us that we are a part of something so much bigger! That’s why it’s so important that In This House—whoever we are and wherever we’ve been—that we humbly give grace and tell the truth, that we admit that we make mistakes, and we aren’t afraid to say that we are sorry, because that is the only way that we can stop taking ourselves too seriously and walk humbly with God.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen!