Summary: Worship is not intended as a burden through which we meet the obligations of God. Worship is God’s gift that prepares us to live the life of service to God’s kingdom.
Epiphany 4, Year A; Downsville Baptist Church; 3 February 2002
As we are in the midst of worship this morning, I suppose we would be quite alarmed if a lawyer walked into the church and presented a court summons to our church. Downsville Baptist Church, along with several other churches throughout the world, have been sued. This massive class action law suit has a variety of charges. If surprise describes our reaction to being sued, I believe fear would describe our feelings when we discovered who it is that is suing us—the Lord God Almighty.
This imagined scenario was a reality for the nation of Israel. The prophetic literature is full of instances when the prophet acts as an agent of the heavenly court who informs the people of God that God holds a grievance against them. Micah comes before the nation of Israel like a bailiff in modern day courts. However, instead of requiring the citizens of Israel to stand as the honorable judge enters the courtroom, Micah declares that all of creation is already standing as the courtroom. If Israel so dares, they can stand before God and plead their innocence before the mountains. If Israel desires to justify what they have been doing, they have some heavy charges to answer. Micah informs the Israelites that God has a dispute against them. God has a contention against his people, and he demands an answer.
The charges that God brings against Israel makes it quite obvious where their big error had taken place and also reveals to us one of the gravest mistakes we make in our relationship with God. We find ourselves asking the wrong question. Israel’s worship had become nothing more than an answer to the question: “What do we have to do to keep God happy with us?” Sometimes I think the biggest difference between the nation of Israel and the Christian church is 24 hours. They attended worship services on Saturday and lived as though God didn’t exist for the rest of the week. We attend worship services on Sunday, and I’ll let you answer for yourselves whether or not we live as though God exists during the rest of our week. Please note that I said nothing about believing whether or not God exists. I said living as though God exists. All Israelites and all Christians will immediately answer that they believe in God no matter what day of the week you ask the question. The true Israelite and the true Christian will be found living in humble recognition of that God during the week. When we view worship as doing what we must to keep God satisfied, we worship in the same empty manner that Micah was accusing Israel of worshiping. In vv. 6-7, Micah brings specific charges against the nation: Do you dare think you are honoring God by simply bowing before him? Do you think God is pleased because you bring burnt offerings and gifts of incense to the altar? However, Micah’s last charge against Israel is the strongest. From the moment of Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac throughout the remainder of the Old Testament, we find a God who cannot tolerate the practice of the other pagan religions of the ancient Near East, most specifically their practice of child sacrifice. The gods of the Assyrians and Babylonians, gods named Marduk and Molech, were supposedly most satisfied with worshipers who were willing to sacrifice their own children. The worst elements of the nation of Israel had forsaken God’s commands and sacrificed their own children, under the disturbing influence that this might somehow be pleasing to God. Micah’s last grievance makes this accusation: Israel, do you dare believe that your sin is forgiven by offering your own child as a sacrifice? The answer to the rhetorical question is obviously that the one who sacrifices a child heaps more sin upon himself.