You Already Know This
By Rev. Dr. Fritz Ritsch
Micah 6: 1-8 Matthew 5: 1-12
Our passage from the prophet Micah today is one of the most familiar ones of Scripture. In fact, I associate it with our church member Cynthia Walker, who often just says “Micah 6:8!” when any matter of compassion or social justice comes up. She says that because for her, and for Jews and Christians throughout history, Micah 6:8 is viewed as a shorthand summary of the Lord God’s ethical demands:
“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?”
Today as we approach the Lord’s Supper, I’d like us to focus our attention on two verbs in our passage from Micah: Told and Walk.
You may remember that scene from Platoon where a swaggering soldier challenges another soldier’s commitment to the war by saying in a John Wayne voice, “You can talk the talk, but can ya walk the walk?”
Of course, even to this day, John Wayne, The Duke, is viewed by many as the standard of a certain type of masculinity. My best friend from high school, Steve Holt, is a retired Marine Drill Instructor. Steve is a movie buff and many’s the time he and I watched a John Wayne flick in high school. He remains a fan of the Duke. He definitely not only talks the talk, but walks the walk.
For the ancient Jews who first heard Micah’s prophecy, and for us today, this is the issue. We can talk the talk. But can we walk the walk? We know what God has told us to do. Even in this age when people recognize that the world is not black and white, but gray, the standard to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God, and the guidance Jesus gives us in the Sermon on the Mount, which is our Gospel reading, while somewhat in need of interpretation, are surprisingly straightforward.
We can argue over details, but it’s no mystery. That’s why somebody can yell out “Micah 6:8!” and most of us know what they mean. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist or a Rhodes Scholar or a famous theologian to have some idea that justice means fairness to the poor, kindness means kindness, and humility means humility.
Jesus’ beatitudes just expand on this. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” “blessed are the humble or meek,” “blessed are the merciful,” “blessed are the peacemakers.” All this is further exposition of what we already know because of Micah 6:8.
I heard the story once of a preacher who for her sermon once stood in her pulpit and simply read the Beatitudes and then sat down. My first thought was, ‘That’s a clever way to avoid a lot of sermon preparation, I have to remember that!’
But my second thought was, wow, what a powerful way to remind people of the simple fact that Christian morality and behavior are not difficult to understand. WE ALREADY KNOW THIS. We can talk the talk—but do we walk the walk?
The Hebrew word we’ve translated as “told” can also be translated as “shown.” It raises the reality that uniquely among all beings, God’s speech is not simply a word but an action. When God created the world, God said, “Let there be light, and there was light;” God said, “Let us make mortals in our own image,” we mortals were immediately made in God’s image. There is no gap between God’s words and actions. God’s words are actions. When God talks the talk, God is also walking the walk.
God not only tells us what to do, God shows us what to do. For us as Christians, this is the purpose of the sacraments. They tell us what to do by showing us what to do. The Lord’s Supper which we celebrate today serves a number of purposes, but a major reason we do it is that it dramatizes the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection. We call the bread Jesus’ body and the cup Jesus’ blood. It reminds us in a powerful, dramatic way, that self-sacrifice for the sake of others is the very heart of the Christian faith. If Jesus had been selfish, you and I would not be saved. It’s that simple. If Jesus had been selfish, we would not be saved. Thanks be to God, he wasn’t selfish.
The sacrament tells us Jesus’ story by showing us Jesus’ story.
The sacrament also tells us what to do by showing us what to do. We come up to the table, we eat the bread, we drink the wine. We are visibly, publicly, in front of God and everybody, showing the world by eating and drinking the sacrament that we know what he did, and we want to do it, too. We also want to be selfless, focused on others, willing to make sacrifices to honor our God who has loved us so much that God took human form and died to save us. We want to do for others what Jesus has done for us.
We know what this sacrament means. What we’ve been told in words via the scriptures we are also now being shown in the sacrament. We know what to do.
The other interesting verb in Micah 6:8 is the verb “walk.”
“Walk humbly with your God.”
It’s an easy word to overlook, and anyway walking doesn’t sound very exciting. Well, our dogs get excited when they hear the word “walk,” but to be honest, I kind of dread that same walk.
But for Jews then and today the word “walk” is fraught with meaning. The word for walk is halakh, and the Jews have a book of teachings called the Halakha, which means “walking” and is full of teachings about how you are to live your life in such a way as to honor God and fulfill the Torah. Walking means, how you live your life day to day, in the normal interactions of life. How we walk is the real-world way we put our faith into action in our day-to-day lives. This is how you talk the talk and walk the walk.
In a few minutes you will walk up to the front to take communion, or someone will walk over to bring it to you if you are receiving it seated. This walk means that you have resolved to put your money where your mouth is. You intend to live your life the way Christ wants you to live it, the way that Christ showed you in his own life.
And after you eat the bread and drink the cup, you will then walk back. By taking the elements you are saying, “I am participating in Christ’s life, death and resurrection. I am participating in his selflessness and self-sacrifice, I am participating in how he loved his friends, and strangers, and his enemies enough that he died to save them. I am committed to striving to live my life by the same standard. God has shown me what is good. Now I’m going to do it.”
Let me say right off the bat that you will always fall short of that ideal. There is grace at this table, too; Christ’s death and resurrection cover our sins. That grace is absolute and thank God for it. But the real question is this:
“We know what God has done for us. We know what God requires of us. Are we willing to show God the gratitude and love that God deserves by striving hard to walk Christ’s walk? Or are we satisfied with spouting pious platitudes and finding fault with others; saying ‘they need to do what God requires of them!’ instead of asking the only question that really matters: “What does the Lord require of me?”
Because after all, we can look at what the sacrament teaches us, and what the prophet Micah teaches us and what Jesus teaches us, and we know what to do. All that’s left is to do it.