Sermon: It Sounds So Simple

January 29, 2023

Micah 6:1-8
Matthew 5:1-12

by Eric Anderson

Micah 6 describes a… frustrated deity.

Terence E. Fretheim writes at Working Preacher, “God’s rhetoric suggests that the people have been complaining about God’s expectations of them. God’s basic reply is: make your case; let’s put the issue on the table: ‘What have I done that you should respond with such charges against me?’ Answer me!” Dr. Fretheim goes on to observe that God took the people’s complaints seriously. They weren’t summarily dismissed. They were brought to court.

It was an unusual court. As Cheryl Lindsay writes at, “It is interesting to consider the Holy One in the role of the plaintiff or defendant in a trial when most often God would be characterized as the Judge.” God called the mountains and hills to be the judges; God would be one of the parties to the dispute, answering the accusations of the people of Israel. “Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice.”

I’ll also note that God appeared pretty confident who would win the case. God reminded them of who freed their ancestors from slavery, who protected them from hostile neighboring nations, “that you may know the saving acts of the LORD.”

Still speaking through the prophet Micah, God went on to comment on the people’s depth of faithfulness. God asked rhetorically what kind of sacrifices the people should make to be faithful to the LORD. “Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil?” If that sounds over the top to you, I’m sure it sounded over the top to Micah’s first listeners as well. That would have been a magnificently extravagant act of worship and devotion. Is that what God wanted?


“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?”

Case closed.

As the chapter continues, God switched persona from case participant to judge, describing the misdeeds of the people and the consequences of those misdeeds.

It sounds so simple.

“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?”

It sounds so simple, and so do-able, so attainable, so practical, and such a contrast with what at least some of the people have actually been doing:

10     Can I forget the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked
    and the despicable false measure?
11 Can I tolerate wicked scales
    and a bag of dishonest weights?
12 Your wealthy are full of violence;
    your inhabitants speak lies
    with tongues of deceit in their mouths.

Micah 6:10-12

This is a frustrated deity.

750 years later or so, along came Jesus. He didn’t quote Micah 6:8. His Beatitudes, here at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, took more time and words than “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” The Beatitudes aren’t precisely parallel, either. Though several of them commend virtues or faithful activities, such as mercy and purity of heart, others offer comfort to people in situations beyond their control: poverty of spirit, grief, and lack of influence. Even there, though, the Beatitudes suggest faithful action in response to conditions of suffering.

What should one do if one encounters someone with an impoverished spirit? Offer hope. To someone mourning? Comfort. To someone without political influence, support. To those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, justice. Then Jesus went on to encourage mercy, purity of heart, peacemaking, and a commitment to righteous behavior, and to following the ways of Jesus, that would endure persecution.

It sounds so simple… right up until you get to that persecution part.

Is that why we find it so hard to do? Are we worried about persecution?

There are places in the world were dissent from government policies and authority, where the adoption of a particular religion (or non-adoption of a particular religion) are persecuted. Russian opponents of the invasion of Ukraine have been jailed. The protests in Hong Kong for more local freedom were suppressed by Chinese authorities. And I should note that this past week, Martha Hennessy of Plowshares described in this sanctuary how her protest actions in Georgia were considered in court. She was not allowed to introduce a defense that considered international law – there is a United Nations treaty that forbids the development, testing, acquisition, possession, use, or threat of use of nuclear weapons. It probably won’t surprise you that the nations who do possess them, including the United States, haven’t signed that treaty.

Still, I have to say that most righteous activity would be considered virtuous under local law here, and at worst a little strange or offbeat. So why is it so hard to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God?

Is it because doing those things would set us at a disadvantage to those who don’t? Because it would. It does.

Blessed are the meek, said Jesus, but it’s certainly not the meek who are inheriting the earth in 2023. Self-promotion is one of the hazards of a republic, a system that requires candidates to describe themselves to voters, but good grief. How is it that all our candidates are shining with perfection while all their opponents are covered in the pollution of corruption? In the business world the sheer hubris of an Elon Musk, or a Warren Buffett, or a Donald Trump, boggles the mind. The quest for more and bigger headlines in traditional media, or more clicks and likes on social media, has brought us a chaotic mess of bad and good advice, nearly indistinguishable from one another, and given teens and young adults a brand new category for their anxieties. Even I, a supposedly mature and responsible adult, get nervous if I post a picture of a flower on Facebook and nobody likes it.

Meekness… doesn’t take us far in the world. Meekness… does take us a ways toward faithfulness. Likewise those other virtues of the Beatitudes. They don’t tend toward political, social, or economic success. They’re just the road to… faithfulness.

It sounds so simple.

Yet it is a complicated world. Sometimes justice isn’t readily apparent. Sometimes it takes digging and questioning to understand what the claims of justice amount to. Sometimes both parties in a dispute have justice claims, and sometimes they won’t acknowledge the justice of the others’ claims, and sometimes neither party will recognize the good will of the other.

Sometimes mercy has impacts we neither anticipate nor desire. Domestic violence frequently escalates when a perpetrator either gets released or isn’t arrested when there’s an assault. Friday was Holocaust Remembrance Day, observed on the anniversary of the day the Soviet Army reached the Auschwitz extermination camp in 1945. Adolf Hitler was imprisoned for attempting to overthrow the government of Germany in 1923. The attempt failed. He was released, pardoned, after serving nine months of a five year sentence. It was an act of mercy, yes?

The Nazis showed no mercy to the 17 million people shot, gassed, or worked to death for being Jews, Russians, Poles, Serbs, disabled, Romani, Freemasons, Slovenes, gays, Spanish Republicans, Jehovah’s Witnesses. That doesn’t include the casualties of World War II.

It’s a complicated world. If nothing else, that should impel us to walk humbly with our God.

Anna Marsh writes at Working Preacher, “A cynical read on this dynamic would suggest that there is something comforting in feigning the need to hear this again—when we do, we can pat ourselves on the back for having been right all along. But at the same time, the world is such a complex place, a human life so full of questions with unsatisfying answers, that perhaps there is a comfort in hearing—again and again—it’s not that complicated.”

Because in the end, it’s not that complicated. It’s challenging, let’s be clear about that. But it isn’t complicated. Justice means that the unmerciful cannot abuse others. Mercy cannot be confused with permission to harm. Humility cannot be an invitation to take advantage.

Justice also cannot be limited to crime and punishment. Justice is also about political, economic, and social systems, which must not privilege some at the expense of others. Mercy is a commitment to life, not just human life, but to the life of the entire planet. Humility is not self-negation, it is an honest recognition that there is always more to question, more to learn, more to understand. Humility is movement in company with the One whose justice and mercy are greater than we know.

It sounds so simple. At its root, it is simple. Let’s do it.


Watch the Recorded Sermon

Are there differences between the prepared text above and the sermon as delivered (recorded just above)? Yes. We’d like to think they were improvements.

The image is a photo of a 2020 demonstration in Columbus, Ohio, by Becker1999 –, CC BY 2.0,

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on January 29, 2023

Social Networks: RSS Facebook Twitter Google Stumble Upon Digg Reddit

Leave a Reply

close window

Service Times & Directions

Sunday School Classes

Sunday 8:45 am

Sunday Worship Service

Sunday 10:00 am

Adult Bible Study

Monday 6:30 pm, Wednesday 9:00 am

(International Young Adults Association)
Bible Study

Wednesday 7:30 pm

The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga

(The Rev. Tevita) Sunday 1:00 pm Wednesday 7:00 pm (Sanctuary)

The United Church of Christ, Pohnpei - Hilo

(The Rev. Ichiro) Sunday 10:00 am (Bdg. of Faith)

The Samoan Church

(The Rev. Sunia) Sunday 4:00 pm (Sanctuary)

440 W. Lanikaula Street
Hilo, HI 96720
(808) 935-1283