During our call to worship today, we read, “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” These were the words of King David, and this was his personal confession. And what David realized was that it didn’t matter who he was. If he was a King or had all the power in the world with many people admiring him. Because what he realized was that God saw through all those things and looked at his heart, the source of all his thoughts, actions, and words. So he had no place to hide, but to simply bring his heart before God. And that was all that God wanted. And these words that we read, they came from his heart. A broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart. That is what God wants. Not our possessions or status, but our hearts just the way they are. That is the sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.
Sacrifices Rather Than Heart
Yet it is difficult to bring our hearts before God. It is hard. Maybe it’s because to do so is to admit our own brokenness to ourselves. Sometimes it is hard to look directly into our own hearts. We find it easier to hide them instead, by putting on a certain facade. We act like everything’s fine and nothing bothers us. Or we find it easier to compensate for our own insecurity and lack of confidence by either doing more or giving more. Because somewhere we feel like we’re not good enough. A good enough parent, a good enough child, a good enough student, maybe even a good enough Christian. We find it easier to let ourselves be driven by our own fear and shame instead. That was also Israel’s problem. Rather than bringing their hearts before God, they relied on their sacrifices.
It wasn’t that giving sacrifices was wrong. Giving sacrifices and burnt offerings was an important part of the Jewish law. It was supposed to be an expression of their love for God. But for Israel, sacrifices became a means of hiding and compensating for their broken and contrite hearts. So in the end, sacrifice became something that was meant for their own gain and self-interest. They believed that the more they gave, the more God would be pleased with them. We see this in today’s passage. “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 first born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” But that wasn’t what God wanted. Israel’s questions reveal that they were really driven by a sense of fear, guilt and shame, rather than love. Sometimes even the questions we ask can reveal the state of our own heart. And what their questions reveal was that their hearts were hidden away behind their possessions, behind their sacrifice. And their hearts were far from God.
Life of Justice, Kindness and Humility
So the prophet Micah gave this message. He said, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” I wonder why Micah gave this message to Israel. He could have just said something else. He could have said, “Pray, read God’s word, be religious.” But he didn’t say anything about a life of being religious. Instead, what we find here is some kind of a formula for a good life. Life that does justice, loves kindness and walks humbly with God. Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God. I believe Micah’s message to Israel was a call to go back to the basics, to the basics of their faith. It was a call to return to God and focus on what was truly important: a relationship with God, a relationship with others. Life of justice, kindness and humility, these are hallmarks of a life founded on love, not fear.
God Wants Our Hearts
Sometimes we ask ourselves, “What does God want from me? What is God’s will?” We assume just automatically that God wants us to do a lot. To be good, to be perfect. And sometimes we easily feel burnt up because of it, trying to be that perfect parent; trying to be the perfect son or a daughter; trying to be that perfect student; or even the Christian trying to say and do all the right things. You name it. We believe that the answer to the question lies everywhere else when in fact, it is right in front of us. We think of it as being complicated when it is actually simple. What God wants of us are our hearts. Just as life begins with the first heartbeat, God wants to begin with our hearts to give us a new life. God wants them just the way they are. It sounds simple, but it can be the most difficult to do.
But here’s what we need to remember. We need to remember that God chose us for who we are. God chose us first in His love. And God desires us to freely respond with our hearts. And when we bring our broken and contrite heart before God, God takes it as it is, shapes it, shapes us. It is love. It empowers us to live out the life we’ve been called to live. And that is life of justice, kindness, and humility. But it all begins with offering our hearts to God.
Called With Love
Micah’s message, when we kind of look at it, it can sound like a tall order. It can sound like it’s asking us to do a lot, but I don’t think it’s meant to be daunting or overwhelming. Micah’s words are not a call for us to do big things or be perfect. But I believe that it is a call for us to be simple and sincere in our process of walking with God and others in love. It is a call for us to be open and willing to being shaped by God’s love as we journey through life. God’s love humbles us, but I believe it is only through humility that we learn how to really love and care for one another. That is why I find that the most important part is saved for last in Micah’s message. To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. How we look after each other’s well-being, how we are kind to one another, I believe that all of these, all these are shaped by our walk with God.
In Jesus’ time, his disciples experienced something similar. They thought they knew what it meant to follow Jesus and to love other people. But what they realized was that their reactions to certain life situations revealed their lack of love. When a crowd of hungry people came to them, what was the first thing that they bid? Just to send them away so that they can go buy themselves some food, but Jesus said, “They don’t need to go away; you give them something to eat.” At the time, the disciples probably felt like they had to do something big. They were probably only focused on how they were going to feed the 5,000 people that were standing in front of them. The sheer size of the crowd made them feel overwhelmed and afraid. But what Jesus did really was to point to their heart to show that what really mattered was the sincerity of their love for other people before anything else. And in feeding that crowd, Jesus showed his disciples the abundance we find in God when our hearts are in the right place. Imagine how that must have shaped their thinking.
Find Confidence In God’s Love
God is not so concerned with how much we can do for Him. God is more concerned with our hearts. In the same way, we’re not called to do big things, but to be faithful to our small sincere acts of love, empowering those in need and committing to walking together faithfully. Tat can be through a simple smile, a word of encouragement, a listening ear, just being a welcoming and supportive presence. I especially saw this at our New Years Retreat last January, last month. On the second day, after our second session, we canceled Town Hall and then we had everyone just go mingling around and things like that. And I saw people, you know, there were a lot of new people there too, but just people reaching out to one another talking, listening. I tend to be an observer so I just watch from a little bit of a distance, but it was a beautiful thing to see. And even within women’s group, nowadays I see that they’re helping one another, especially reaching out to those that are in need. To me, that is a life of justice, kindness and humility.
We don’t have to let our own fear and inadequacy prevent us from doing good and showing our genuine love to each other. Our fear only makes us want to hide more. At this staff meeting this past Friday, we discussed and reflected on how fear can make us do strange things. For some reason, without us even knowing sometimes, it makes us do really strange things. It has a way of making us be less and less of who we really are. And the more we hide, the more we’ll fall away and feel isolated. And the more we fall away, the more we’ll neglect our calling to be the salt and light of the world.
Instead, we can find our confidence in God’s love. It is only in love that we can overcome our fear. And I believe that when our hearts are rooted in God, our lives will begin to bear fruit. So let us have the courage to be shaped by God’s love so that we can be a blessing to those around us. We may feel small like the tiny muster seeds, but it is God who will grow those seats into a large tree where birds can come in and find shade. That is the principle of the kingdom of God. Even the phrase “the kingdom of God” sounds big and grand. Kind of intimidating, but all that begins from something that seems small and trivial. So it all begins with our hearts. When we ourselves are real and sincere, everything we do will be meaningful. And I believe that we, as human beings, we know when someone else is being real with us, when someone else is being sincere and genuine with us. We have that inborn detector. I think we know that. Our acts of love will be a genuine expression of our hearts. They will touch and transform the lives of others. That not only our heart, but our life, I believe, will be a pleasing sacrifice to God.