Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

What Does God Require of You?

Sunday, January 29, 2023
Rev. Brent Gundlah

One day a few years ago I was stopped at a traffic light. My eyes were naturally drawn to the tailgate of the car directly in front of me, which was decorated with bumper stickers proclaiming a wide variety of things. But the one I found myself focusing on — and not necessarily in a positive way — said simply this: “I Love Me Some Jesus.”

I found the bad grammar on that bumper sticker off-putting enough, but my bigger issue was that I really didn’t understand it. Don’t get me wrong — I too love Jesus — but it was impossible for me to know what the driver meant by those five words displayed on the back of their SUV.

If I wanted to know what “loving me some Jesus” actually entails, then this advertising wasn’t at all helpful in that regard. And yet, even though I couldn’t really make sense of the message, I kind of appreciated the medium.

In a world of limited attention spans, in which TikTok videos, tweets and memes (and the ancient precursor to tweets and memes known as the bumper sticker) have become the go-to ways for humans to convey information, it’s increasingly incumbent upon us to get our point across succinctly.

Swimming upstream against this powerful tide of popular culture (and human nature) is the Bible, which could hardly be described as being succinct. And yet, every once in a great while, amidst these thousands of pages and millions upon millions of words, you find that precious gem — a verse or verses that manages to say a whole lot with very little.

The prophet Micah presents us with such a rare treasure when he says this: “What does the Lord seek from you? This: that you perform justice, and devote yourself to mercy, and walk ever-mindful of your God.”

Perform Justice, devote yourself to mercy, walk ever-mindful of your God. 

At eleven words, it would easily fit on a bumper sticker; and at 73 characters, it’s well under Twitter’s 280 character limit. It’s catchy, it’s memorable and — oh, yeah — it manages to sum up all of Judeo-Christian theology from Creation to the present day and beyond, which ain’t half-bad for just one Bible verse. And if you say that you love yourself some Jesus, then you probably ought to spend some time considering this passage, because he clearly did.

Readings from the prophet Micah come up only three times in the entire three-year Lectionary cycle, which is a real shame because it’s a powerful little book. Tucked away in the middle of the collection of short texts by the 12 minor prophets (those who weren’t named Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah or Daniel) near the end of the Hebrew Scriptures, Micah’s prophecy takes up less than ten pages in most Bibles, but he says a lot in those ten pages.

Micah’s name is actually a question; it translates into English as: “Who is like God?” The opening verse of the book tells us that Micah was from Moresheth, a tiny hick town about 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem, which, of course, was the center of the universe back then.

That first verse also says that Micah lived in the days of Kings Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah of Judah, which means that he was writing somewhere around the eighth century BCE —  seven or eight hundred years before Jesus arrived here on earth.

Why is any of this important, you may ask. Well, for starters, now you’re ready for that next Bible question you might get in a trivia game. Second, I wanted to prove to you all that I actually paid attention in divinity school. Third, and most important, though, is that history and context matter.

You see, Micah prophesied during a very tumultuous period. In his lifetime, the city of Samaria in the north of Israel fell to the Assyrian Empire. This was widely seen by the prophets of the day as God punishing the Samarians for their infidelity to the covenant between the Israelites and God.

At the same time, Jerusalem, which was the center of the faith in the southern part of Israel known as Judah, was growing by leaps and bounds — and a lot of the people who were coming there were poor refugees from the war in the north.

The rich and powerful — the religious elites — continued to tighten their grip on the city and it’s people — ostensibly, in the name of God, but mostly for their own good (we all know how that goes). As they enriched themselves, the Assyrians were moving closer and closer to Jerusalem, which they eventually besieged but never captured, though they definitely managed to do some significant damage in the process. It was a stressful time, to say the least.

Prophets like Micah believed that they were called to warn the people of Judah and Jerusalem to mend their wicked ways, lest they suffer a fate similar to that of their Samarian neighbors. Micah, who came from a place on the margins, looked from the outside in at what Jerusalem had become and felt compelled to speak out because he didn’t like what he saw — because God didn’t like what God saw.

And what God saw was the people not doing what they were supposed to be doing, which must of been really frustrating because God had been telling them what they were supposed to be doing for a while by that point. When God ordered Moses to speak to the congregation of the people of Israel way back in the book of Leviticus, one of the things God said to them was this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

Now, God had also made it pretty clear that the word “neighbor” was to be construed in the broadest possible sense; your neighbor wasn’t just the person you liked, or the person you knew — your neighbor was also the person you didn’t like or want to be around, the stranger, the poor, the homeless, the sick and the hungry. Truth be told, that’s who your neighbor still is.

Perform Justice, devote yourself to mercy.

It’s tough for us to appreciate now but, as Professor Mobley used to tell us, in Micah’s time the words justice and mercy placed that close together in a sentence had one very clear meaning that everyone would have understood: Care for the poor.

And so the point is that we’re called to show our love for God by showing love for the poor — by welcoming them, by feeding them, by sharing with them, by caring for them, by performing justice, by devoting yourself to mercy. Let’s just say the people of Judah and Jerusalem (particularly, the over-privileged ones) weren’t exactly doing all that — they would have rather just made a donation and, for this reason, God was not very happy (I wonder if God is any happier these days).

Perform justice and devote yourself to mercy.

How about a burnt offering instead?

No. Just perform justice and devote yourself to mercy.

I know: How about these nice rams or, perhaps, some rivers of oil instead?


Well, by this point, God’s had enough. God summons Micah and gives him a message to deliver to the people: God is indicting them and putting them on trial (and God’s got a pretty good conviction rate). The transcript of that court proceeding was our first reading for today.

With the mountains and the hills and the foundations of the earth as witnesses, God the prosecutor makes a brief opening argument: “My people, what did I ever do to you? And in what way did I ever weary you? Answer me!”

God then lays out the case: “I brought you out of Egypt; I redeemed you from slavery; I gave you leaders like Moses and Aaron and Miriam; I led you to the Promised Land; I saved you — and this is how you hold up your end of the covenant bargain? Come on! Did I really ask that much of you?”

The people don’t have a leg to stand on – and they know it (or at least they ought to know it). So when the defense gets its turn, the defendant simply stands up in the courtroom and says, “You got me. I was wrong. I know what I’m supposed to do. I simply didn’t do it.” Sometimes the harshest indictments are the ones we levy upon ourselves.

And then, just like that, the trial ends. There’s no penalty phase, no sentencing hearing — just an indictment, a confession and, in the silence that follows, hope —a hope that things can be different, a hope that we can do better than we’ve done, another chance to get it right. God is, after all, just and merciful. 

Perform justice. Devote yourself to mercy. Walk ever-mindful of your God. Put it on a bumper sticker and affix it to your car, if you wish. But what matters is that you actually go and do these things.

Because if you truly love God — if you really love you some Jesus — that’s what you do.