Bullwhips and Sidewalk Chalk

Micah 6:8      “Bullwhips and Sidewalk Chalk”            August 11, 2013

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?

There was one time, when I was in elementary school, (maybe 2nd or 3rd grade) when a friend of mine brought some sidewalk chalk to school with him.

I had never seen sidewalk chalk before, so I was fascinated by it.

It must have been during a recess that we started drawing all over the side of the brick school building with his sidewalk chalk.

We were having a good time, laying color on the side of the school to our heart’s content.

To be honest, we didn’t know we were breaking any rules.

At that point in my life I had never heard the term “vandalism”, and if I had, I couldn’t have told you what it meant.

But then the Principal came up behind us and interrupted our fun.

We were caught.

We were officially in trouble.

-Now, I don’t know about your experience of elementary school, but the stories that I remember best from 2nd and 3rd grade had to do with how mean and awful our principal was.

A rumor circulated that he had a bullwhip hanging in his office to use on students that didn’t tow the line. Another rumor had it that sometimes kids got sent to his office, and they never came back!

To hear the other kids talk, you’d think our principal was nothing short of a monster.

In our heads as 2nd or 3rd graders, the principal served one role; Mr. Miller was there to enforce the rules and punish us for wrong behavior.

So you can understand when I say I was terrified of our principal.

I really believed he spent his time roaming our school hallways, just looking for an excuse to haul unsuspecting children into his office in order to punish them for misbehaving.

So I never misbehaved…I towed the line as best I could, and I tried to avoid Mr. Miller if at all possible.

If we passed in the hall or something, I would try to avoid even looking at him, because I feared him so much because of all these rumors I had been told.

So you can understand why I was pretty intimidated when I turned around that fateful day, to find this “beast” of a man standing there, watching us decorate the school wall.

I was sure we were dead.

I was sure we’d see and maybe even experience the bullwhip I had heard so much about.

I was terrified.

We had broken a rule; and it didn’t matter that we didn’t know the rule, it didn’t matter that it was our first time, it didn’t matter that it was fairly trivial in the grand scheme of things…we were guilty, and we had been caught.

I feared Mr. Miller and his legendary bullwhip…and yet there he was. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and no excuse that we could possibly give to make it OK.

–Am I describing anyone’s view of God this morning?–

I’m sure not everyone here sees God quite the same way as I saw my elementary school principal…but I’d guess that at least some part of this image holds true for more of us than we might first think.

And what’s more…I’d like to suggest that it’s not all bad to view God as a righteous judge.

It’s part of who he is…a righteous Judge who carries authority and power.

But, he’s not a monster.

Micah chapter 6 depicts a trial.

God, the Righteous One, the Holy One, the Most Powerful; He who is Beginning and End…He is bringing a lawsuit against his people.

They had failed to uphold the covenant; they had broken the rules.

And so He is calling them to account through the prophet Micah.

The chapter opens with the elements of nature being called as jurors to hear the case.

The mountains and the hills; even the foundations of the earth are summoned to hear the case put before them.

Creation at the least can be trusted to give an unbiased ear to the charges and the defense in this matter.

Of course God’s people knew as well as I did back in elementary school, that they had no defense.

They were guilty.

Later in the chapter, in verses 10, 11, and 12, we read of violence, and lies, and deceit.

They used wicked scales, scant measures, and dishonest weights to produce their wealth.

They were deceitful. But it didn’t stop there…

Verse 16 paints a picture of syncretism; that is, combining all kinds of ideas about God and gods until what’s left is a religion that looks curiously more like all the people who practice it rather than the God who should be at the center.

They, this chosen people, God’s people…they had created a system where there was no justice, no kindness, no humility.

These were the charges being laid against the people by their God.

Their wealth was gained through violence, their religion was polluted, and they had abandoned the God who created them, brought them out of the land of Egypt, and protected them from their enemies…in other words, there were some pretty severe failures happening.

There was a pretty big breakdown in the relationship between these people and their God.

And they knew it.

We hear a whisper of their defense in verses 6 and 7.

“With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high?”

In other words, “how can we fix this?”

The people build their defense on the hope that God can still be appeased.

It’s their hope that they can in effect, ‘buy’ their way out of this mess with good deeds…”Shall I come before him with burnt offerings” they wonder.

“Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?”

“Better yet”, they go on…”better yet…maybe I can even give my firstborn for my sins,” they suggest.

“Maybe that will please God enough to turn his face from us and our transgressions.”

Can you hear the desperation in that question?

Can you imagine being so desperate for absolution, that you’d be willing to sacrifice your child?

But then I have to wonder…is that a sign of desperation, or depravity?

How far must they have fallen to actually consider, as verse 7 puts it “giving the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

-We live in interesting times.

We like to imagine that our choices are more or less inconsequential (at least that’s what I think). We like to imagine that we can cheat someone today…and as long as it’s not a habit, as long as we’re properly sorry for it and ask God to forgive us…we like to think it’s taken care of, right? Like it’s a once and done thing.

Sin is kind of a dirty word with a lot of baggage attached to it, so we don’t like to use it very much.

The problem is, that “once” can turn into a “once in awhile”.

And that “once in awhile” can sneak into “Once a month”.

And before long, “Once a month” turns into “Whenever I can”…and the subtle thing that happens is that you think you’re getting away with it, when the truth is it’s changing you deeper than you might even want to go.

And then when you get found out, you’re willing to sacrifice even your firstborn child to get out of the mess you’ve made from a lifetime of “living in sin”.

Your child shouldn’t pay that price.

You should.

-ok, back to my story…this big, bad, mean, monster of a principal was standing there, watching us vandalize the building…and what do you think he did?

He politely interrupted our activity, and he asked us what we were doing.

Then he explained that there’s a place for sidewalk chalk…and that’s on sidewalks, not on the sides of buildings.

Then, much to my fear and trembling, he did have us come to his office…but once I got there, I didn’t see anything close to a bullwhip on the walls anywhere! (and you better believe I looked!)

We probably had a short discussion about why he didn’t want us to draw on the building…and if I remember right, he even gave us some candy before sending us back to class.

He didn’t want to punish us. He didn’t want excuses. He didn’t want anything from us to pay for damages…he didn’t even want us to help clean up the mess we had made.

He just wanted us to learn to keep sidewalk chalk on the sidewalk.

He wanted us to make better decisions.

Now, I’ve kept acquainted with Mr. Miller over the years since elementary school.

It’s safe to say I don’t fear him anymore: In fact, I’ve come to really respect him.

I had nothing but fear for this guy in third grade…but I honestly have nothing but respect for him today.

Our walk with God is like that.

1 John 4:18 says this: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”

God doesn’t want rivers of oil…he doesn’t want thousands of rams…he doesn’t want burnt sacrifices, and heaven forbid, he doesn’t want anyone to sacrifice their first born child…

He simply wants us to pursue what is good.

Micah 6:8 is a verdict, not a slogan.

It’s a call to repentance.

He wants us to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with Him through our years.

He wants us to change our choices before they become crippling ways of life.

 

I’ve done some truly stupid stuff in my life. We all have.

A lot of it I can laugh about today…some of it not so much.

But luckily I’ve also had people gently (and sometimes not so gently) steering me back to ‘what is good’.

Not everyone is that fortunate.

I would be a very different person today if it weren’t for the people in my life who have consistently called me back to ‘what is good’….that is, doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.

See, judgment isn’t always bad.

That’s the main thing I want you to take away this morning.

Judgment isn’t always bad.

It’s how we learn. It’s how we grow.

Regardless of how old we get, we all have things to learn. We all have bad habits that only get harder to change as time goes by.

It’s better in the long run to change sooner rather than later.

God can’t be bought off or bribed.

It’s your heart that he’s after.

Now, when it comes right down to it, Micah 6 verse 8 is a lot easier to recite than it is to practice.

We need help with it.

We need people in our lives calling us back to what is good, especially when we start making bad decisions. We need people telling us “you’re better than that” when we need to hear it.

And we also need to be the ones who call others back to what is good when we see them faltering, right?

For He has shown us what is good, and what does God require of us, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with Him?

Amen

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