Posterizing Micah: January Lectionary Preview

December 9, 2022 by Rev. Dr. David A. Davis

Editor’s note: This lectionary preview is for January 29, 2023, Micah 6:1-8.

Maybe it is too easy to memorize Micah 6:8b. It is not hard to memorize or turn into a cross-stitch piece, or to put on poster. It is the low hanging fruit of memory verses. Many will remember seeing Micah 6:6b on the wall in a grandmother’s kitchen. Some will still find it underlined or highlighted it in their study bible. Micah 6:6 in poster form in Sunday school classroom after classroom forever and ever and ever. “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

The use of the term “posterizebecame popular in the sports world. It started in basketball when one player would make a strong move over or around another player in making a basket. The play would result in a dazzling photo that ended up on a poster. Now it would simply become a meme that goes viral. To be fair, when it comes to following Jesus, the life of discipleship, the call to be a faithful steward of God’s gifts, and one’s relationship with God, Micah 6:8b can be viewed as pretty much a slam dunk.

The danger of posterizing Micah, of course, comes when lifting that snippet of a verse out of the context of the 6th chapter. It risks losing something in translation. What gets lost on a poster is the dialogue between God and God’s people. The dialogue in the opening verses of the 6th chapter sheds light on the relationship of God and God’s people. That relationship between God and God’s people revealed in scripture adds depth and nuance to Micah 6:8b. Justice, kindness, and walking humbly with God becomes less of a quantifiable checklist and more of qualitative description of life lived in response to God’s steadfast faithfulness, generosity, grace, and love.

When it comes to the dialogue (6:1-7), commentators favor a court room interrogation ambiance. The reference here is to the imagery of creation’s courtroom with mountains and the hills serving as a jury hearing the case of the Lord’s controversy, God’s lawsuit against God’s people. It produces a sterile, legal, emotionless dialogue that states what God has done and has the voice of the people sort of throwing itself on the mercy of the court. “In a God vs. people case, the people are going to lose every time. So what would you suggest, O divine litigator; burnt offerings, a thousand rams, ten thousand rivers of oil, my firstborn child?” Everybody watching the court room scene knows that there actually is nothing that humanity can do to balance. It is like an endless loop of a television drama that never changes, the plots are predictably the same and on cable one episode starts just as the other finishes. Nothing is new. Nothing fresh. Binge the series on Netflix but don’t expect any insight from the typecast characters.

But what if the dialogue between God and God’s people had less to do with a legal proceeding and more to do with the relationship mentioned above. Here the tone would reflect less argument and more fractured relationship.  The dialogue delivered with anger, frustration, and cynicism coming from both sides. The voice of the Lord, the phrase there on the page is “Answer me,” but it sounds more time and universal, something like “are you listening to me? Hey, look at me when I’m talking to you! Did you hear what I said?

And the voice of the people, well, that sounds more like a dark night of the soul, praying through clinched teeth cry to God.  “What more do you want from me? Enough is enough, God!” “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with a thousand rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give you my first born for my transgression, the fruit of the body for the sin of my soul?”

What do you want from me, Lord?!

Do justice. Love Kindness. Walk humbly with your God. A prophet’s finger wag. A courtroom repeat. A fractured relationship. If you don’t just cut and paste and memorize, by the time you get to the second half of verse 8 in chapter 6, the tone has already been set. What if instead of anger, or exasperation, instead of dripping cynicism and sarcasm, what if the tone of the voice of the Lord here communicated genuine heartbreak. The prophet voice sets the courtroom scene and declares the controversy. But the first words spoken by the Lord? “Oh my people, what have I done to you?”

Genuine heartbreak from God. That God’s people have somehow forgotten the saving acts of the Lord. Genuine heartbreak.  That God’s people have neglected all that God has done, all that God has made. Genuine heartbreak. That God’s people seemed tired, weary, worn out, burned out, fed up when it comes to the ways of the Lord, the things of God, a relationship with “I am.” Genuine heartbreak. That God might have done something wrong or misguided when it comes to raising up a people of faith who live and see and serve in response to the One who “heard my people’s cry,” the One who created all and then called it good, the One who promises to do a new thing, the One who said, “you are precious in my sight and honored and I love you.” What if what is good and what the Lord requires, what if doing justice and loving kindness and walking humbly with God is not just an imperative like a command, but it is an imperative like a plea. “What do you want Lord? Burnt offerings, thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil, my first born child?” No, no, no… all God wants is for you to do justice, and love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.

All the piety in the world can never measure up to a people who yearn to work for God’s justice. All the religiosity you can muster can never replace your kindness. All the ritual sacrifice and the doctrinal perfection combined is nothing compared to a people who choose to try to walk with God rather than be right all the time.

For when it comes to following Jesus, the life of discipleship, the call to be a faithful steward of God’s gifts, and one’s relationship with God, it was never about a memory verse, a poster, a slogan or a program. It is about an invitation to a divine relationship that offers a window into the very heart of God.

Rev. Dr. David A. Davis is the senior pastor of Nassau Presbyterian Church. He has served the congregation since 2000. David earned his Ph.D. in Homiletics from Princeton Theological Seminary, where he continues to teach as a visiting lecturer. His academic work has focused on preaching as a corporate act and the active role of the listener in the preaching event. Before arriving in Princeton, he served for 14 years as the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Blackwood, New Jersey. He has published two sermon collections, A Kingdom We Can Taste and Lord, Teach Us to Pray, and served on the Board of Trustees of the Presbyterian Foundation and the local Princeton YMCA. In addition to preaching in Presbyterian congregations around the country, David has preached to congregations in South Africa, Scotland, the Samuel Proctor Child Advocacy Conference of the Children’s Defense Fund, the Calvin Symposium for Worship, and on the campuses of Harvard and Duke University.

David grew up in Pittsburgh and did his undergraduate work at Harvard University where he was a member of the University Choir, singing weekly in Memorial Church and listening to the preaching of Professor Peter Gomes. David is married to Cathy Cook, a Presbyterian Minister who is Associate Dean of Students and Director of Senior Placement at Princeton Seminary. They have two children, Hannah and Ben.