Knowing is Not Doing, Jan. 30
Micah 6: 1-8
“Knowing is Not Doing” Micah 6:1-8 January 30, 2011
Remember those WWJD ("What Would Jesus Do") bracelets that were popular a few years ago? Some people thought they were a great idea, but there was a problem. They only asked us to think about what Jesus would do. They didn't ask us to DO anything.
Knowing is not doing. You may admire the accomplishments of an artist. It’s relatively easy to understand how an artist works: paints, canvas, paintbrushes. Knowing how it’s done doesn’t make you an artist.
You may love listening to a gifted musician play an instrument. But your listening will never make you play a note. Only daily practice, running the scales over and over will make you into a musician.
21st century high-tech Western civilization has ‘bought into’ the notion that "To know is to do." Take the Internet. Advertisers push faster, easier access to more and more information, but that alone does not make us wise. Unless we learn how to apply information in our life we’re still clueless.
It reminds me of that commercial that has all these people talking in disconnected snippets. They mimic Internet search responses. (One word out of sentence—go in complete different direction; next does same and so on….) Everyone is talking but no one knows what the other is saying (or seems to care, for that matter).
To know is not to do. Knowing how an artist paints doesn’t make you an artist. Appreciating and enjoying good music doesn’t make you a musician no matter how dedicated you are. Only when you pick up an instrument and play are you a musician.
Likewise, knowing WWJD is only half the challenge. The other half is doing it. Obedience. And this is where discipleship comes in. The concept of the WWJD movement was right in telling us that God wants us to become like Christ. What was missing is the other half of discipleship: enabling people to actually do what they know is right. Discipleship is about doing what we know.
Popular motivational speaker Stephen Covey writes,
“I define discipline as the ability to make and keep promises and to honor commitments. It's the key to overcoming the pull of the past. If we begin small, we can gradually strengthen our sense of personal honor and build our capacity to make and keep large promises. Eventually our sense of personal honor becomes stronger than our moods. We will then make promises sparingly because we keep the ones we make.” (Stephen Covey, Principle-Centered Leadership (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), 73.)
That’s a good recipe for Christian discipleship. Keeping the commitments we make; the promises we make. One at a time—until it becomes a way of life.
What Jesus would have me do takes discipline, and discipleship is not for the faint of heart. There is no easy way out, no instant download for our spirituality. Discipline involves time, discipline and practice.
"What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8). (cf. Deut. 10:12, 13 and Hosea 12:7)
Micah, was an eighth-century prophet before the time of Christ. Today's text is broken into two separate units. The "covenant lawsuit" that opens this reading begins with the prophet summoning the people to hear Yahweh's case against them.
1 Hear what the LORD says:
Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
2 Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD,
and you enduring foundations of the earth;
for the LORD has a controversy with his people,
and he will contend with Israel.
Yahweh "rises" and "pleads" the divine case in front of a jury of all creation — "the mountains" and the "foundations of the earth" (v.2).
But instead of itemizing a direct bill of indictment, God turns the tables and asks the "witness" Israel rhetorically "What have I done?" and "In what have I wearied you?"
3 “O my people, what have I done to you?
In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
4 For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
and I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam.
5 O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the saving acts of the LORD.”
Instead of admitting growing weariness over Israel's disobedience, Yahweh offers a case history of the divine steadfastness and salvation visited upon Israel over the centuries. First, God recalls the redemptive act of Israel's deliverance from Egypt.
Next, God cites the impressive leadership bestowed on Israel during its early years. In this eighth-century view of Hebrew history, the story of Israel's rescue from the deceits of Balak and Balaam, which is recounted next, was a very popular text.
Finally, God tells of Israel's successful entrance into the Promised Land, her final camp at Shittim and her first cultic actions at their site of entry at Gilgal. Together, these events present an impressive, albeit brief, overview of the "saving acts" God has performed for Israel.
Abruptly the covenant lawsuit/trial motif ends. The prophet moves on to record the question/response of the people to God's words.
6 “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?
7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
As Israel wonders what she can do to earn back God's acceptance, she offers an exaggerated list of sacrifices. An escalating list of potential offerings grows in fervor and flamboyance. Just how religious can we be? Burnt offerings? Calves a year old? Thousands of rams? Ten thousands of rivers of oil? My firstborn? (Verse 7: Hyperbole (literary exaggeration)—like saying IRS wants our first-born.)
God desires more than empty promises. The prophet says:
8 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?
Verse 8 clearly spells out what it is God seeks from Israel so that she may "make things right." The "better way" is a threefold path: doing justice in all daily relationships; offering kindness to all; walking humbly before God.
It is significant that when asked what Israel must do to get right with God, two of the three behaviors involve establishing right human-to-human relationships (2 out of 3!): doing justice and loving kindness. The third command, walking humbly, uses an unusual verb form in the Hebrew text.
"To walk with" may best be understood as "to live with in communion". Taken together, these three attitudes outweigh any and all sacrificial actions that the Israelites have traditionally relied upon to keep them on God's "good side."
WWJD? Jesus would have you produce beautiful music; Life chords, not electronic themes or tinny ring tones. What kind of music does your life generate? Does a symphony of harmonic sounds come from your soul? Or is your presence more like the sound of a railroad crossing or a car with squeaking brakes and bad muffler? We've all had double-dose aspirin days when the noise of our attitudes even puts the family pet on the run. We can't control the ugly noises that may surround us. But we can shape the music of the soul. We don't have to let bad tunes rule the airwaves and ruin our day. We can control our Life chords.
The Bible itself is a musical instrument that demands we play it, not just read it. Like all musical instruments, it will only produce beautiful music in our lives if we invest our time and energy into learning how to release its melodies through persistent practice.
… Once we learn how to hit these notes with our lives on a daily basis, everything comes easier . Once we learn how to strike these life chords even when life is striking at us, life becomes more beautiful and tolerant.
Just Do it. Don’t just say it or think it. Show it, don’t just tell it. Demonstrate it. Practice. Play chords. Make beautiful music with your life.
Knowing is not doing. In Micah, Israel had broken their covenant of heart-felt worship and obedience to God. Jesus graced us with forgiveness and made the way clear for us to come to God without condemnation. From the time of Creation through Eternity, God desires us to walk with him, to do justice and be kind to one another. Do right, be kind, walk with God and you will find peace for your souls. Amen.
Rev. Rosemary Stelz, First Presbyterian Church, Bastrop, LA