Sermon. Epiphany 4A Sunday January 30th, 2011. Ocean Forest.
All or nothing
Friends, there are times and places in life when you just know that it is “all or nothing”. When there has been major conflict between you and your spouse and the moment for honest talk comes, it is all or nothing. The moment demands total honesty. If this is not given and received, the moment is lost and the conflict continues and deepens.
The sporting field is a snapshot of life. It has moments of “all or nothing”. I think back to that drawn AFL Grand Final last year between St Kilda and Collingwood. It was all or nothing and the feeling of emptiness those players felt was palpable as the reality of having to turn around and give it all again next week set is because the game was drawn.
Any final in any code is all or nothing and everyone knows it. That is what makes any final of any sporting code special. The coach barks out the order, “Leave nothing on the field!” In other words, half measures are not good enough today. It is all or nothing today. Any fudging of responsibility, blaming of others or the situation, laziness, lack of attention and discipline will just not cut it as we all work toward the great victory and prize….
Of course, fighting a war is more all or nothing than fighting a football match! I listened to some of the many interviews with Western Australian soldier, Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith, in the wake of him being presented with the Victoria Cross in Perth on Tuesday. It was interesting that he said, as many soldiers and sport people end up saying, that you really give your all for your mates. Yes, you play for your team, give all or nothing for your country, risk injury or even death (as a soldier), but on the ground and in real time, you fight for your mates. It is all or nothing – for them.
I hear in the bible words for today that it is all or nothing in life – in our relationship with the God of all life. It is all or nothing. At least, this is what I am confronted with in this lawsuit God raises against his own people in Micah 6.
It is a trial. God is the accuser. His creation (mountains and hills) are the witnesses. His people are the accused. 6:1 Hear what the LORD says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. 6:2 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. 6:3 “O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! 6:4 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.
God asks the question any innocent party who has been offended, attacked, hurt or betrayed asks. “What have I done to you to deserve your disregard, your arrogance, your rejection of our relationship history together”? What have done to deserve your offensive and hurtful behaviour against me? Answer – nothing.
Then God calls to mind for the people some of the many gracious and kind words and deeds he has done in the long years of his care and protection and love of his people.
6:5 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.”
When the Israelites first entered the land that God gave them under Moses’ successor, Joshua, after Moses was taken to be with God, the Lord fought for them, gave them direction, military victory and delivered on his promise to give them peace, a place, a name, a community, a future together with him. Then the “all or nothing” question about what will heal this broken relationship between the people and the Lord…….. 6:6 “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? 6:7 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?”
Shall we come to the Lord with a hundred stories of our greatness, how we have loved people, how much we have served others, how great our sacrifice for others has been. Shall we come to the Lord telling him how religious we have been—always attending worship, always putting money in the offering plate and given to charity, always doing this or that? Shall we come before the Lord boasting of our integrity – how we have been “a good person” and not deliberately tried to hurt anyone as we have lived without faith, thanks or even much regard for Him and his word and his direction and love for us?
Shall we come to the Lord telling him how we have done great things our way, without much help—how we have triumphed in our own strength and wisdom over trouble?
No, says God. I desire mercy for others, not the outward “show” or a thousand sacrificed bulls. I desire the whole heart and commitment and humility, not just an outward sham. I desire you – all of you – not to own you but to love you and heal you and teach you.
A relationship of hope, peace, direction, fulfilment and meaning with our Creator only comes from the heart, not any kind of outward show. God is not impressed with our grandstanding and big noting of ourselves in whatever form this takes. God is not impressed with our words and behaviour that says one thing on the surface but does another thing in action. He is not a God who promises the world and then goes about forgetting us or condemning us. God does not stay in high heaven and watch us all from a distance without heart connection to us. He is involved in our fragile, and passing life. He has entered our humanness by being human with us – and all for love of us, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. God is an all or nothing God – giving us all, not withholding anything of his wisdom, will and compassion. Jesus has drunk the cup of human sin and suffering to the last drop. Once for all he has made things right between us and between us and God who we now know as our kind and loving heavenly Father.
God is calling us to “get real”; to “keep it real”, between us and him. There is no saying we are “Christian” while ignoring the need of the world or the need of our children, family and friends. God is also calling us to live in the way of Jesus – all or nothing when it comes to serving, loving, praying, bearing witness to God’s way of things among others…
6:8 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?
Are you looking for God’s will in your marriage, your job, your study? Are you looking for someone to make life clearer for you, give you a way of approaching the whole thing? Are you looking for what is real, what makes the difference between a life lived for lack of a better idea and a life lived with guts, love, long-term love, meaning, purpose, drive?
Here it is – “do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” The thing is that we have not got a snowball’s chance in hell of doing this? We are so prone to deceiving ourselves and making anything but the Living God the thing we bow down to with time, money and effort. We are deeply flawed people who find it so hard to remain “real”, truthful and aware of ourselves and others and we seem to exchange a living relationship with the God of the universe with just about anything else that has more immediate and visible benefits – money and the stuff it surrounds us with, wine, women, song, self-help, eastern mystic experience, the pursuit of happiness, “Eat, Pray, Love”, and all that…. One thing stands between being surface level people when it comes to God and being deep in the living water of God’s wisdom, love and justice – repentance – all or nothing – nothing hidden, nothing held back, no pretending, grandstanding or ignoring of the awesome power and love of the God of life and death – Jesus Christ, the one and only healer of our souls and giver of real life and peace that the world cannot give. It is giving of ourselves in repentance and faith – turning away from ourselves and our weakness and offensive words and behaviour against God and trusting his word of grace and mercy for us in Jesus.