For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Download PDF.”
For this week’s spiritual practice led by Ivy Anthony called “Micah & Rocks,” click HERE.
Micah 6:6-8 6
With what should I approach the Lord and bow down before God on high? Should I come before him with entirely burned offerings, with year-old calves? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with many torrents of oil? Should I give my oldest child for my crime; the fruit of my body for the sin of my spirit? 8 He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.
Let me pray for us… We walk humbly into this space of worship this morning. Longing to hear you, see you, to feel you. Give us your grace we pray.in Jesus name. Amen
It was a hard decision to become a pastor. I loved Jesus so much. He had changed my heart. But when I began to feel the call and eventually got to seminary, the rest of the 4 years of seminary was about becoming. A process. And a lot of unbecoming, what I used to be. Shedding and changing. My heart was changed but changing my life, took a bit more time. For one,I had a pottymouth. And I struggled with addiction. And though I had stopped as I entered seminary, the temptations were still there. I was still a work in progress.
And the fact that I was work in progress gave me a lot of doubt. Here I am, sitting in a seminary dorm. Ha! Who do you think you are? You’re not holy. You’re sinful! I said to myself. And the flashbacks would flood in. See? Remember what you’ve done? You? You want to become a pastor? When those voices would rise up, I’d kneel. I’d pray to that tender voice. I asked God, like the old Jennifer Knapp’s Christian pop song I grew up with, called Refine Me.
Lord, come with Your fire
Burn my desires, refine me
Lord, my will has deceived me
Please come free me, come rescue this child
For I long to be reconciled to You
Refine me, refine me
I prayed and prayed. There were so many things that I needed to give up. But the funny thing about doubt and the imposter syndrome is that it turns the idea that “there are mistakes I’ve made” to “I am a mistake”, or “I’ve done wrong” to “I am wrong”.
On one of those many nights where I battled with my own shaming voices, in prayer to God, a verse came to me. I have a vivid memory of this experience that I had forgotten about but recently came back to me with details.
And when I say a verse came to me, I just mean, I thought of it. When things like this happen, I think it’s God speaking to us, because it feels like a gift, that it just comes into my mind. I don’t know, maybe I read it somewhere earlier that week. Maybe I heard it somewhere. So it’s hard to say, exactly how God speaks to us, but nevertheless, it felt as though God gave me this verse. Jesus said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” It came to me as a mystery because I did not understand it. I googled it. Jesus said it in Matthews chapter 9, “But go and learn what this means: quoting Hosea, prophet we read last week, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’
I desire mercy not sacrifice. I desire mercy not sacrifice..
The statement confused me. Sacrifice was such a positive thing in my mind. Selfless. Pure.
It also happens to be high value in Korean culture. To sacrifice. How much our parents sacrificed themselves for the next generation. In fact, it’s a complement.
I remember growing up in church, and on Sundays, everyone served. Ladies cooked all morning to provide beef seaweed soup and rice with kimchi to the entire congregation. Men moved chairs, tables to set things up. Deacons cleaned. Elders arranged the flowers. People had meetings, babysat, sang in choirs, made booklets. Sunday went on from early morning set up to late afternoon filled with band practices and prayer meetings. At the end of the day we would part ways saying to each other, ‘soogo hetsuhyo!’ which means ‘you worked hard!” or ‘goseng hetsuhyo” which means “you struggled!” or “you endured!” And everyone responded the same, saying “oh no no no” denying their work. It’s like a competition to see who took on the most burden, which is another complement. Sacrifice is next to godliness. And I’ve been taught all my life to sacrifice, to thank those who sacrificed, how much others have sacrificed for me.
So when Jesus said, Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, not sacrifice? I didn’t get it.
I marinated on it for a while. I journaled in my notebook. God, refine me. God, make me better. God, change me.
I wrote, God use me. And I started to play with these words, as I often do when I journal, where my thoughts become play, and I riff and roll around the words with ittierations, rhymes, and rhythms. Yes, I get a little poetic prose-like in my journaling sometimes. I wrote…
Use me. Useful. US…FULL. And then I wrote in capital letters, URS. Yours. And it hit me.
That I’m not supposed to be “useful” but “urs.” Your beloved.
It wasn’t about what I needed to do,
But who I saw myself to be
I don’t need to make sacrifices for God or to God
But simply, see the way God see me,
Which is full of mercy
I needed to have mercy on myself.
And it brought me to tears. I think I felt mercy. I felt the love enveloping me.
But still and again, I wrote in my journal. I asked God, what do you require of me? And I heard God respond to me with the same question, “What do you require of me?” God asked me. And I thought about that…. And I wrote “acceptance.” I asked God, “Am I good enough?” Do you accept me?
How could it be? That I legitimately questioned whether I was good enough to be loved by God. That’s why I was sitting there asking God to change me, so that I could be pleasing and acceptable to the Lord.
The questions of Am I good enough, came with a pang, like a sadness, to see my desperate insecure self in need of just love. I felt mercy toward her. Poor girl, of course, of course you’re good enough, Lydia! God loves you no matter what!
Jesus doesn’t ask us to make sacrifices. Jesus has mercy on us. Jesus loves us no matter what. Let me say that again. God doesn’t ask us to make sacrifices. Are you thinking in your head, well yes but there’s still some things I need to work on or things I need to clean up. Or Are you thinking about others, that one person, sure Jesus loves them but they’ve got some work to do. Sure the theological term sanctification has had much to expound on over centuries. But moral achievements are only meant to be the natural outpouring of the spirit through mercy and grace. Not by merit, through grace, GRACE, alone.
In 2010 Jennifer Knapp the Christian musician came out publicly sharing that she’s been in a loving relationship with a woman for 8 years. I can see why she might’ve been asking God to burn her desires and the song, not being about how God sees her but maybe more about how others saw her or how she saw herself and felt the need to be seen and accepted a certain way. She longed to be accepted and loved. And sadly, when she came out, many were shocked, even angry. This is not God’s way. It’s what we do to each other. We demand sacrifices from each other.
We don’t need to tell each other what to do, what to give, what to give up, and how to live. Like the question we’ve been asking this Lent “what’s the most important?” It says in our Lent Bible Guide, “Our church doesn’t try to define what should be most important for all of us; we don’t tell you exactly which way to go. But we believe that as we lean toward God in prayer and listen to the prophets, the Spirit of God will be our teacher and guide and show us each some of what is most important as well as show us the way forward.”
We only need to show one another, God’s love and how we walk in God’s love, and walk humbly together. Any sacrifice that may come, is not up to you or me, but it’ll come naturally flowing out of the life of love. That’s between them and God. And for everyone who struggles with something, we only need to show mercy.
So much guilt driven theology I swallowed growing up, that I needed to be cleansed, that I needed to be better. Sometimes “worldly” views come through the lens of “Christian values”. But at the core, there is only one message, God loves you. And not you should but you can have a loving reciprocal relationship with God. And love is not gained through a series of actions or sacrifices. You do not inspire God to love you by being good. What it means to love God isn’t to do things for God that is pretty or satisfactory to God. To love God is to receive and return love, delight and enjoy God. To know God’s heart and share your heart with God. To walk with God.
So this is my humble walk. It’s not perfect. I’m not that holy. But I need to walk really closely with others to remind me what this walk is like. That sometimes this walk can feel like a show. Sometimes I feel like I need my faith to be a certain way. Ya’ll, I have major baggage with this being a Pastor’s Kid. We publicly sacrificed everything for the show. Don’t. Don’t sacrifice your first born, or the last born.
With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before them with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old? Shall we come to church to log in hours of prayer, with bank checks with a year of interest?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Will the Lord be pleased with a thousand committees working on stuff in our organization, with ten thousand staff members?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? Shall I give up things that are most precious to me, even the good and beautiful things most near to my heart?
No, God does not require these things of you. Maybe church does. Maybe people do. But not God.
The only thing that we’re told to DO in this text is, actually, justice. While I was on maternity leave I discovered that I enjoy listening to audiobooks while I’m feeding and holding the baby. I got a chance to hear “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi and the main message of the book really took the whole book to drill into my head. He posed that being racist isn’t mainly about moral fallacy. In fact, when we dwindle down a thing like racism to moral or ethical failure, it fails to tackle the real root of the problem or more important the scope and power of the problem, which is how insidious and prevalent racism is, by chalking it up to almost excusing it as, oh that person is racist who is a bad person. When the reality is, racism is beyond personal individual moral failure, and plays out more powerfully as public policy. He says that it’s not ignorance or hate that fuels racism. It’s power. Power that’s carried out and implemented through racist policies. He says that ““Institutional racism” and “structural racism” and “systemic racism” are redundant. Racism itself is institutional, structural, and systemic.” He presents that it’s not moral failings of racists that we need to be working on but racist policies.
Stop focusing on moral failings. It’s not enough. It may be a part of it, sin, sacrifice, sanctification. But what’s more at stake is bigger than your moral failings.
Here’s what I read. Don’t worry about purifying your moral ethical failures through sacrifices. DO justice. Change racist policies. Even in the realm of race, as Ibram Kendi would point out, it’s less about individual righteousness but about implementation of justice. DO Justice. We don’t need to change the hearts of men, but change the policies that perpetuates and reinforces more racism at a systemic mass sophisticated scale, well beyond a hurtful racist remark. It’s less about personal holiness and piety, it’s more about doing public love and mercy, which is justice. It’s much more relational and community oriented, a thing like mercy, rather than transactional, like nullifying one’s sin through sacrifice.
Again from the prophet Micah,
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To do justice and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Be fair. LOVE MERCY. And just walk. That’s it. Step by step.
Let us walk together, doing justice, loving mercy. Can we?
Let me pray for us.
God of Justice, God of Love, God of mercy. Show us. Show us the way to not only fix ourselves, but love ourselves, and love our neighbors like we would love ourselves. Teach us we pray, lamp our feet, that we may walk, in justice, in mercy, in humility, with you. Help us. Have mercy on us Lord Jesus, Amen.