What Do You Owe To God?

Micah 6: 6-9
MATTHEW 25: 31-45

August 21, 2022

When we sing Michael Row the Boat Ashore to close out our worship services this month it’s true that …. we are celebrating those free men and women who were once bound in chains, and whipped, and sold at the whims of their evil masters who were focused on division rather than living lives in which they loved all of God’s people because you cannot not own a human as a slave and ever be found to have loved all of your neighbors … but when we sing that classic song of faith it is important to understand what message our voices are raising.

Yes, it’s an easy song to sing. That’s why Donna asked Pastor Joel to allow us to sing the song at Peace Lutheran Church. And, it’s a song those who grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s might remember folk singers like Pete Seeger, the New Christie Minstrels, and Peter, Paul, and Mary singing.

But, for church folks like us … and for those individuals who created the song in the 1860’s off the coast of South Carolina … well it is a song about getting to heaven safely. You see Michael is Archangel Michael and the shore is heaven. Michael row the boat ashore … in other words Michael bring those people of faith safely to the shores of heaven and when he does that … well how can you not sing Hallelujah?

In the 21st century Bart Millard of Mercy Me wrote these lyrics about heaven, “[1]Surrounded by Your glory what will my heart feel? Will I dance for You Jesus or in awe of You be still? Will I stand in Your presence or to my knees, will I fall? Will, I sing HALLELUJAH …. Or will I be able to speak at all? I can only imagine.”

Have you … have you ever given serious consideration to that transition from here to there? YOUR PERSONAL transition. When you no longer are breathing another breath but have moved on from the life we are living right now.

Perhaps, a boat rowing you over to the safety of heaven’s sanctuary. Where God and Jesus Christ have been calling to you and to all of us for our entire life times here on earth? Or as in the movie Heaven Can Wait … an airline jetway taking you towards the clouds if you have that ticket to get on board.

In the presence of Christ for the very first time …. Is it any wonder that the former slaves already knew they would shout HALLELUJAH after Michael rowed them … or perhaps they would dance or sing …. Yes, they could only imagine but one thing even through the worst of times … even through the pains of the whip and the heart wrenching moments when family members were sold away to some place never to be seen again their children, their husbands or their wives … these men and women held onto the one truth … GOD … JESUS CHRIST knowing that there was one thing they could do that their masters could never stop them from doing … what Bart Millard sings in ‘I Can Only Imagine,’ “When all I will do is forever, forever WORSHIP YOU” God.

Yes, Michael Row the Boat Ashore …. Michael’s boat is a gospel boat … HALLELUJAH! Friends, I hope you are doing all you can here on this planet and in this life time to insure that when your time comes …. When you can no longer do anything to change the destination that you are in the boat; the Gospel Boat of Michael … ready to jump ashore in joy when it lands in heaven … to sense the glory of God.

Our two Scripture lessons today provide perhaps the clearest expectations of God as to what God states people of faith owe to God in order to get to heaven. Friends, the sinful realities of humanity may have been cleared up by Jesus Christ on the cross … God through Christ made the path to the shore lines of heaven easier to reach but … the Lord God, Creator of heaven and earth still requires something from we humans … our belief verified by the ticket to get on the boat that Michael is rowing … proof that we truly believe and accept Christ as ours …. Our Savior, our Lord … Immanuel, God with us.

The prophet Micah perhaps inspired the song I Can Only Imagine through the question we heard in today’s Old Testament reading “With what should I approach the Lord and bow down before God on high?”

It was a good question … when that moment happens and you debate whether should you dance for Jesus or sing hallelujahs or in awe of God be still? In Micah the question raised to God included whether sacrifices of cattle, sheep, oil or even the oldest child were required to pay for living a sinful life.

The answer is reflective of God’s truth …God’s reality … God’s love because God has not created an after life destination that only those with substance can reach … one cannot buy their way into heaven. The prophet succinctly stated for all time what God’s trade off is … God forgives sin and now humans here’s what God DOES REQUIRE from you, if you believe.

I am not sure if any individual who is in attendance in an American Christian church today likes to hear that we owe God anything. Most think if they say they believe that fools God. Owing God is not a good fit in our culture. That’s not a good fit into our habits. We don’t like to bow down to an invisible God; we like to create our own gods … we like to skip Sunday’s … avoid reading Scripture … pray only when we need something or someone is sick or we are going to eat food. We most definitely don’t like Bible study and who has time to volunteer at church anyhow. In fact, I think most Christians in American churches today … churches where we can come and go as we like … have designed a God and a path to heaven that fits their individual lifestyles and preferences reducing God to a three letter word occasionally to be mentioned in a church setting.

But, friends …. Friends and family of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church where everyone is love and always welcomed. And, those worshiping with us online from around God’s earth … “God has told you human ones,” the prophet begins. “What is good and …” ok, this next part lots of church folks don’t like or skip over or ignore but if you hold Scripture to be the guide for our connection with God then we not only better listen but we better be doing and striving to always take on this debt to God. “THE LORD GOD HAS TOLD YOU HUMAN ONE, what is good and WHAT THE LORD GOD REQUIRES from you; TO DO JUSTICE …. EMBRACE FAITHFUL LOVE and MERCY FOR ALL … and WALK HUMBLY with GOD.”

THE LORD GOD REQUIRES … I wonder if I use the parable of Michael …. I wonder if Archangel Michael does a quick video review before allowing individuals onto the heaven-bound boat. FAILED TO DO JUSTICE …. OUT …. NEVER EMBRACED FAITHFUL LOVE and MERCY for ALL of GOD’s PEOPLE …. OUT …. NEVER WALKED WITH GOD at ALL much less HUMBLY with GOD … OUT!

It doesn’t take a lot of effort to find individuals who say they are Christians but who sneer at the concept of justice for all people; doing justice is often identified as foreign to them. We just have to listen to our airwaves to find individuals called leaders who are opposed to mercy and clearly do not love all of their neighbors … and a walk with God … well, a walk in a park is very nice but to walk with God rather than merely setting God aside until Sunday morning arrives and we can see friends, sing a few songs, maybe grab a cup of coffee …. All within a very short specific set time period; God. Hmmmm

MICHAEL ROW THE BOAT ASHORE …. HALLELUJAH! Can you imagine if Jesus came back right now; in the next 15 minutes … what would your eyes see in the Son of God when His face is in front of yours … would you be hoping that the video of your life malfunctioned and your every day moments were erased so that God and Christ would only see you as someone who did justice, loved mercy embracing faithful love for all, and as a person who walked with God humbly every day? What do you want Jesus to see in you? What do you think you owe God in this life you are living today and tomorrow?

Yesterday, as I am sure all of you know, was Megan’s birthday. Hard to believe that my oldest daughter is now 6 years older than me. My entire family is so thankful for all the cards and birthday wishes that were extended to her this week. As I teased her, laughed with her, hugged her, and loved her yesterday once again I did a quick rewind of Megan’s life. I think all parents do that on their children’s birthdays as well as at other times of the year. Our first child … there was so much hope on that Tuesday in Buffalo only to later discover she has what we call a dis-ABILITY. I spell the word with a small dis and a capital ABILITY because I believe that those who are born with challenges like Megan and dear sweet Cameron are God-driven teaching lessons for those of us who are allegedly living with good health and good minds. You know capable folks.

Megan loves and hugs EVERYONE … she always has! She wants only good to happen for EVERY SINGLE PERSON ; justice for all …. Treating all people whatever their race, their language, their place or origin, their sexuality, their wealth or lack of wealth, whether they have been in prison or never had a speeding ticket … SHE LOVES ALL with MERCY and of course never hesitates sharing hugs until COVID slowed that down for awhile but she’s back in the HUG business. And, Megan walks each day humbly with God. Wouldn’t it be a better world if we all had that kind of dis-ABILITY?

If you are on FACEBOOK you can read some of the responses to Megan’s birthday but one struck me … as I sat down last night to again read Micah chapter 6 verses 6 through 9 I read the words written about Megan by Kathy Scott White, a friend from our last church, who has not seen Megan in more than a decade. She wrote, “I count myself as one of the many lucky humans to have had lots and lots of your HUGS!!!” LUCKY or perhaps blessed by a person of faith whose life encompasses what the Lord God requires of all of us.

Shouldn’t that be a reflection of the life story of each Christian … each person of faith … each individual striving to follow the expectations of God by giving back to God what God says we owe God? TO DO JUSTICE … LOVE ALL HUMANITY with MERCY and TO WALK HUMBLY with GOD all the time … our legacy? Our ticket to the boat … MICHAEL ROW THAT BOAT ASHORE with me on it … with all of you on it … and if we live the way God calls us to live many more will be on it with us because they will want to be like you and me. Hearing our testimonies and seeing the joy in our lives.

If you think you have a guaranteed seat on that boat … I suggest you read Matthew 25 again today because Jesus will explain that some Christians who like calling themselves Christian won’t be on the boat when it is time to cross the river even though God wants all of us onboard! Surrounded by God’s glory … what will your heart feel? AMEN

[1] ‘I Can Only Imagine’ written by Bart Millard and recorded by Mercy Me

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