4th Sunday after the Epiphany: The Lords promises and requirements

Lectionary 1st Reading Psalm 2nd Reading Gospel
Anglican lectionary:
Micah 6:1-8
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Matthew 5:1-12
Catholic lectionary:

The Lords promises and requirements


 Micah 6:1-8

 The subheading of these verses is “The Lord’s case against Israel”. The first couple of verses bring God’s case before the mountains, hills and foundations of the earth. Why?

The people have forgotten what God has done for them, leading them out of slavery (verse 4), and delivering them from their enemies (verse 5).

The Lord brings these charges before the “everlasting foundations of the earth” (verse 2) for three reasons:

  • The creation is an “everlasting” witness to God’s faithfulness to his people and can verify the accusation God makes.
  • The creation is an active participant in the Covenant that God has made with his people and with “every living creature on earth” (Genesis 9:8-11)
  • The creation is waiting for God’s judgement on the “destroyers of the earth” (Revelation 11), and feels the effects of people’s wrongdoing.

Verse 8 of this passage is often quoted: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly[a] with your God.” God requires the people to remember his faithfulness and to live righteously, in right relationship, with both God and the wider creation.

 Psalm 15                   

 Psalm 15 picks up on the question of what God requires.

The Psalm tells us that the person who can dwell in the Lord’s sacred tent and live on his holy mountain has a walk which is “blameless” both in speech and deed. Interestingly the focus is in keeping faithful to the truth (verse 3), to their promise (verse 4), and to defending the poor (verse 5).

Verse 5 is particularly interesting in a modern context where “the poor pay more”. What does God make of the burden of debt we have landed upon the most vulnerable countries, in which many countries pay more to service their debt than they do on health and education? (UNICEF, 2021)

As we seek to mitigate and adapt to climate change, the wealthiest nations are acting in very contrary ways to this Psalm. They have not kept their oaths on the levels of financing they will give the poorest countries to adapt to climate change, and what financing has been given so far has been in the form of loans.

No wonder we are experiencing the opposite of the parting words of this Psalm in verse 5 (“Whoever does these things will never be shaken”): the greed and deceit of the wealthy is very literally shaking the earth which cannot cope with the injustice and exploitation that is demanded by the levels of consumption that we seek to maintain and accelerate because money is our God.

 1 Corinthians 1:18-31          

In verse 22 of this passage Paul names what those of his day demand: “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom”. I wonder what we would write as an equivalent in our time. I think perhaps we would write that we “demand market freedom and look for GDP potential”.

In our time there is greater freedom of movement for capital than there is for people and the wisdom of the world is infinite growth.

How foolish! To this we can preach Christ crucified, who gives people and creation, undervalued by market systems, unparalleled dignity and eternal significance.

We may be keenly aware of our weakness and the apparent foolishness of the cross, but we can have confidence in the strength of the wisdom of our God who uses unlikely means to bring about all things for his glory.

 Matthew 5:1-12

 The beatitudes would read very differently if we wrote them according to the wisdom of the world. In the world’s eyes the blessed are the wealthy, the savvy, the charismatic, the healthy, the wily and the well-connected.

Those that are blessed by God are those who know who they are in relation to God and the wider creation (verses 3, 8) and reflect this in how they live now even in the midst of loss (verses 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10).

Verse 5 about “the meek”, who “will inherit the earth” is particularly interesting. Meekness is not a character trait which is commonly referenced or spoken about. The connotations which people might pick up on are not necessarily positive – people may think of someone who is easily swayed and doesn’t have the strength to speak up for themselves. But meekness is more properly understood as “keeping power under control” (and, by extension, power that is used with reference to God’s requirements). Understood this way we can see the relation that meekness has with the inheritance of the earth: Revelation 11 sees the destruction of the “destroyers of the earth”, meanwhile the earth is inherited by the meek.

 SECTION TWO: SERMON OUTLINE – The Lord’s promises and requirements

 The promises of God

  • To be with us!
  • God creates in relationship. God, people and the earth.
  • God’s covenant in Genesis and then the new covenant of the gospels are all about making a way for the restoration of these relationships.

The requirements of God

  • To remember God (Micah 6, Matthew 5:3, 8)
  • To reflect this in our actions (Micah 6:8, Psalm 15:3-5)

The connection between the promises and requirements of God

  • To be with us (promise), God requires holiness because God is holy
  • Our actions have consequences because they either build or break the relationships we have with others, with the earth and with God. Injustice destroys the relationships that God longs to be restored for his glory
  • The world does not recognise these requirements of holiness because it is not interested in being with God (the promise). The world’s abandonment of God’s requirements however is foolish and still has consequences. The requirements God has, are not random or onerous, they are requirements that allow for our flourishing. Much of what we see wrong today – for example in the climate and ecological crisis – is the outworking of our abandonment of God in favour of money.
  • We are called to be people who do not follow the wisdom of the world (1 Corinthians) but instead model how to live now in expectation of the fulfillment of God’s promises (Matthew 5:3-10).


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Rachel Mander

Rachel Mander works as Strategy Development Officer for A Rocha International, helping with a number of strategic processes across the worldwide A Rocha family (www.arocha.org). Formerly she worked for Hope for the Future and Faith for the Climate, coordinating faith-based action before COP26, and is also the founder of the Young Christian Climate Network (www.yccn.uk). She blogs at www.thejoyofrachel.com.

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