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What's Living About - By Pastor Thomas Engel

If you drive past the school, walk down the hallway, or go to the school’s Facebook page, you will see the main points of the theme verse for the year from Micah 6:8 in a nifty design.

Working with the students on memorizing the verse, and then, going into the verse to get all of its meaning in religion classes and chapel talks will take all year as it should take.

This verse sums up the life of a believer, so really, the studying of this verse is a life-long pursuit.

Just do a search on the word, “Justice,” and you will find pages and pages of ways that the word is used with the first use as a name for a girl’s clothing store. But, keep looking after that, and the word goes deep into many critical topics.

A little bit of the back story on how Micah 6:8 became the theme verse for the year.

At the end of the school year, the staff has a meeting to recap that year and to start making plans for the next year.

Not to put Miss Maanum on the spot, but I’ve noticed that she puts a lot of good pre-thought in the next year’s theme and verse.

Miss Maanum said she had been thinking of Micah 6:8, but she also said that with recent events that the verse may not befitting.

If you remember back at the beginning of summer, there were the protests that we're reacting to police-involved shootings.

To say here, Micah 6:8 has been one of my favorite verses. All good writing has paragraphs or sentences that hit the theme of the essay or story on the head.

Scripture is good writing and has places where we see, especially, the theme of the Gospel and how to live a life that comes from the Gospel.

For example, John 3:16 has been called the “Gospel in a nutshell.” We can go to John 3:16 and get a clear and succinct idea of how we have salvation.

In Micah 6:8, we get clear directions on how to live as believers.

So, how some verses do sum up all of Scripture was all going through my mind at that staff meeting.

That’s the kind of verse that we like for our theme, so we have a lot to go into throughout the year.

I think the concern with using this verse at this time is that it could seem we are trying to shine too much light on issues that it might look like that we are forcing it.

To explain in this way how we don’t intentionally want to make more controversy-as you know, the readings come from a three-year lectionary.

I take the theme for the sermon from these readings that come from the lectionary that has a long development from the early Christians of the first and second centuries.

The main purpose is to tell the complete story of the Gospel throughout the church year.

The lectionary is also a good discipline for preachers. Inputting together a sermon, it might be tempting for preachers to look at a problem of the week, and then we look for a verse that addresses a pet sin.

But, with the lectionary, I look at the readings and make a sermon from the themes of the readings that go with that Sunday of the church year.

The lectionary helps preachers not to force their own agendas. Although we do try to apply the readings to the topics of current times, we are to be preaching on God’s themes and not to get on our soapboxes on the ills and issues of society.

To put in here as a note as we are talking today about how believers are to be living in today’s world, we need to know that God’s direction about how to live has its beginning with words that are at least over two thousand years old.

How God wants believers to live is for all times. Although the world has changed much-especially in these modern times-I mean imagine tossing out your cell phones and going back to only having rotary phones-parents you will have to explain to your kids what a rotary phone is.

We need to know that the way believers live basically never changes.

Of course, we don’t follow the dietary laws and ceremonial laws of Moses day. We can eat pork, and we don’t sacrifice pigeons in worship.

But, the Ten Commandments are for all times, and Jesus sums them all up in one word-love.

Through it all, we are to live our lives loving one another.

In the Gospel reading for today, Matthew 25: 31-46, we see how Jesus flushes out how we are to love one another.

Before we get into the specifics on how we are to love one another, we need to see how these verses can be misinterpreted.

At first glance, these verses look like all law that is telling us what we are to be doing. Jesus is talking about the Last Day when he will come again to separate the sheep from the goats.

At first, this coming judgment sounds like we need to be getting our act together, so we are able to meet Jesus as a sheep and not as a goat.

Looking closely at the words of Jesus, he is not saying that on the Last Day that he will be making sheep and goats. Those who are sheep and those who are goats have already been determined.

With much confidence, comfort, and joy, we can know that we are sheep. We are sheep because of our baptism that puts us in God’s flock.

Knowing that we are certainly sheep helps us as we live out our lives like sheep.

God meant for every human to be one of His sheep. But, some are goats like Satan when he rebelled or like when some good angels turned into demons and followed Satan. And sadly, we need to add those who refuse to come to believe in Christ as their Lord and Savior as goats.

This passage gives the big picture of the Gospel on how we are saved and how we are to live until the Last Day.

We can look at some “don’ts” as we wait for the Last Day.

We don’t need to fear. Like sheep, we can look forward to the Last Day without fear but with joyful anticipation because that is when we will enter a new heaven and new earth for all of eternity.

Let’s be sure that we know that we don’t need to get our act together to meet Jesus, for we are already sheep.

We don’t love to make the world better although it getting better might happen as we love. In our love, we don’t try to fix other people although good things might start happening in that love.

We don’t love only in a time of crisis, but we love every day, and I would say this love is needed most in often boring routines.

And this showing of love every day in every possible way gets to the point of having Micah 6:8 used every day and not only in a time of crisis-in all circumstances and in all times, but we are also to act justly, love kindness, and walk humbly.

We are to love in troubled and peaceful times.

We are to love big and small in every situation.

We are to love those who are not always so easy to love or in situations that make it not so easy to show love and care.

We are to love those who are different than ourselves, and whom we disagree with and even our enemies.

Jesus gives us some examples of how to love in today’s Gospel reading.

He talks about caring for those who need food, drink, and clothes, and for those who are sick or in prison.

Micah talks about bringing justice to those who suffer from injustices. As we know in these times, fighting for justice can be messy work, but we do it anyway, always in love.

Have you ever been nice to a person just to be nice because it’s the polite thing to do? You have to admit that deep down you did not like doing that kind of act.

Micah says we’re not only to do acts of kindness, but we are to love showing acts of kindness to others.

We are also to walk humbly with our Lord so that we are knowing that God is in control and not us.

This humbleness brings trust that God has everything in His loving care and has a plan that we can follow with confidence, even when things get hard.

As we are studying Micah 6:8 at the school, we have looked at “empathy.”

From their heads, the students knew the definition of empathy. They said that empathy is putting yourself in somebody’s shoes to see how he or she is thinking or feeling, and they were right.

They gave a good definition of “empathy” found in any dictionary.

But, in any dictionary, you will not find the depth of how far “empathy” can go.

We need to go to some stories in the Bible. Remember how the lectionary tells the Gospel story.

God the Father promised a Savior after the fall into sin. God kept His promise by sending His Son, Jesus, so we can see God’s love in the flesh.

As a human, Jesus had compassion on those who were hungry and sick. He fed and healed people while he walked this earth.

Because as a human, he knew what it was like to feel as a human feels.

And although Jesus was without sin, he stepped in our shoes and took our punishment for our sins by dying on the cross and rising on the third day giving us his victory over sin, Satan, and eternal death.

That’s the story of how we are sheep.

So, as one human to another, we have compassion for others and look for their interests as Jesus looked to our interests to even the point of death.

I gave the 5th and 6th-grade class a “What if?” exercise on empathy. If a student falls in front of the class, what would you do?

The class almost all together said that they would laugh. As they said, they could see my face that showed how I was questioning their answer.

They said immediately almost altogether, “Oh no, pastor, we are not laughing to poke fun. We all know that we are all klutzes. All-day long we are all making mistakes in front of each other.”

The students will do well for their generation if they can keep remembering that each one of them is a fallible person, for the group that listens to one another with each knowing that he or she is fallible can be very powerful in the making of a better world.

Unfortunately, as adults, we get to thinking that we can get so much smarter than others that we see ourselves above others.

Often, in our haughtiness, we block ourselves from seeing that we can be just as right or as wrong as the next person.

When it comes to my day, I need to make a list of everything, even little details. A lot of times, I get things done on my list without looking at it. Near the end of the day, I look at the list and see that I did most everything on the list.

As sheep, we are to do as sheep do. But, we are sheep who are still sinners, and who are imperfect, and we have our list of those to love, but we don’t always get to them as we should with full love, for so many reasons that hardly ever excuse.

Yet, we do have forgiveness, and always a new day to start over in. Hopefully, when the end does come, and we look at our lists of those whom we are to show acts of love, we find many checkmarks.

As you hear my analogy of using lists and checking them twice, I hope you see that it is not perfect.

We are to love because that is who we are in Christ Jesus. We are not always perfect with our love-we will not get to everyone, but we do our best to love as God has loved us in Christ Jesus.

So, with our best intentions, it’s a good question to ask in all times from a crisis to regular old times what’s living about?

I’m tempted these days to get on my soapbox on all that is wrong with the world and talk about how, of course, my solutions are the best.

But, as I look out from my soapbox, I just see a lot of people on their soapboxes with everybody talking and no one is really listening.

How about if we just have one soapbox and see Jesus on it telling us how we are saved by God’s love for us and how we are to be loving one another with something like that kind of deep love that has saved us?

Giving love to one another-all others who come our way that’s what living is about for sheep who are waiting for their Shepherd who will be here real soon to take all of his flock to his eternal pasture.

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