What Does the Lord Require?

Matthew 5:1-12; Micah 6:1-8


Good morning. Happy Candlemas. Candlemas? You don’t know about Candlemas, the Holy Day that celebrates the presentation of Jesus at the Temple. You’re not familiar with this? I think the Roman Catholic Church still celebrates Candlemas, but I guess most of us think of today as Groundhog Day.

I thought about having John play the intro to the song “I Got You, Babe,” and then repeating everything I said in the previous paragraph, but I wasn’t sure how many of you would catch the reference to the Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day. In that movie, Murray’s character lives the same day, over and over again, until he gets something right. It’s a really funny movie.

Anyhow, this morning’s reading from the prophet Micah is one of my very favorite scriptures. It reminds me of how we are called to live our faith. It also reminds me of one of my very favorite movies, The Godfather. Every time I read the words of Verse 3, when God says to Israel:

3 “O my people, what have I done to you?

In what have I wearied you? Answer me!”

Every time I read that, I hear Marlon Brando saying, “Bonasera, Bonasera, what have I done to make you treat me so disrespectfully?”

I love movies almost as much as I love music, and The Godfather is one of those movies that is nearly perfect in every way. My fraternity brothers and I must have watched The Godfather a hundred times when we were in college. We may or may not have missed a few classes because we didn’t want to tear ourselves away from this masterpiece. How many of you have seen The Godfather?

The opening scene is about six minutes long. In that scene, a funeral director named Bonasera comes to the home of Don Corleone, a mafia boss. Bonasera asks Don Corleone to kill two men who attacked Bonasera’s daughter and hurt her very badly. He offers to pay Don Corleone for this service—Bonasera calls it justice. Bonasera is very nervous. He has trouble explaining the situation. We don’t even see Don Corleone until halfway through the scene, but we know he’s in charge the whole time; he’s the Godfather.

For those of you who don’t know the story, Corleone refuses the request. He tells Bonasera that what he is asking for is not justice—his daughter is still alive. Then he rebukes Bonasera for not coming to him in friendship. Corleone points out that his own wife stood as Godmother to Bonasera’s daughter. But Bonasera didn’t want Don Corleone’s friendship, because he was afraid that he, Bonasera, would get into trouble if he offered his hand in friendship to a criminal such as Don Corleone. At the end of the scene, Bonasera asks for Don Corleone’s friendship and calls him Godfather. Corleone accepts the request, extending his hand in friendship. And then in a final act of contrition, Bonasera kisses Don Corleone’s hand. Don Corleone offers his version of justice, but only after Bonasera has entered into right relationship with the Godfather.

Now I don’t mean to make this a sermon about The Godfather. But I have to tell you, the tone of this scene is exactly like this passage from the prophet Micah. In this text, God is contending with God’s chosen people, Israel. Some scholars call this a covenant lawsuit. That is, God indicts Israel for its faithlessness. The people are not living into the covenant; they’re not upholding their end of the bargain. And just in case they’ve forgotten the covenant, God reminds them that God brought them out of slavery in Egypt and later raised up leaders such as Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.

When the people hear this charge, they ask what they can do to make the charges go away. They ask how much it will cost them, like Bonasera asking Don Corleone how much it will cost to get vengeance. The people ask God:

6 “With what shall I come before the Lord,

and bow myself before God on high?