Damariscotta Baptist Church
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

12/09/12 Sermon

Malachi 3:1-4

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Thy sight O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer, Amen

In the commentary Feasting on the Word, theologian Deborah Block spoke of the connection between this scripture in Malachi and the famous music composition Messiah.

Of course Messiah composed by George Frideric Handel is one of the signature choral works of this season. In the recitation are the words: “The Lord, whom ye seek shall come, but who may abide the day of his coming?”

The chorus says “He shall purify the sons of Levi” which is answered by an alto “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call his name Emmanuel, God with us”.

After the very first presentation of Messiah in London is 1741, there were many accolades for the performance.

In response Handel wrote a letter to a friend. Listen closely to the words he wrote: “I should be sorry if I only entertained them. I wished to make them better”.  

I find it not surprising that this illustration came up in light of what’s been happening in our congregation and music ministry. It’s no coincidence.

Handel’s desire not to entertain but rather that the listener be better is a message to us.

And it showed his keen understanding of what the prophet Malachi was saying to the people of his time.

Malachi which in the Hebrew language means “my messenger” had a message from God to deliver to the religious Levites of his day.

They had not been true people of faith. Their offerings to the Lord as we see in our scripture had not been righteous and acceptable to God. 

In fact their worship and their way of living had become dysfunctional. Their sacrifices that they presented to God were not the very best. They gave lame and injured animals; leftovers (ch. 1:13).

They gave only what they wanted to give; what felt good for them.

They were married to the ways of the world, practicing unfaithfulness to their spouses and worshipping false gods.

You could say that instead of giving their best to God, trying to be better as Handel says, they were giving God a performance.

They were doing religion, going thru the motions.

And yet, they thought they were ready for the coming of the Lord.

But Malachi calls them out. He says “who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?

He went on to speak of their need of being refined and cleansed---to be made better.

Malachi had the tough job of the prophet to call them out and question them on whether they were indeed prepared or not

Malachi gave them an Advent question. Advent, of course being the time of preparation before the coming of the Lord.

Now 400 or so years later, we see the realization of Malachi’s prophecy of a messenger who will prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.

In our New Testament scripture he is identified as John the Baptist. 

John of course was the prophet who called the people in Jesus’ day to come to the wilderness, to repent for the forgiveness of sins, making the crooked paths straight and to be baptized thus preparing their hearts for the coming of the Lord.

Like Malachi, John was speaking to people who were just doing religion. The Pahrisees and Saducees who were performing insteading of giving their whole selves to God.

Now both of these prophets are speaking to us today as we are preparing for the coming of the Christ.

They’re calling us to reflect on our own faith journey’s and examine where we need to turn away from the dysfunctional way of worshipping and following God.

They are calling us to repent so that we prepare a space for Christ to come inside of us and change us and therefore make us better.

Malachi says that the Lord’s coming brings forth a cleansing refining. We are to be refined into that which is righteous and acceptable.

It is a refining that removes our impurities and forms us into the likeness of Christ. The illustration of a silversmith is a great example.
A silversmith works with the metal refining and removing the impurities until the process is complete.

And a silversmith knows the process is complete when they’re able to see their image in the metal.

In the same way, as we open up ourselves to be refined by Jesus, the silversmith, his image begins to be reflected in us.------The impurities are being removed; we’re being refined to be better.
So on this 2nd Sunday of Advent, as we prepare for the coming of the Lord at Christmas and also for the Lord’s Second Coming, we are being called to see where we need to repent not only as individuals but also as a church.

We’re being called to prepare for Christ by opening up a space that Christ may come to us, refine us and make us to be better.--------to be righteous and acceptable.

Of course none of this is something we prefer to do at Christmas time. We’d rather sing carols, drink eggnog and decorate the tree.

Repentance is the farthest thing from our minds. But to prepare for the coming of Christ means we have to go see John.

I enjoyed the Advent journal reflections this week especially the one on Tuesday by Scott Hoezee.

He speaks about how most of us don’t really want John the Baptist at Christmastime. He said we don’t put him on our Christmas cards or have a John the Baptist tree ornament and John is never seen in our Christmas plays.

He adds: John is too untidy, too dangerous,---invite him to your party and he’ll spill egg nog all over your Persian rug wailing his hands around!

For us to go to the wilderness to see John and to repent is a messy business.
But if we don’t invite John into our lives we’re not going to be open to receive Jesus and his gift of refinement and transformation in our lives.

And as Hoezee says if we don’t like what John has to say we’re not going to like what Jesus will say either.

Now the question to us today is to ask ourselves where we we need to repent and prepare the way for Christ's coming in our lives?
And in order to do that we need to slow down from the Christmas countdown and take the time to reflect on our lives as individuals and as a church.

And that means we need to ask ourselves some serious questions.

It’s interesting that the whole book of Malachi has 55 verses. And 22 of them are questions. 
So what questions might we ask ourselves?

Well first of all, we might ask what’s happening in our life right now?

What’s consuming my mind this very second?

Am I tuned out? What’s tuning me out? Is it fear? Is it impatience?

Perhaps it’s anxiousness and worry. Maybe it’s bitterness, and resentment; a disdain for authority.... a desire for revenge?
Another question to ask yourself is where am I on my faith journey right now?

Am I offering my all to God or am I holding back?

Am I just going thru the motions in my faith journey, just doing church, performing, instead of growing in my faith, walking side by side with other believers, working to share God's light?
Another faith journey question is to ask where you need to be more like a prophet like Malachi and John the Baptist?.

In what ways do you need to stand up against unholiness and expose its darkness. And what’s keeping you from doing that?

Is it due to your fear of conflict? Is it a lack of courage that God will stand with you? Is it due to your desire for people to like you?

There are many questions one might ask themselves out in the wilderness with John. And while these may be individual questions they are also to be communal questions. Questions we need to ask as a church as a whole.

For our call is the be a set apart holy and righteous people. And while we fall short and need grace we are still a people who are seeking to be better; to be refined and cleansed from the impurities of the ways of the world so that we might be a witness to those who are unprepared living in darkness......
Let me close this morning with the rest of the story of George Frideric Handel.
By the year 1751, 10 years after the first presentation of Messiah, Handle found himself blind.

And yet until his death, he conducted Messiah as an annual benefit for the Foundling Hospital in London. The hospital served mostly widows and orphans of the clergy.

Handle’s life was a testimony of one whose heart was being refined, who was being better. And as a result his offering unto God was indeed righteous and acceptable.
Handel’s composition will be performed many times over and over during this season of Advent.
And while many choirs will perform it and there are those who will be entertained by the sounds they hear, it’s important for us to remember the letter he wrote the first time it was heard and it's connection to the prophet Malachi........

"I should be sorry if I only entertained them. I wished to make them better”.  

On our Advent journey thru the wilderness may we seek to be better.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen