Sunday, November 13, 2016

God's Future--Malachi 4:1-6


So much has happened this week. Only seven days ago, we were looking ahead with certain expectations. Now, we look back, and the news and social media highlight the divisiveness still pervading our country. Today, we look ahead to the future. Malachi is about the future; Malachi also is about the present. Malachi is an indictment of people who hold back from God; it addresses people who lose sight of the divine in the present. It says, “those who revere God’s name, the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.” A promise of healing and comfort is always welcome.
This morning, we will look at Malachi, continue processing the election, and explore C. S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed. If you want to remember these three parts, use the mnemonic MEG: Malachi, election, and grief.
In many ways, the world is a different place today than it was seven days ago. One era is ending, and another one is starting. Some people celebrate a new era, and others are fearful. On Wednesday, after the election, I spent a fair amount of time counseling people who were upset by Tuesday’s results. When I told someone about how upset people were, he said, “Really?” Yes, really. The truth is, people would have sought counseling and comfort regardless of Tuesday’s outcome. If the results were different, there would have been different people who wanted comfort.
To those who feel pain or a sense of loss after the election, C. S. Lewis writes a helpful word in A Grief Observed,
We were promised sufferings. They were part of the programme. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accepted it… Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not in imagination.[1]
Pain is real when it is your pain. Whether an election, a doctor calling with a positive test result, fractured relationships with friends or family, loneliness, isolation, boredom, job insecurity, food insecurity, no money for rent—when it is yours, it is real.
Malachi is the final book of the Hebrew Bible. It is the last of the Book of Twelve, the minor prophets. The minor prophets are not minor because we flat the third; they are minor because, unlike the major prophets, the minor prophets are short. Malachi was probably not the chronologically last among the prophets, and it might have been part of another writing, although that assertion is speculative. The details of when, where, and who in Malachi are sketchy. It fits as the last of the twelve minor prophets.
Malachi is about the relationship between God and humanity. For us, we tarnish and profane that relationship when we put things ahead of God. At this point, I have been planning to preach today from Malachi for about a year. The Holy Spirit moves and, I believe, is active in our worship planning. Malachi’s message of putting God first is appropriate for us today. On all sides of the political spectrum, during this past year, many people put many things ahead of God. Doing so stains our relationship with God.
Sometimes we get good news, like in the game Monopoly when you draw a card from the stack labelled “Community Chest” and the card says, “The bank made an error. Collect $50.” Other times, we get bad news. In the same game, we can find ourselves with the card, “Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.” On Wednesday morning, some people awoke to good news. Others did not. In either case, our calling is to put God first, build relationships with one another, and reach out, sharing the good news of God’s grace, love, and mercy.
In Malachi, we find a strange word for today, “Surely the day is coming…” The prophet looks ahead to God’s judgment. Elizabeth Achtemeier writes, “Behold! the Day comes! And whether it brings the fire of destruction or the sweet balm of healing depends on the character of those upon whom the light falls.”[2] Character matters. Actions account. We know from James that faith and actions are inextricably connected.
C. S. Lewis wrote A Grief Observed after his wife’s tragic death. He wrote it as a way of surviving the loss. The book is an honest reflection of fundamental issues surrounding life and death, and keeping faith in the middle of loss. Each one of us makes decisions. Sometimes, those decisions lead to pain, like making irresponsible personal choices. Other times, we experience pain through no fault of our own, like when a loved one gets sick and no one can explain why. For the prophet, the judgment day is not here yet. The story is not finished.
God holds the past. God holds the present. And, God holds the future. We do not need to worry about the past because it is gone. If we have fallen short of God’s perfection, we can ask for forgiveness and be certain of its arrival. If we have sinned and wronged another person, we can seek that person’s forgiveness, in addition to God’s forgiveness.
In the epilogue, (verses 4-6), the prophet reminds people to follow the teachings of Moses. For us, we can see a reminder to follow biblical ethics, realize God’s love of each person, share this love with one another. Malachi is a message of hope, because just after the reminder to follow, there is a promise for the future. “Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah.” When we hear Elijah’s name, we know God is in control. Malachi presents a “rich and creative reworking and integration of the major covenant themes that inspired the earlier prophets.”[3]
For this moment, the present, we do not need to worry because God is in control. Trusting God with the future is where C. S. Lewis ends his journey in A Grief Observed. He writes, “I need Christ, not something that resembles Him.”[4] Worry does nothing to solve our problems or make the world a better place.




[1] C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed  (New York: HarperCollins, 1961), 36.
[2] Elizabeth Achtemeier, Nahum-Malachi, ed. James L. Mays, Patrick D. Miller, and Paul J. Actemeier, Interpretation (Atlanta: John Knox, 1986), 196.
[3] Eileen Schuller, "Malachi," in New Interpreter's Bible, ed. Leander Keck (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 846.
[4] Lewis, A Grief Observed, 65.

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