November 16, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Ready or Not …
God of all loveliness and beauty, even the humblest of creatures finds its home close to You. May Your Church be a place of safety to every wanderer who seeks You, to every believer who trusts You, to every disciple who follows You. We pray this in Jesus; name. Amen.
How many people in this room remember the “street lights rule”? Did you have this rule when you were a kid? “When the street lights come on, I want you in the house!”
That was kind of our regular rule. And since I did most of my growing up in southern CA, even the wintertime street lights came on late enough in the day to have enjoyed a good game of street football or hide ’n’ seek. I remember really not wanting to be “it” at dusk – b/c, you know, I’d still be “it” when the street lights came on. So if I was “it” at dusk, I would do my count to 100 in high speed and holler “Ready or not … here I come!”
We have invested September and October listening to the Old Testament prophet Micah and heard him remind us that even though there are so many ways in which we fall short of meeting God’s standards, we can always count on His unconditional love. Micah kept reminding us of God’s worthiness of our worship.
In November we have been in the book of Malachi. This is the very last book in the Old Testament, and it was written, probably, around the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, also among the final books written in the Old Testament. We know almost nothing about Malachi, except that his name means “My messenger” or maybe “My angel”. Malachi continues the theme of God’s worthiness, but his emphasis is on our responsibility to worship Him well.
Hear the Word of God from Malachi 3:1-10…. —-
1 “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.
2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.
5 “So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty. …
7 “Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty.
“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
8 “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”
Ready or not … here comes God’s messenger. Who is God’s messenger?
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.” This book was written somewhere around 450BC , so who was this “messenger who comes to prepare for God’s arrival”? Let me start that conversation by reminding you that Malachi, who wrote this prophecy, his name means “my messenger”! Is this God’s way of saying, “OK you boneheaded priests – remember that that probably refers to everybody in this room, in the New Testament we are all called priests! – OK you boneheaded priests, pay attention to this prophet! He is telling you something you need to know!” God’s messenger could be Malachi!
Who else might this be a reference to? Any suggestions? – John the Baptist, we are told, was Isaiah’s fulfilled prophecy to prepare the way of the Lord! Elijah was supposed to come before the Messiah – and it looks like Jesus claimed that John the Baptist filled that role. God’s messenger could be John the Baptist!
Any other suggestions? Jesus Christ Himself! Yes, He’s coming to prepare the way for Himself – but, remember, when He came as a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes – and lived and preached and healed and raised the dead – and was killed and was resurrected for our sakes – He did all of that in His first coming – someday He is coming back! God’s messenger could be Jesus!
One more suggestion? Since Jesus did already come once – as is easily proven by radio stations already playing nothing-but-Christmas music! – maybe we can read this messenger as describing you and me! In Mark’s version of the great commission, He did, after all, tell us, Jesus’ followers, to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
God says in Malachi 3:1, “I will send a messenger to prepare the way before me”. Could that messenger be His Church? The next several verses look more like Christ’s second coming than His first – “Who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? A refiner’s fire – a launderer’s soap – I will put you on trial (Judgment Day!).” Can we be His faithful messenger?
Ready or not …
Next in this passage comes the topic of how we become faithful messengers. The wording in the passage is – we’re not faithful messengers … yet. But, when we return to God, God will return to us!
How would Malachi (My messenger) have us return to God? What’s the secret?
This is where Malachi enters the one subject of preaching that seems to be most offensive to Americans – it’s not sin – it’s not Jesus’ second coming – it’s not even hell. It is money!
The reason Americans get offended when the topic of money comes up in a sermon is that we have worshiped money more than any other idol or god, far more. And we don’t even think we do it!
There is probably no other thing in life that touches every area of life more than money – except God Himself. And there is little that Jesus talked about more than money!
Are you one who is now rolling your eyes? Seriously, Wheeler? “Money” again?!
Ready or not ….
The LORD asks “Will a mortal rob God? [The implied question is, do you really think you can get away with it?] Yet you rob me.”
Who here takes offense to that? Me too. And so did Malachi’s original readers. We’re supposed to take offense – because, in fact, God takes offense. How do we rob God? Malachi answers that question:
“In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—your whole nation [read that as family, church, denomination, etc] —because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.
We do not like it when we think God is withholding His blessings from us. We ask things like, Why would God allow that to happen? This is a good person.
But the truth is that we withhold our giving all the time. And we see nothing wrong with it. We defend it. There are lots of reasons why we withhold our giving, and they all make sense.
But God expects a tithe offering. In fact for New Testament people, it could be argued that God expects a full 100% offering – but He accepts a 10% tithe offering! What does “tithe” mean? 10%.
When we faithfully give a 10% tithe:
• It shows our submission to God’s ownership. Everything we have, and are, is God’s already! Are we willing to submit to Him as Lord and Savior? He says we owe 10%. Less than that is robbing Him.
• It keeps us humble. What I have is not mine – it is God’s, but put under my care!
• It prevents us from worshiping money! If I am willing to generously give it away, I am unable to worship it as a god! If I give it back to God, then God gets His rightful place in my life.
And maybe my favorite thing about this passage is God’s guarantee. This is a covenant agreement. This is not just a command. It is more than a mere challenge. And, I want to be clear that I am not saying that when we give the church more money we will definitely prosper financially – there are plenty of places in Scripture that argue that kind of theology down. But in this particular passage God goes so far as to dare us to not faithfully follow through with our side of the covenant.
He says, literally, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”
Without faith it is impossible to honor God’s name. That faith is shown in our trust. Will we trust God to take care of us? Do we trust God to see us through? Can we trust God to bless us beyond our blessing to God?!
On Thursday, Dale and Kathy Sandusky and I were at the Presbytery meeting, and the pastor from Clarkston preached from the passage that we will be reading on Thanksgiving day; and one of the things he asked was about how we bless God.
Do you all know the passages that say we are to bless God? Most of the time the Bible speaks of times and ways God blesses His people; there are prayers for God to bless us; occasionally there are phrases that say things like “Blessed is the Lord”; but sometimes, like Psalm 66:8, it is a command: “O bless our God, ye people, and make the voice of his praise to be heard.”
How do we do that? is a great question. Blessings travel from the bigger, greater to the smaller, lesser. How do little old us bless the God of the universe? Ready or not … by trusting Him!
This is what the whole tithe thing really is about. It’s about trusting God more than we trust money! God’s guarantee is that when we trust Him, His blessings will pour out so much that we will not have room to store it. I don’t know exactly what that means – but I want to be ready.
Ready or not … the streetlights are coming on! God’s messenger is here – and the day of the Lord is coming! Let’s trust Him with everything! Amen!
Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 501.
Smith, Ralph L.; Word Biblical Commentary 32; Word Books; Waco, TX; 1984; Pp. 325-334.