Thursday, December 10, 2015

Same Song, Same Verse: at little bit louder and a little bit worse

Malachi 3: 1-4
Advent 2, 2015
Chatfield UMC
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

One of the discouraging things about studying the bible is that it seems the human race never learns from the past. From the beginnings of Genesis all the way through the stories become repetitive.
First, we hear God’s promises, follow me and you will be a blessing to the nations. Set your eyes on my glory and you will be a light shining in the darkness. Keep your feet on my paths and you will be a leader of justice and truth.

Then we get all excited. Yes, God, we say, absolutely yes. This is the way I want to live my life. I will follow you to the ends of the earth and back. You will be my God forever and ever. My life will be a blessing for all who meet me. They will know that you are God because they will be able to see your glory through my life.

It is all so good. God is pleased with our sacrifices, our way of living, our way of being. It is all so good. Except, well, look over there, something shiny and bright catches our eye. It is pleasing to the eye. We will just touch it to see how it feels. We will just look at it once in awhile to make sure it is still there. We are sure it will taste good, too. A little bite, it won’t hurt. Well, now that we have started we might as well finish it. We wonder if there are any more somewhere. So we wander off the pathway that we had started on to find out where they might be.

We look over our shoulders and we see the light of God beckoning us back. But the search for more of the shiny and bright is just too tempting. And we wander deeper into the wilderness.

Then, then, we realize we are lost, in darkness. The shiny bright thing is no longer satisfying. As a matter of fact, it tastes bitter and yet it has become addictive. We want to stop tasting it but we can’t.
Everything we touch crumbles. Our relationships are not healthy. Our lives are not blessing anyone. We want to get back to the right path but there are too many hills, we can’t see over them to know how to get back to the right path.

And worst of all, it seems that we haven’t seen God for a long, long time.

It is all just a mess. A Chaotic mess.

This is the human story that is told over and over and over again in scriptures. Our story.

And here is the astounding thing about this story. And I never get tired of reading and studying this: A Chaotic mess is not the end of the story. It is never the end of the story.
And I know you all know this. You have all experienced this in your own life. I know that I am not telling you anything you haven’t already heard.

Yet, I am trusting that you are like me: You all have to hear that this is not the end, that chaos is never the end so that you can believe it for yourself. You have to keep hearing the story in order to know how to live the story.
If you have ever been in bible study with me you know that I can get pretty excited about this.

Into our chaos, our complete and utter chaos, God comes. And not just a passive god. Not just a god who shows up and hopes for the best. Not just a god who says, there there now, it is all ok. It will be all right. No definitely not a passive god.

Malachi rightly asks: Who can withstand the coming of God? Who can endure God’s presence?
I imagine, The God who comes into the story of our utter chaos, Our God, is a little like Rosie the Riveter. She is going to get the job done. She is going to win this war against the principalities of darkness and wilderness.
She is going to roll up her sleeves and get out the washboard and the good strong soap and set her strength to thoroughly clean up this mess.

We aren’t going to be gently nudged along to the right pathway. Our God is going to take that washboard and scrub away the hills that are obstructing our paths, through God’s righteous cleansing, every mountain will be made low and all the rough places will be made smooth. We will be able to see clearly the way of God again.

And it isn’t enough just to make the way plain. It isn’t enough that we can see the path. No, Our God is going to purify us so that the bright and shiny objects no longer tempt us. The bitter taste no longer entices us. The things that bind our will and enslave our hearts no longer have any hold.

Our God kneels down and washes all traces of the dirt and dust and chaos from between our toes. Our God, stands alongside and scrubs out our ears so that we can once again, hear the voice of God speak the promises of God.
God purifies us.

But even that isn’t enough.

There is something in this passage of Malachi that is so utterly astonishing that it takes my breath away.
Not only does God purify us. God purifies us so thoroughly that we, little old us, fallible and prone to wander us, can offer to God our sacrifice of praise again.

You see when we are living in utter chaos, and we try to act like we are some kind of holy being by, well going to church or giving money or looking good on the outside, God gets pretty upset. God says you can sacrifice anything and everything and it will be worse than nothing. God says all of that stuff stinks in my nostrils.

So God, who is always willing to do all the work on our behalf, purifies us so thoroughly that our lives become beautiful sacrifices of praise. A fragrant offering, rising up to the heavens so that even the angels, themselves sigh at the wonder of it.
Well, metaphorically anyway.

This is how the story always ends every single time, with God doing all the work over and over and over again to bring us back to the beginning. To a new life. Each and every day of our lives.
There is never, ever the threat that the end will be chaos. The end will always be salvation. Always and forever.

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