Sunday, December 9, 2012

Malachi 3:1-4 Advent 2

A man who I know but you don’t hit rock bottom.  His marriage was in the dumps.  So were his job and his friends, and he thought it was all their fault.  He had been drinking to relieve his troubles, but people were telling him that the drinking was the source of his troubles.  He didn’t think so at first, he didn’t see anything wrong with himself.  From time to time he thought maybe he should try to drink less, or at least less often, and he might have succeeded enough to convince himself that he really did have control of the situation.  But one morning he woke up in his truck and found himself in the church parking lot, without any idea of how he had arrived there.  He looked at the church sign, and it read, “He is risen; he is risen indeed!”  and he realized that it was Easter Sunday—the one Sunday he never wanted to miss.  He had been drinking again of course, passed out, and slept right through it.  But why was he in the church parking lot?  Maybe that was the hand of God.  He realized right there that he didn’t have control, and that he was the problem.  Not only had he ruined his marriage and several jobs, he was slipping away from God.  He hadn’t been to church in quite a while.  He hadn’t even been aware that it was Easter Sunday.  All his sins rushed to his mind, and he could feel his old Sunday School teacher’s words condemning him, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.”  Passed out in the parking lot was no way to keep God’s day holy.  From that point he decided that he needed help.  He went to AA meetings, and thankfully, also went to his pastor.  His pastor connected him to Jesus again, through the Word and the Sacraments.  Jesus took away the guilt of his sins, and empowered him to live a more God-pleasing, stable life.  He got sober, reconciled with his wife, began talking to high school kids about the dangers of alcohol, and raised 3 wonderful children.  The power of Jesus had purified, and was continuing to purify his heart.  But none of that would have been possible if not for that painful experience of waking up with a hangover in the church parking lot.
That man with his addiction is really not any different than we all are in our own personal struggles with sin.  Sometimes God needs to crush us and convince us that there is something wrong, so that in his grace he can remove our sin.
Jesus purifies his people, but it will be a painful experience as well as a blessed one.  He is like a refiner, who melts the raw metal, and then removes the impurities.  He is like a launderer, who uses a powerful bleach to whiten wool or remove stains.  There needs to be a painful part, but there is also a wonderful side to his work, and a beautiful result.
 “See, 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.
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. 
Malachi 3:1-4

Theme:  Jesus purifies

1.     He melts
2.     He removes

1. He melts
When you read the words of Scripture, and really get down to the sinful human problem that God was dealing with, you see the same sins that we see today.  Would you be surprised if God said to the people of our world, “You treat me like I am far away and irrelevant.  You seem to think that I don’t care about what you do.  Do you think that I don’t care if your offering is just whatever little bit of money you have left over, instead of a top priority in your budget?  Do you think that I don’t care if you only show up to church once in a while?  You 21st century people think you can divorce for any reason under the sun, you marry a spouse who doesn’t know me and doesn’t care.  Even your pastors don’t respect me enough to speak the truth about my holy Word.”
Our world is convicted by all of those things, and we ourselves would be convicted by some of them.
God said all of those things to the people who lived in Israel 2400 years ago.  It seems that there really is nothing new under the sun.  The people were bringing their leftovers to the temple as an offering to God.  They offered the blind and the lame animals that they didn’t need anyway.  They were divorcing their wives and marrying heathen women instead.  In God’s own words, they were “robbing him” by not bringing a generous offering.  The priests were not teaching the truth of God’s word, but instead were teaching that God would tolerate all of this sinful behavior.
Then as now, God found that his people’s hearts were impure.  They may have loved him, but they loved other things more.  They may have worshiped him, but they didn’t respect him enough to consider worship all that important.  God looked at them, as he must look at us also, and declared that he would come to purify.
According to Malachi, when the Son of God came to earth he would be like a refiner, and like a launderer.  A refiner of gold and silver takes a piece of the raw ore and crushes it, then heats it so that the silver or gold melts.  Then he removes the impurities—all the other rocks and minerals that were mixed in with the silver or gold.  This is what Jesus came to do.  He purifies.  He removes everything that God doesn’t want to see in our hearts and lives.
Jesus would also be like a launderer, who, in ancient times, would either tread on or scrub a piece of cloth in an alkaline soap-like solution, so that it would come out pure and clean.  Jesus came to remove the stains of sin and make us the pure people of God.
In both metaphors, though, we see that there is a painful aspect of Jesus’ work.  He crushes us and leaves us with nowhere to hide.  He melts the ore.  He treads on us; he scrubs and washes with stinging soap.  God is talking about the way that his Word crushes our sinful pride, and melts us down so that we can’t hide our sins with excuses anymore, and we can’t make ourselves feel better by saying that God doesn’t really care.  His Law crushes, and we realize that he does care.  In fact, he is greatly angered.  Jesus came and preached God’s Word this way.
When a rich young man came to Jesus and asked him what he should do to get to heaven, Jesus crushed and melted the young man.  The man thought he had already kept the Commandments, but Jesus showed him that he hadn’t kept any of the Commandments, because he couldn’t even do the first thing.  He couldn’t love God above all.  He couldn’t love his neighbor as himself.  Jesus told him to sell everything he had and give to the poor, but the young man couldn’t do it.  He didn’t love God that much, and he didn’t love his neighbor that much.  Jesus showed him that God wasn’t satisfied with his half-love.
Sometimes Jesus uses the troubles of life to hammer his message home.  The Alcoholic hit rock bottom.  For any of us, the consequences of our sins can ruin our marriage, ruin our career, or just ruin our day.  Death, Disappointment, Disaster, --every trouble is a crushing reminder that God is angered by sin and our sinfulness. 
Our sinful pride pushes back against Jesus’ crushing words, and says, “No, I don’t want to hear that!”  But don’t run from it, because it is a necessary part of the refiner’s work.  When Jesus melts, he also removes the impurity.

2.  He removes
Just like the refiner melts the gold and silver ore so that he can strain out the other minerals that don’t belong, Jesus only melts us so that he can remove the sin that doesn’t belong.  
A man named Zacchaeus had lived in Jericho at Jesus’ time.  He was a tax collector—a profession even more hated and corrupt than the IRS today.  He had heard that Jesus was coming to town, and he wanted to see him.  But he was too short to see past the crowd, so he climbed up in a sycamore-fig tree.  Jesus saw this short little sinner up in the tree, and he wanted to help the man.  He said, “Zacchaeus, come down, I am going to eat at your house today.”  Zacchaeus, the tax collector, was surprised that Jesus, the Lord, would honor him by eating at his table.  As he listened to Jesus’ words he was convicted, crushed, and melted because of his sins of greed.  I’m sure that Jesus then told him that his sins had been forgiven, as Jesus often did.  He showed his forgiveness in the fact that he was willing to sit and eat with Zacchaeus.  Jesus’ purifying forgiveness took the burden of guilt off the man’s heart, and made him want to do right.  Zacchaeus said, “Look Lord, here and now I give half my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”  Jesus removes the guilt of sin, and he removes the desire to sin.  He purifies the heart.
My experience with my own human heart tells me that Zacchaeus probably struggled with sins of greed again at some point.  I doubt that it was easy for him to give back all that money, and never take too much again.  I’m sure your experience tells you the same thing—we are never done struggling with our sins. We are all waiting for Jesus to finish what he started, and he will.  He has completely purified us in God’s sight.  He will return and remove the sinfulness thoughts and desires that corrupt our minds, and at that time we will be pure in our own eyes also.
But until that day, we have his Word and Sacrament to keep us free from guilt, and strengthen the desire to do what is right.  In Baptism he reached out with the water and his promises, and he washes away the guilty stain of our sin.  When we are burdened with guilt today, we can look back on that day and know that these sins were washed away.  As bad as we may feel about ourselves, that water reassures us that we have been cleaned up in God’s sight and marked as his own dear children.  It promises that he will return for us, because it isn’t right for his baptized people to have to continue to struggle with sin forever.  He will return to remove every sinful desire from our hearts, and bring us to heaven as his perfect, pure people. 

Your whole life long, God continues to refine you into the beautiful piece of silver or gold that he wants you to be.  He hasn’t removed your sinful thoughts and desires yet, because the struggle brings you closer to him.  It is an opportunity for him to continue to crush and melt, and then remove your guilt through Word and Sacrament.  In your struggle as you are fed by his grace, he will produce in you a heart that wholly abhors sin, and is frustrated by it nearly as much as he is.  He will make you yearn for his grace nearly as much as he is yearning to give it.  Through this struggle he brings you as close as you can get to the image of God on this side of heaven.  The continual crushing, melting and removing keeps you close and keeps your faith focused on his grace until the day he returns, when your body will be raised, but sin will not be a part of your body and mind anymore.  Neither will sin be a part of your past, as far as God is concerned.  He has said, “I will remember your sins no more.”  Jesus work will have been finished, and you will be completely purified.  Amen.