Sunday, 2 February 2014

My sermon this morning.

I am a bit weary of so many sermons which say "God loves, and God loves everyone" - and nothing more

Given the chance to preach this morning I avoided any mention of God's love, and instead I preached a sermon (from two of the three the assigned bible passages) which I hoped would have a bite.

The good news is that a number of worshippers said after Church "that made me think",

 Oh yeah!  That's why I preach.

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Sermon for 2nd February 2014.  The Revd. J. Michael Povey at St. Boniface, Siesta Key, FL

Malachi 3:1-5; Luke 2:22-40

 

The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his Temple.

 

Malachi is not a name.  There was no person named Malachi.  The word means “messenger”. This messenger is writing about two thousand six hundred years ago.  * when the Temple had been rebuilt, the province of Judea was ruled by a representative of the Persian government , and there had been time enough for the loss of earlier religious enthusiasm” . (* Quotation from the Jewish virtual library.)

The messenger announces that the Lord will come to his Temple

The Lord will come to his Temple but it will not be a happy visit. The Lord is coming to judge, to purify, to refine. “Malachi” -  the Messenger is stern and unyielding in the pronouncement. The offerings which are made in the Temple worship are unrighteous, they are unacceptable.

They are unacceptable  because  they  are made by the wealthy who had stiffed the hired hands in their wages, oppressed the widows and orphans, and refused hospitality to the alien, i,e. the immigrant. Money from such ill-gotten gains is not an acceptable offering to God. God is not much enamoured of the wealthy self sufficient classes whose religious words and sentiments mask ungodly behavior. 

God is not terrible interested in hanging around with the wealthy. That is not because wealth in and of itself is evil.  It is because wealth has a seductive nature that is stronger that the seduction of God’s grace. That seduction encourages us to believe that the foundation of our security is in what we possess, and not in God’s faithfulness.  Thus we guard our wealth and possessions but we do not guard our souls. We cannot serve God and money.

 

The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his Temple.

 

I find it very easy to visualize the scene even though I was not there. A Dad, a Mum, and an infant child in the shadowy courtyard of a huge temple, there to do what has to be done. The child, their firstborn son is there to be offered to the Lord and designated as holy.  The woman is there to be purified after child-birth. The parents are there to offer sacrifice. I see them there, digging into pockets for the smallest coins – this Dad and Mum are dirt poor and can only offer the least expensive offering -  a couple of pigeons.

I see the face of a righteous and devout man standing near to the family.  This man had seen so many first born infant sons being offered to the Lord, so many mothers being purified, so many offerings of doves and pigeons.  But he is drawn in by the family, or maybe pushed towards them by the stirring of God’s spirit deep within his righteous soul. He takes the child into his arms.  This is what he had longed for all his life, to encounter a child who would be a sign of God’s favour to the Gentiles, and God’s glory upon Israel.

“This child” he says “is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel”. “This child will bring sword like pain to the souls of his mother and father”.

I see and old woman too. She is homeless, so she lives in the Temple courtyard. Eighty four years old with a face filled with the beautiful wrinkles of wisdom. 

Fasting and praying. Fasting and praying. Day and night. Ever faithful.  I see the broad smile which radiates from her face as she spots the child.  I hear her praising God. Now her days of prayer and fasting make sense.

What I do not see are the Temple oligarchs, those Priests and Levites who offer sacrifices, and sing psalms and bask in their sense of privilege and entitlement.

No, I can only see a poor couple with their young child, a devout man and a wise and homeless old widow.   God loves to hang around with these kinds of people.

 

The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his Temple.

The child who was once presented to God by Mary and Joseph returns to that place as a new messenger of God.

He had just said this “Then, in the hearing of all the people, He said to His disciples,  “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts,  who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.”

On entering the Temple he commended a poor widow (do you think that perhaps he was reminded of Anna) who gave her two small coins (all she possessed), but castigated the rich, (those who had devoured widow’s houses) for their generous offerings of corrupted money.

Jesus is clearly not enamoured with those who utter religious words and prayers which mask oppressive behaviours.

Jesus is delighted with the poor widow, for as we know, God loves hanging around with the poor.

The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his Temple.

A bit later Jesus makes a dramatic entry into the Temple.  This time, with whips and cords he purifies the Temple by driving out the money changers.  “My house” he yells “is a House of Prayer for All People, but you have made it a den of thieves”. He like a latter day Malachi is unable to tolerate the profaning of the Temple by shady business deals.

The Lord whom you seek suddenly came to God’s Temple and purified it with whips and cords. He upset an economic applecart. And for that he was crucified.

There is nothing to bring me comfort in these stories. Rather they call me to consider three vital questions.

1.       When did I last hang around with a poor person and learn something from her or him?

2.      When did I last examine my relationship with money and my relationship with God? Which was more important?

3.      When might my words of worship be unacceptable to God?

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