25th Sunday after Pentecost(Year C - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Picture courtesy of www.wildnatureimages.com
This is a rough draft of what I eventually preached. The beginning got people answering the questions, seeing that fattening up a calf in a stall meant it was destined for slaughter.
Why did they put a calf in a stall?
So why would a calf leap and rejoice to be let free from a stall?
This passage in Malachi isn’t a passage for vengeance or judgment or punishment or condemnation or damnation. This passage in Malachi is all about helping the calves see that they can be set free. It’s all about helping the calves see that they are no longer destined to be slaughtered. It’s all about opening that gate and setting those calves free.
You see, Malachi wasn’t sent as a prophet just to announce doom and destruction. Malachi was sent to the people of Israel, sent to bring them back from their sinful ways, sent with a word of warning and a word of hope, sent to cause the people to repent and turn back to God. Through Malachi, God addressed the people, His people, addressed them as His own people. He had not yet given them over to destruction and damnation. There was still time. There was time for them to repent. There was time for them to return to Him.
The passage we have in Malachi today comes from a section where God is pronouncing judgment on the people, but He’s also offering them hope. Notice, if we read it again, notice that instead of saying that the people will be condemned, notice how God speaks to them as God-fearers, as people who fear the Lord, as people who honor and revere Him. Notice what God is doing here. . .
Notice what God is doing here in His speech. He isn’t lumping them all into one heap that’s destined for the fire. No, He’s offering them hope, offering that they are not in that group that will be condemned, He’s offering them the promise of salvation. It’s like the people are calves in stalls and God is pointing out the fact that the gates have been opened. They can go free. They can leap for joy.
Why does God have to point this out? Why does God have to point out His promise of salvation to people who already knew it? Why does God come to the people of the Old Testament over and over again to tell them that He loves them and forgives them and will give them life? Why does God have to tell the calves that the gate is open?
Because from where the calves are, it looks like they’re still trapped. To the people of Israel in the day of Malachi it looked like God wasn’t coming to their rescue. They were under oppression from a foreign empire. Their economic state was in question. They lived in a country that was no longer their own. Their society wasn’t theirs. Their society was overrun by outsiders. AND The Messiah, the Promised One, the Savior of the nation had not shown up yet to save them from the empire.
So the people stared at the fence. They stood in their stalls. They looked at the fence that surrounded them, and they kept forgetting to look behind them, kept forgetting to see that the gate behind them had been opened, and so they stayed in their stalls, stayed like fattened calves destined for slaughter, stayed and never noticed their freedom. Why did God have to tell the calves that they were free to go, free to leap in joy? Because the circumstances of the people’s lives kept them from believing that God was keeping His promise, the circumstances clouded their vision, the circumstances made it seem like God wasn’t going to show up.
But meanwhile, God had been there all along. God had kept that gate open. God had made a way for His people to go free and be saved and be kept from slaughter.
To me, it sounds a lot like where you and I might be today. There’s so many ways in which the fences around us could seem to be our only reality. There’s so many ways that could cause us to easily forget that the gate’s open. There are so many circumstances in our lives that could keep us from believing that God has worked out salvation for us.
You know, we say we trust in God in all things. We say we believe that God will come to the aid of those who love Him. But don’t our circumstances sound a lot like the circumstances that the people of Israel faced, the same questions they had are on our lips. They wondered about the political situation, whether they would be able to continue in their faith, and sometimes it seems like the politics of this world will threaten our faith. The people of Israel suffered under economic uncertainty, and we’re definitely facing those questions today in our country, in our world, in our families. The people of Israel may have felt like society was no longer their society, and as Christians, we may wonder what happened to our voice, where can our faith still be expressed, where has society gone.
The more and more we look around, the more and more it seems like there’s fences all around. The more and more we look around, the more and more it seems like God isn’t showing up, God isn’t keeping His promises, God isn’t watching over His people.
And just when you’re starting to get caught up in all of that worry, caught up in the circumstances, caught up like calf in a pen, caught up and unable to see a way out, caught up in all of those questions, caught up in asking each other where God could possibly be, just when you’re caught up in all of this, God enters your world with this word from Malachi.
“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.”
Just when you’re getting caught up in thinking that there’s no possible way out, God comes and again points out that He has opened the gate, that He has sent Jesus who said I am the gate, that Jesus has opened the way to paradise, that through Jesus, through His death on the cross and through His resurrection, through Him we have access to eternal life. Just when you’re getting caught in feeling as if there’s no hope, God thankfully comes with a message of hope.