Your Words are Wearying to God
From our "Not-So-Minor Prophets" sermon series, week 4 of 4 Preached August 30, 2020, for the 9:30am Worship
Can any single person make a difference and change things for the better in their community, their nation, or the world?
Over these four Sundays, we’ve been hearing 12 stories of 12 individuals who weren’t well known but did try to make a difference. They are the so-called “minor” prophets of Jesus’ Bible, the Hebrew Bible. They were often resisted when they spoke truth to their people or to their leaders, but in the end, their wisdom and warnings were heard as true expressions of who God is, what God wants, and what God is doing. Their words were therefore considered worthy of inclusion as Scripture. Jesus grew up hearing their words, and their stories.
We’ve heard from Hosea, Joel, Amos… Obadiah, Jonah, Micah… Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah… and today, Haggai and Zechariah… so now, Malachi. Let’s pray…
Scripture Malachi 2:17-3:7
17 You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you say, “How have we wearied God?” (Well) By saying (about) all who are doing evil, “(They) are good in the sight of the Lord, and God delights in them.” AND by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”
3 “So, I am sending MY messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you (say you) seek will suddenly come to God’s temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you (say you) delight—indeed, he is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.
“2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like a blacksmith’s tool; 3 he will sit as a perfecter and purifier of silver, and he will refine the descendants of Levi and polish them like gold and silver until they present good offerings to the Lord. 4 Then the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord, as in the days of old and as in former years.”
“5 Then I will draw near to you all for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the tricksters, against the cheaters, against liars, against those who oppress hired workers in their wages, oppress the widow, oppress the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and against those who do not respect me,” says the Lord of hosts.
“6 For I the Lord am not changing; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished. 7 Ever since the days of your ancestors, you have been turning aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of hosts…
(This is the word of the Lord… Thanks be to God!)
It’s the preachers’ fault. That’s what Malachi is saying. Malachi is calling out the priests, preachers, and pastors of his time in front of all the people who look to them as their guide for Godly life. What was happening then, and what was about to happen, Malachi was saying, “Its the fault of the preachers.”
Of the 12 tribes of Israel, one of the tribes, the tribe of Levi, received no land. They had no home. They were given no inheritance. Instead, they were set apart as the priests, preachers, pastors. Their unique role in the nation was to remind and reteach all the people, generation after generation, the stories of their past, how they had sometimes been the oppressed and sometimes been the oppressor, and how God had led them and corrected them all along the way toward the promised land of God’s great community. If the Pastors, priests, preachers would honestly tell the whole story, the people would see their brokenness, their blessedness, the struggles and the grace they all share. They would understand themselves better, and one another better. They would see how the sin of those who came before lingers in their country and culture today, and would see the sin they themselves are choosing right now that is tearing God’s beloved community apart.
The pastors, priests, and preachers were to tell the honest story and invite each generation to be who they were created to be, good, very good. The role of a pastor, priest, preacher is to show the people what is really happening, and when things are good to be thankful to God, and when things are not to lean on God and invite the people to help God change themselves and everything around them for the better. The role of a pastor, priest, preacher is confession of sin and assurance of forgiveness, trust of grace and sacrifice to move toward God’s Kingdom for all God’s children.
But the priests, preachers, pastors were no longer doing that job. They needed refining. Malachi says their words are “wearying to the Lord,” and they are confused. “How?” they ask. “I thought my sermons were okay. Not great, not perfect, but fine. I get a few compliments, usually, and maybe a couple complaints. But at least, its good theology, right? I’m trying to deliver them passionately, authentically. What’s wrong with my words?”
Malachi clarifies. The issue isn’t style or delivery. Its way more nefarious. Malachi says, “Some of you are propping up those who are doing evil, and saying about them, “(They) are good in the sight of the Lord. God delights in them.” Others of you are saying, “Where is the God of justice!?”
Pastors, preachers, priests do prop up evil sometimes as good. Pastors preside at funerals for persons who hurt their families very deeply, and never acknowledged the pain they caused multiple generations. At that funeral, Pastors will sometimes avoid mentioning the unmentionable aspects of what that person did to the family under the cultural wisdom that “It’s not polite to air dirty laundry,” or “A funeral isn’t the place to reopen old wounds,” or “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Shouldn’t the pastor at least try to put a positive spin on unconfessed sins or unreconciled relationships?
But when a pastor, speaking for God, ignores the true brokenness the sin of a person leaves behind, the ones suffering from that sin and brokenness begin to believe this God doesn’t see, doesn’t care, and isn’t worthy of worship. That’s one way preachers prop up evil with our words.
Pastors, preachers, priests will sometimes prop up evil leaders too. Some leaders in our world seem unable to muster authentic compassion, or unable to speak scientific truths, or unable to say anything good about their opponent or anything critical or confessional about themselves. Pastors, preachers, priests make choices. Some want to maintain or grow their congregation, and so dive right in with full-throated support of leaders who cheat or lie, whose policies hurt children or immigrants to play to the political preferences of their community. Some pastors won’t go that far but do want to avoid the hate mail that might arrive if they speak honestly, critically of someone’s favorite political leader, so they avoid the topic altogether and lightly dance through the scripture passages where God is loving and forgiving of everyone, without ever reading from the scripture passages where God sets very high standards of honesty, compassion, generosity, and hospitality on those in charge.
Priests, pastors, preachers do sometimes call evil good, or effectively condone evil by remaining silent about it. That’s one big way Malachi says pastors’ words weary God.
Then Malachi says that’s not the only way preachers mess up. Malachi also condemns preachers who demand to know, “Where is the God of justice?”
Preachers, priests, pastors sometimes see brokenness in families or relationships and make the mistake of picking a side. There are examples where pastors, preachers learn about a couple going through a divorce, perhaps over addiction or money or infidelity, and the pastor or preacher will choose a side in the name of justice. They effectively reject, expel one spouse whom they judge to be more wrong, and embrace and support the other whom they judge to be the real victim.
While God DOES want justice to come into all unbalanced, broken relationships, God does NOT want pastors, preachers, priests picking sides and doling out the justice THEY think is fair. God wants ALL God’s children to have a home in God’s community, and no pastor, preacher, or priest should expel anyone from God’s community on THEIR definition of justice.
Pastors, priests, preachers can also stumble when leaders act unjustly. Some preachers’ anger and frustration with sin and brokenness stirs them to boldly call out anything that smells the least bit like sin with exaggerated accusations. Even if they edit themselves, sometimes their tone will leak anger, frustration, desperation, and exhaustion. They get so committed to their demand and definition of justice, they forget about this God who has always been with us since the beginning and has always guided us toward justice through every struggle and suffering. The people listening to these “Where is the God of justice?” preachers will begin to take justice into their own hands, or to lose their sense of trust, faith, and hope in the God who does love, and has always bent broken systems toward loving justice and just love. That same God is bending and repairing all things even now, when we can’t see it or believe it.
Malachi promised a day is coming when God’s messenger, God’s preacher will arrive. That messenger will refine and purify every other preacher and pastor, and their offerings will finally be good before the Lord, and then the people’s offerings will be good before the Lord.
When that day comes, God’s preacher will call out the tricksters, expose the cheaters, and confront the liars… expect a rebalanced economy, care for the elderly, protection of the children, and welcome for the refugee.
God’s messenger will also retell the story of a good God, who made all things, all people, all creation and called them all good, a God so committed to God’s good creation God will never change from loving them and from leading them and correcting them toward justice.
God’s preacher will invite us all to turn to God and will promise us all God will be with us as God has been with those before us. We know that messenger. He is Jesus of Nazareth. But until he comes again, I guess yall will be stuck with Caitlan and me.
To God be all glory and honor, now and forever. Amen.
Now, Blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forevermore.
Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Pastor, Presbyterian Church of Chestertown