(Malachi 4)

Israel had sued God. They had taken Him to court. As is common with such breakdowns in a relationship, they dredged the past and brought a lot of old garbage to the surface ...

Lord, where were you when the Edomites profited from our exile?
Lord, why haven't you done anything about them?
Lord, you always say you are for righteousness and justice, but you really are not!
Lord, you said you would provide for us and protect us, but you don't seem to be doing it!
Lord, we come to worship to give you what you have asked, but you never seem happy with it!
Lord, we might as well do what's wrong because doing what's right doesn't seem to be any good!
Why don't you keep your promises God? Why don't you love us anymore?

God goes to trial and makes His defense. He has His own perspective on the matter.

I love you and I always have!
You have despised and dishonored me with your half-hearted, apathetic worship!
I am tired of your "by-the-book, rule-keeping" attitude when you really don't care about me at all!
I am tired of you giving me your leftovers and your excess and walking away from worship proud of what you have done for me!
I am tired of you claiming that you are my people and talking about the privilege of knowing the truth when you don't live by it!
I have had it with the way you break your promises with one another so easily. I have had it with the way you mistreat one another and betray each other!
I am so tired of the way you use words to excuse your motives and your actions! I am tired of the way you try to redefine what's right and wrong so you can do what you want to do instead of trusting in me!
I am tired of the way you claim everyone else does what you do but you won't own up to it yourselves!
I love you and I always have, and it hurts me that you claim I haven't!

And that's how the trial with God has gone. God ended the trial and assumed the role of judge. He passed sentence: God's people need to return to him. But how do you do that with all this slimy, smelly garbage dredged up from the past and it fills the room?

Have you ever had one of those arguments that seems to leave an indelible mark on the relationship? You know the sort. Some word is used that can never be forgotten. A mistake of the past is brought up like case law to justify lack of trust. Old hurts are taken out of the damp, moldy box they have been stored in for just a time as this. Cruel jokes or unkind statements become shields that protect us in our fear of being disappointed.

These sort of arguments that dredge up the past leave the room filled a silence in which we wonder if the relationship can ever be repaired. The unspoken question is "Well now what?" You know these arguments. They happen in friendships, in marriages, in the workplace, in churches, and even among nations.

What do you do with the past that has been dredged up?

God takes the first step at reconciliation and restoration. He has faith that a better day is coming. He ought to, because it is they day he is working toward - the day of the Lord ... Read Malachi 4

All through the preaching of the prophets, the day of the Lord is spoken of as great and glorious. It is a day to be feared and hoped for at the same time. On the day of the Lord, justice will prevail ... "For the day of the Lord is near against all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head." - Obadiah 1:15 The day of the Lord is the turn of the ages. The age of corruption is burned up and the new age of righteousness begins.

For the wicked and evildoers who prefer the cover of night, it is the end of their rule. For those who welcome the dawn of the sunshine of righteousness, the day is the beginning of the world as it is supposed to be.

And for God, burning up the wicked isn't as easy as scraping off old wallpaper ... The destruction of the age of wickedness and corruption means that some of the people God loves who have invested themselves in the darkness are going to perish with it. Like a tree that is completely removed by a wildfire - neither root nor branch is left. It will be as if they never existed. There will be no future for the wicked in the home of righteousness, and there will not be a past to dredge up.

God wants his children, all of them, to withstand the day of the Lord. He wants them to have deep roots and strong branches. He wants to provide past and future for them.

Past - Remember the teaching of Moses. The commands and the law are a source of orientation. We have a great tradition of faith that nurtures us. They are deep roots that feed us and nurture us and will nurture generations to follow. The speaker at the seminar I recently attended said he sat in a class and the speaker said "Forget everything you learned in Sunday school." He approached her and said, "You didn't really mean that, did you." We don't really mean it when we say we need to chuck out the past and start over again, do we. We have learned some great things in Sunday school and when we were young. We have learned some important things from our past - not just our past but THE past. We learn that God loves us, that Jesus is the Son of God, the Holy Spirit gives life and gifts for living to the people of God, that the church is the witness of God is doing on earth. Where did we come up with this? When did we come up with it? This comes from a tradition of 2000 years, some of it even older than that. We dare not dispose of the past or tradition! It is our root system.

But when people say forget everything you learned in Sunday school, they do not mean tradition, they mean traditionalism. They mean the dead faith of living people, not the living faith of dead people. Traditionalism is the encrusted cake of ideals that cries out "The Old Paths are best" but instead of walking the old paths into the future, they call a little cul-de-sac the Old Paths and they walk around in a circle. That's not the Old Paths; that is the Old Rest Home. The Old Paths continue into the future. The ancient commands are made new everyday by the mercy and love of God.

Notice that God calls up another figure from history - Elijah. Elijah is the prophet of prophets in Israel's memory. The prophet keeps the law of Moses from becoming old and tired. He brings it to life for each generation. Even in our time, we cannot rest lazily on the work of the Restorationists or of a generation ago. Every generation has the need to live out the word of God - right here and right now. We can look back and see what our parents did in their generation, or what the pioneers did 200 years ago, we can see what the first century church did and what Israel did. But they will ask us, like good witnesses, now what will you do?

God is sending a messenger so that his people will be aroused from the idea that God did nothing more than leave us a book. God is not interested in building a "by-the-book" bureaucracy. He desires a family in which the parents and the children, every generation, is connected with a heartfelt faith that keeps alive the message of the messenger.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 29 May 2005

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