For those who want a change from the Gospel
Kingdom 3 / 2 before Advent / Remembrance Sunday – Malachi 4:1-2
As daily breadcrumbs go, this lectionary passage takes the biscuit at just two verses (actually one and a half, as the lectionary doesn’t want us to read the bit about frolicking calves). So we might be justified in expanding it a little to explore the book of Malachi as a whole, not least since it gets little attention elsewhere in our lectionary. But the occasion of Remembrance Sunday will complicate things further, so let’s see what Malachi might have to say to us.
Malachi, the last of the minor prophets, lived in the period when Israel had returned from exile in Babylon, and when Ezra and Nehemiah were busy rebuilding Jerusalem. Having come through the trauma of captivity, destruction and deportation, the people have resumed normal service, but of course that kind of a national trauma never leaves you the same. If Ukraine does ever get rebuilt, you can’t imagine those who watched the destruction and ran for their lives merely picking up where they left off. Malachi was concerned that although the people were avidly rebuilding their homes and cities, their relationship with God had taken a battering which urgently needed renovation too. So the book is a series of short sermons which address what he saw as some of the key issues in post-war society. The people had stopped believing that God loved them (understandably!) in 1:2-5. Because of that they were, perhaps passive-aggressively, offering sacrifices which, rather than being the animals without blemish, were the manky or crippled ones which were fit for nothing else (1:6-14). Then their family life was in a mess, with intermarriage which so often led people to compromise their worship of Yahweh alone, and divorce which left women particularly without any visible means of support (2:10-16). Of course there was also the perennial injustice against the poor by the rich and powerful (when hasn’t there been?) (2:17 – 3:5), and finally the purple passage from Malachi on tithing, which the people were refusing to do. Then comes our passage, in which the prophet talks about the great separation which is to come on the Day of the Lord, when the faithful remnant will know the love of God bestowed on them like the warmth of the sun’s rays, while warmth of a different kind will consume the evildoers, burning away their impurities as a farmer burns off useless stubble or a metalworker burns the impurities out of his precious metals in a crucible.
So a bit of a sorry picture, all in all, for the nation. War does that to people, but in particular the aftermath of war can be as injurious to faith as the war itself, if not more so. The churches of our land began to empty most quickly in the post-war period when on one level we had emerged from the trauma to a time when we had ‘never had it so good’. So although we live in a world where war is as common as it has always been, and the daily pictures of Ukraine haunt our TV screens, we might remember this weekend what war does to us long-term, because the hurt and pain do not stop once the final guns have been silenced. Yes, of course we remember those who paid with their lives for living at the wrong time and in the wrong place, and of course we salute the bravery and courage which was shown in the defence of our land and the halt of the evil of Nazism (not that soldiers had much choice, of course). But maybe we can remember too the damage that the trauma of war has done to the spiritual life of our nation, where greed, injustice, family breakdown and ignoring of God are rife. The Book of Malachi (and the OT) ends with two promises from God to his people: that judgement will surely come, but that it will not come without warning and time for amendment of life. The reappearance of ‘Elijah’, whom is identified with John the Baptist in the NT, will prepare the way for that judgement when Jesus himself will reappear on our earth. We can’t say we haven’t been warned!