Solemn Evensong & Benediction Sunday 24 June 2012 | All Saints Margaret Street

Sermon for Solemn Evensong & Benediction Sunday 24 June 2012

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

God asks that we give our best to the glory of his name, and that we learn to honour one and other through faithfully loving and honouring him.

In both the Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible, the book of Malachi concludes the witness of the Minor Prophets in Scripture.  In the Jewish Bible, Malachi is followed by a selection of books called Ketuvim or “the Writings”, which include the Psalms, Proverbs and Job.  In the Christian bible the Prophets appear at the end of the Old Testament; there to emphasise their foreshadowing of Jesus.  So as you know, the writing of the Prophet Malachi is followed by the Gospel of Matthew; just as the one seen as a prophet, John is followed by the Messiah, Jesus.

The four short chapters in Malachi (well worth reading) give us an insight into a people’s relationship with God which has descended into argument and perceived abandonment.  The argument is summed up, “I have loved you”, says the LORD.  But you say, “How have you loved us?”

The disbelief and dishonouring of God are markers of The Prophet Malachi’s complaint against Israel; a complaint addressed not least to the priests of the Lord who are unfaithful and undisciplined in fulfilling their duty.  Malachi addresses what we might judge as a new scepticism; questions from God’s own people which judge him, which rationalise and limit the worthiness of God and his authority.  Questions which seem so common to us today, which mark the beginning of a forgetting of the blessings we have received from God amidst this complicated experience of life.  So in Malachi’s world, disingenuous worship and ritual begin to mock God, and the slow dry-rot of atheism sets in.

In Malachi, God is seen again as Parent and Judge of Israel.  The priests are seen as disrespectful sons, offering polluted food on the altar and failing in their duty to teach.  And the prophet speaks of dissatisfaction with the entire faithlessness of Israel towards God, not only in the present moment, but their faithlessness to one another as a community and to the covenant established between God and their ancestors.

It seems from Malachi’s complaint that God abhors not only the lack of repentance, but that his creation is oblivious to their sin.  There is no conscience, that there is no care towards God.  The sanctuary of the Lord has been defiled, Judah has married the daughter of a foreign God, and even come to worship a goddess instead.  It seems, everything God has ever given faithfully and out of love for his people is being thrown back at him without a care.   And the consequence to this is that deliberate ignorance and no conscience, no care, will lead to this people’s destruction.

This is the repetitive story of the house of Israel, of God’s people, of them and even us.  We fail, we forget, we take God for granted.  We treat him more as a mate and less as one who is Supreme creator of the Cosmos and who has given everything in loving his creation. 

The prophet is simply crying out for God, “Remember me”.

Yet amidst the judgement and naming of the failures of this people, God, consumed as God is with love, pours out his purpose even more fully.

In the midst of the rejection from his priests, from his priestly line he brings forth one who as Malachi writes, “See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.  The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight – indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.”

In the midst of rejection God continues to give, give, give, until we get it. 

In the later Christian tradition, this passage in Malachi is read Messianically.  But the messenger is less messianic and more one called to restore the priesthood to its rightful role and dignity.  That is to have faith.  And john begins this as his arrival restores the faith of his father in God as we were reminded in this morning’s Gospel and sermon from the Vicar. 

We know what John’s arrival means for us, we are called to remember our failings towards God, and to repent.  John, the one who “amongst those born of women no one has arisen greater; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Is the initial wake up call for us, a call for us to care again for what we offer and how we offer thanks and praise to God.

Scripture affirms that God’s purpose is love, and that love is revealed in secret, but made manifest in Jesus, whom we now come to worship and adore.  The Baptist points us towards the revelation of the Divine Son, our Lord Jesus, who is with us now, and through whom we give thanks for John, to whom we give praise and seek to be reconciled.  All that leads to the birth of The Baptist reminds us that humankind has fallen short of God’s hope, but as John foreshadows Jesus, we learn through his witness that God is determined for our love towards him, and towards one another to be re-established.

God asks that we give our best to the glory of his name, and that we learn to honour one and other through faithfully loving and honouring him.

 

Sermon preached by Fr John Pritchard