Monday, December 10, 2012

Like a Calf from the Stall

Malachi 4:1-6 (ESV)
"For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. [2] But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. [3] And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.
[4] "Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.
[5] "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. [6] And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction."

But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet.
Leaping like calves from the stall. Cows tend to be docile and slow moving creatures. They do not have the grace of a deer, or an antelope, they do not spring across a field. Even when they do start moving, they are a clumsy lot. You look at a cow, and you see an animal that epitomizes sloth. They aren’t considered pretty. But then you look at a calf. Calves are funny animals. A calf is different. And when you hold a calf down, compress it in a shoot, or lock it in a stall, so you can perhaps brand it, give it shots, castrate it and so forth, the calf will act with absolute exuberance when let go. It will jump, and you can see joy in its face and the spring in its step as if the only thing that gave it pain amidst all the burning, all the shots, and the castration was being pinned down to the ground, and now all that is gone. It is quite an amazing thing to see. They don’t leap so well, but they jump around. So it will be for you, you will go out like calves leaping from a stall, and you shall trample the wicked who will be as ashes under your feet.
That is a mixed bag this side of glory. God himself says over and over again that he does not desire the death of the wicked, but that they would turn from their ways and repent. And we who love God, who first loved us in his son, who was crucified, died and was buried, only to rise again in accordance with scripture, we who are saved by grace alone, and are apart from his grace and his forgiveness, apart from the sanctifying waters of holy baptism wholly wicked and sinful, neither do we wish for the down fall of our neighbors who do not know Christ. We do not relish the thought of their eternal punishment, we can barely fathom it. Indeed, we know that our only salvation is the death of Christ. We know that he died for all people, that there is a reality to the idea that all people are even now saved in his death and resurrection that is for them. We pray that our worst enemies come to know the forgiveness of sins, and thereby repent, trusting in God alone. For this is what it means to repent, to trust in God alone. But yet, the great day has not yet come, the sun of righteousness has not yet risen with healing in its wings, though the dawn has cracked.
Malachi was the last of the prophets. What we read here, it was the last word’s God would speak to his people before Elijah would come. He would bring a famine upon them as they had never seen. A famine greater than that which lasted for seven years over Egypt. Not a famine caused by drought and crop failure, but a famine of God’s word. 400 years would pass before Elijah would come, before John the Baptist would speak, before the way would be prepared for the Gospel. God would turn his back on the people, because the people had refused to listen to him. Malachi would be the last of the prophets. God had returned his people to Israel, he had given them their freedom, he had restored their temple, but the people proved to be as hard hearted as their fathers. Malachi, would berate them for their sins. They brought blemished offerings to sacrifice to the lord, gifts they wouldn’t give to a brother if they wanted to win his favor, they refused to tithe, they divorced their wives and adulterated them, spurned them for younger wives. God finds these things to be evil, and because the people did not value God’s word, he withdrew it from them.
Is it happening now? My heart grows heavy. The New Testament does not demand a tithe. God does not make this a thing of law, how much you shall give. Not that the tithing thing is stupidity though. In the time of Jesus, all that was needed was ten families willing to tithe, with that they could afford a rabbi, ten families tithing could pay him the median income of the congregation. This was a model the early church often repeated. Ten families, was not a large congregation. The famine had taught the people to value what they had left. It had tested, it had proved, it had steeled the faith of the faithful. Does it work on us this way? We have a budget meeting coming soon. Next week. What is the word of God, what are his sacraments worth, eternal life, and the blessing of God who watches over all. Do we value this? Then why do we stay home Sunday after Sunday? Why have we not met budget this year? You set the budget. God didn’t set it, you did. It is what you told God you would give to him for the work of his church in this community, to provide you with the comfort of his word, and the forgiveness of sins amidst the tribulation of this world, apart from which we will die. We can no better live without God’s word than we can without bread, for man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. But we act as If we do not need his word.
For this is what we come here to receive, his word amidst a world that is hostile to it, a world that would yank you and your children from the hand of God if it could. Here the world oppresses us, coops us up in a stall, presses in on us as in a shoot, Burns us, prods us, tries to shuffle us towards the slaughter. But God and his promises are true. The day is coming, and on that day we will be delivered, even as we are delivered now. Here God gives us his gifts forgives us our sins, assures us of eternal life, pours the gospel over the heads of our children, feeds us the rich food of forgiveness in his body and blood. Gives us strength to bear the tribulations of this world, and remain to him faithful, to grow in his love, that when that day comes, you and I will leap from this world like calves from the stall. And on that day we will trample the wicked who become ashes under our feet. Yes that day comes.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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