What’s wrong with our world? Why is our world so messed up? Why do people keep doing bad things to each other? Why are there constant reports of shootings and killings? Why is there so much filth and immorality? Why do relationships keep breaking and falling apart? Why is there so much self-centeredness and selfishness? People have been looking for the answers to those questions in all kinds of places.
For the past four years at this service it has been my custom to focus on some of the great old hymns and great old hymn writers. This year I decided to focus on the history and heritage that’s ours through some of the great children’s hymns. Tonight we will sing the truth of our Biblical faith through some great old children’s hymns. As we come to sing our faith and declare our faith in our Great God in invite you to stand as we are called to worship God:
How do you feel doing something with someone standing there with a check list ready to mark down everything you do wrong? Have you ever known someone who is critical, who has a critical spirit, who notices everything and is quick to point it out, especially the bad things, the mistakes, the failures, or just the things they don’t like or don’t approve of? The kind of people about whom it’s said, “they would complain if they were hung with a new rope.” Imagine if this morning in the back three pews there were a bunch of guys in dark suits, senior pastors, denominational officials, seminary professors all from Grand Rapids with check lists: did each member bring their Bible, did we sing out of the gray Psalter Hymnal, did we use the piano or organ, did I use the right liturgy for the baptisms, were the women wearing pants, were the kids behaving right, were the elders wearing ties? That’s what happened to Jesus. The senior pastors and seminary professors from Jerusalem showed up with their check list to do a surprise inspection of this Jesus and His disciples. Their check list was this book called the Mishnah or the oral tradition, the oral laws. I’m serious, when the Pharisees criticized Jesus, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” they were quoting this Mishnah.
I have already said that one of the reasons I decided to slow down and preach through Malachi is that it’s a mirror of our age, of these times we live in. Nothing mirrors our day like the unfaithfulness of pastors and spiritual leaders. Last week in Malachi 1:6-14 we read that the priests were rebuked for their practices, in this text they are rebuked for their preaching. Before it was how they handled the sacrifices, now it’s for how they handled the Scriptures. Before they were trivializing the people’s offerings, now they are trivializing the truth.
Four short, straightforward, simple verses. Just another one of Mark’s quick little summaries of the life and ministry of Jesus. Nothing new here, we have all heard this before, we can just move quickly along to the next big important text. I confess that the first time I went through Mark Gospel to map out sermon texts when I got to this one I looked to see if it could be lumped in with what came before or after. I even thought about skipping over it and moving on. I decided to exercise a little faith and leave it as our text for this Sunday trusting that when I got here there would be something worth preaching on. Too often when we come to very simple, easy passages we just take them at face value and move on too quickly. We don’t see any great spiritual insight here so we go looking somewhere else. How can we develop spiritual eyes and ears to hear powerful truth in the simplest of places? How can we find the spiritual fruit in a text like this?
You will recall when we studied Haggai and Zechariah that God had sent those two prophets to rebuke His people for neglecting to build God’s temple. Now years later God sent Malachi to rebuke the people for neglecting the sacrifices and worship of God once the temple was built. We are witnessing here the re-paganization of worship and as the worship goes so goes the culture. Remember I said one of the reasons I decided to stop and preach through Malachi was because it was so modern, so contemporary. This is us. We are living in a time of the re-paganization of our worship and our culture. The terms used to describe our times are post-modern and post-Christian. When a person or a nation loses the fear of God, before long anything and everything goes. There is no shame, no guilt, no taboos. As goes our worship, so goes our lives and our culture. We worship what we fear and love and if that isn’t God then it’s idolatry and idolatry destroys a person and a nation. We are living in a time similar to the people in Malachi’s time. Life is routine, nothing particularly spiritually significant is going on. Where’s God and what’s He doing? Is He being faithful to His promises? Does it really matter what we do or don’t do or how we do it? Does it really matter to God? Does He notice or care? God sends Malachi, whose name means messenger, to confront His people who were being unfaithful in four major areas of life: unfaithful in worship, lead by unfaithful clergy, they were being unfaithful in their marriages and they were being unfaithful in their financial giving to God’s work.