Potsdam United Methodist Church
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To Refine

December 9th:

To Refine
December 9, 2012    (2nd Sunday in Advent)
Potsdam
Text:               Malachi 3: 1-4 (5)
Read:       W&S # 4

                                        To Refine

I have examined;    I have reexamined;      I have cross examined
        This morning's scripture from Malachi.

I have applied the Wesley Quadrilateral to it
        Seeing it through the lenses of
                Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.

And I have come to the belief that these few words from
        The last of the books of the Hebrew scriptures (or Old Testament)
Have a great deal more to offer to us than they at first seem.

For these words,
spoken about 200 years after what we heard last week from Jeremiah
spoken, in fact, after the exile when the people had been allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and the temple
provide a powerfully clear understanding
of Christ's task on earth
what he was to do   and why he was sent.

Now, I have to tell you that scholars have taken varying views as to who was the "messenger" referred to in the scripture
Some suggest that it was Elijah
        And reach that conclusion from the words of 4:5, the last words in Malachi's book where there is reference to sending Elijah.

Some suggest it was Malachi himself
        For the word "Malachi" means messenger

Some suggest that it was Jesus

But most have concluded that it was John The Baptist
        Who identifies himself      as the messenger in the gospels
              Albeit with words from Isaiah rather than from Malachi.

However, through my examination, prayers, and reading, I have come to believe that there are two separate messengers referred to in the text
        the one in the first sentence simply referred to as "my messenger"
and the one in the second sentence who is referred to as
"the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight"

To my mind, the scripture comes alive
and makes considerably more sense -
if we see that God, through Malachi, spoke of two messengers
        rather than only of one.

The first messenger's job is to prepare the way of the Lord
        And announce that the Lord - whom they are seeking -
                Will                suddenly and without warning    come
    Very much like Jeremiah's "The days are surely coming."

To my mind that first messenger has to be John the Baptist
For JTB indeed came to prepare the way
And the gospels make that clear

Then - and only after making reference to   the Lord's coming -
        Malachi uses the second term
                No longer referring to "my" messenger
But instead referring to:
"the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight"

Whereas the possessive pronoun "my" makes the first messenger
        Sound like a subordinate
A representative, agent, or employee
The term "the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight"
Conveys the idea of an honored and important title

What the people delighted   in looking forward to   was
the coming of the messiah
Therefore this second messenger has to be Jesus Christ
        He was the long expected messiah, king, or savior
        He was more than a subordinate
        He was, therefore, entitled to an honored title

He is both
 "The Lord"
and the "messenger of the covenant."

To my mind, this is confirmed by noting what else the prophet observed
about the "messenger of the covenant"
Not only did he say that the messenger of the covenant was indeed coming
        He also gave a warning about that coming, asking,
                "Who can endure the day of his coming?"
                "Who can stand when he appears?"

These questions can only be asked in connection with the one with the power and authority to judge
        And that, of course, means the one we call Lord: Jesus Christ

Further, the title "messenger of the covenant" fits Jesus as well

For as we know, Jesus came as the new covenant
         A covenant already announced by Jeremiah,
And announced long before Malachi
A covenant which Jeremiah said      would be etched in our hearts           A covenant which we know        was sealed by his blood.

With those thoughts and understandings in mind, let us re-listen to the beginning of the scripture          [3: 1-2a]

Now,  we can move to the meat of what is being said about him and why he came:      [3: 2b-5a]

By seeing Christ as the "messenger of the covenant"
the references to the refiner's fire and the fullers' soap
        make complete sense.

The task of the "messenger of the covenant"
Is to be our refiner and our fuller.

In short the "messenger of the covenant" is to make us stronger in terms of our relationship to God
                Better servants,            better disciples,
better followers,   better stewards
better brothers and sisters

That's what refiners and fullers do to the substances on which they work
        They make them stronger and better

We all know about refiners.
The one who refines or purifies silver or gold
                Uses fire to remove the impurities
                And to make what remains            purer and more valuable

Fullers, however, are another matter

If it wasn't for this passage,
        I would have thought that "fuller" was simply a last name.
                Or a condition after a Thanksgiving dinner
Fulling, though, is one step in the process of woolen cloth making.

The fullers do three things:
They clean the cloth to eliminate oils and other impurities
They thicken the cloth to give it strength and increase waterproofing.
        Finally, after these are done, the fullers stretch the cloth onto large frames.

In Malachi's day they used soap for the cleaning portion of their work.

[We can be grateful that Malachi predated the Roman Empire
For the Romans removed the oils from the cloth by using human urine
        Particularly stale human urine
In fact the Romans actually taxed the urine.

I suspect I would be uncomfortable
If I was standing here today comparing what Christ does to us
"to the refiner's fire and the fullers' urine."]

But the task of both the refiner and the fuller
        Is to make what they work on better.
        Using processes that substantially change the metal or the cloth

Christ's task, as the messenger of the covenant,
        Was to make our relationship with God    better, stronger, & purer
        So that when He comes to judge
                He will find us acceptable.

Too often, we summarize what Christ did between his birth and the cross
        As "teaching."
                Certainly "teaching" is an appropriate word
                And certainly many called him "teacher."

But you and I are so used to being taught
        That the word does not have much of an impact on us
Many of us have been good students and so the idea of being taught
                Presents a relatively small challenge to us.

But the idea of our relationship with God being improved
        By subjecting us to fire
Or  By scrubbing us with soap and then stretching us on racks
That doesn't sound comfortable.

But we are not supposed to be comfortable
        We are supposed to be getting better, stronger, and purer

Look at Christ's parables                           and how they jar us
Look at Christ spending time with outcasts
Look at Christ chasing the money changers out of the temple
        And not giving Pilate a straight answer
Is our reaction one of comfort?     NO!

Christ was sent to significantly change     us - not to make us feel good
Christ has to be a challenge
        A challenge conveyed much better when we see what he did
                As refining and fulling     rather than just teaching

Today, and throughout the Advent season,
        We delight in preparing for our celebration of the coming
                Of the Lord and messenger of the covenant
                        Whom we have been seeking
                And Whom we have been expecting.

But if our delight is real and informed
      Then we should embrace the refining or fulling that he comes to do
                Despite any discomfort or fear that we feel
      Knowing that if we can withstand and endure that process

We have nothing to fear from the event which closed our text
        "Then I will draw near to you for judgment;"