The First and Best in our Calling
Malachi 3: 1 – 5; Acts 1: 1 – 14
[This Sermon was preached on 02/02/2019 at the Gippsland Presbytery Induction Service.]
You might wonder why I chose an OT reading that we usually read in Advent. The Acts 1 reading is self-evident on this day when we induct two new Presbytery Ministers with Mission as our focus. So why Malachi? When I was preparing for Advent 2 I was also conducting discussions regarding Presbytery Minister placements. The Malachi reading spoke to me of God’s Mission. Our Church is highly focussed on mission and it does coincide with our decline and the situation we are in. We’re heavily into writing mission statements. So what should be our motivation for mission? Declining numbers or… ? Today I want to make three points about mission from a Biblical and Theological perspective. And I hope they will be helpful.
Firstly, I want to say that God has established the Church’s mission. The word mission comes from the Latin missio, which means to send. God’s sending and providing the mission is found in Judaism’s beginning story. It is in Genesis 12 and the calling and sending of Abraham and Sarah. In verse 3 God says to them; “I will bless those who bless you, … and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” We are blessed to be a blessing. It is not too hard so see that the Great Commission in Matthew 28 reflects the essence of God’s sending of Abraham and Sarah and that of Isaiah 66.
Secondly, the notion of being blessed to be a blessing provides us with the source of God’ s mission. The notion of ‘blessed to be a blessing’ saves us from skewing God’s Mission into personal salvation or social justice, which we have been doing for centuries. Personal salvation and justice are by products of the ‘blessing’ not the essence.
If we think of our life experiences most of us would say that our greatest blessing comes from being loved. We may not use the term blessing, but being loved is the source of feeling good about self and life. Being loved is the power that steers us through the winding up and down road of life. Being loved helps us love ourselves and consequently love others. I can’t imagine Abraham and Sarah not having a sense of being loved. It may not be how they would have described it. But the call and sending of this mysterious God would have made them feel worthwhile, positive, hopeful and thankful. They were energised by the call and sending.
In Deuteronomy 6 we find the Shema, which instructs us to: Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. [6:4&5] What seems a duty to love God is really a pathway to blessing. For to show love to someone usually results in love returned. That is what they experienced. God loved them; God blessed them; God gave them a task and equipped and sustained them. Their hearts would have pounded with gratitude. I think we under estimate the power of gratitude – praise – thankfulness. The OT resounds with praise. And we sit here today because of love given to God resulting in loved extended to the world. That is why Paul, a Jew and scholar of the Hebrew tradition encourages us to ‘rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; …’ [1 Thess 5:16-18].
It is interesting how the wholistic health services pick up on the importance of gratitude. I read an inspirational message on the Chiropractors wall; ‘Interrupt anxiety with gratitude’. Exactly! I say. “Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude.” We read in A.A. Milne’s, Winnie the Pooh.
Imagine the power of the Church if our words and actions expressed a deep gratitude. Praise is not only our duty, but it is life-giving, and in that it is the first missionary action. We cannot underestimate the power of deep gratitude in the face of death.
The Church’s history tells the same story. So not surprisingly the Westminster Confession states that humankind’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever. When we love God in our worship we let God’s love overwhelm us [Source 373] and we become ‘lost in wonder love and praise’ as Charles Wesley wrote in that beautiful song, “Love Divine all loves excelling’ [TiS 217]. Through God loving us we become positive, joy-filled and thankful people. Such joy-filled people make a difference.
Thirdly, if blessing is the source of our missionary work it is also the nature of God’s Mission, as we have seen. The teaching about worship proceeding justice is integral to the teaching found in Amos, Isaiah, the first letter of John and Jesus’ own teaching in the sermon ‘On the Mount’. Read Amos in its context and one sees that God’s disgust with the people’s worship is because it is self-serving worship. Self-serving worship leads to self-serving living. Right worship leads to right living and vice versa.
We are sent into the world to bless it. We do this through loving our neighbour. The command to love our neighbour is mentioned once in the OT [Lev 19:18]. However again and again we are told to care for the land and to provide for the widow, the orphan and the alien. I love the word alien. It says so strikingly that this person doesn’t belong in the land. They’re foreigners like those ‘backdoor’ refugees of ours. But God’s people are told repeatedly – take care of the alien. Provide for their daily needs. I’m puzzled by the lack of compassion for refugees today in some quarters of the Church.
So what I saying in this small space of time is that the Church’s mission is God’s mission. The first act of our mission is our worship and our second action is to love our neighbour, which naturally flows from our worship. I say again, imagine our lives exhibiting positivity towards life, deep-seated gratitude, and love for others. I’m also saying that God’s mission is done by all – young and old – who worship God.
Now you may be still wondering why I chose Malachi? The point of the passage is that God’s people need to be purified before their worship is acceptable. That’s the message of the first four verses we were set to read on the second Sunday in Advent. But if you add verse 5, which is integral to first 4 verses, we told that when God’s people are refined then God would bring justice. This is so because true justice follows from true worship. God want us to be refined like silver because God has chosen to use us to be the agents of change. God’s agents of compassion and justice are God’s true worshippers. That’s why this passage is also about mission.
I don’t know how many of you know the story of a group of women who wanted to know what it means that God or God’s Messenger would be like a refiner of silver. The unrefined silver is held over the fire at a very high temperature. Too much heat will destroy the silver. The refiner must watch the process all the time. The silversmith cannot take his or her eyes off the silver for a moment. The silversmith was asked how one knows when the silver is refined. The refiner of silver said, ‘That’s the easy part. When I see my image in the silver it is refined.” So it is with us. When we reflect God’s image we are ready to serve God’s world.
So finally I conclude with some bad news for you. The Joint Nominating Committee working with Synod has discerned that these four Presbytery Ministers are right for you. Two we induct today. I believe you are blessed in these four. I really do. The have been affirmed to offer you leadership. I see so much positivity in these placements. God has blessed you. But I also see our action today doomed to failure. Why, because this Presbytery remain largely where it is if the Presbytery – you members of Presbytery in Council and the members of the local churches – unless you change and work with them. They will accomplish little in their own right. Alone they are weak. Together you will be strong. I firmly believe that the way forward lies in a renewal of your worship of God, a revitalising of your love for God, one another and those beyond your fellowship. Revitalised by worship, filled with the joy of the Lord, your compassion for God will be enlivened and your witness burn brightly. But it must be together.
Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC: 03/02/2019
Preached at the Induction of Presbytery Ministers: Traralgon, Gippsland 02/02/2019