“Behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven”

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A sermon on Malachi 4:1-6, on the eve of COP 24, to take place in Katowice, Poland, 12/3-14/2018

Friends, whatever value you do or don’t place on the prophecies of the Bible, this one really speaks to the condition of our time: the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and it is already burning as an oven in this year’s California wildfires and the record summer heat of the Persian Gulf – 127°F in one city near the shores of Iran. And it’s on track to get worse, our prophets the scientists tell us; – but our rulers, both the civil rulers and the corporate power-brokers that keep them in office, are steadfastly ignoring the scientists’ prophecies, at least in this country, the world’s biggest polluter.

Yes, a great and dreadful day of the Lord is surely coming, and for many of us it’s here already, brought on not by the anger of a wrathful God but – to use an old-fashioned word – by people’s obstinate wickedness. Because what does the Bible tell us about God? God is love! God is of the same character as Jesus, who loved and forgave His enemies even to His own death! God does not desire the death of sinners, but their repentance! This cooking of the earth that we see starting to happen is not, therefore, is not and cannot be, God’s rage at us or disgust with us. Still less is it the result of the non-existence of God, the powerlessness of God, or the indifference of God! So then, what are we to think?

What are we to think? Hear the words of Malachi’s prophecy: – for those willing to live under the government of God, “the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings.” Like “calves of the stall,” we’ll be healed, protected, kept alive. We aren’t told that we won’t suffer the agony of the heat along with all our neighbors, but we’ll know that the God we trust in loves us and won’t abandon us. Scroll down now to the very end of the Book of Malachi: God will send a prophet, or prophets, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children: what’s more needed now than that we care about our children’s and grandchildren’s need for a livable planet? We, the human race, are in danger of exterminating our descendants. How horrible! How could we answer to God for that? – But is the solution to fund a think-tank to brainstorm a way out, or is the solution to love those descendants more? And if we truly loved them, could we let our biggest single industry, our biggest single contributor to environmental destruction, be war? We call it “defense,” but you and I know that it’s war, it’s bullying by either bloodshed or the threat of bloodshed, and that it’s indefensibly costly to coming generations, and that it’s an attempt to impose a selfish human will, one state’s will, on the world in place of whatever God’s will might be.

The “great and dreadful day of the Lord” can only be an unveiling of what our own selfishness has created, and of how we, the human race, created it: how the way we’ve chosen jobs, bought, invested, voted, defended ourselves, lied to ourselves and others, and let ourselves be lied to, has earned us a dying planet. Our vain attempts to import pleasure and export pain have yielded the evil harvest that was implicit in the sowing of it! But how else can God teach us this truth but by letting us see the natural consequence of our own bad choices?

There is a right way to respond to this unveiling, and a wrong way. The wrong way is to name scapegoats for the unhappy condition we see developing, and try to cure it by attacking those scapegoats or demanding that they desist from evil. The right way is for each of us, individually and then together, to ask to be shown how we ourselves have been at fault. It’s promised that God gives wisdom liberally to those who ask for it (James 1:5). God would not be so cruel as to withhold such liberating knowledge from those who recognize it as essential to their survival.

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One Response to ““Behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven””

  1. treegestalt Says:

    It doesn’t seem to me that this guy was writing to give us a weather report for 2028, say… We aren’t in the realm of predictions here; this passage seems to be talking about God’s intentions in a certain kind of situation: where business-as-usual has reached a point of corruption that utterly demands radical divine intervention. That does fit us-all, considering how many potentially-suicidal technologies our civilization has been trying out on itself…

    When I look at the overall theme of this [very short] book, it sounds too much like a priest kvetching about the sad state of the collection plate.

    But we’ve already had earlier prophets saying that God doesn’t want heaps of dead cattle — instead wants people doing right and looking after their poor neighbors. So Malachi’s call for better sacrifices, at this book’s point in Israelite history, may well be interpreted — as Jesus seems to have read it — for the authorities to take responsibility for the needs of their people, the poorest included.

    That also applies to how the most powerful people and organizations of this time have been falling short. They haven’t really cared for the truths of the past or the deprivations of the future; and as you say we seem to be in for unpleasantly interesting times. (If I didn’t have ample experience of God coming through when everything looked hopeless, I’d be even more worried… )

    I’m not so sure we shouldn’t demand that large-scale destroyers of the Earth cease & desist. That sounds like little enough to ask. When they refuse, well, only God knows what comes next. (It’s good that we don’t need to figure it out!)

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