Advent 2: A dream of restoration

by susan on December 7, 2015

restoration dream catcherIt Doesn’t Have to Be This Way
Malachi 3:1-6

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. 4Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. 5Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. 6For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished.

Our longing for deep & meaningful connection (follow link to the Christmas commerical we watched together) is more than a feel good, Christmas commercial sentiment. It is very real. The kind of connection with each other & with God that seems innate & good & intended can also seem impossible.

We are separated by: beliefs, faith traditions, cultures, race, appearance, personality, sexual orientation, what we have & what we have not…and the list goes on.

At times, differences cause misunderstanding, hatred & violence. Instead of seeking a common good, we can be guilty of looking forward to the downfall of our neighbors, particularly those with whom we deeply disagree.

It’s hard to imagine what restoration would look like.
It’s hard to imagine what re-connection could be like.

Our scripture reading for today comes from the Book of the Twelve, a collection of prophetic writings included in the Old Testament (or pre-Jesus) part of the Bible. By the time Malachi is written, disconnection had become the norm. It started at the beginning of the biblical story when the first man & woman felt the need to hide from God & to cover themselves from one another after they disobeyed God. Their descendants competed, committed violence & on & on went the cycle of separation.

Malachi, whose name means “my messenger” was either a prophet or a symbol for the prophetic message. His identity is somewhat unclear. The message, though, is clear: the Lord of Hosts is coming.

The term “hosts” is a military term. It can be translated as “the Lord, he creates armies”. Its makes a claim about God’s superiority over foreign powers. The Lord’s might, according to Malachi, is far superior to the Persian emperor and his armies.

Even though military imagery is used though, the day the Lord of hosts brings is not a military conquest. It is a day of judgement & a day of restoration. It’s a process of refinement.

I don’t know much about the refinement of metal or of cloth, except that that was the purpose of the fire & the fuller’s soap; however, since living in Springfield, I’ve learned a lot about the process of refining or restoring an old home.

Restoring a home takes a ton of time & patience. The goal is to bring something back to its original beauty. You do that by removing anything that might hide or distort or corrupt the original design & then enhancing the beauty of all that remains. This means taking away layers of “old stuff” and adding something to enhance or protect what is left afterward.

I think that’s what God’s “judgment” is really about—it’s about refining us to remove whatever keeps us from being all that we were meant to be, and instilling qualities that shape us into the image of our Creator.

What needed refining in Malachi’s day is not unlike what needs refining today. Included in Malachi’s list are many behaviors that alienate us from each other:  sorcery, adultery, lying, oppressing the ones we are to care for (like hired workers, widows, orphans & aliens).

The Refiner’s desire is to return us to a place where our differences do not alienate us from one another. This has always been God’s dream: For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished. (Mal. 3:6)

This verse is so often taken out of context. The unchanging character of God does not mean that God never reveals anything new or never asks us to change our hearts & minds. It’s quite the opposite. God is always inviting us to have our hearts and minds changed in order that we might be part of God’s dream FOR ALL OF CREATION.

Our attitude must not be “God doesn’t change so I’m not going to either.”
When we encounter something new, unexpected or different our attitude must become:
How is God present?
How is God inviting me to change?
How is God changing the world?

On Thursday night of this week, I attended the second Mayor’s Town Hall regarding the Human Rights Ordinance. This one was all about the impact this LGBT anti-discrimation ordinance on faith, faith communities and their leaders. Extra security was present because of a bomb threat. I know our beliefs & faith traditions are deeply personal and they create strong divides, but I am never prepared for the level of animosity that is fueled by these “conversations”. The room was full of different faith traditions and those who claim no faith. We disagreed about God, God’s judgement, how to interpret scripture and the role of faith in public life. Stereotypes were made. Arguments broke out. Many people, including myself, could not hold back their negative comments.

Something occurred to me as I reflected on the night.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can be restored.

I wondered…what would restoration look like?
I don’t think it will look like agreement.
I do think it will look like refinement.
I don’t think it will look like us always trying to change everyone else.
I do think it will look like allowing God to change what needs to be changed in us.

Warning: This goes against every grain of our being. Just the thought of it makes my skin crawl. I don’t want to change when it’s “those people” who need to change. It just feels so wrong and yet … it’s only as we do the unthinkable that we prepare a way for the one who did the unthinkable. Jesus did the unthinkable when while he was being executed by his enemies, he prayed for their forgiveness.

Only as we practice peace and connection with others will we know God’s dream of restoration.
What will that look like in your life & in mine?
How will we re-connect with God & with others?

**As a community, we closed our worship gathering with several responses including confession, communion & an act of restoration. Two letters were written and shared, one to a mosque in our neighborhood & the other to a church that is theologically very different from our own. We signed the letters as a way of commiting ourselves to God’s dream of restoration.**

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