Big religious news has had a good run the last while. Actually, who am I kidding? Religion is in the news continually and it is almost always bad or just plain weird.
A couple of weeks ago, televangelist Paula White added to the news when she joined the White House staff as a personal and spiritual adviser to Donald Trump. That’s very scary because … well, it just is. Anyway, good gig Paula, I hope it works out for you.
Then she made headlines this week when she sent an email to her supporters asking them each to send her $229 so they could receive a ‘prophetic instruction’ to help them defeat the dark spiritual forces in their lives. Of course she was only referring to the dark spiritual forces for November, suggesting that other such emails will be in their future.
The good news is that $229 seems to go a long way toward … wait, I’ll let Paula say it: “I decree a prophetic instruction for a sudden defeat over your enemies! Victory is yours.” And just to make us all feel warm and fuzzy about destroying our enemies, she added reassuringly “…your pharaoh is about to drown, your Judas is about to hang himself.”
Whatever that means.
What I have learned though, is that asking for something in exchange for providing important help is a quid pro quo … a favour for a favour. More precisely, a needed favour in exchange for a selfish favour – and some kind of illegal.
Anyway, I haven’t written (or spoken) the name ‘Malachi’ for awhile so let’s jump into that reading from today’s Lectionary.
“The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says, “The day of judgment is coming, burning like a furnace. On that day the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed—roots, branches, and all.
“But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.” – Malachi 4:1-2 (NLT)
In order to understand this passage more fully you need to read chapter 3 before it but I will try to give you a sense of what is said. In that previous chapter God is expressing his frustration with his people. And so a conversation begins.
He warns that there will be judgement against them but they insist they are innocent by asking “Why? We have been working hard for you, God. What have we done that is so wrong?”
God responds (through Malachi) with his charges. While pretending to honour God, they actually:
- are sorcerers;*
- are adulterers;
- are liars;
- cheat their employees;
- oppress widows and orphans;
- withhold justice from foreigners;
- don’t regard God highly in their hearts.
Um. Sound familiar? But the people still don’t see themselves in the list of grievances so the dialogue continues.
People: How can we return to you when we have never gone way?
God: You’ve cheated me.
People: Oh but God – how have we cheated you?
God: You haven’t given me your tithes and offerings.
Then comes the verse many of us are familiar with: “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse…” For years and years pastors and churches have used that verse to suggest that God will bless you if you give money to them. I’m not saying it’s bad to do that but let’s be frank – that’s not what it means.
The ‘storehouse’ in the first temple was just that – a storehouse that held food for people who were not able to take care of themselves. It was to care for the physical needs of ordinary people.
It is wrong for any organization or person of faith to charge people money (or hint at it) in exchange for help. You know, quid pro quo. It goes without saying that physical and spiritual needs should never have a price tag attached. Faith, forgiveness, grace are not quid pro quo ideas.
God: You’ve said terrible things about me.
People: What terrible things have we said about you?
God’s response is that they have expressed impatience living for him and are pursuing things that provide more immediate reward and pleasure. They openly respect evil people who are lawless and they admire people who are rich and arrogant.
It’s really true, isn’t it? It often seems like the evil, rich, and arrogant are doing well. These users succeed unfairly while innocent people are forced to accept quid pro quo situations just to survive. It is easy to be impatient with our situation and to envy them or imitate them.
However when we get to the verses above, God says that he is very aware of this and there will be a reckoning. We are assured that those who ignore his wishes will pay a price. A steep price. “… the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw.” The suggestion is that the fire is the natural consequence of living for self and no matter how things appear right now, justice will prevail.
That’s what I want you to hear. He is reassuring you that all will be well eventually. The verses confirm that the righteous will be blessed and will eventually “go free…” In other words, there is freedom and well-being for those who are faithful long-term.
When all is said and done, we will find ourselves “… leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.”
Be a calf. Gotta tell ya, that actually sounds really, really great.
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* Sorcery? What else would you call charging $229 to destroy people’s enemies with a long distance ‘prophetic instruction’?