Where will you stand? Hopefully not with the arrogant and the evildoers I should hope. In Christ you are freed (we confess and profess and live in hope), we are freed from the fate of the arrogant and the evildoer; and the day of deliverance may simply leave you in a wooly paradise, a time with no more decisions to make, with no more worries to attend you as you try and sleep each night. But that day is not today.
Besides, what is arrogance? The Bible seems to imply that it is something to be avoided, and then goes on to tell you and the rest of humanity what the right thing to do is, what the right path for living is; how you, how we, are to live those lives. If anyone came up to us and presumed to tell us how to live and where to live and the rest of it; we’d likely think them arrogant, wouldn’t we?
But as professing Christian, as disciples we do the same thing all the time, we have loads of advice, loads of paradigms for living that we are more than happy to explain to anyone who asks. Act Justly. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly with your God. Love the sojourner in your land, for you too were once a sojourner in the land of Egypt. Thou shalt not do a bunch of things. A bunch of other things are commended as good.
Walk into any library or coffee shop in Santa Rosa and try and make the case that people should live according to your values, our values, and the folks there assembled might be forgiven for thinking you a bit arrogant.
And these are good, wholesome, middle-American values, or so we suspect. This is how people actually should live; this is what God would have from us and most people would not object to them individually. Mercy might be a little hard for some, but the commandments would get wide approval; but not as something you imposed on them.
So how do you go about changing the world? How do you manage to change people’s hearts and minds according to your values and beliefs? After all, don’t you want to live in a world arranged along the lines of your beliefs? With justice rolling down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream like it says in Amos? Isn’t that a good thing to aspire to? Is that not a worthy goal?
Well, I don’t think we can expect it to fall from the sky like manna. Someone is going to have to build it. There is no one else coming. God sent you.
Because by the time is does fall from the sky, on that great and glorious and also terrifying day, just ask Malachi; on that day you will, we will all be dead, because that is the only way we can achieve that kind of righteousness, by the grace of God, and perfected in death.
Now we can sit around and wait for that great and terrible day, we can rest easy in our easy chairs, that’s why they call them that, and wait for the day when the arrogant and the evil doers will be burned away like chaff while we sit calmly and righteously by, enjoying their comeuppance more than just a little as we bask in the love of God.
Or we can begin to understand that the basest, vilest arrogance of all is to rest easy while another perishes because we were too enthralled by our own glory to stoop down and help them, too afraid of appearing arrogant to allow ourselves to be moved and used by the single power in the universe capable of saving us all, of rescuing others as it has rescued us.
Arrogance is the belief that we can go it alone without them, that we are in fact better off without them, with their need and their sin clinging to them like a curse. It is the notion that we are called to exist in this place only to serve those who look or sound like us, who will accept us as we are and not change us, that we’ve got it right and that everybody should want what we have because of it, because Jesus loves us. Arrogance is not thinking that we will need to come to know them, truly and deeply, to find out what their dreams are and what their fears are and what has brought them to this place in space and time, but that they should surrender all of those things so that we might go on.
Even Malachi doesn’t say that the ones who revere God’s name will be idle; they shall leap like calves from a stall.
Paul himself calls out the idle in his letter to the church in Thessaloniki. Surely there are those among you who would like to try on the crown of righteousness now, to bask in the love of God for you and to sit aside, mirror mirroring the day away.
Like Paris Hilton, pretending that she deserves all that attention, all that wealth, pretending she earned it and has a right to bask in it. Point in a thousand different directions and the same story is told in a thousand different ways. Planning commissions pretend that the bridges built by our parents’ and grandparents’ generations were somehow gifts from God that will never fail us; something that has always been there and so needs none of our attention, until they fall into the ravine, or the river or whatever they were meant to cross.
I’ve always wondered at the consternation of those whose job it was to see to things like that as they are called onto the carpet, yanked out of their chairs and hauled before the cameras and the oversight committees. “How were we supposed to know?” they cry.
What fate does your neighbor deserve? For all of their deeds and what they have and have not done, what do you suppose will be their recompense on Malachi’s day of trauma and raging fire? Will we be sitting aside as they sizzle, wondering to ourselves “how were we supposed to know?”
And all for the fear of appearing arrogant.
The thing is, and this is a very real stumbling block that most of us, pastor’s included find in their path almost every day, the thing is that what is really holding us back is that we know almost nothing of one another. I know about all of you things that are about a mile wide and about an inch deep. I know maybe what your career was or is, I know if you have been divorced and sometimes how many kids you have.
I know a lot about the illnesses and weaknesses that you have, they come up a lot in conversation, but the triumphs in your life are largely a mystery to me unless you Are young enough to share them with me on a weekly basis so I can share them with the congregation.
We, even pastors, have been lured into the easy chairs of assumptions and suppositions and we have failed each other, arrogantly assuming that we know you because you are Norwegian, or Swedish or German or Midwestern or Egyptian, a banker, a corporate executive, a butcher baker or candlestick maker. Instead of spending our time fruitfully learning about each other’s dreams and hopes we skirt around the edge.
We lose the vocabulary to speak the truth because we no longer know enough about each other to speak.
They do need to hear us, you know. They too see the portents in the skies and feel the earth tremble beneath their feet. Wars and famines and plagues and the ravages that they bring assault their eyes and ears and hearts just as they do ours; but for those who have not heard the Word: when they cry into the storm, when they bellow their rage at the hurricane the only answer they receive is silence.
Just as we are called to know them, to learn about them we are also called to teach them. We are called to speak the words of God’s grace to them not as if they were children but as if they were worthy of the Gospel, you know the way we are supposed to speak to children.
And none who are idle should be left to their idleness. None who are lost can afford to stay that way and so it is all hands on deck for those who have heard and who have felt the brush of grace upon their lives and who have tasted the foretaste of the feast to come.
It is easy to sit in the easy chair and say “tomorrow” and “tomorrow” and “tomorrow.”
But what if Malachi’s day of reckoning is tomorrow? Will there be enough time to say “I’m sorry” to all we have let slip by us? Will our righteousness and leaping like a calf be comfort enough as we watch those we couldn’t be bothered to know sizzle like chaff in the Lord’s flames?
Those of you know me know that I am not exactly a fire and brimstone kind of guy. Not exactly a theologian of hell and judgment. But few if any of you know what I was like before a certain young woman invited me into the house of God and introduced me to the Word of God and helped me become a child of God.
So let me tell you a little story, a bit of self-disclosure that may bring you to some knowledge of what I am talking about today.
I have some abandonment issues. Divorced children often do, especially when the divorce happens when the young man is about ten or so. This had led me, over the years, to cling to a relationship long past its end, trying not to be abandoned and certainly trying not to be the one who was doing the abandoning.
I had a fairly long string of relationships that might be generously described as dysfunctional, me picking women who needed me in some way. I assume that subconsciously I was working under the assumption that if they needed me, they would never leave me. It is obvious by my description of them as being a long string of relationships that this assumption did not play out the way that I thought it should.
The deeper reasons for all of this might come to you at a different time, when we have the chance to actually come to know one another but the point is that Debbie, since I get the impression after being married for thirteen years, wanted to be with me and to know and love me, felt it was time to introduce me to someone who would never leave me, whose love for me could survive my foibles and failings, whose promises of forever could be trusted.
She shared Jesus with me and my life was changed forever.
Now I am not expecting you to all go out in search of a spouse. Your current spouses might find that a little odd. But if we all shucked the fear that seems to be the norm in our society, the norm of the individual, isolated and standing alone and embrace the Biblical norm of a people seeking to know, and once we know, to love and if we can love them then we can share all that we are, including the most precious part, our relationship with God.
We can do it because we will know what it will mean to them as well as what it means to us and so we can make it real, and vital and important to a people who feel the same trepidation that they felt in the temple that day; the same fear at the future, but who have wandered away into other paths and need someone to know them, and to show them the truth.
It isn’t easy. We too have been told again and again that all we need is what we see in the mirror and we have come to believe it, despite what it says in the scriptures. It will take intention and it will take practice and it might take a whole year until we are comfortable enough to go out and make these kinds of connections with people.
But if it were easy, they wouldn’t call it a calling, they’d call it a vacation and everybody is already on one of those, vacations from speaking and sharing the word of God abound, what we need to do, is get back to work.