Judgment Day: Getting yourself out of the way so God's Word can be heard through you
Our reading from Malachi sums up the reading from 2nd Thessalonians and Luke well. So let’s hear it again: “See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.
Malachi is one of God’s prophets. And here he is warning of God’s coming judgment on the world: those who are arrogant and evil will be burned up by righteous judgment such that they cease to exist. For all that will remain, we know, is the righteousness of God. As we hear in several places in the NT Scriptures: all that will remain is love. And that love is the fullness of God, righteousness perfected.
The OT prophets, like Malachi, were essentially the voice of God not just to the Israelites, but to the followers of Christ, the way, or, the Church. That’s right: what we call the OT Scriptures are considered the Church’s Scriptures. So our passages from Malachi help us to make sense then, of our Gospel from Luke where Jesus is telling them about the coming judgement of God: you who endure in speaking the wisdom and the words that I give to you, that is, you who revere my name by speaking my Word, will gain your souls, or be healed when God gathers all things to himself.
But the first verse in our Gospel continues, although more subtly, Malachi’s warning about arrogance and evil: “When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, ‘as for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down." To understand this, you must know other parts of Scripture, particularly the OT. To summarize: what human beings build - whether a physical building, a beautiful church, a personal identity, a country, or an ideology, all of these things will be torn down. They don’t last. And if you get distracted by these things and tie yourself to them and warp God’s words and ways to justify being tied to these things, you will perish, become stubble, with them. For all that remains is the Word of God, righteous love.
So don’t tie yourself to them. Don’t twist God’s words or ways. Don’t work for things that perish and pretend that you’re working for God. Don’t pretend that things that are about satisfying your desires, or your ego or your need to be needed or your need for affirmation, or mitigating your fears, or getting revenge, or gossiping about others, or supporting a particular political or social ideology, are about God. Don’t tie yourself to these things.
This is precisely the sin of Adam and Eve. It is the sin of every priest, Judge and King of Israel who do what is right in their own eyes so often justifying their acts with false attribution to being ‘in the name of God,’ it is the sin of every Israelite and of Aaron in the desert with their idolatrous golden calf when they refuse to wait on God’s provision for them. It is the sin of everyone who supports a given political figure today, purporting that this is to instantiate God’s will here and now, as if God is becoming incarnate again in this political figure. What hell has reigned down upon us for this grotesque presumption. This is the evil and the arrogance Malachi warns us about.
God doesn’t leave us wondering about how then, to proceed. Jesus tells us, when everything seems to be falling apart in your life and in the world around you, hold fast to my provision, not to the pretenders impersonating me and my power. Do not proclaim their words as mine. Do not confuse their ways with mine. Instead, “make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”
Don't prepare what to say in advance we hear Jesus say to us, because I will give you the words. But Paul tells the Thessalonians not be idle either, so apparently we’re supposed to be doing or saying something! So how do we hold these two things together, particularly given Paul’s harsh condemnation of idleness? Paul says, “we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.” He even tells the church that those who are not doing any work should not eat.
Paul’s warning here, which comes after two chapters of warning about God’s coming judgment in 2nd Thessalonians, is intimately tied to our Gospel lesson. When he pairs idleness with 'busybodies,’ what he seems to imply is that people who are comparatively like the Saducees who stand on the street corners with long drawn faces saying loud prayers to appear busy doing the Lord's work while what they're really doing is drawing attention to themselves are acting in self-serving ways. This doesn’t point to God. This points to them and their insecurities and so also their ego. This is arrogance and the evil of which Malachi and Paul in ch 1 of 2 of Thessalonians, speaks. This is the warning against being distracted and tied to the things of this world that Jesus gives us.
The work they are called to be doing, as Paul writes elsewhere - whatever their gifts or capacities or even their struggles - is to point to God both in what they say and what they do. The idle part of this has to do with the fact that work that doesn't point to God is actually doing nothing at all. It's irrelevant because it points to nothing (death). This is not work, so "they should not eat," Paul says. What does this mean? I would suggest, drawing on 1 Thess, that Paul means they should not partake of the physical Lord's Supper and so of the spiritual food of the church, because they 'eat and drink' to their condemnation if they do this since they are sinning in pointing to themselves rather than to God. Before eating again, this false work should be confessed and repented of or else their participation undermines church's witness whose only work should be to point not to itself, but to God.
These passages present us with a clear message: God’s righteousness is all that remains in judgment. In Christ, we see the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy, and we are given a foretaste of the only way of life and the only words that will remain when God comes again. Our work, work fed by the body and blood of Christ, then, is to know the words and works of God so that we open ourselves up and allow him to speak and act through us, so that we don’t block others from seeing and hearing God speaking to them. How is your work of knowing the words and works of God coming along?