My heart’s one desire is …..

……. to be holy, ready to do God’s will. This attitude is a reflection of my prayers over the past week as I reflected on the readings for Sunday 2nd February and in particular the passage from Malachi referring to a refiner’s fire purifying God’s people, resulting in the image below in my prayer journal.

Refiner’ Fire

Candlemas It was a busy Sunday with 4 services – 2 of them communion, one all age and one healing service. I preached at 3 of them and led them all. So I am tired. But feel blessed that it was a good day.

I learnt something new – someone said ‘every day is a school day’ – the snowdrop is also known as Candlemas bells because they flower now. There are a great many varieties. I preached about worship and below is the sermon. I had to cut it a bit shorter than this for in church, but have restored it to full length for here.

My sermon this week was a little long so I chopped some bits out from the ending. However, this is the sermon as it would have been had I had more time. It was illustrated using PowerPoint images. The hymns at each church were different.

Candlemas 2nd February 2020

Malachi 3:1-5 and Luke 2:22-40

sermon

Song to listen to (or join in if you wish)  “We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord”

It’s easy to sing God’s praise when life is good and the sun’s shining.  Not so easy when life isn’t so good.  Sometimes we have to make an effort and remember that it’s all about God and that he is worthy of our praise.  We give up something of ourselves and offer it to him as a sacrifice of praise.    Sacrifice was part of the old temple system of worship that is alien to us. 

Jesus’ parents took him to the temple 40 days after his birth and as was the custom they take a sacrifice.   Today is the pivot between Christmas and Easter.  Mary and Joseph offer Jesus, their first born son, to God – and redeem him by sacrifice of pigeons as their worship.   It was also for the purification of Mary after childbirth.  They were being obedient to the Jewish laws.

Presentation of Christ in the Temple

And of course we know the story well.  Simeon can depart in peace because he has seen the one who will redeem Israel and Anna’s strange words give Mary something to think about – a sword will pierce her heart.  Little did she know that 33 years down the line she would see this baby, grown into a man, hanging on a cross:  The ultimate sacrifice.

I was drawn to the Old Testament reading this week – Malachi – who writes about the danger of dead religion.

It got me thinking about our worship in church.   So I read up about him and read the whole of the book of Malachi (not very long, only 4 chapters).   I believe we can all learn something from the message God gave through his prophet to the priests. 

In the OT it was the priests who offered the worship, by way of sacrifices in the temple.  Today we offer our own sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving as well as the giving of ourselves in various ways. 

We are the priests – all of us in NT days are a kingdom of priests – a royal priesthood = the church members, not just people set aside for specific priestly duties like me.

Malachi was the last prophet in the OT with a very strong message to Israel and especially the priests who were offering inferior sacrifices.  They were saying they were giving their best, but they weren’t.

Right at the beginning of his message Malachi stresses God’s love for his people.  It’s the love of a father for a son – …. with God being the Father and Israel being the son

      1:6 “A son naturally honours his father and a slave respects his master. If I am your father, where is my honour? If I am your master, where is my respect? The Lord of Heaven’s Armies asks you this, you priests who make light of my name!

God made a covenant with his people through Moses.    The prophets repeatedly called people back to God when they were unfaithful.  They repeatedly looked to the day when Israel would be a light to the nations who would all come to know the true God.  Malachi went further than the others in seeing that this world-wide worship would not be dependent upon the sacrifices offered in Jerusalem.  The inadequacies of the sacrificial system, which had so troubled the prophets, were seen by Malachi as about to be transcended, as indeed they were in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Through this sacrifice even Gentiles who were strangers to the covenants of promise would be reconciled to God. 

 And by our baptism we are part of that covenant with God where we become adopted children and he our Father.  A covenant is a promise about a relationship more like a marriage than a financial contract to get some work done.  God will never break that covenant even if we do.

And our worship is part of the language of love between us and God.

Offerings/Sacrifices = worship

What does God say about our worship through Malachi?

  • He sees that some people are bored with the ritual
    Malachi 1:13 You also say, ‘How tiresome it is.’ You turn up your nose at it,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “and instead bring what is stolen, lame, or sick. You bring these things for an offering! Should I accept this from you?” asks the Lord. 
  • It is like the idea of cheap grace summed up by the phrase “God will forgive me, it’s his job.”
  • God says that it is better to shut the doors of the temple (in our case, church) than to offer worship that’s worthless.

OT = burnt offerings, animals, grain, tithes (money as well as produce)

NT (us) = money (tithe/set proportion of income), time, talents – post comm. prayer = “a living sacrifice”…. our whole life is an offering to God.  Our whole life is our worship.

Whatever we do in our giving to God and in our worship needs to be done with correct motivation, ie obedience to God, seeking his will. 

When we are aware of God’s awesome presence and blessings we are more likely to express deep reference for God.    We are less likely to be guilty of offering that which costs us nothing, be bored with worship and have false confidence in ourselves rather than dependency upon God.

Money giving – how much in proportion do I give.  cf a loaf of bread – a pint of beer – bottle of wine…. what will I give to God this week?

Best animals (OT) – more in value than defective beast.   The priests had got good animals but they chose a defective one, thinking God wouldn’t notice.

Time – in prayer, for others you know = intercession prayers for people you meet in your day to day lives.  Pray for God’s blessings on them.  Not only priests bless. 

So, what about the section of Malachi we have today, you might be thinking…..  Well, the people back then were disillusioned.  The temple had been re-built but decade after decade passed with no supernatural event occurring to mark the return of the Lord to Zion.  So they, quite understandably, thought they had done their bit – where was God?  His delays were an excuse for atheism.  Where was the God of justice?  How come good people have bad things happen and evil people seem to prosper?  People were asking.  Sounds familiar.  And it is in answer to those prayers and questions that he says, through Malachi, that he will send his messenger.  He will suddenly come to the temple.   And then there will be justice.  There will be a sifting of the good from the bad.

In other words, God’s about to do the spring cleaning.  Rolling up his sleeves, getting out the mop, the sugar soap for the paintwork, bleach for the drains and anything else that can stand it, and having a right set to.  No dirt will stand a chance.  No sin will escape his gaze.  My word, it’s a spiritual Cillit Bang.

Now, do you spring clean because you love your house and want it to be the best it can be?  Or do you spring clean because you hate your house?    It’s a labour of love.  If not for the house, then those who live in it.

Likewise, God is saying that he knows there is sin in the world and he is about to do something about it.  But he is doing it out of love, and nobody is exempt.  He loves us all so much that he wants us all to be put right and purified from our sin.

The image of refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap is one of care and love.  The purpose of refining was not to destroy but to purify, and the fuller’s soap was an alkali so more like bleach than imperial leather.  Fuller’s soap was used to make cloth white.  

When we suffer because of our faith – or when it is difficult to worship but we make the effort anyway  – or when we are going through difficult times and we may be tempted to give up on God and say – there is no God or he wouldn’t let such and such happen… we are going through the refining process. 

Like Joseph (he of fancy coat in OT that we looked at in our Wednesday evening bible study) who was Dad’s favourite, through the jealously of his brothers, sold into slavery but then, because he didn’t give up on God, remained faithful rose to a high position in Egypt and saved the lives of many, fulfilling God’s plans …. and eventually forgave his brothers and was reconciled.    He was being refined through that process.

Or, as Paul wrote to the church in Rome:

Romans 5 ……. we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  ………….. suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

The Holy Spirit is likened to a Dove and to fire.  Jesus came and baptised with fire and the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the refiner’s fire.  The refiner looks into the open furnace, or pot, and knows that the process of purifying is complete, and the dross all burnt away, when he can see his image plainly reflected in the molten metal. 

The refiner can see their face in the molten metal when it is purified.

We are made to reflect God’s image, but that can only happen when the dross is all burnt away…. that is why we need to invite him to purify us from within.

The song that I’ve had in my mind all this week is Purify my heart, cleanse me deep within and like refiner’s fire, purifying all the dross.

Molten metal is left shining – reflecting the face of the refiner.  We reflect God’s glory when he has been at work in us…. when we are obedient and doing his will.

Visual aid – shiny silver spoon – see face in it better than stainless steel?  Silver is a purer metal.

Being Holy = set apart for God’s purposes. .  Not holier than thou.   A holy person is one whose heart/will is in line with God, offering themselves to him as a living sacrifice day by day to be His presence in the world.  I like the phrase People of the Presence

That’s what worship is all about.  And none of us is perfect yet, so let’s offer up ourselves afresh to God’s will in our lives.

Psalm 51 has that wonderful phrase:  The sacrifice God requires is a broken and contrite heart…. broken will he will not despise.   Think of a wild horse’s broken spirit – it enables it to enjoy a good relationship with the rider.     We think of the heart as being the seat of romantic love but when you read the bible, the heart means the seat of the will.  In our worship we offer ourselves and we all know there are bits that aren’t totally under God’s reign.  As you receive the bread of Holy Communion today, I invite you to use that opportunity to offer up to him, anything that you feel may be getting a higher priority in your life than Him, and receive his healing, his refining.

As I was considering today’s sermon so many different hymns came to mind. “Take my life and let it be consecrated lord to thee” … my moments and days…. my words… all that I am and all that I have….and that reminds me of the wedding vows:


With my body I worship you
All that I am I give to you
All that I have I share with you
Within the love of God

When we give ourselves to God to that extent…. we are not being disloyal to our human spouses. On the contrary if we love God and thereby able to receive more love from God we will have a purer love to offer other people, including our spouses.

Our hearts, and our wills, freely given to God are loved and cherished. We are the bride of Christ and he loves us. So as a bride gives her heart to her husband, let us give ours to God. And from that love will flow worship that is pleasing and acceptable to him. Amen.

My prayer table

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