Reflecting on Malachi 3:1-4 and Luke 3:1-6
The sermon opened with 14 people from the congregation bringing a small poinsettia plant forward as each woman killed at L’ecole Polytechnique was named from the pulpit….after a short pause, words similar to the following were shared…
How do these things happen? How do some among us become so alienated from others? How did we combine as a society to create the conditions that led to the murders of 14 women at L’Ecole Polytechnique that led to the murders in California last week, that lead to entire countries taking up arms in the Middle East, that led to over 1100 missing and murdered aboriginal women in our country, that led to the deaths of thousands of women across our country, victims of domestic or sexualized violence. How are we to become something different?
In a way it’s the question Malachi and John were addressing. In Malachi’s time the priests and the people had fallen away from one another and from God. They were unclean and impure with each other, they were soiled in relationship, soiled before God.
Malachi brings word of one who will come to clarify priests and people. A refiner’s fire and a fuller’s soap.
In Flin Flon’s Zinc Smelter we’d heat the furnace to 600 degrees F or so. Zinc would pool, covered in a floating bed of impurities called dross. We’d rake the dross from the furnace with long handled hoes. Taking turns running close in, pulling back chunks of dross, out the doors and into waiting buckets. You didn’t want to pull too hard, or too fast. Waves of Zinc aren’t good for human flesh.
Fullers clean wool. In biblical times they used harsh, alkaline soap, not known to be gentle on human skin.
Malachi wants to know who can stand in the face of such refining.
John, the one we know as the Baptist, spent his ministry telling folk to get ready for another kind of cleansing. Repent, he said and find forgiveness for your sins.
John’s pretty clear that repentance cannot go skin deep. It will not suffice us to bear the marks of harsh soap, nor will it do us any good to be heated up to temperature without eliminating the dross. We need to be immersed in this baptism. All the way in. All the way through.
We must repent, and re-pent fully.
Now I have a friend who reminds me that re-pentance is not repudiation. I thought repenting meant regretting a personal error or vowing to bring some collective bad practice to an end. Of course I’d feel bad too. That was the root that supported the change. I was determined to end my shameful, broken ways.
Kind of like the day I realized what it might feel like to be a young woman walking through the maintenance shops in the pulp mill. I think that was the day our daughter Amy started working at the mill as a summer student. Somehow I’d never seen the centre-folds and calendar girls in quite that way. Through a father’s eyes. I repudiated my toleration of those images and the statements they were making about women and I supported taking them down.
That is repudiation. But it’s not repentance.
My wise friend told me that to be baptised in repentance for forgiveness of sins one must re-pent.
“Look at the word,” he’d say, as we met over coffee in the bookstore café. “Re-pent. Become one with the Spirit again. Fill yourself up, dive yourself in, realize you already are where you always were. Accept yourself as one in God and God as one in you.”
When we truly repent, when we realise our unity in God with one another and all creation we will know forgiveness for sins carried out because we turned away from our true nature. And, so long as we live fully into our repentant state, we will speak in the language God gives us. The language of love. In love spoken fluently, we will not be broken from ourselves (and that includes God) again.
Sometimes dross floats off easily, sometimes wool cleans quickly. Sometimes we see our brokenness and walk willingly into the Spirit. Arms and heart wide open.
Sometimes not. Sometimes it takes a look at the familiar through unfamiliar eyes. The eyes of a father seeing, for the first time, as his daughter might.
Whatever gives us the eyes to see and the ears to hear, the trick is to take up our call and re-pent ourselves with the Spirit, once again. And again and again and again. How often must I repent? As many times as it takes. As many times as it takes for each of us and all of us to realise our communion in God. Maybe then we will realise that each life taken is our own forsaken.
Come all you people, come praise your maker, come now and be one in God….