Looking through Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows
First of all, I must ask you to excuse me if I make a reference to something you haven't heard yet. This sermon is being written for two different congregations. That said, here's the animal-themed fable that starts all of my sermons.
Bob considered himself a good husband and father. His wife and foal never went hungry. He didn't cheat on them and he never abused them. He came home at a reasonable hour and gave them presents at Christmas and their birthdays. It came as a great surprise, therefore, when his wife and daughter packed up and left. When Bob's wife phoned to set certain affairs in order, Bob asked why she had gone. "The bridle you gave me last Christmas was your old bridle which you repaired with duct tape." she answered. "You feed us bark while you yourself eat apples and oats. This is the way you've treated me for eight years, Bob. Not once since we said 'I do' have you made me feel loved."
It doesn't seem like Bob should have been surprised, does it? There is much more to love than the lack of hate. Bob mistook the fact that he was coldly following the letter of the rules for the actual fulfilment of his duties as husband and father. How could anyone make such a mistake? It seems unlikely, and yet entire nations have made this error.
In my series on the history of the world, we just covered the return of the Hebrews from the captivity. Israel as a people was done with the wholesale worship of idols. Losing their land had been a sufficient significant emotional experience to break them of that behavior. Ezra and Nehemiah saw the rebirth of a Jerusalem who were sad to hear of the way the had transgressed God's law, and happy to do all that He commanded. It was one of those eras when it was great to be a Hebrew. This, however, was going to change.
Enter Malachi. As the joke goes, muh-LA-chee was the Italian prophet who couldn't quite make it into the new testament. Well, Malachi predates the Roman invasion, but as the last book in the Old Testament, it is the only one to touch on a recently developed problem that continued well into the New Testament. Having given up idolatry, Israel was now swinging too far the other way. They were no longer worshipping the wrong gods, but they weren't worshipping the right God either. Not truly. They were going through the motions, but their hearts weren't truly in it. In our reading, we saw that the people were bringing the rejects of their herd to offer as sacrifice.
My father refers to this as cold orthodoxy. They were going through all the motions, but the love was no longer there, and they couldn't understand what was wrong.
This was a theme that would repeat later in history. A number of protestant churches, as they broke out of the Catholic church, claimed reformation, and yet they did not have love. The catholic church, despite their persecution of other Christians, at least had love. It was the catholic church who took care of the sick and the poor. Many monasteries doubled as hospitals and poor houses. While many churches do in fact love God and demonstrate His love to others, the problem has not only persisted, but grown. Revelation gives us the prophecy of Laodicaea, the final church age. In the end times, the general character of the church will be lukewarm, having no feeling either way, going through the motions of worship but having no love for God and no care for their fellow man.
My favorite Christian rock band, Petra, performed a song called "looking through rose-colored stained-glass windows". I'd like to share the lyrics of this song with you.
Another sleepy Sunday, safe within the walls
Outside a dying world in desperation calls
But no-one hears the cries, or knows what they're about
The doors are locked within, or is it from, without...
Out on the doorstep lay the masses in decay
Ignore them long enough, maybe they'll go away
When you have so much you think, you have so much to lose
You think you have no lack, when you're really destitute
Looking through rose colored stained glass windows
Never allowing the world to come in
Seeing no evil and feeling no pain
Making the light as it comes from within, so dim
Now I am not saying that this is a problem here. Not at all. The Christian Furry Fellowship and Grace Baptist Church are two bodies that are alive with love. If you recall my sermon entitled "the least", you know that I have nothing but praise for both groups. Both have made considerable efforts to support the poor, both take part in spreading the gospel, and both are close-knit families where one can find friendship and support. So except for the fact that I have been going chronologically through history and have just now come to the era of Malachi, why would I bring this up? It's because this is something we need to be constantly on guard against.
It is so easy to just take God's love for granted and settle into a comfortable lifestyle of complacency where all we do is sit in the pews and let somebody else feed us. It happens. Passions cool off and that drive, that fire that was there in the beginning dies out. It is so easy to just stop putting anything into the relationship. My younger friends, I am warning you about this because you have not yet experienced this cooling of passion and don't know what to look for. Older friends, I'm telling you this because you may be getting into that comfort zone where you feel like you don't want to work so hard to please God anymore. I'm not saying that is actually the case with anyone here, but we need to watch out for it. Why? Because it sneaks up on you. In Malachi 1:6,7, the Jews ask "How have we shown contempt for your name?" and "How have we defiled you?" They didn't realize what was happening. Their own lethargy had taken them into the zone where they didn't look into their own hearts because they didn't want to look. They didn't really care. They were looking through their rose-colored stained glass windows, fully convinced that God was Lord and all was right with the world when they merely paid God lip service and ignored the needy.
We need to be careful that we never get into this place. And if you ever think you're starting to, here's what you do.
Number one: Never rely on feelings. A lot of people refuse to demonstrate love because they don't feel motivated. They are waiting until they have their own needs met and then they'll go out and love somebody else. If you ever try that, you'll be waiting a long time. Love is not about feeling. It is about doing. Feeling good does not beget goodness. Goodness begets good feelings.
Matthew 6:33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Now I'm not saying that you're necessarily going to feel good.
How do we seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness? Jesus told us in Mark 12:29-31.
29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:
30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
God wants our love. He wants us to love Him and each other. But what is love?
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love is not a feeling. Nowhere does the bible say "love feels good" or "love is comfortable".
(gestures to cross behind him)
THAT is our constant reminder that love is not about feeling good. This cross is there to remind us that love is not comfortable. It is not about recieving blessing. It is about giving until it hurts and then continuing to give. Jesus gave everything He had on the cross for the sake of love. He was beaten, whipped, pierced, poisoned with thorns and bled to death to pardon our sins and reconcile us to our maker. It was for the sake of love He did this, and if we are his children, we must be like Him. Thank God we are not all called to die on a cross, but we are all called to have an attitude of love. Sacrifice and ritual is all well and good, but if there is not love, it all counts as nothing. To borrow from the words of the famous Dickens character Jacob Marley, Mankind is our business. Charity, mercy, benevolence, forbearance, these are all our business. The dealings of our trades are but a drop in the comprehensive ocean of our business.
This is what God means when He tells us in Hosea 6:6 and Matthew 12:7
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. Paul reinforces this when he says in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
So as you're going about your business this week, take a moment to expess God's love for someone. In order to make sure we don't shut ourselves in behind those rose-colored stained glass windows as others have done, let's make an extra effort to find someone's need and fill it in Jesus' name, and in so doing, show our God how much we love Him as well.
Today's reading: Malachi 1:6-14 6 "A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?" says the LORD Almighty. "It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name. "But you ask, 'How have we shown contempt for your name?' 7 "You place defiled food on my altar. "But you ask, 'How have we defiled you?' "By saying that the Lord's table is contemptible. 8 When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?" says the LORD Almighty. 9 "Now implore God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?"--says the LORD Almighty. 10 "Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you," says the LORD Almighty, "and I will accept no offering from your hands. 11 My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations," says the LORD Almighty. 12 "But you profane it by saying of the Lord's table, 'It is defiled,' and of its food, 'It is contemptible.' 13 And you say, 'What a burden!' and you sniff at it contemptuously," says the LORD Almighty. "When you bring injured, crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?" says the LORD. 14 "Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king," says the LORD Almighty, "and my name is to be feared among the nations.