A short sermon, preached this morning on Malachi 3:1-4.
In loving memory of Katy Remde, Gideon Addington, Maggie Kim, and a girl named Amy. If you have given up hope, the day will surely come when the Lord will draw near. Hold on another minute sister. Stay a while longer, brother.
Once upon a time, a therapist friend told me she had a client who was profoundly depressed. They had worked together many years, and every week the woman would come to see her. Every week the therapist had the same question for her: “Is there anything you are grateful for today? Anything at all?” And every week the woman said, “No. My life is terrible.” Truly, the woman’s life was very hard, bleak like a New Jersey winter. Gray and sad, with slushy snow and freezing rain that ices over and just causes trouble. For this woman, spring never came.
Then one day, the woman came to therapy, and before my friend could speak she said, “I have it! I found something to be grateful for!” Surprised, my friend leaned in and asked, “What is it? Tell me!” The woman smiled broadly and said, “Oxygen. I am grateful for oxygen.”
And then the work could begin. She had dug all the way down to the deepest, most basic part of herself, and found herself grateful for oxygen, because oxygen gives life. And if, in all that she had experienced, she could be grateful for life, then there was a way forward. A person can build on the smallest of molecules.
Once, a woman told me that she couldn’t seem to find God for very long, and she couldn’t figure out why God always disappeared. Sometimes in church, or in music or in short bursts, she would find herself caught up in the Spirit. She would be filled with joy and hope and expectation, and then suddenly it was gone, and she felt like the same old person again. Nothing had changed—what good is the Holy Spirit, what good is God, if nothing changes. She was just an ordinary woman, she said with some bitterness. I’m not book smart, she said…I have ADD.
I’m still thinking about that...how would God manifest to a woman with ADD? Seeing as how I have the mind of a restless squirrel, this was a pertinent question for me. Where does God show up if one never sits still? How does God get in a word for a person whose mind does not rest?
And then it hit me that this woman and I are not left behind…God shows up in fits and starts, in bits and pieces, in momentary fragments of time, because that’s how we can perceive God. The Almighty may show up in stillness and silence and meditation and books for those of you who can sink into those things…but for me and my house? The Holy Spirit plays a sly game of Hide and Seek, ducking around corners, tantalizing, offer glimpses of hope but not dwelling too long. No shame in my squirrel brain, the Lord is just leading a merry chase.
Prepare ye the way of the Lord? Oh yes, let us run around every corner, in and out of every closet, seeking the joy of the Lord…new mercies every morning…prepare ye the way of the Lord—be ready! Because at any moment Jesus might appear…
I knew another woman who never met the Holy Spirit. Her whole life long—a life long Presbyterian—she never had that spiritual baptism people would talk about. Even dour Presbyterians have a story of a time when they found God, but she hadn’t. Not ever. She was in her 60s when I knew her, and she had looked for God a long time.
She wondered often if she would ever see God before she died. She listened carefully to other people’s stories of how they had met God. She loved to hear those stories. And then she would faithfully go back to her everyday life of caring for loved ones, paying the bills, helping the sick, and giving what she had. She found joy in many things, but she had never met the Spirit. It was a deep longing for her, a point of sorrow, but she held out hope that one day the Spirit would catch her up.
Until then, there were cookies to bake and a neighbor to visit.
In the deepest, darkest nights, when sorrow catches me up and I am lonely, oh so lonely…on those days when the Lord is nowhere to be found and I despair that nothing will ever be right again…I cling to the stories of these women. I take a deep breath of oxygen and know that at least one person out there is grateful for it. I look behind yet another door and seek out the Spirit. And when yet again, the Lord is nowhere to be found, and my attention wanders, and I feel the emptiness of God’s absence, I bake cookies, knowing that a faithful life is possible even when all seems lost.
Prepare ye the way of the Lord! For we do not know what form God will come. We do not know how long God will stay. We do not know when God will come. But See, says the Lord, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
So go make cookies, clean out a closet, taste a deep breath if oxygen, visit a neighbor. Go live that ordinary life.
But don’t you worry, the Lord is coming.