That Bible reading is set in the world of animal sacrifice which means it seems a bit remote. It's hard for us to relate to, to connect to. We don't have animal sacrifices today and hopefully most of you think that's a very good thing indeed.
“Do you love me?”
It’s a question we sometimes ask of each other. We question the way someone acts towards us. Does this person really love me?
We ask it of God as well. When life takes a sour turn, or is just plain flat. When tragic illness strikes, or you lose your job. “God, do you love me?”
That’s the question we’re asking this morning, as we look at the opening verses of the book of Malachi.
Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament.
Have you ever felt as if everything is against you? As if everything you touch goes wrong? As if you’re experiencing difficulties from which there is no way out? Felt the pressure of people who are determined to stand in your way and make your life difficult, and you’re just powerless to clear your own path?
I know some of you have been there, because you’ve shared that with me. I’ve certainly been there.
It can be a black place to be, hemmed in, with others deliberately making things difficult.
Most people would appreciate some help when it comes to praying.
Many of us doubt whether God hears us if we pray. Many of us are unsure what we ought to pray for. Which means many of us don’t.
If you were here last week, we began a journey through the first few chapters in the book of Psalms. Psalms is part of the Bible, which means it’s God’s word to us. But unusually, it also contains our words to God. It’s a collection of hymns and prayers, for the people of God, all down the ages. It’s God giving us words to pray, and words to sing.
“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep; If I should die before I wake, I pray thee, Lord, my soul to take.”
At 13, I started at a new school. My parent were abroad, so it was a boarding school. And one of my new friends had been taught by his parents to pray that prayer every night.
It’s not a bad prayer as it happens. But it’s clearly a child’s prayer.
For an adult, life is messy and complicated. And we need a prayer life that is fit for the real world.
Many of us don’t pray. Or if we do, we’re unsure what we ought to pray for.
Old fashioned ideas about God, that turn out to be very important.
Two weeks ago, we looked at guilt. Ezra 9 showed us what God is like, and what we are like. Guilt may be out of fashion, but it turns out it’s very important.
Today, we look at repentance. Also out of fashion. Also very important. And, as we’ll see, extremely costly.
Ezra chapter 10 is a shocking chapter. Did you feel an element of shock as it was read out?
Guilt gets a bad press today.
Many secular counsellors would say it’s unhealthy to feel guilty. We need to let go of our sense of guilt. And if someone is trying to process issues and problems in their life, the last thing they need is to be made to feel guilty for things they’ve done wrong.
If you’re trying to achieve something, there are many obstacles.
It might be a business, a community project, a building, a sports team.
Including being discouraged at the small scale, and little progress.
Including complacency from those you look to for support.
Including opposition from those who don’t want to see your project succeed.
The same applies if what you’re building is the kingdom of God.
I take it we all find it frustrating when people just tick the boxes of whatever it is they’re doing. Pay lip service, but their heart is not in it.
Someone at work. They turn up, they do the hours, but the moment their not being observed they’re at half pace.
Memories of school PE. The frustration of half a rugby team who want to win this thing, playing with team mates who have to be there.
Box-ticking lip-service is especially ugly when it comes to Christians.
If you were here two weeks ago when we last looked at the book of Ezra, we ended on a slightly scary and somewhat sombre note. As we seek to live for Jesus Christ and to build his kingdom, there is real opposition. We will be opposed. And sometimes that opposition will succeed. We looked together at the tactics that the devil will use to oppose us. We concluded that we must not write this off as scaremongering. They had to stop rebuilding the temple for 16 years, which was a very long time.