Who Said It Was Easy?
"You need to give her the chance to break up with you," said Dr. Henderson.
Even at the outset of my calling, I had some kind of inkling that the journey ahead of me would be arduous. I just hadn't an idea of the degree.
"Ministry is hard," Dr. Henderson continued. "That girl you're dating needs to know that and decide, right now, if she is called to be a pastor's wife."
Thankfully, Amy said she wanted to stay together. In fact, she didn't even hesitate.
However, fourteen years later, I occasionally wonder if she would have answered so enthusiastically if she knew everything she knows now. If future Amy could whisper back through the years to that naive college freshman, would she have said, "Run"?
Fourteen years, five Baptist churches, a dozen various pastoral responsibilities, an M.Div. accomplished, a D.Min. begun, and a tough three-year introduction to the senior pastorate level proved Dr. Henderson correct. Ministry is hard.
I wonder if that's how the priests in Malachi's day felt too.
This morning I did something I rarely do; I randomly opened up to a book of the Bible and began reading. There was a little more intention than that. I purposely choose a book in which I hardly have spent much time. For some unbeknownst reason, Malachi emerged.
I was surprised to discover that the opening chapters are directed at the clergy, the priests of Israel. The prophet's message doesn't paint a positive image of these priests either. Apparently, they've thrown in the sponge. They've given up and are halfheartedly performing their duties. Listen to what Malachi says.
"A son honors his father, and servants their master. If then I am a father, where is the honor due me? And if I am a master, where is the respect due me? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. You say, 'How have we despised your name?' By offering polluted food on my altar. And you say, 'How have we polluted it?' By thinking that the Lord's table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not wrong? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not wrong (Mal. 1:6-8a)?"
As any elementary Bible student can tell you, the temple sacrifices had to be perfect, unblemished specimens - the finest lambs, the whitest doves, etc. As another pastor has put it, God doesn't want your junk. If this sacrifice would be an atonement for sin, which God takes very seriously, then it needed to cost something. A blind or lame animal just wouldn't cut it.
Part of the priestly duty was to ensure that these sacrifices were pure. But the priests of Malachi's day had become less than enthusiastic about their assignment. Why? Malachi gives us a clue at the end of chapter one.
"'What a weariness this is,' you say, and you sniff at me, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord. Cursed be the cheat who has a male in the flock and vows to give it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished (Mal. 1:13-14a)."
Weariness. That seems to be the key to understanding the priest's slack. They are weary from keeping God's rigorous demands in front of the people. Therefore, they've become more than a little lackluster about their tasks. What pastor hasn't felt this way at one point or another?
Once upon a time in West Texas, a young man found his pastor parked at the railway station, alone, watching the trains go past. The pastor had apparently been sitting there all day long. The young man sat down next to him and asked, "Pastor, why are you just sitting here watching the trains go by?" The pastor said, "I just wanted to watch something in this town move on its own without me having to push it."
My seminary professor shared that story with me on an especially tough day of ministry. Then he said, "That's a true story. I was that young man, and that pastor was mine."
The Bible keeps no secrets about the hardship of ministry. God is demanding, people are stiff-necked, and ministers are tasked to stand between the two, administering grace.
Who said that task would be easy?
And yet, the standard is set. Malachi elaborates, "For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts (Mal. 2:7)."
As messengers of the King, we are tasked to speak his truth faithfully, as difficult as it may be and as offensive as the culture around us finds it. We are tasked with keeping his commandments, both before the congregation and in our own character. We are sacrificial witnesses, our own lives placed on the altar before the church and the world.
Who said it would be easy?
But we do have one advantage over the priests of Malachi's day. Another sacrifice, made on our behalf, takes all the pressure from our shoulders. God placed the responsibility for our sin and our congregation's sin entirely on the shoulders of Christ, the perfect lamb. His death on the cross and his resurrection means that on those days when weariness does get the best of us and we find ourselves staring at trains, God's grace abounds and covers us. The responsibility of this church does not depend on our perfection because the truly perfect one takes it upon himself. Amen!