“May God make us into a beautiful Gem
that shines for the world to see”
The Rev. Leonard B. Oakes
February 2, 2014
Let us begin our day by thanking God for the blessing of rain. It purifies the earth and all that dwell in it. Let us give God a resounding round of applause!!
Last week, Haidee and I were making a window shopping at a jewelry store inside Serramonte Mall when i was stunned by the beautiful look of gold and diamond rings being displayed. I know for a fact that it didn’t always look that way. That ring wasn’t plucked out of a mine in a perfect circle which just happened to be sized for your finger. Obviously it was formed into that shape somewhere along the line. Even before it was ever shaped into anything however, the metal had to be refined.
I remember when I was assigned in the beautiful Balbalasang in Kalinga, North of the Philippines, I had the chance to hold Eucharist to a group of miners who occasionally drop some gold in the offertory basket as their thanksgiving offering. Someone told me that there was once a priest who would start the service with these greetings: “The Gold be with you” in place of “The Lord be with you.” And the people answer: “And pyrites with you”. Pyrites are called “Fool’s gold” it is a form of shiny iron but not a gold. So the next time the priest held a Eucharist, there was a slight change in his greeting which goes, “The Gold be with Us” and the people answer, “Come let us gather them”. After gathering gold, the process of eliminating the other minerals from the gold is done using amalgamation with mercury to enhance recovery from other minerals, then brought to the market for weighing and refined for a finished product.
Refining is the process by which a metal or some other substance is purified. In biblical times and even today, the process of refining is done through the use of heat. In the case of gold or silver, the temperatures must reach extreme heat, nearing 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. As the metals reach such temperatures, they begin to melt, and eventually all the impurities burn off and what remains is the precious metal in its purest form.
The prophet Malachi in our first reading today used this metaphor to describe our relationship with God. God was not in the least interested in gold or silver, or any precious metal for that matter. No, he was interested in something much more valuable to him: SOULS. And while precious metals can still retain a level of worth even if they aren’t 100% pure, that isn’t the case when it comes to souls. No, the only soul that is acceptable to God is a pure soul, a soul without any impurities at all. Only perfection will do; anything less does not pass the test.
Now, this picture however presents a big problem for you and me, as it did for Malachi’s community. You see, perfection’s not really our kind of thing. We’re kind of unqualified to achieve the thing of purity. It’s not that we don’t want to; it’s that we can’t. And we know it.
The approach, “Since I’m saved by grace, I don’t have to do good works to strive for perfection,” and “I’m forgiven anyway, so it’s ok to go stray once in a while” are both extremely dangerous from a spiritual standpoint. Neither of them stems from faith. Neither of those philosophies come from the new Adam in us, but from the Old Adam, still clinging for dear life, even trying to take the good that God does in our lives and twist and tangle it up. God wants souls that are free from impurities. Souls that buy into either of those two approaches demonstrate that they are anything but pure.
So what does God expects from us, His people? Malachi, suggested in verse 3 that, “God will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.” Such suggestion depicts that God is constantly refining us through the use of a fire into becoming a beautiful gem and be able to shine like that of a gold or silver.
But what really does that mean? God isn’t literally going to put us through a fire in order to melt away our impurities? But it might feel that way as we endure the painful process that God is referring to: the process of repentance. Only through the refining fires of repentance are souls made pure and right and presentable before God.
So why don’t we do just like that? Why instead do we sometimes default back to the previous wicked ways? Because the process of repentance is painful. It isn’t just a general awareness or acknowledgment of sin; that we “know we’re sinners already so let’s move on” type of things. The refining fires of repentance are the coming face-to-face with the impurities of my sin – owning up to them and confessing them before God, admitting that we know how dangerously damning each sin is. Repentance finds us open and exposed before God, with nowhere to hide and no one to blame but ourselves for our sin. And that hurts.
But when we keep in mind that it is when we endure the pain that we can be renewed entirely through the refining fires of repentance. This process removes the impurities. It cleanses. It purifies. It alone makes us acceptable in God’s sight, because it is an admittance that we wouldn’t be acceptable in God’s sight apart from Christ, who paid the ultimate price to remove the impurities of our sin. He gave his life. He himself had to go through this ritual of purification and Simeon took him to his arms saying he had seen Salvation in this child Jesus, a light for revelations for all. If you would open your Book of Common Prayer (BCP) and turn to page 93, you will find the Song of Simeon in his confession upon seeing the child Jesus. “Lord you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promise. For these eyes of mine have seen your salvation, a light for all the world to see.” This is what Malachi was referring to and certainly what John the Baptist was proclaiming about the one who is coming.
The metaphor of being refined offers additional comfort if we carry it a bit further. Malachi wrote, “He will sit as a refiner” When the fire finally got hot enough for the metal to melt, the refiner had to pay close attention. It wasn’t the type of job in which he attempts to multi-task. No, The refiner had to keep a close eye on things. He needed to remain by the fireside throughout the refining process to ensure that the metal got hot enough to burn off the impurities, but also so that it wouldn’t be allowed to overheat, which could end up making the precious metal dull and lose its luster.
And so, as we go through this process of refining, God never leaves us or forsakes us. He remains by our side. God will remain by our side throughout that he might drive away the superfluous ways of life and make us into a perfect stone that shines. It gives us a very good feeling knowing that God will continue to keep his eyes on us and make us whole.
May God continue to mold us as beautiful master’s work that shines to all of God’s beautiful creation. Amen.