First Baptist Church Laurens
Sunday, July 24, 2016
For weeks now, we have centered our attention in worship on the decline of Israel during the period of the minor prophets. During that day, the Northern part of the country which was known as Israel and the Southern part of the country which was called Judah were both taken captive. The Northern Kingdom fell to Assyria and the Southern Kingdom to Babylon. It was a dark, difficult and challenging time for the Israelites and yet it was also a time that was largely of their own making.
While we don’t know what happened to the Northern Kingdom since they never really returned home from Assyrian captivity, we do know that a new day came for the remnant of the Southern Kingdom. Eventually, the Persians conquered the Babylonians and they begin to allow the captive nations of the Babylonians to go home including the Israelites.
In turn, in Zechariah 3, our text for today on this last look at the minor prophets, focuses on that period. The people have returned home and they are trying to put their lives back together from a civic, family and spiritual perspective. They are in rebuilding mode – rebuilding their towns, their homes and even their temple as they seek to return to a more focused faith in God which was a focus that they had lost before the fall.
As they do, they reinstate the role of the High Priest. The High Priest will once again be the central figure of authority for the people and their faith. In our text for today, the priest’s name is Joshua. The problem, however, is that Joshua is evidently a flawed person. He isn’t perfect. He has a past. He isn’t worthy of the role to which he has been called. And in our text, this unworthiness is symbolized through his wearing of “dirty clothes”. In the passage, there are those who say that since Joshua is a flawed figure, he should not be the High Priest.
In the midst of these accusations, God speaks. Interestingly, God doesn’t deny Joshua’s sinfulness. Instead, God focuses on the fact that Joshua has received forgiveness. In turn, through the symbol of putting on new, clean clothes, God invites Joshua to lead.
While not denying what was happening with Joshua, many biblical scholars also see in this scene a way for God to speak to the Israelites as a whole. They too had a checkered past full of bad decisions that had led to the demise of their personal lives and to their country. But, they were now forgiven. They had put on clean clothes and it was time for them to live in light of this new identity.
Last week, we talked about repentance which a word that speaks of our sadness over our poor decisions that leads to a willingness to seek God’s forgiveness and to change our ways and direction. This is always a first step for us to make as we seek to change the trajectory of our lives.
The next step after the first step of repentance, is always to resolve to hold tight to this forgiveness as we live in light of this chance to begin again. I remind us of this because there are always those in our lives, like those in the life of the High Priest Joshua, who will bring up our past. They will point out of our flaws. They will question God’s ability to forgive us or to use us. And, in truth, they are right. We are all flawed. We are all far from perfect. We are all far from what we should be. But, it is also true that if we have asked God’s forgiveness, we are forgiven and our challenge is to constantly live in light of what God says about us rather than what others say about us.
Juliet Ames owns and operates a rather profound store in Baltimore, Maryland called The Broken Plate Pendant Company. What Ames learned over the years is that for a lot of people, one of their prized family heirlooms is their china. Be it grandma’s blue willow plate that has been passed down to them, their mother’s Christmas dinnerware or the china that they were given by family and friends when they married, many people see in their family dishes a great treasure and heirloom. (ibreakplates.com)
But, as we all know, china is fragile and is prone to break. Cracks develop, we drop a plate, chip a saucer or crack a cup. In turn, our response is that we have ruined these objects of great sentimental value and our only option really is with sadness to discard them or throw them away.
That is where Juliet Ames comes in. She takes these broken family heirlooms and sees in them something new. She makes jewelry out of them, creates piece of art with them and breathes new life into them. She redeems them.
Here is the interesting thing to me. Technically, both ways of looking at these old plates are accurate. Yes, it is true, they are broken. But, it is also true that they can be and have become art and jewelry. Both views are accurate. What matters is which of the truths we choose.
Are we flawed, dirty and far less than perfect? Yes, all of us are. It is true. But, are we forgiven, clean, capable of doing wonderful things for God? Yes. If we have asked for and received God’s forgiveness we are and God does want to use us in profound ways.
Both are true. But which truth will we embrace and which truth will we build our lives upon? God’s truth is the one that we are invited to choose and to order our steps around. It is the truth that will set us free. Amen.