Summary: Tough, arrogant and persistent, sin (like nutgrass) will (in Malachi’s words) be burnt to stubble to make way for the Kingdom. Don’t be childish -- our faith is not a game. The prophets have warned us -- and now, someone greater than a prophet is here.
Nutgrass of the Soul
Rev. Cynthia T. Hinson – St. Paul United Methodist Church – Conroe, TX – July 7, 2002
The very last book of the Old Testament is Malachi, and the last verses of the last chapter of that book read thus:
1 "For behold, the day comes, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.
2 But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go forth leaping like calves from the stall
3 And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.
4 "Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.
5 "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes.
6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”
If you ever wanted to see a picture of persistent arrogance take a look at the flowerbed outside the south door to the sanctuary – the door nearest the pastor’s study. For the most part it looks like burnt up stubble now; all the tall, blooming bush daisies that I planted 5 years ago are gone. Even the stubborn greenbriar and the rambling wild strawberry vine that whipped my legs and ripped my hose as I walked past are dead. Ray Burgess killed it all with his Roundup Spray – or so we hoped.
“Finally,” he must have sighed, “Finally I’ve gotten rid of all the weeds so that something nice can grow here.”
But it wasn’t to be – not yet, anyway. Even after the heavy dose of Roundup, tiny green spears poked through the tangle of deadness one by one and began to multiply. It was NUTGRASS – stubborn, arrogant stuff that practically refuses to die. So Ray sprayed it with again, and in a day or so the new sprouts turned crispy brown to match the rest of the dead vegetation in the bed.
“Well, it’s about time,” we both smiled. Surely nothing could survive in that bed after two doses of Roundup.
Wrong! Within a few days nutgrass sprouted again. Not as much, granted – but (hear this…) the way the stuff multiplies, it only takes one uncontrolled ‘nut’ to take over a whole flowerbed. We’ll have to spray again – and again, if necessary. Let one sprout survive and it will make another nut. Let one nut survive – and it will generate new sprouts...
Don’t you know that God has looked on his beautiful creation with divine frustration, watching sin grow like ‘nutgrass in a flowerbed’ among his people? In the days of the Old Testament God raised up one prophet after another to speak words of warning to Israel – words that targeted Israel’s arrogant sin, words pointing out things that needed to be removed. Some people listened to the prophets; others did not. And so roots and branches of sin remained, and kept growing and multiplying, pervasively invading and sucking life out of the created order.
Sin is arrogant - it is an attempt to buck God. Sin is self-serving and self-preserving until it destroys it’s own occupant. Sin can live balled-up like a nut deep down inside us just waiting for a chance to sprout. All the prophets that God raised up in the Old Testament could not remove sin from Israel. All the preachers and teachers and leaders of Israel could not remove it, either.
God has to remove sin, himself. The day is coming, Malachi says, when sin will be burnt to a dead stubble. Wiped out. Ground down to ashes.
But before that day, God promised to send a mighty prophet to deliver a final warning – to make ready the way of the Lord. Those of us who love God will leap for joy when we hear the proclamation. We will skip like calves for the sheer joy of knowing that we are living under the in-breaking reign of God.
But others of us will be sitting on the fence like a lazy farmhand when that day comes. Why all this rush to righteousness? Why not just conveniently “forget” to offer our tithes and offerings to God for a few more months? After all, no one knows what we give to the church – or do they? Besides, we’ve got the rest of our lives to catch up, right?