“A Sacrifice of Thanksgiving”

 

Pentecost 12

August 7, 2016

 

Text: Luke 12:32­-40; Psalm 50; Isaiah 1:1, 10­-20

 

I find that a significant chunk of life in this world is spent in the pursuit of earthly treasure. Whether we are involved in earning a living, saving up for retirement, struggling to make ends meet, or trying to become wealthy, concern about material possessions takes up a considerable amount of human energy. I know this is true for me, and I believe it is true for many of you.

 

Much of this concern has to do with being worried and afraid about not having “enough”. When that happens, it is easy to become stingy and unwilling to share with others. I struggle with this attitude in my own life. 

 

Yet hear what Jesus says in our Gospel lesson: “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Make for yourselves wallets that don’t wear out—a treasure in heaven that never runs out. No thief comes near there, and no moth destroys. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.” What I hear Jesus saying is, “Don’t be afraid to be generous.  Your Father in heaven is happy to give you his kingdom, which is far greater than all earthly possessions and lasts forever. Make God’s kingdom the treasure of your life.”

 

If we are to do that, we need to be ready at all times to serve God.  We need to be ready to share and be generous. Opportunities to serve God by loving and serving our neighbor don’t always come at times when we expect them or when they are convenient for us.

 

This involves sacrifice. Both our psalm for today and our lesson from Isaiah talk about sacrifice in the context of ancient Israel. The sacrifice of animals, after all, was a major element of worship in those times. The idea behind these sacrifices was that of giving your best to God­­--thus the rules requiring that the animal being sacrificed had to be firstborn and without blemish. The idea also was that the person giving the sacrifice was not only giving an animal. That animal also was intended to represent the giver’s best self. It was meant to be the expression of the person’s full devotion to God and just and honorable conduct in how one treated others.

 

The problem that Isaiah and the psalm both address is that somehow worship and ethics had become separated from each other. There was no issue in the performance of the sacrificial rituals themselves. Yet Isaiah declared that Israel’s sacrifices had become loathsome to God because the people did evil rather than good, failing to show compassion for the oppressed, the orphan, and the widow, who were the poor of that time.  Similarly, in the psalm God declares that he had no need for the people’s animal sacrifices, especially when the people’s behavior was evil. They were involved in thievery and adultery and all kinds of evil talk--­­lying, slander, and fault­finding. The sacrifice God wants is a “sacrifice of thanksgiving.”

 

Now that phrase “sacrifice of thanksgiving” suggests to me that God wants our wholehearted worship and praise. Which is true. But let us be clear that wholehearted worship is more than being faithful in participating in the public worship of God. After all, the Israelites in Isaiah’s time were very faithful in doing the acts of public worship. They carried out the rituals of sacrifice religiously. Yet God found their sacrifices detestable because their public acts of worship did not make a difference in how they lived the rest of their lives.

 

I invite each of us to examine our lives. Is there a disconnect between our worship life and our ethical life? Do we come gladly to worship God on Sunday, only to do harm to others by how we conduct ourselves the rest of the week?

 

If we are to truly offer a sacrifice of praise, we need to offer God both the ritual and the ethical parts of our lives. God calls upon his people, both in ancient times and today, to “Seek justice: help the oppressed; defend the orphan; plead for the widow.” We are also to use our words as well as our deeds to help others rather than to hurt them. And as Jesus said, “sell your possessions and give to those in need”. He calls us to be generous to others, that we may have treasure in heaven that nothing can take away.

God calls us to repent of the inconsistency between our ritual lives and our ethical lives. Hear again what God said through the prophet Isaiah:

“Come now, and let’s settle this, says the LORD.

Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow.

If they are red as crimson, they will become like wool.

If you agree and obey, you will eat the best food of the land.

But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.

The LORD has said this.”

 

We have the promise of God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Through his blood on the cross we are cleansed of our sins. Through his resurrection the powers of sin, death, and evil are defeated. But Jesus did not do all this just so we could keep right on living as if God does not matter. We are rather called on to give ourselves wholly to God as a sacrifice of thanksgiving out of gratitude for all that God has done and continues to do in us in Jesus Christ. Both the ritual and ethical dimensions of our lives belong to him. Let us give ourselves wholeheartedly to God out of gratitude for his great mercy and love. Let us be generous as well in sharing with those in need, for this is also a sacrifice of gratitude to God. Amen.

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