Psalm 50: 1-15 Hebrews 13: 1-16
The Sacraments As Sacrifices
May the Lord be with you. (And also with you…)
The Lord said, “I don’t need the bulls you sacrifice; I don’t need the blood of goats. What I want instead is your true thanks to God; I want you to fulfill your vows to the Most High. Trust me in your times of trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory.” Of course, those are the last few verses from the Old Testament Psalm reading that we just heard. And those are certainly pretty powerful words, especially if you’re a Jew in Old Testament times or even during the time when Jesus Christ was here with us on earth as we ourselves are.
In Old Testament times, meaning from the time of Abraham right through to when Christ was crucified, the system of sacrifice to God was something that all of the religious traditions were doing, all of the various pagan groups, as well as all those immediate ancestors of the first man that our God had communicated with in the desert. And honestly, it was from the pagans that the Israelites, took those practices, ..such practices are passed on from people to people. Abraham had been around pagans his entire life that regularly sacrificed to their gods, so Abraham sacrificed. But Abraham would do it one better, he would one up the pagans, in that he would be willing to sacrifice his own son Isaac for his god, this boy for whom all of his hopes and dreams were relying. ..Move forward to the Israelites moving down into Egypt and then becoming enslaved there, but really we must remember that they had not always been slaves in Egypt. When they had first arrived they had been granted very special status because of Joseph, that son of Jacob who had been sold into slavery by his brothers due to their jealousy of him. The brothers, when they get to Egypt themselves because of famine in their own land, discover that their brother that they’d sold into that slavery is actually powerful and privileged in this, his adopted land, and then their brother Joseph lovingly and forgivingly provides for them there. They too become privileged, and naturally adopt things from their new home. Only after a few generations do they become enslaved, but then Moses comes to free God’s people who not too long before had been quite melded-in to the fabric of that land.
He takes them out into the Sinai Desert and there he writes a series of laws that the people will live by. And from where does Moses take the concepts for these laws that he’s writing for his people? He takes them from the house of Pharaoh, the house from which he was raised. God was clearly involved with the call, mission and ministry of Moses, yet at the same time, human traditions evolve from each other and Moses declared the traditions which became Jewish laws, from those laws that he’d grown up in and already knew. And those laws had at the foundation of them, of course, sacrifice, sacrifice as a way to show your thanks to God, and sacrifice as a way to show your repentance and your guilt. Yes, sacrificing to God has a very deep and long standing root in humanity, it’s something that we have always done.
Go down through the years, and thought processes evolve, as they always do, and practices also evolve with new reasonings, as they always do. There’s ritual and ceremony, there’s practicality and celebration; but the traditions of sacrifice remain as they generally always were. A thousand years after Moses gives to his people the laws that outline those sacrifices, notice that David, in his prayers to God – which of course are what the Psalms are -, that he realizes that those sacrifices that have always been made, those sacrifices of God’s other creatures, sacrifices made by human hands with human understandings, that they are all superficial. That they’re all simply a practice that does really nothing for God, but instead may simply make the human feel better about themselves. I’m a man, I’ve done something that I know I shouldn’t have, I feel guilty and I feel ashamed – so Moses’ law tells me to kill a goat or a bull, and that that will absolve me of my sin, their death will make me feel better. Or perhaps something wonderful has happened for me, the birth of a child, the success of a challenge. Moses’ law tells me to thank God by killing a goat or a bull, and then that way I will feel complete, I will feel that I have done my duty in thanking God. David says in his prayer that that is not what God wants, ..but for a thousand years no one practically considers something different – this was the law.
David realizes the superficiality of these animal sacrifices, and through him we end-up hearing God’s voice saying, “I don’t need the bulls you sacrifice; I don’t need the blood of goats. What I want, what I need instead is you…”
And then Christ arrives to us and instead of these being simple words as a part of David’s prayer, Christ makes these words foundational in his teachings to us. Should we sacrifice to God, give something up for God? Yes, there should be some way that we show our God just how and why it is that we are happy and satisfied with all of the blessings that our God gives over to us.
I know that with our own kids, Hala and I will do anything we can, anything to make their lives better and more successful. Anything we can do that we feel will be good for them, anything that will help them advance forward in their lives, set them up in a better situation, even in a better situation more than either one of us were in at the ages that they are in now. And we’ll do that because they are our children and we love them and want the very best for them. It’s what most all parents do, parents may act out and react differently to different situations, but I will say that I do believe that the far, far majority of parents in the world just ultimately want to see their child succeed, to be happy and healthy, to be vibrant and a success. And that’s what God simply wants for us too.
But I’m sure, that as it is for all parents it is for God as well, in that you just want to be shown a sense gratitude every once in a while, you want to know that all of your efforts and all of the things that you yourself have gone without, are not forgotten about or blown off, or disrespected. A kind word of thank you, the very simple questions of, “How are you?” and “What can I do for you?” How many parents would simply like to hear their child say those words to them, to be shown that all you have done has not been forgotten about. Do we who are parents, and does God require animal sacrifices made or something similar to show thankfulness? No, of course not. We say to God in prayer, “What can I do for you?” And God replies, “Show your thanks to me, trust me, as I give to you of me, give to me something of yourself.”
A real sacrifice is something that you give up, something that you give up that has significance to you, in other words, it’s something that’s important to you and your life. And I will say that probably all parents are regularly sacrificing from themselves for their children; sometimes it’s sleep, sometimes it’s food or clothing. I know that there have been lots of times that I myself and Hala have gone without something so that our kids could have something they needed or even wanted. And Lord knows we’re always sacrificing money to them. I know, it’s just the way it is for most all people.
But what can be a proper sacrifice from us to God, to show that we are appreciative for all of the blessings he gives to us? And remember, God doesn’t want something that’s superficial. God wants something from us that’s real, and it doesn’t have to be something big and catastrophic, it doesn’t need to take lots and lots of time to do.
Today we are performing here in this service the two sacraments that were mandated to us by Christ himself. We are having the baptism of Sydney Rose Ellis, and we are having our Eucharistic meal, we say that we are celebrating baptism and that we are celebrating communion. And perhaps you have never really considered the word ‘Sacrament’ or ‘Sacramental’, but after our discussion here about ‘sacrifice’, I think you can realize that the two words sound similar and that it’s actually no coincidence that they do. And the reason why they do sound so similar is because they are essentially the same thing.
During the liturgy of the baptism, we hear words of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for us, that with our baptism we shall be clothed with Christ, and therefore be united with him in his death on the cross, and therefore be united with him in life everlasting. By Brian and Alicia bringing forth their daughter for baptism this morning, they are saying that they will sacrifice of themselves to see to it that their daughter will know Christ in her life, that they will actively pursue opportunities for her to be in relationship with God through Christ. God wants of us, God wants us to be his, with this sign of baptism, it’s putting this child and ourselves up to God and saying, ‘We are yours”.
And then while we celebrate communion, you’ll hear words there as well that commit us to Christ and to the sacrifice that he made for us. We state boldly in that liturgy, “Accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving as a living and holy offering of ourselves, that our lives may proclaim the One crucified and risen.” With our partaking of the Eucharist, we are putting ourselves forth and acknowledging that Christ really did sacrifice himself for us so that we would be reunited with our Creator in the life to come after this one. And that that sacrifice, his sacrifice, is represented in the bread as his body and in the juice of the grape as his blood. God wants us to be his, and so with this act of communion, we’re putting ourselves up to our God once again and saying, “We are yours.”
And to some this may seem like a whole lot of not much. But think of it this way. Brian and Alicia play with Sydney Rose, and she smiles and she laughs. And it’s a reaction, it something that Sydney Rose does automatically because of what Brian and Alicia are doing. But how does that smile or that laugh make them feel? Does that smile and laugh seem like a gift? I know that when our boys were at that tender age, that I’d try to get the boys to laugh because their laugh to me was the best sound that I could hear. It’s not much on their part, but it’s everything to the parent.
Coming here to church, celebrating baptism, celebrating communion, or perhaps it’s something along the lines of what Paul tells us in Hebrews; “With Jesus’ help, let us continually offer our sacrifice of praise to God by proclaiming the glory of his name. Don’t forget to do good and to share what you have with those in need, for such sacrifices are very pleasing to God.”
Do we get it now? It doesn’t take much from us to make our God feel that he is being glorified, just like it doesn’t take all that much good for our own children to do to make us proud. And let me tell ya, sacrificing of ourselves to God is a lot easier than the sacrifices we make for our children, but of course we do that and often do that gladly. Let’s not be as spoiled, unappreciative children to our God, a God that has given to us so much, has given us so much to be rejoicing about. I do hear people say that everything they have is because of God, AND that they are very well aware that by the grace of God, that their bad or negative challenges in this life are not nearly as bad as they could be, all because of the grace of God, that things can always be so much worse. Let’s always live like we’re fully aware of that. If we do that, we will be bringing glory to God’s name, or in other words, making him proud to be our parent.
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.