Sacrifice

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Sacrifice

Genesis 22:1-14

The Command to Sacrifice Isaac1

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

Romans 6:12-23

Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Slaves of Righteousness

What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.

When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You may have heard the phrase, “Freedom is not free.” It is true. Everything, even the ability to choose comes at a cost. In our time of rampant distrust of authorities, we each often seek our own counsel before obeying our authorities. That distrust ripples through us and all our relationships like waves on a river. Indeed, we should not be surprised when our children rebel against us after they watch us rebel against the authorities in our own lives. They are only doing exactly what we have shown them.

The price of freedom is freedom. For me to be free, someone else gave up their freedom. We honor those who fought in the military for freedom. We honor those who stood against authorities and gave their lives in civil protests. Even those who go to the extremes of terrorism are willing to give their lives for a kind of freedom in their own perspective (wrong as it may be), and often these people take the lives of others around them as a cost of that freedom as well. Giving up your own life has indeed become a hallmark of faith in anything.

There is another, perhaps even greater cost for freedom though. Freedom to give up those you love the most. Our military spouses are asked to give up their marriages during depoyments. Parents are asked to give up their children and children asked to give up their parents in the fight for freedom. Sometimes these sacrifices are the hardest to bear.

Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac in a “make it or break it” episode of the origins of our faith. Someone once told me that if it had been Sarah instead of Abraham, she never would have done it. There were two unique aspects of this sacrifice though. First of all, God did not make Abraham kill Isaac, but held him back at the last minute. Secondly, God ended up getting Isaac anyway. You see, unlike the other gods of the time, YHWH did not want his people killed. He wanted them to live for Him. As Paul writes in Romans, God desires living sacrifices, not dead ones.

Yet He still desires those sacrifices. Why? Sacrifice is just a fancy word for very costly payment, and payment to someone is one of the biggest ways we show value for who they are or what they do. We give them (ideally) something of equal value to what we have received. God had miraculously given Isaac to Abraham. The only thing that Abraham could possibly give back of similar value, was Isaac. It may seem unusual to return the very gift you have been given to the Giver of that gift, but that was largely what this sacrifice Abraham made was about.

We are called to do the same. Whatever God gives us, we give it back to Him. When he gives us love, we give it back to Him. When He gives us material blessings, we give it back to Him. When He gives us new life, we give it back to Him. When we do this, God transforms our sacrifice into something that not only blesses us, but blesses everyone else as well. Will you keep your blessings to yourself, allowing them over time to become idols in between you and God, or will you give them to God, allowing Him to bless the world through them?

What has God given you?

What is God calling you to give back to Him?


  1. (Heb 11:17–19)

Sacrificial Worship

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Sacrificial Worship

Exodus 24:1-11

The Blood of the Covenant

Then he said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship at a distance. Moses alone shall come near the Lord; but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.”

Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. He sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed oxen as offerings of well-being to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, “See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

On the Mountain with God

Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. God did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; also they beheld God, and they ate and drank.

It is hard for most of us to imagine what life must have been like for those Hebrew people recently liberated from Egypt. They, like Abraham before them, were called to follow God out into the wilderness and worship Him. While they were set free from harsh bondage, digging clay and making bricks without straw, building the pyramids of Egypt… they had no real plan for the future and did not know where they were going. Moses, their prophet and leader had never been one of them. He had first appeared as an adopted prince of Egypt and then later as a Midianite foreigner. Multiple tribes had come together and likely had some individuals vying for power and leadership over the others. These were many people who had been strangers brought together under the common enemy of Egypt and Moses was trying to bring them together under the common benefactor of YHWH.

Generally it is easier to unite people under a common enemy, playing on their prejudices and hatred. This is where the idea of political unification by going to war comes from. Gratitude is often harder to facilitate in the short term than prejudice. God was taking Moses the long way around building this new community of Israel. Instead of war, they were going to worship themselves into unity.

From the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock to the potlucks of today’s Protestant and Catholic congregations, eating together has been an important connection between worship and community. On one level, it makes sense that, having traveled several days into the wilderness, they would want to stop, make camp, and cook up some food for the community. Furthermore, it would make sense to cook some of the livestock they brought with them from Egypt. Where we run into some of the logic issues is in terms of which livestock were picked.

Think about it. If you were wandering through the Sinai wilderness (read desert) with no sure plan about where you were going to end up, would you offer up your own livestock first? Even if everyone was pitching in, would you offer up your bulls and oxen first or would you rather start small with some sheep or goats and save your oxen to continue carrying your possessions until you got to the Promised Land, wherever that was? Sinai was too soon to celebrate for anyone who was even half a skeptic, so these sacrifices, whose meat were shared by the community were more than a community picnic. They were costly. They were sacrifices.

The Hebrew people became the nation of Israel not through the invitation to a free meal or pitching together for their common good, they were unified by the commands of God which required real sacrifice from them. As they slaughtered and cooked their best chances for surviving in the wilderness, they were turning over their faith to God and the community around them. It was, in its own way, an act of love and trust to God and their neighbors.

What does this tell us about worship? Real worship is much more than a feeling. It involves trusting God and your community sacrificially. And it probably involves food. Let’s be honest now. We’ve been to many concerts where worship music was played and we felt warm and fuzzy, but we couldn’t tell you the name of the person sitting three seats away from us because real relationships were not formed there. The concert may have inspired us to get closer to God, but we did not pack our bags, quit our jobs, and head off on tour with the band. We just waited until they came around next year. Real worship asks more of us than that,

Flesh and Blood

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Flesh and Blood

John 6:52–59 (NRSV)

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

The Jews in the days of Jesus probably choked when He told them they would have to eat His flesh and drink His blood, and rightly so. Eating other people, and their blood in particular was just about the epitome of what it meant to be unclean according to the OT Law. If you take a close look at most of the OT food laws in particular, they forbid the eating of any animal that is either (a) a predator that eats raw flesh or (b) a scavenger that eats dead things. 1 It is forbidden to cook anything with the blood still in it. I believe, along with Jacob Milgrom that this was related to a abhorrence for all things related to death. When you set the food laws alongside the laws regarding funeral practices (i.e. disposal of dead human bodies) a theme begins to arise that to be clean is to be fully alive, while to be unclean is to be tainted by the presence of death in one form or another. Blood, illness, infection, all made a person unclean until they were healed.

Yes, the Jews had plenty of reasons to be freaked out by this comment by Jesus.

But I don’t think we do as Christians today.

I don’t know of a single religious person or group who has ever taken this passage literally. Even the most fundamentalist and literal readers of scripture have to deal with the fact that the body of Jesus is gone to heaven now, meaning, we cannot eat of it here. It is literally impossible to follow this teaching. Everyone starts from a place of symbolism.

Our struggle with this teaching is not about the flesh and blood, as Paul eludes. Instead we struggle with the spiritual implications. I thought Christianity was either learning about, or learning from Jesus! What is this business about eating Him?

I think there are two levels that act in concert with one another, albeit in somewhat disturbing ways. The first is just the idea of the intimacy of eating. I don’t know if the Jews had a scientific notion about how digestion actually worked, particularly to the point of understanding that we are what we eat. I’m confident though that they understood we get our strength from what we eat. What Jesus was proposing was a kind of intimacy – literally giving himself for our strength and sustenance that was unheard of then and is not much more understood today.

The second level goes back to the laws again. Along with avoiding death – especially human death, one of the most forbidden things was human sacrifice. Yet that is exactly what Jesus was. He did not offer anyone else up, He offered Himself up. How can it be ok for Jesus to do it, but not ourselves? Maybe because He was without sin. Maybe He did ask us to follow His example, laying our lives down for the sake of others. I don’t understand all of it. I just know Jesus offered up His all for me and for you, and we cannot live without Him.

What is the most intimate you have ever felt with Jesus?

Where do you need Him most today?


  1. Fish are a possible exception to this rule. 

Cover

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“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,

and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,

the spirit of wisdom and understanding,

the spirit of counsel and might,

the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,

or decide by what his ears hear;

but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,

and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;

he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,

and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,

and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,

the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

the calf and the lion and the fatling together,

and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze,

their young shall lie down together;

and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,

and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

They will not hurt or destroy

on all my holy mountain;

for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord

as the waters cover the sea.” Isaiah 11.1-9 (NRSV)

Peace on earth and goodwill to men is not just what the world needs, it is what each of us need. The famous poet Longfellow wrote a poem about this, which he called “Christmas Bells”. After losing his wife and a son, Christmas was not a joyful occasion for him, yet upon hearing the bells chime on Christmas Day, he reflected that his own sorrow was shared by the world. He was also reminded that God’s grace speaks to our sorrow in the gift of his only Son, Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate this weekend.

You cannot bring this peace about with force. Does scripture tell of violence? Yes, most assuredly… but every battle is followed by another. Every conquest is followed by a loss to a bigger, badder army. God’s creation in Genesis and the redemption of the world in Revelation are not marked by violence – indeed it is quite the opposite. They are instead marked by submission to Him, and God gets that submission through invitation and offer of a relationship, not through brute force or clever tactics.

The apostles Paul and John perhaps write about it best in their description of God’s primary means of transforming the world. It is, in a word: Love. Not romantic love or any other kind of self-serving emotion… God’s love is self-sacrificial by definition. God, in so many ways wins the war by giving up. He surrenders His only Son to death at our hands and the world is transformed in a moment. Victory is guaranteed. To a worldly way of thinking, this is absolute madness. You cannot gain, let alone protect yourself by giving up… yet this is exactly what God does, and it works far better than anything He might accomplish by force.

Isaiah reminds us that from beginning to end, from Eden to New Jerusalem, God’s desire for our world is peace on earth; goodwill to men. God is willing to surrender anything for that peace to cover us all. What are you willing to surrender for peace?

  • What would you be willing to fight to protect in your life?
  • Where do you need peace in your life?
  • What would you be wililng to surrender to invite God’s peace there?

The Cost of Peace

Monday December 19, 2016

Sacrifice

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Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?” says the Lord; “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, let us argue it out,” says the Lord: “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 1:10-20 (NRSV)

The Kubler-Ross model of grief sets out five separate stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Not everyone goes through the stages at the same pace. When Isaiah preached judgment against Judah, some were caught in denial. Others became angry and wanted Isaiah stopped. But there were some who made it to the bargaining stage as they grieved for their nation. They tried to win God's favor back by offering up sacrifices and by keeping the festivals God had prescribed for them in the Law. Some of these people were very good and being obedient to all the laws concerning worship times and avoiding particular sins.

The problem was that they either were oppressing the poor around them and denying justice to the victims of injustice, or they were turning a blind eye to the orphans and widows who were so easily neglected. They were guilty of minding their own business instead of minding God's business. The message of Isaiah, and all the prophets is clear: God does not desire sacrifices given as a substitute for obedience to His call on our life.

We cannot bargain our way out of grief. The more we try, the longer we keep ourselves from the true Hope God is calling us to receive. We have to work through the urge to pay our way to a better place, push past the depression, and make our way to acceptance and surrender. It is the "broken and contrite heart" that is the sacrifice that God will not despise (Psalm 51:17).

Where is grief touching your life today?

What distracts you from acknowledging that grief?

How can you bring your grief and brokenness to God?

Oh! precious is the flow

That makes me white as snow;

No other fount I know,

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Monday November 28, 2016

An Acrostic on Midnight – Life XVII

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We hide each night

not in gestures, however timely

in stature

and living marks of strained torque –

deeds of no extent.

 

A new day

set upon nimble reaches in sure event,

glows red on waiting shores,

sighing onward

‘neath each awaiting response.

 

This hour answers those

warring emotions,

crashing and neurotic,

tipped over unconditionally, crying horrendously

to heroic endearments,

slighting pillars, and culling each sentinel.

 

It ticks softly,

this intimate moment evading

the other

siding midway over on the hearth

to hither ears

hidden above iridescent regality.

 

Addled, noted digressions

greet each tether,

together heading everywhere,

dreaming in multiplexed prickles, leaning ever south,

reverencing every addler, despite yourself.

 

All now declare

with open numinosity, declaring eighty reaches

without end,

cradled over us, lowered down,

crossed and redeeming evermore.

 

For our respite

there heralds a trophy,

only left dying

for a death-eating democracy

marked in damned notes, in great hellish thoughts.

 

This has a troubling,

fear-ridden intensity, garnished here this evening, next empty doors,

but underneath this,

another note…

hope – our understanding renewed.