Sunday’s sermon: A Proper Offering

gratitude

Texts used – Deuteronomy 26:1-11 and Matthew 22:34-40

  • Guilt … sin … peace … burnt … and meal. [PAUSE] What could these five things possibly have in common? I’ll admit, it’s a bit of a strange list. Let me run through them again: guilt … sin … peace … burnt … and meal.
    • All types of sacrifices offered by the ancient Israelites[1]
      • Guilt offering
        • Offering made for unintentional sins → when you’re not sure whether what you’ve done breaks one of the laws or not
        • Attempt to repair breach of trust
        • Solely an individual offering (not communal)
      • Sin offering
        • Offering made to atone for sins in general (ones committed through carelessness and neglect, not malicious or intentional in nature)
        • An expression of sorrow for “missing the mark” with God
        • Can be individual or communal offering
      • Peace offering
        • Expression of thanks or gratitude toward God
        • One of few offerings that was shared between the priests and the person(s) presenting the offering à all had a part in the offering itself
      • Burnt offering
        • Oldest and most common sacrifice
        • Represents complete submission to God’s will
          • g. – burnt offering of the ram given by Abraham and Isaac on top of the mountain after Abraham nearly sacrifices Isaac[2]
        • Both expresses desire to commune with God and atones for sins
      • Meal offering
        • Devotion of the fruits of our labor to God
        • Often the first and best fruits
          • Harvest (grain or some sort of fruit or vegetable)
          • Livestock (cattle, lamb, etc.)
    • Now, Scripture is pretty clear about the ins and outs of these sacrifices – the who, what, where, when, how, and why of the proper ways in which they are to be offered.
      • Fair amount of text in the OT is devoted to the proper way to offer these sacrifices → roughly the first ¼ of the book of Leviticus (7 whole chapters) deals pretty exclusively with the proper way and time and attitude and elements necessary for the various sacrifices
        • Certainly mentioned in other places in the text as well
          • Woven into a number of stories from Abraham to Jacob and down through David and other kings
          • Mentioned a lot throughout the psalms – e.g. Ps 51: The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.[3]
          • Concern of many of the prophets – that the people weren’t performing the appropriate sacrifices and instead were sacrificing to other gods
    • But for even the most devout Hebrews, these offerings haven’t been made in centuries because while Scripture is very clear about how these sacrifices are to be made, it’s also clear about where these sacrifices are to be made: in the Temple. And in 70 C.E., when the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans, the people of Israel lost their most sacred place to worship and offer sacrifice to God. → pretty big obstacle/“set back” in terms of their experience and expression of their faith
        • Had to come up with new and different ways to show their thanksgiving and devotion to God
        • Also had to come up with a different way of atoning and fulfilling the law – all 613 commandments!
  • But Christians have never practiced this kind of sacrifice. It’s clear from many of Paul’s writings as well as other New Testament texts that even very early on, Christians viewed Jesus as having given the ultimate sacrifice – his very own life – for us … a sacrifice we could never even begin to either replicate or surpass. So how do we express our devotion and thanksgiving to God, especially when, like the Israelites following the destruction of the Temple, we find ourselves facing obstacles and set backs in our lives of faith? How to we do this together as a community? And how to we find that special time on our own to both thank God and rededicate ourselves to God’s service?
    • Poignant questions in the face of the holiday coming up this week à spoiler alert: Our thanksgiving before God has nothing to do with turkey, pie, or football … sorry.
    • Also a poignant question in the face of the church season that begins next week: Advent
      • Time of waiting and watching
      • Time of darkness and a gradual dawning light
      • Time to contemplate what is to come with the birth of the Messiah
      • Time of devotion and giving thanks for all that has come and all that is to come
  • So let’s start with our Old Testament scripture reading this morning because this text really lays out the basics of the who and the how and the why for us.
    • Scriptural context: Deut is Moses’ book in Moses’ words
      • Intro to Deut from New Oxford Annotated Bible: In narrative terms, Deuteronomy comes just as the Israelites, encamped on the plains of Moab, finally stand poised to enter the promised land. … Now, on the eve both of his death and of the nation’s entry into the land without him, Moses, as Deuteronomy’s speaker, arrests the narrative action in order to … review the nation’s history, expound upon their laws, and instruction them about the importance of loyalty to God.[4]
    • Seems like a nice little story at first glance
      • Presupposes both entry into and settlement in Promised Land (something the Israelites have been desperate for for some time)
      • Presupposes fertile ground and an abundant harvest
      • Speaks of a ritual meal offering
    • Meat of the story is in the middle
      • Begins with: Then you should solemnly state before the Lord your God: “My father was a starving Aramean. …”
      • Story of unfolds of how they came to be in Egypt, the oppression and suffering there, God’s deliverance, and God’s goodness and blessing in bringing the Israelites to the Promised Land
      • Ends with declaration of offering: “So now I am bringing the early produce of the fertile ground that your, Lord, have given me.”[5]
      • In this Scripture, we see story tied inextricably to offering thanks. There is a declaration of identity. There is a naming of some of our past struggles and hardships. And in the face of that, there is recognition of the role that God plays – guiding, supporting, protecting, strengthening, amazing.
        • Story that we participate in with our liturgy each and every Sunday → declare our identity in the Opening Praise, name our struggles in the prayer and silent time of confession, and recognize where God is in our midst – in Passing the Peace, in Scripture and sermon, in prayer
          • Perfectly and poignantly described by scholar: [This text describes] an act of gratitude for God’s particular grace that ends in a celebration whose embrace extends beyond Israel’s own life. It describes a moment that is rooted in memory, shaped by a journey, and defined by joy.[6] → This is still the way that we are to bring our offerings of gratitude and thanks before God – in ways rooted in our memories, shaped by our journeys, and defined by our Isn’t this what we’ll be doing around tables on Thursday with family or friends or whichever loved ones we’re gathering with?
            • Telling old stories – some that make us laugh and some that make us cry – but all of which make us who we are
            • Remembering Thanksgivings past – remembering people that may have graced our table before but are no longer with us
            • Catching up with one another about what’s been happening in our lives lately – the ups as well as the downs
            • Setting aside a special time (before the meal? during the meal? after the meal?) to acknowledge those things for which we are thankful
            • Weaving our current stories in with the tapestry of all the faithful who have come before – all those who have taken deliberate and sacred time to thank God → powerful thing!
  • But there’s an element of that story in Deuteronomy that I want to make sure we don’t miss. – last verse: Then celebrate all the good things the Lord your God has done for you and your family – each one of you along with the Levites and the immigrants who are among you.[7] → This verse is important because it recognizes that our thanksgiving offering to God is both an attitude and an action.
    • Attitude = celebrate
    • Action = including those around you, sort of like ripples in a pond
      • Easy ones (first ripple): family
      • Extension (second ripple): “Levites” (tribe of priests in ancient Israel) – We’ll call this one neighbors.
      • But it goes beyond the easy and the comfortable (further out ripples): and the immigrants who are among you.
        • Heb. “immigrant” = “sojourner”: a man who, either alone or with his family, leaves his village and tribe, because of war, pestilence, etc., and seeks shelter and sojourn elsewhere, where his right to own land, to marry, and to participate in the administration of justice, in the cult, and in war is curtailed → Someone without a homeland. Someone possibly without a family. Someone with a table around which to gather and give thanks. Someone without legal rights. Someone struggling and lonely, probably afraid. Someone without.
      • Reflects words of Jesus in our NT reading: When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they met together. One of them, a legal expert, tested him. “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?” He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.”[8] → probably not surprising that that Gr. “love” is agape love – giving, self-sacrificing, cherishing
  • Our faith is supposed to inspire our actions. When the Holy Spirit moves among us and within us, we are meant to go out and move in the world – for good, for justice, for compassion. As Christians, that is our charge and our calling. So as we give thanks – as we give God our proper offerings of gratitude and joy and celebration, especially this coming Thurs. but also every other day of the year – how are we letting that gratitude spill over into the way we go about being in this world? Amen.

[1] “Jewish Practices & Rituals: Sacrifices and Offerings (Karbanot)” from The Jewish Virtual Library, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/qorbanot.html. Accessed Nov. 19, 2016.

[2] Gen 22:1-14.

[3] Ps 51:17 (NRSV).

[4] “Introduction to Deuteronomy” from The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001), 240.

[5] Deut 26:5-10 (CEB).

[6] Thomas W. Currie. “First Sunday in Lent: Deuteronomy 26:1-11 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 26.

[7] Deut 26:11.

[8] Mt 22:34-39.

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