Psalm 40: 1-11
Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.
By virtue of my calling in life, I am a liturgy/worship geek. So I spend a “more than average” part of my week thinking about what we do and how we do it. You all just come and expect things to be in worshipping order…. The music, the liturgy, the readings, and even the homily.
In light of going through the Recasting exercises and the fact that, at this point in going through the process, we are to be “brain storming”, I have found the need to get rid of extraneous things, which weigh down my mind, and have cut to the chase of the “basics.”
We are in the season of Epiphany; the season of light and enlightenment where we still bask in the birth of the Light of the World! The season when we talk about the fact that “Wise People Still Seek Him”…. And hear jokes like… “Why couldn’t Jesus be born in Washington, DC? … Because they could not find three wise men!” You can determine for yourself if that is or is not accurate!
So, this week, I cut out all the manmade rubrics, looking simply at what we have been commissioned to do as Christian people.
We call ourselves Christians. We profess to follow Jesus… looking to the example he set in the living of his life and taking to heart and soul, the message that he gave. Ok…. So just how great a job do we, the church, do?
Jesus was born where?… In a manger or cave. Pretty stark. No frills… some thrills as Mary went into labor without the comfort of a midwife or familiar settings…. No state of the art birthing center. Even during the time of our history when home births were “the thing to do if you were hip and all natural”, we are simply clueless as to what this experience was for Mary. (And for Joseph as well… we can’t forget him!) If Jesus was born in the most harsh of circumstances, should we as followers not have a heart for those who suffer from not having state of the art accommodations – translate that to the homeless, those who are compromised in securing the basics necessities of life (food, shelter, clothing, meaningful employment…)
Oh… and then…. Herod, the narcissistic, egomaniac decides that he REFUSES to have some “new born king” be in competition with him!! So what does Herod do?… He orders the killing of every first born son in the vicinity!! Who here is a first born son? Raise your hand? If YOU had lived under Herod’s reign, you wouldn’t be here! Ever think about that? Probably not…. as that point in history in not our own. And for those of us who are women- we hit the lottery. They didn’t count us as anything of worth, so our necks were saved of sorts!
What of our darling Jamie? What of sweet Bryce? What of Mary and Joseph with their precious Jesus having to flee into Egypt? What fear…. What a nightmare! Who here would like to be a fugitive? NO ONE wants to be a fugitive! No one wants to live under tyranny or persecution! We are a spoiled, entitled lot! We have it easy! If it isn’t happening to us directly, we dismiss it! No matter who you are or where you are from! If the one who we follow was a refugee, should we not have a heart for those today who are refugees?
The psalmist reminds us today that –Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.
Of course, that is Old Testament in origin. Yet, what did Jesus commission his followers to do? (1) Live out the Great Commandment, which is “Love God, neighbor and self” upon which hangs ALL THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS. (2) The Great Commission- “make disciples of ALL nations.” (3) Go out two by two, taking nothing with you…. (4) Do this in remembrance of me. (5) The Son of Man has no place to lay his head? (6) If you did this to the least of these, you did it for me! (Matthew 25:31-46 needs to be revisited by us DAILY!!)
Did Jesus tell us to go out and build churches/sanctuaries? Did Jesus tell us to arm ourselves with accouterments? Did Jesus ordain choirs and pews and stained glass windows? How did we get light years away from that which Jesus told us to do specifically?! Liturgies and churches have become the idol. They have become the god. They have taken our sight and mission away from what we are doing, have channeled our energy, desires and design towards their maintenance, AT THE EXPENSE OF MISSION AND MINISTRY.
We ARE directed to pray in the words our Savior taught us, which asks us to request from a benevolent God the fulfillment of our simplistic daily needs, while acknowledging our praise of God’s sovereignty and the need for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus tells us to preach the Good News. Jesus says nothing about fraction anthems, sursum corda, sanctus, and the like…Where did all that come from?
If we are not to take extra out into the world…. No extra cloaks… how did we get ornate vestments? If we pour left over consecrated wine into a pacina, which empties into the earth… why do we have to have precious metal chalices… some of which are gem incrusted. Where did all that come from? Should we have the heart for simplicity as our Savior did?
What I am getting at is that we are all messed up as to where our hearts are. Where our treasure is that is where our heart is. (Matthew 6:21) If our hearts are stuck in a building or form of liturgy or a specific church activity that does not do mission or reach out to those Jesus felt were important to reach out to, we are really screwed up! How can God bless us if we are working to support something with all our might that which Jesus never intended us to do or to be?!
If there is blame to be had, I will place it over against hundreds of years of men who established traditions that set the tone for us today. The fact that we have “always done it this way” is most certainly ingrained in our spiritual formation. However, if we are spiritually mature Christians, we are now at a point that we have to step back and realize that these practices have resulted in the mess the church(es) are in today.
Our homework this week is to do some deep spiritual introspection. Where lies your treasure? What is your spiritual maturity? What are your priorities? If God does not want burnt offerings, then should we be focusing on something relevant to God and God’s beloved creation? Does the way we do church need to extract us out of the muck and mire centuries of practices have immersed us in to the detriment of our doing mission and ministry?
I can’t answer that for you… I can only answer that for myself. But the answer I come up with will most certainly be driving my ministry in the coming year. Your answer will inform your relationship with God, the church, and if ministry works in your equation. I pray we are people of Epiphany Wisdom.
Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people. Amen.