A week or so ago I saw a commenter take one of my Facebook friend to task for using the word “Sacrament.” That word is a theological word that is used across all Christian denominations to mean ways that God brings grace to an individual’s life. Catholic hold there to be 7 official sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Communion/Eucharist, Penance, Anointing the Sick, Marriage, and Ordination, and Protestants hold to only two: Baptism and Communion.
The commenter was angry that my friend would use such a word, and, for him, it meant my friend had sold out to the Catholic church and betrayed the “true Christian faith.” No matter how hard my friend tried to explain the word was a theological word belonging to everyone in the Christian faith, but also, being Catholic was not the Highway to Hell this guy was making it out to be. There are faithful and unfaithful people in the Catholic church just as there are in the Protestant church…and we both proclaim Jesus as the crucified and resurrected Son of God.
Personally, I prefer the bent the Catholic church takes in their celebration of what is a Sacrament…I believe there are “official” and “unofficial” sacraments…and I am a more the merrier type of person. There are many ways God has given me and gives each one of us grace on a regular basis. I know my marriage has been sacramental. My time spent in hiking and photographing has been sacramental.
Another area that has both historical Christian roots that many would call Catholic, and that I would consider sacramental is the Christian Calendar.
We live in a world dominated by the calendar. If it isn’t on the calendar…it isn’t getting done. We have training courses on how to get better at planning and managing our time.
We also have social rhythms… We have holidays like Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Veterans day. We have seasons that we observe…we start seeing Valentine’s Day stuff about January 2, Easter stuff is going up this week, Christmas begins sometime around August. And we have created our own calendar rhythms.
Pretty early in Church history, Christians began creating their own calendar and rhythm of life and celebration. For thousands of years prior, the Jew had celebrated and lived by their own calendar determined by the relationship with God…and the Christians, having come out of that Jewish tradition molded their year to reflect their worship of God.
Celebrating the Passion and the Resurrection of Jesus was one of the first things they put in place. Then celebrating Jesus’ birth. But each of these was quickly given a period of preparation, Christians would spend time fasting, repenting, praying, and preparing for the celebration of Christmas and Easter. The period before Christmas was called Advent and the period before Easter was called Lent.
This Wednesday, we begin the season of Lent. We are having an Ash Wednesday service…nothing too big, just some time praying and preparing our hearts for the season ahead. It is a time we set a part for confession, repentance, fasting, and praying.
The focus of this time is not doom and gloom. Neither are we to dwell on our sinfulness. Repentance and fasting are always a reminder that while sin separates us from God…we are saved! We turn our frailty, our mistakes, our sins, our everything over to God because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross…we are saved by His Grace. An our fasting is not simply to deprive ourselves, but to help us remember all Jesus sacrificed to win our salvation.
As we look ahead to this Lenten season, it is also a good reminder that we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves…we are not simply repenting and fasting for personal gain…though we will grow spiritually ourselves…we are part of a Priesthood of believers that is called to represent God to our community and our community before God…much like David as King was a mediator between God and the community for which he was responsible.
The first part of 2 Samuel 24 is weird. It tells the story of some sin either by the people of Israel or by David himself…and God’s decision to punish them…so he has David take a census. In the parallel passage in Chronicles, the sin seems to be in taking the census, and it is also encouraged by the accuser…the Satan.
There is only one thing all commentators agree on in regards to this first part of the chapter, and that is that no one is really sure what is going on…
But the second part of this chapter offers us a key idea as we prepare for Lent…and see ourselves as part of God’s bigger picture in our community and in our world. God has not places you here…me here…us here to simply exist. He calls us to be his hands and feet to a lost, broken, hurting world that needs to hear the message of God’s love and salvation…but that will only come with sacrifice.
So the first part of 2 Samuel 24 has David taking a census of the fighting men and God punishing Israel.
2 Samuel 24:11-25
11 Before David got up the next morning, the word of the Lord had come to Gad the prophet, David’s seer: 12 “Go and tell David, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.’”
13 So Gad went to David and said to him, “Shall there come on you three years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? Or three days of plague in your land? Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me.”
14 David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands.”
15 So the Lord sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of the time designated, and seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beersheba died. 16 When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord relented concerning the disaster and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.” The angel of the Lord was then at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.
17 When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the Lord, “I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall on me and my family.”
18 On that day Gad went to David and said to him, “Go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” 19 So David went up, as the Lord had commanded through Gad. 20 When Araunah looked and saw the king and his officials coming toward him, he went out and bowed down before the king with his face to the ground.
21 Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?”
“To buy your threshing floor,” David answered, “so I can build an altar to the Lord, that the plague on the people may be stopped.”
22 Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take whatever he wishes and offer it up. Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and here are threshing sledges and ox yokes for the wood. 23 Your Majesty, Araunah gives all this to the king.” Araunah also said to him, “May the Lord your God accept you.”
24 But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels[e] of silver for them. 25 David built an altar to the Lord there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the Lord answered his prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.
It is verse 24 that offers us our main theme for today…
But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
As David saw the mercy of God in stopping the Destroying Angel…David knew a sacrifice was needed to honor…and a true sacrifice meant it had to cost him something.
So often we want to see God’s will come about…we want God to move in our lives…we want to be part of God’s grand plan…but we fail to see or we fail to give the sacrifice required to attain what God is calling us to.
If you and I are going to be what God calls us to be…
We cannot give God a second-hand faith.
Have you ever tried to live vicariously through someone else?
For awhile after college, one of Lori’s cousins started traveling around the world. On one trip she couch surfed with friends across Europe. She goes hiking on long weeks of backpacking. She goes to some really cool places to rock-climb…and I find myself living vicariously through her because I would love to travel that much.
Sometimes, we try to live off the faith of someone else. I remember these conferences we would hold at the Vineyard…and there was a large group of people we called conference junkies….they followed these conferences around living off the energy and excitement…believing they were taping into some special spiritual energy.
But they weren’t doing the hard work of discipleship and sacrifice on their own.
David could have easily taken the oxen and cart and land that was offered. Araunah offered it to him…he was also the King so he had to have some authority…he was also a warrior so he could have simply taken it by force. But David knew he could not live off the faith and sacrifice of someone else and call it his own.
You and I cannot live off the sacrifice of others. We cannot grow closer to God simply because we attend the right church…or read the right books. Growing in our faith only happens when you and I make our own sacrifices and seek after the face of God. It happens for us both individually and as a community of faith.
It would not have sufficed for David to sit back and watch someone else make the sacrifices…to pay for all the worship going on…it didn’t work that way for any of the Jewish worshippers. Worshipping God was costly.
And that leads us to see…
We cannot give God a left-over faith.
Have you ever come in from a hard day at work…and had someone or something really excited to see you…they want your attention…but you just don’t have it to give. You come home and the kids are waiting…your rambunctious dog…a family member or friend…but you are exhausted and just don’t have anything left to give?
If we are not careful…we can give everything we have away to everyone and everything else and have nothing left over for God.
In the Jewish system of worship…God got the best…sacrificial animals could not be hurt, bruised, blind, they had to be first-born, you had to sacrifice from the very first part of the harvest…
They did this for two reasons:
- You are giving to God your very best.
- You are giving to God out of faith.
Sacrifice was costly and it was a risk. There was no room to simply give what was left-over to God.
Sacrifices could not be fish or hunted game…why? Because it didn’t cost you anything really. And in taking an animal, in taking grain from your harvest, you are putting your life and the lives of your family at risk by taking food away they might need later.
So many times, I have only given God what is left over. I worked too much, too long, I become exhausted…I am too distracted…I hold back because I don’t want to be lacking in bills or anything…I am too embarrassed so I hold back and give God something less.
And while God will often use our weakness to exhibit his strength and draw us to the realization that He is the one working…it doesn’t excuse us to give something that is second best.
While working at a church in Kansas City we decided to take a collection for the local homeless shelter. We were collecting socks, gloves, underwear, coats, and clothes…the first year we received a wide range of stuff, but a lot of it was so outdated…it was crap. We had to throw so much stuff away.
So the next year, while announcing the clothing drive, our pastor said one of the best lines I have ever heard…he said, “The homeless don’t want your polyester leisure suit either.”
What he was getting at is that we far too often sacrifice what is left over, what we don’t want, what we can’t use…and it isn’t really a sacrifice because it doesn’t cost us a thing…we would be giving it away either way. We can still give it away as way to not wast things and to help others, but lets not deceive ourselves into thinking it is in anyway a sacrifice.
David Livingstone, the great African missionary, once said, “People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say, rather, it is a privilege!”
When most people think of sacrifice…they simply think of giving something up, but sacrifice is not simply giving something up…it is giving up something of value for something else that is of far more value…or at least desired at that moment.
Friday night was the beginning of the Winter Olympics in Peyong-Chang, South Korea. Every 4 years thousands of athletes gather to compete in their chosen event…and everyone of those athletes have had to sacrifice something…many things to get where they are.
They sacrifice junk food for quality, healthy food that fuels their workouts and competitions. They sacrifice time with their family to train, travel, and compete. They sacrifice having a family, a career…all valuable things…you name it they sacrifice it for the goal of winning a gold medal…something they consider of far greater value at that point in time.
Our sacrifices for the Kingdom of God are not meant to earn us salvation…but sacrifice is still definitely a part of our relationship with God. We sacrifice our time, our talents, our energy, our “plans” so we can see the Will of God done in our lives and in our world. and it isn’t sacrificing something in a “woah is me” way…we are sacrificing something of value, but we are sacrificing it for something that is truly eternal in value.
When it comes to Lent, I have heard people say things like, “Well, I want to lose weight anyways.” or “I need to eat less junk food.” This betrays the idea that during Lent we are sacrificing something we really love so we can know God better and do His will more fully.