Sunday 13 May – love one another how?
Readings: Psalm 51, verses 10 – 13; 15 – 17 and John 15, verses 10 – 17
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:16-17)
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13)
I often wonder what it would have been like if we had lived in bible times. The sacrificial system that the Old Testament believers had was fascinating.
There was a lot of focus on justice – on things being fair. Fair scales, fair wages, fair treatment of strangers and aliens (the human type of course).
And fair punishment for people who did things wrong.
The concept of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is not to create some kind of barbaric tit-for-tat competition, but to ensure justice. To use the metaphor literally, it would be unfair for you to lose both eyes as a punishment for blinding someone in one eye.
Sacrifices were part of the deal – and here one has to say that it seems unfair that an animal or bird should lose its life to pay for human sins. But it was part of their lives. In the Jewish Passover – it was the blood of a lamb painted on the doorways and lintels of the houses that saved them. A scapegoat was also used – and the sins of the nation symbolically transferred to the animal before it was sent out into the wilderness.
I just would have had issues with all the slaughter and blood. I’m no vegetarian, but I am happy not to have to chase the chicken around the back yard and kill it before cooking it for tea.
I watched a great scene once on the weekend programme involving a detective called Barnaby – Midsomer Murders. I always wonder if there’ll be anyone left in Midsomer as they all seem to get bumped off.
This cook is sitting next to the rabbit hutch with a rabbit on her lap – and she’s stroking it lovingly. Sweet scene for little children. And suddenly without warning she rings its neck – and takes it to the kitchen to skin. Here bunny bunny bunny….
And so David – in Psalm 51 – after being caught out in the act of adultery – confronted by the prophet Nathan – and showing real sorrow for his bad decisions, has this to add:
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (16-17)
I don’t think that a payment in money – even to buy an animal to sacrifice – is helpful. It’s almost a token. It’s like breaking something at school and mum gets the bill. No – if you deliberately break something you should pay for it! Of course there are grey areas – sometimes we just do idiotic things and accidents happen.
David recognised – after serious self examination which is entirely appropriate at any time of the year – that it wasn’t enough to make reparation with a sacrifice. It didn’t really impress God, he says in his prayer addressing the Lord:
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
The inner attitude is the key. And even when the prophet Samuel chose David as King from eight brothers, the requirement was that people look on outward appearances, but God looks at the heart. God knew David’s heart then – and valued his passion and commitment. David when he messed up knew that the attitude of the heart is the key thing.
A broken and contrite heart is more important than writing out a cheque in compensation. That’s why community service is good for many – because they have to get involved and get connected with real people. And in restorative justice they have to face victims or their families and fess up!
Sacrifice is central to Christian life. Ultimately God himself provides the sacrifice – and ultimate test of generosity and what we call GRACE – undeserved favour. List to Jesus’ words again from the Gospel reading:
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-23)
As Easter draws to a close we should reflect on people who have sacrificed much for us. And on mother’s day especially we think of mums who served us and nurtured us, giving their all for us.
Most of all we think still of Jesus who laid down his life for us.
In response to these sacrifices, let us live lives that are sacrificial too. The world will be a much better place for it.
We can become people who have a heart for God and in doing so have a heart for others – loving each other as He has loved us – with a sacrificial love.
(From the College archives, 2010)