What does God want from us?
Each morning, before I walk the dogs (my spiritual advisors), I spend time with scriptures for the day, listed in the Book of Common Prayer. As the caffeine kicks in, I do my sleepy best to read, mark, inwardly digest those readings. I try to figure out what they have to do with the day ahead. Some days that’s easier than others. But I think about the readings as the blessed dogs and I walk.
Last week, one of my morning walks was focused on a phrase that caught my eye when I read Psalm 50. The Lord says: “Whoever offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving, honors me.” I’ve heard the phrase many times, but I suddenly found it odd to put those words together. Sacrifice and thanksgiving. Then yesterday in church, enjoying the privilege of leading worship, I found myself saying these words over bread and wine: “We celebrate the memorial of our redemption, O Father, in this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.” There it is again. A bit of research indicated that the phrase “sacrifice of praise” or “sacrifice of thanksgiving” shows up a lot in scripture.
Sacrifice, to my simple mind, suggests something diminishing, maybe violent, taking life away. Praise and thanksgiving connote joy and hope and possibility. Sacrifice suggests something that requires effort, or at least a whole lot of intention. It’s work. Praise or thanksgiving seem to flow freely as a response to grace (see Karl Barth’s quote below about grace and gratitude).
So what does God want from us? Maybe nothing more or less than gratitude for grace received. A friend and I were talking on the phone last week, sharing stories of challenges faced by people we knew and loved. We ended the phone call by noting that we both felt ridiculously blessed. That is not to say that challenges won’t surface for us. But in the moment, for the moment, we felt called to offer a sacrifice of praise.
Maybe the point of the phrase is that in the mystery of God’s way in the world, a sacrifice can be life giving. It need not be diminishing or destructive. But it does require intention, letting go, discovering life by giving it away. In olden days, maybe the sacrifice was an animal or first fruits from the harvest. These days, what might be a sacrifice of thanksgiving?
Perhaps it is sacrificing a sense of entitlement or privilege, like the world owes me something, in order to focus on gratitude for ridiculous blessings received.
Perhaps it is sacrificing delicious resentment or hesitation to forgive, in order to focus on gratitude for forgiveness shown to us.
Perhaps it is sacrificing the ambition to outdo somebody else, in order to focus on gratitude for the gifts other people have, gifts we might lack.
Perhaps it is sacrificing an anxious sense of scarcity, the fear there will never be enough, in order to focus on gratitude for what we know in our lives as a “gracious plenty” or a “sufficiency”, to borrow local terminology.
Perhaps it is letting someone cut in front of us in traffic, or go ahead of us in line at the grocery store, some small act of kindness, in order to focus on gratitude for unmerited kindnesses we’ve experienced.
Perhaps it is taking a break from righteous indignation, fueled by deep conviction we are right, in order to focus on gratitude for what we have to learn in genuine conversation.
You get the idea. Life is filled with opportunities to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, time, talent, treasure, heart. Life is more fully enjoyed when we do. It’s the mystery of God’s way in the world. Live into that mystery today. I could be wrong, but I think it’s what God wants from us.
Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me.
This is the ritual of the sacrifice of the offering of well-being that one may offer to the Lord. If you offer it for thanksgiving, you shall offer with the thank-offering unleavened cakes mixed with oil, unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes of choice flour well soaked in oil.
-Leviticus 7:11, 12
I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the Lord.
Let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.
Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Gratitude evokes grace like the voice and echo. Gratitude follows grace as thunder follows lightning.
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