(The New Revised Standard Version)
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and perfect.
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life-your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life-and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
What does God want from us?
It’s a question I’ve asked at various times in my life. Maybe you have asked it as well. Jesus got asked the question. In response, he reached back into the scriptures he knew and said it’s simple but not easy. It’s one thing but really two. It’s about love: love of God and love of neighbor. In quiet time last week, I was reading the psalm du jour and this verse struck me. I’ve read it before, but it caught my attention in a new way. Here it is:
Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me. Psalm 50:24
I started kicking around the phrase “sacrifice of thanksgiving.” I remembered that on Sundays, when we offer prayer over bread and wine, we often say that we are offering our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. The more I thought about the phrase, the more paradoxical, perhaps oxymoronic it seemed. How do sacrifice and thanksgiving go together?
Look up sacrifice in the dictionary and it’s not a pretty picture. Verbs and nouns suggest something gets killed. It’s bloody. It’s violent. At best, it’s not a whole lot of fun. Even in baseball, somebody loses so somebody else wins. A dutiful parent or spouse or child speaks of the sacrifice he or she has made. It can at times suggest resentment, a teeth-gritting relationship. Where’s the good news in that?
So think with me about what it means to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving? Your response, opinion, guess is as good as mine, but here are a couple thoughts:
Maybe it’s intended to have an ironic twist, a paradox for those of us who think we have to earn God’s grace or favor or approval. For all of us spiritual over-achievers, what would it means to say that the only thing we have to give is our thanks? That is all God wants from us. As the psalmist says, God doesn’t need us to bring us a bunch of cows. Those cows already belong to God. What God seeks is an attitude of gratitude.
Maybe there actually is a dimension of sacrifice in thanksgiving. Maybe we are called to sacrifice our own ego, as we recognize that all we have is gift. There’s an element of dying in that, offering our selves, the kind of language Paul used in Galatians when he said “I have been crucified with Christ.” or in the passage from Romans included below. It’s the kind of language we use in baptism that says we die to self in order to arrive at new life.
Maybe we need to scrap dictionary definitions and shift our thinking so that sacrifice doesn’t mean deprivation or suffering or hardship or violence. Maybe it doesn’t meant that we have to kill something, but rather that our sacrifice can be life giving, life affirming. It suggests the holiness that comes with saying thanks, the holy life that comes with living in mindfulness of all good gifts around us.
These are just some random Monday morning thoughts prompted by a familiar phrase that struck me as if I’d not seen it before. Take this week as an occasion to continue to play with the phrase, in your mind and heart and spirit. Find what it means for you to make a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Discover what your offering of gratitude might be this week.
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