Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light.
Hosea “The Death Bed Prophet” of Israel, who warns her of things to come with his prophecies, and pictures it with his painful marriage. He marries a lady of the night in the northern kingdom’s opulent twilight. Yet, the people were too occupied with decadent pleasures to listen to the man, whose very wife they paid to be their festal entertainment. Her love too, dried up like the morning dew, through which she trod when her job was done, and the party finished. She herself was a picture of Ephraim and Judah, the seats of power in the divided kingdom. Civil war had divided Israel, the Kingdom of David, the people of God. Now there was not one kingdom, but two, Israel to the north, and Judah to the south. And the people of both were ever unfaithful to God, their love drying up like a morning cloud. So God in His steadfast love sent His prophets one after another to call them back because they were His people. He sent His prophets to utter warnings, and prophecy salvation. I have slain them with the words of my mouth. The great double edged sword in the word of God, it cuts deep with the precision of a scalpel, slicing through the Old Adam, the sinful nature of our hearts. Accusing us of unfaithfulness, playing the harlot to our own desires.
You know it just isn’t easy to be faithful sometimes. It is too easy to stray from the steadfast love of God, whose judgments goes forth as a light. Our eyes are so accustomed to the darkness of this world, we can’t bear to look at the light shining from the cross in the forgiveness of sins. The light is sometimes painful, we look away, we look down. We curve back into ourselves, pulling the covers back over us, until we can find some Visine. We see not His forgiveness. We only see our sin, and it drives us to sacrifice. It drives us to works. But sacrifices not done in love, not done in faith, but sacrifice done in fear of punishment, obligation, or in an attempt to manipulate God, are an abomination to God. This is why He says “I desire steadfast love (mercy) and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
That is a curious phrase coming from God, who sat Moses down to write the book of Leviticus. “I desire steadfast love, not sacrifice.” Then why Leviticus? You who were in my Bible study this last year know what I am talking about. You others should try to read it sometime if you haven’t already. I like to pick on Leviticus for it’s redundancy, but its redundancy conceals detail concerning sacrifice. Almost the whole book is nothing but detailed instructions on how and when to sacrifice. And it wasn’t as easy as just cutting the goats neck and throwing it on a fire. God seems to be awfully picky about something He claims not to desire. As if to say “If you absolutely insist on serving me crow, here is how to prepare it. Oh and I want you to prepare it every day, twice a day.” As so often is the case, though, there is more to these words “I desire steadfast love, and not sacrifice,” more to the word of God than is often seen at first blush. God isn’t being disingenuous when He writes the book of Leviticus, nor is He untruthful when He says He desires steadfast love, and not sacrifice. The sacrifices of Leviticus were more for the people than they were for God anyway. They communicated holiness for the people, in that the blood, the life of the animal, atoned for the sins, and prepared the people to eat with God. In reality the people were making sacrifices from what belonged to God. Nothing in this world truly belongs to us, for we belong to God, and everything we have He has given us. As it says in our introit today, taken from the fiftieth psalm, “for every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.
The people though, they didn’t care about the love of God. They abused the sacrifices. They thought they could do what they wanted, fear the people among whom they lived more than God, worship the foreign gods amongst them in orgiastic festivals of wine women and song during the week, and slaughter a goat to make up for it all. Like a man who stops by the jewelers on the way home from his mistresses place, to placate his wife with a trinket. His wife wants his love, not his trinkets. Women love jewelry and other gifts from their men, when those gifts are tokens of love. But women learn to despise material things when there is no love attached to them. God desires steadfast love, and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
And one immediately thinks of the sacrifices of Cain and Abel, the one accepted and the other despised. What was the difference? Was it that God just loved the smell of roasting lamb more than burnt grapes? Or was it that one was prepared in the way God had asked, out of love, and the other was prepared in a manner that says: “I’ll give what I want to give, and it will have to be good enough?” Was it done out of love? Love will sacrifice, without knowing that it sacrifices. Love gives freely without counting the cost.
We might think about our offerings here. Do we feel burdened by them? Then quit giving them, because God doesn’t want them, nor does He need them. I might, but God doesn’t. God doesn’t want your sacrifice to be one of obligation, of law, or fear of Him. Neither is God manipulated or appeased by the mammon you offer. But God is pleased with the gifts that come from your steadfast love, flowing from the clean heart He creates with in your soul, a heart cleaned by the blood of Christ. And God uses those gifts for your benefit and the benefit of those around you, those around you, whom God loves, those you love. He uses Your gifts so that they can hear the word of God and be saved. So give what you can with a cheerful heart, for God loves a cheerful giver. He desires steadfast love and not sacrifice. And love sacrifices without knowing that it sacrifices, without counting the cost. And so is the love of God such that it sacrifices. All the blood of the world was not enough to atone for our sin. But by steadfast love, and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by fear of the Lord one turns away from evil. (Proverbs. 16:7)
Yes but not our steadfast love for God, but God’s steadfast love for you. For out of that love came the greatest of all sacrifices, out of that love came the final sacrifice of His Son our Lord, on the cross. And on the Cross, with the life and innocent blood of Jesus, God’s steadfast love atoned for your sins, once and for all. There, God atoned for all your worthless sacrifices, all your meaningless vows, all your lack of love. There, greater love laid down His life for you. And after two days He revived us, splashing our faces with the cold water of a spring rain rousing us from our sleep when we were baptized. And on the third day He raised us up with Him as He walked out of the tomb, that we may live before Him in the newness of life. For “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4 (ESV)
And in that newness of life, with the clean heart created in you, pours out a steadfast love for God, and in that love we know the Lord, and all His mercy that washed away our sin with His very own divine yet human blood, when the steadfast love of God made a sacrifice that did not benefit God, but you, washing away all your sins.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.