Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Acceptable Sacrifice

The Bible speaks again and again of sacrifices. Indeed, early on, we read of the sacrifices offered by Cain and Abel. We read of Abraham's offer to sacrifice Isaac, at which time God made it clear that He was against human sacrifice (at a time and place in human history when human sacrifice was well known, if not expected). We read of the various requirements, rules, and regulations that were instituted for making sacrifices after the Exodus from Eqypt.

And yet, on multiple occasions, we read that God does not, in fact, delight in holocausts. He neither needs nor wants animal sacrifices, He neither needs nor wants grain (cereal) sacrifices, even though He had provided certain regulations for both types of sacrifice. What use has God for burnt animal flesh or grain? So why this history of sacrifice?

It would appear that the long history of animal and grain sacrifice were merely preparatory for the real sacrifice that is desired by God -- He who is Love. The history of animal and grain sacrifice is a part of Salvation History. What the God of Love desires is love -- we were made by love, out of love, for love. And love, true and complete love, is necessarily sacrificial -- one sacrifices himself for the sake of the other, one gives of himself and puts the other before him and his wants. In short, he sacrifices himself.

This is the sacrifice that God desires. The sacrifice He desires is not that of an animal's life, but of our own; the blood sacrifice He desires is not the blood of an animal, but our "blood," that is, our own life, that is, our spirit -- a sacrifice of love. Just as He sacrificed His own Precious Blood and poured out His Spirit upon us, so too does He ask this of us. God desires it, but does not command it, because love, by it's very nature, is something that must be freely given.

The sacrifice that is desired by God and is acceptable to Him is the sacrifice of self, the sacrifice of a pure and contrite heart, renouncing prior infidelities and giving one's life back to Him who made it, placing one's self at the service of God. That is, loving the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy soul and all thy mind and all thy strength, and loving one another as He has loved us.

A Sacrifice to God is a Contrite Spirit
from a sermon by Saint Augustine, bishop

I acknowledge my transgression, says David (Ps 51). If I admit my fault, then you will pardon it. Let us never assume that if we live good lives we will be without sin; our lives should be praised only when we continue to beg for pardon. But men are hopeless creatures, and the less they concentrate on their own sins, the more interested they become in the sins of others. They seek to criticise, not to correct. Unable to excuse themselves, they are ready to accuse others. This was not the way that David showed us how to pray and make amends to God, when he said: I acknowledge my transgression, and my sin is ever before me. He did not concentrate on others’ sins; he turned his thoughts on himself. He did not merely stroke the surface, but he plunged inside and went deep down within himself. He did not spare himself, and therefore was not impudent in asking to be spared.

Do you want God to be appeased? Learn what you are to do that God may be pleased with you. Consider the psalm again: If you wanted sacrifice, I would indeed have given it; in burnt offerings you will take no delight. Are you then to be without sacrifice? Are you to offer nothing? Will you please God without an offering?

If you wanted sacrifice, I would indeed have given it; in burnt offerings you will take no delight. But continue to listen, and say with David: A sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit; God does not despise a contrite and humble heart. Cast aside your former offerings, for now you have found out what you are to offer. In the days of your fathers you would have made offerings of cattle – these were the sacrifices. If you wanted sacrifice, I would indeed have given it. These then, Lord, you do not want, and yet you do want sacrifice.

You will take no delight in burnt offerings, David says. If you will not take delight in burnt offerings, will you remain without sacrifice? Not at all. A sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit; God does not despise a contrite and humble heart.

You now have the offering you are to make. No need to examine the herd, no need to outfit ships and travel to the most remote provinces in search of incense. Search within your heart for what is pleasing to God. Your heart must be crushed. Are you afraid that it might perish so? You have the reply: Create a clean heart in me, O God. For a clean heart to be created, the unclean one must be crushed.

We should be displeased with ourselves when we commit sin, for sin is displeasing to God. Sinful though we are, let us at least be like God in this, that we are displeased at what displeases him. In some measure then you will be in harmony with God’s will, because you find displeasing in yourself what is abhorrent to your Creator.


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