The American poet, Robert Frost, a genius of both letters and words, was once asked what word he thought to be the ugliest in the English language. He thought for a moment and said, “exclusive”. What word in your thesaurus would rank as the ugliest?
If I were asked what word would win (or lose) as the ugliest in our Western society today, I think I would choose, “sacrifice”. In a world and world view oppressed with greed, gluttony, pleasure, and privilege, “sacrifice” is easily at or near the top (or bottom) of ugly. If my perception is even close to the truth, the authentic message of the Gospel and the selfless “Call of Christ” are increasingly either falling on deaf ears or being reduced to a part time Christianity that advertises, “all this and heaven too!” In the depths of the Nazi World War II invasions of Europe, the German Lutheran Pastor and later martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, warned against a “Cross-less Christ” in his book, “The Cost of Discipleship.” His message was simple… “Where there is no sacrifice there is no Christ and no Christianity!”
Two years ago, I taught two evening Small Group Bible Study courses on the “Feasts” the Lord gave to His people Israel in the Old Testament. I was first fascinated and then fed by the ways that these “Feasts” shaped the lives of Israel, later the Jews, and finally how these yearly “Remembrances” found their home and ultimate meaning in the life of Jesus and His Church. I was fascinated by the ways that the people’s sacrifice formed the foundation for these “Feasts”. And I was then spiritually fed as I began to understand that the purpose and power for these major events in the lives of YAHWEH’s people was our heavenly Father’s eternal sacrifice for His Creation. The passion of the Creator for His creation was and still is poured into and present in each and every sacrifice He makes for us and we return to Him.
I thought then that these Old Testament “Feasts” could make a rich series of studies, services, and sermons for an emphasis on the stewardship of our heavenly Father’s Sacrificial Gifts to His people through the millennia and the sacrificial response of those He has so blessed.
Pastor Stephen and the Board of Elders have given me the opportunity this fall to make this interest and possibility come to life as we will invest six weeks of our time, talents, and treasure in worship, study, sharing, enjoyment, and sacrifice under the theme, “Sacrificial Stewardship”. Each of these weeks together will be shaped by these marvelous and mysterious Old Testament “Feasts” and their meaning for Christ’s 21st Century sacrificing stewards. The Sunday Services will follow the themes of each of the 6 appointed “Feasts”. The Sunday Morning Adult Study will also read and study the Scriptural settings and discuss the “Feast for the Day”.
My son-in-law phoned me last week to discuss his sacrificial offerings to the family’s church. The question was in and of itself simple enough, “Do I pledge 10% of my gross income or my net income?” But, behind the simple economics… not unlike the iceberg with only 10% visible above water… lie the deeper 90% questions of sacrifice. What is my relationship to Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for me? Is my congregation a worthy recipient of my sacrificial offerings? Is the word “Sacrifice” and its children… Savior, Service, Servant, Messiah, Ministry, Mission… burden or blessing, pain or privilege, gripe or gift?
Israel’s devout practice of remembering and celebrating the prescribed “Feasts” often left much to be desired and the periods of these devotional memory lapses were most often marked by internal chaos and national conquest. However, whether in sacrificial fervor or faithlessness God’s faithfulness to His promise and His people has never wavered whether in the Passover of 1,500 B.C. or in 2,100 A.D. – Pastor Howard Patten