As the Liturgy of the Eucharist begins members of the congregation bring to the altar the bread and wine for the celebration as well as their "gifts for the needs of the Church and the poor" (The Sacramentary). When all is prepared, the celebrant says to the congregation: "Pray that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father." OUR sacrifice. What is our sacrifice? Showing up. What do we sacrifice at Mass? We remember Christ's sacrifice on the cross at Mass, but that's his sacrifice. What's ours?
After their exile, the Jews of the Old Testament were eventually allowed to return to Jerusalem, rebuild the Temple and restore the worship there. This was a very challenging period of time, as we read of it in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. We can also learn more in the book of the prophet Malachi. There was discouragement, and malaise among the people of God, a distinct lack of hope in the promises of God. And nowhere was this more clearly seen than in their worship. It degenerated into a listless, meaningless perpetuation of mere forms and rituals (sound like some of your church experience?). Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, faces the problem with strong language.
"A son honors his father, and a servant his master.
If I am a master, where is the honor due me?
If I am master, where is the respect due me?"
says the Lord Almighty.
"You show contempt for my name.
But you ask, 'How have we shown contempt for your name?'
You place defiled food on my altar."
What's he talking about? Sacrifice. He's talking about their sacrifice in their worship. Basically they weren't sacrificing. They were showing up and going through the motions, and maybe throwing pocket change into the offering basket when it came by (their version were crippled animals of no market value). Meanwhile, their faith and their hope was listless and failing. These things are not unrelated.
How much we bring to our worship, what we are willing to sacrifice there will absolutely determine what we "get out of it." Sure, showing up is part of it, and so is singing and praise. But lets be honest. If we're not making an offering, if we're not making a financial sacrifice, we're playing games with God.
King David, who knew more about worship than anybody who ever lived before him, donates his personal fortune to the construction of the temple (which he knew he wouldn't even live to see). And he appeals to the people to do the same as a fundamental element of their worship. When the offering is complete, here's what David says:
Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand...
And now I have seen with joy
how willingly your people who are here have given to you...
O Lord, God...keep this desire in the hearts of your people forever.
1 Chronicles 29.16,18
This weekend's message is meant to challenge our congregation to awaken, or reawaken our desire to truely worship God, through sacrifice. It could just shake you up.