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The Dark Night of the Soul

I want to take you on a journey, a journey of faith that seems near universal, yet never discussed in church. Our journey will take us right to the cross, the crucifixion, the most Christlike of positions.

When we first come to Christ we are like the Samaritan woman who meets Jesus at the well. We find ourselves outcast in one way or another. She says that her well is deep. The word she uses here is Phrear, which means abyss or dungeon, a bottomless space of emptiness. When we first meet the living Christ we realize that we, too, have this deep emptiness that we have tried to fill to no avail. But once we meet this Jesus we are filled and it feels great! We are ecstatic with joy and elation. So filled with joy that we cannot contain it we have to run to town and tell everyone we meet about this Jesus, tell them that He is the Christ and the way to salvation and eternal life. This is sensual and sentimental. We get happiness and good feelings from our new relationship with God.

Maybe we were introduced to the living Christ by someone handing us their faith, all wrapped up in a nice, neat, little package. “Here you go this is all that you need to have the life I have, to have eternal life and not burn in Hell.” Maybe this person was a parent, a friend, a stranger on a street corner, maybe it was a famous evangelist at some big rally and we went down for the alter call. Whatever, we recited some form or another of the so called “Sinner’s Prayer” and were told that we were good to go. We made a cognitive assent to a set of propositional statements, all very modern and neat. “Believe these things and say this prayer and you will have the life in Christ.” We are bathed in the Light and on-fire for the Lord, full of sentiment and sensuality. Here we experience the presence of God. We get good feelings when we obey Him. Almost as if God rewards us here and now for our obedience. Yet Jesus tells us through Luke in chapter 6 that we are to feed the hungry, lend to those in need, to love and expect NOTHING in return. Then in an aside He says, “And your reward in Heaven will be great.” We are not to do it for anything in return, not even that good feeling we once used to get, not even for the experience of the presence of God. It is almost as if God is using operant conditioning to help us change our habits until our minds have been renewed. This is the first stage in our journey to the cross.

Many Christians remain in this place. Never questioning that little faith package that they received. The feelings so great and good that the thought of questioning is very uncomfortable. These Christians can only take the milk, they are babes in Faith. Many of them live out this faith, helping feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless. But they do it in exchange for the helped person’s attention for a few minutes while they explain the Gospel to them, tell them that the way to avoid Hell is Christ Jesus. They have fruit and maintain the sensual and sentimental feelings of when they first met Christ. They have grown enough for this to be solid, they can take the storms of the world and their faith remain intact.

Some move into the next stage of the journey. This is the stage referred to by St. Gregory of Nyssa as being in the cloud or as St. John of the Cross called it, the First Night. This is the place where we become like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, we consider whether it is our will or God’s Will. We seek knowledge as we begin to question the faith that was handed to us in the nice neat little package when we first came to believe. We seek knowledge of God, who He is, what is faith. Sometimes we can’t feel our faith, it ebbs and flows. We have suffered some for Christ. In this part of the journey we are closer to the Cross than we were in the initial stage of the journey when all was sentiment and sensuality. It is here that we give up all for Christ, even some of our most tightly held as we begin to question our faith, our beliefs.

Like with Jesus many of our “friends” can’t handle the threat to their comfort zone when we begin to openly ask the questions that we have been asking within for so long. Gregory of Nyssa says that this is a time of inner reflection with the Holy Spirit. Like in a mirrored room, we begin to reflect and see through a glass darkly. So people flee from us, abandon us so to speak. Maybe they are still around, but make it fairly clear that it is not okay to ask these questions, not okay to question this faith package that we were handed. Maybe some actually do quit us. But we do begin to feel abandoned by those we once felt closest to. This becomes a time of pain and suffering. Just like Jesus on His way to the Cross. We feel tortured inside. Where can we turn? Where can we ask these questions? We seem to learn quite quickly that the very place where we should be able to openly ask these question, the place where we should be able to openly share our sufferings is the place where we are most condemned for them, so they go underground as we keep these feelings and reflections to ourselves and suffer in silence all alone, like Christ when His friends fell asleep then ran from Him on His way to the cross. I have heard pastors teach their congregations that this place of questioning and doubt, because we won’t question that which we do not doubt, a “Ministry of Demons”, what a guilt trip to place upon those sheep that God has given you. And what nonsense! This is not the doubt of mockers. This is not the doubt of those who do not believe. This is not the kind of doubt that a satan would inspire. No, this is a divine doubt, a divine atheism. An atheism which questions and denies the concepts of God that we have been handed. An atheism that puts us in the position of Jacob wrestling with God. An atheism that leads us to become Israel—one who contends, fights with God.

If we survive this first night, this night of the purgation of the sensual and sentimental. If we do not turn back, and for many turning back is not possible because we ring a bell that cannot be un-rung when we first begin to doubt, question. Then God may take us into the next level, the next stage, to the mountain top.

Exodus 20:21, “Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.” When Moses reaches he mountain top he sees God in the darkness. This is where our journey from the first light of new belief to the position of the cross takes us. St. John of the Cross calls this The Dark Night of the Soul. It is here we cry out with Christ on the Cross, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?”

We often hear that it is a sin and wrong to think that God has abandoned us. “God never abandons us, there must be something wrong with you, you shouldn’t think that way.” Often people will quote, Hebrews 13:5 which echoes Deuteronomy 31:6 & 8 as well as Joshua 1:5 where God is speaking to the community of faith. It is a promise to the community and not necessarily to the individual. God will never forsake His church, His people. Yet, we hear this cry from many of the characters in the Bible. David, that man after God’s own heart, cries out in Psalm 22,

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
   Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
   and by night, but find no rest.”

Jeremiah echoes this in Lamentations 5:

20 Why have you forgotten us completely?
   Why have you forsaken us these many days?”

Then just before He dies on the cross Jesus repeats the lamentation of David when He too experiences the absence of God. It is in this experience when we are in the most Christlike position of the cross. We have entered into the divine experience, into the divine mystery. We find ourselves at the end of knowledge. The end of reason. Face to face with God in the deep darkness like Moses. Yet, we are in the midst of experiencing the absence of God. We have gotten here through much pain and suffering. People have abandoned us. Calamity has befallen our emotions and psyche. And now to add insult to injury God abandons us. The ultimate pain, the pain of Jesus on the cross the experiencing the absence of God. Can it really get worse than that? Isn’t that how Hell is described?

So here we are in this very dark night of the soul, abandoned, forsaken. Yet we can find joy in this. This is not the end of the journey but the beginning. It is from this place of not feeling the presence of God that we step out in true, perfected faith. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that faith is one of the three things that can be perfected in this life. He tells us that all our knowledge is but imperfect (not that seeking knowledge is bad, it is not it is actually necessary and good.) But faith and hope and love can be perfect in this life. This is the resurrection life. The life of faith when we obey in the middle of our experiencing the absence of God, in the middle of our divine doubt and divine atheism. When we are the sheep of Matthew 25, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, giving comfort to those in the hospitals and prisons, those dying and in chains absent the good feelings, the sentiments and sensuality of the early days when we first came to believe and seeing God in the midst.

It is from this position that we can have the mindset of Christ as Paul tells us in Philippians 2:5-8,

5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

From this position we find ourselves saying with Mother Teresa, “If I am ever to be a saint I will be one of darkness: I will continually be absent from Heaven—to light the light of those in darkness on Earth.”

Is there a place for us who are in the middle of this experience in church? Peter Rollins talks about church usually being thought of as an oasis in the desert. But in this oasis it is all about God as my therapist whose job it is to make me feel good. and songs that sing of Jesus is my boyfriend. That in this feel good church God is a theatrical device we wheel in, a Deus ex machine, the god of the gaps to relieve us of all suffering. In this church there is no place for the real feelings of the people. Feelings such as this divine doubt and divine atheism. Real feelings that as I alluded to before are driven underground, into the shadows. Rollins suggests that maybe church needs to carve out a space for the honest expression of the Dark Night of the Soul, a space that is the desert in the oasis. Maybe we here can create this desert in the oasis where we can come together and talk honestly about what we are going through. Maybe we as a community can find the joy in experiencing the absence of God in living in pure, completed faith.

Authentic Sacrificial Praise: Obedience, Submission, & Love

Authentic Sacrificial Praise:

Obedience, Submission, & Love

Last week we looked at what is meant by, “…let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God.” We examined just what true praise and worship are. We saw that when relationships are broken, when we look to our own interests while neglecting the poor, when we oppress our workers, let people sit alone in hospitals and prisons and don’t do anything to give them comfort then come and try to offer praise and worship to God He turns a deaf ear. We found that God isn’t looking for us to drag our tired selves out of bed and to the church on Sundays to sing songs and listen to a message and call that worship. God looks for lives lived for Him. Lives living out the two greatest commandments: Love of God and Love of everybody else, to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. This is the sacrificial praise God is wanting from us, praise that is pleasing to Him: to put away self and love others. To, as Paul says, to humble ourselves and think more highly of others than ourselves.

Further we examined how love is used to mean different things throughout the Bible, but despite all of the different meanings and contexts that there is a core meaning that links all of these diverse meanings and that has been proposed by Tom Oord and is: Love is to act intentionally in response to God and others to promote overall well being. When we respond to the love that God offers in any moment with love we have achieved perfection in that moment. We also explored how this love response is the core notion of holiness/entire sanctification. Just a reminder that it is LOVE that is the sacrificial praise which God finds pleasing and acceptable.

Don’t get me wrong, God wants us to get up and gather together to offer songs of praise, to listen to inspired sermons, and He wants us to gather for fellowship. But, I believe that He wants us to gather as the culmination of going into the world to demonstrate His love to everyone. When we come together it should be with a right heart, a heart that offered authentic sacrificial praise all week in all aspects of our lives.

But there is another aspect of Sacrificial Praise that we find in verse 17 of Hebrews chapter 13. Here we read: Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing—for that would be harmful to you.

Let me qualify; the “leaders” spoken of in this passage are our spiritual leaders and not political leaders.

Who are leaders? How do we know who they are? Does a title make a leader? No! I do not believe so. I think that there are many people who fancy themselves leaders and have the title who are nothing more than managers.

You are probably sitting there asking, “Is there a difference?” I suggest that there is a very big difference. I have read that managers control, maintain the status quo, but that leaders blaze new ground.

In the very first sermon ever given in the Church of the Nazarene Dr. J. P. Widney said, “Notice that Christ does not say: “Accept the creed which I frame; observe the church forms or rituals I devise; join the church which I have found.” He only said, “Follow Me.” It is as though he had said, “Come, live my life with me.”

“Come follow me,” the words of a leader. “Come join my life!” These are words that inspire people to follow. They are not controlling, not demanding, not subjugating.

Let us look at some Biblical instances. In Matthew: 4:18-22  18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus gently taps us on the shoulder and softly beckons, “Come, follow me.” And we can do as these apostles did immediately drop everything and go with Him. Or we can go as I did for so very long, ignore him.

This is not how the Pharisees, scribes, or the Roman governors got people to listen to them. No they were managers. They succeeded by inspiring fear. The eventually killed Jesus, the stoned and imprisoned Paul. The demand subjugation, demand, demand, demand. Could you imagine how it would’ve gone over with them to decline their requests? I would imagine none too well, they Killed Jesus for less, stoned Paul for less. Whereas Jesus inspires. Inspires love and respect: still in Matthew 7:28-29  Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” Jesus led and taught NOT as the religious authorities of his day. He inspired people.

We find crowds flocking to Jesus. A leader is only a leader when people are inspired to follow. And follow Jesus they did. Matthew 8:18, “Jesus saw great crowds around him….”

Let’s look at a couple people who were inspired to follow Jesus. In Matthew 8:19-22 we read of one, 19A scribe then approached and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ 20And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’” Jesus answer is kind of cryptic. Roger Hahn of Nazarene Theological Seminary says, ” Jesus’ reply points out that foxes have lairs and birds of the air have nests, but there is no promise of a place to stay if we follow Christ.”

Jesus allows this man to make an informed choice as to whether or not to follow. His decision is not recorded. Did he follow Jesus or walk away like the next example.

Matthew 19:16-26, “Then someone came to him and said, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ 17And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ 18He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19Honour your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ 20The young man said to him, ‘I have kept all these;* what do I still lack?’ 21Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money* to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ 22When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”

We know that this rich man chose his riches over following, entering into the Life of Jesus. In none of these examples did Jesus demand anyone follow Him. He offered the disciples, so inspired were they that they dropped what they were doing and left with Him. The others we read about were so inspired by this leader that they asked if they could follow. One we know walked away, walked away sad (however, I believe Jesus tapped on his shoulder and beckoned, “Follow me,” to this man again and again. I can only hope that he eventually began to follow.) In these last two cases Jesus fully informs them so that they can make a choice. There is not control, no manipulation. Jesus seems less interested in followers than He is in loving people and inspiring them.

Jesus is the model for leadership. Does He sometimes manage? Of course, at times management is necessary if only to provide food and shelter. But we don’t see Jesus managing/controlling people. Yes, He instructs them, even tells them what they need to do. In John 6:54 He tells Jewish followers that they need to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Down in verse 66 we see that many of His disciples turned away. Does Jesus get mad? Does He chase after them? No, He doesn’t. What He does is ask the 12 if they want to go too, He offers them the choice again.

We have all known people who we thought were leaders but in reality were mere managers. Many is the manager who believes she is a leader. We need to look to Jesus to understand what true leadership looks like. Our leaders style should resemble Jesus’ leadership and be well grounded in love of God and love of others.

To be obedient and submissive we must first humble ourselves, put away self. If we don’t can we truly obey? Truly submit?

I think we need to look at what these words mean. Merriam-Webster defines Obey as 1) To follow the commands or guidance of, 2) To conform to or comply with. I think that the general meaning that most of us think of is to Do as you are told. The sort of thing that you are subjected to and comply with out of fear of some sort. We obey the laws because we fear the consequences if we do not. We obey our bosses because he can fire us if we do not. When I hear that I am to obey it brings up images of not having control over my decisions. That someone else is in control of my life and decisions. Someone exercising control over me. I am not fond of that.

Are these the kind of images that should be arising when we read this passage? I think that here is a good place to look to the original language. Keep in mind that I am no Greek scholar, nor am I fluent in Greek or know anything of its inflected forms. But the word translated here as obey is the Greek word is peitho. This is a word that means:

1) persuade

a) to persuade, i.e. to induce one by words to believe

b) to make friends of, to win one’s favour, gain one’s good will, or to seek to win one, strive to please one

c) to tranquillise

d) to persuade unto i.e. move or induce one to persuasion to do something

2) be persuaded

a) to be persuaded, to suffer one’s self to be persuaded; to be induced to believe: to have faith: in a thing

1) to believe

2) to be persuaded of a thing concerning a person

b) to listen to, obey, yield to, comply with

3) to trust, have confidence, be confident

In its usage in this passage, its inflected for it takes on the meaning be persuaded by or believe in. Kind of like respect. Therefore, we are being instructed to believe in our leaders. We are to be persuaded by our leaders.

Why? Malichi 4:7 tells us, 7For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.

Our leaders speak God’s word into our lives.

And the author of our passage tells us, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. The phrase “Keeping Watch” may well have translated better as keep awake. As in our spiritual leaders stay awake worrying about us. They love us and care about us so much they are unable to sleep so they can guard our souls. The people we are to believe in, to be persuaded by are speaking God’s word into our lives, they are taking responsibilities for our souls. They are called of God and ordained by Him to lead. All we are asked is to believe.

The second thing we are instructed to do in Hebrews 13:7 is to submit to our leaders. I have heard many, far too many stories from people who have left churches because their leaders misread this instruction. Far too many pastors and lay people believe that this passage give the leaders rights over people. Well, I really do not thing that that is what is really being said here. I do not think that this is an instruction for church leaders to subject subjugate their congregants, I don’t think that kind of interpretation fits the Biblical narrative, especially the New Testament narrative. Let us first turn to the Greek. The work rendered, “submit to them”, is the single word hupeiko.

Hupeiko means to resist no longer. There is an element of volunteering in the true meaning of this word. This is not something another forces you to do. It is something you do voluntarily.  Here we are being asked to no longer rebel against our leaders, not to try to control them. We are being asked to submit to their leadership without fighting them at every turn. Accept the direction God has them taking our churches. Do not add to their burden. In short to love them.

So in the context of the passage about putting aside self in order to offer sacrificial praise I do not think it is an improper interpretation to say that we are being asked to put aside self, humble ourselves, place our spiritual selves into the hands of the leaders God has sent to us. We are to believe in them, be persuaded by them.

So, we are to obey, believe in and be persuaded by our leaders. To voluntarily put ourselves under their leadership, to follow where they lead without trying to wrench the wheel away from them so that they can lead with joy and not stress and heartache.

In John Jesus says, 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’

14:23-24  23Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

We find here the equating of obedience and submitting oneself, following with LOVE, his love for us and our love for Him, our love for one another. When we obey our leaders we are showing the love, the love of Jesus, we are showing God our love for Him as well.

In this obedience of love we are offering our Authentic Sacrificial Praise.

Authentic Sacrificial Praise

Authentic Sacrificial Praise

Hebrews 13:15 tells us: 15Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. But do we know what it is to offer a “Sacrifice of Praise”? Is sacrificial praise getting up early on a Sunday morning, dragging ourselves to “church”, singing (or listening to) a few songs and then a sermon, then going to lunch with our friends? Is this sacrificial praise, the kind of praise that is pleasing to God?

Well let us look to the biblical witness to find an answer to this question. Personally I like what the Old Testament has to say about praise and worship. Let us see what God said through Isaiah. In 1:11-13 we read, “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me…” Then in verses 16-17, “[R]emove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed…”

What I think God is saying in these verses is that we cannot praise and worship Him if we are oppressing or not looking to the needs of others. When our political agendas override what God wants us to do, we sin and He does not listen to our prayers or accept our praise and worship. Especially when those agendas are oppressive and neglect the needs of the least of these.

Again, the prophet tells us: (Isaiah 29): 13The Lord said: … these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote;

Isaiah 58 makes this pretty clear:

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. 2Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.

3“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. 4Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. 5Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 6Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; 14then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

I think verses 6 & 7 are worth another look: 6Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Hear what God is saying here. The fast (a form of worship in demonstrating obedience) is not so much about what you don’t eat but about how you treat your neighbor, others. Fasting seems from this passage to be about treating others as better than self, putting aside our desires for the sake of others. From the same chapter: If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. If we are to be pleasing to God, a living sacrifice, then we need to act intentionally in response to God and others to promote overall well-being.

A friend of mine, Thomas Jay Oord, who is a professor of theology at NNU and one of our denomination’s more prolific authors, searched the Bible for the most consistent definition of love. Hebrew and Greek words we translate as love are used numerous times with slightly different meanings. But all can be linked by an underlying unity and give rise to Tom’s definition: Love is to act intentionally in response to God and others to promote overall well being.

If we use this definition of love then we find that Love is the key to acceptable and authentic praise and worship.

Love, loving God and others are the greatest commandments, Jesus tells us. The Apostle Jesus Loved tells us God IS love. We can love one another and God because He first loved us. He gives His love freely to us, thereby enabling us to love one another. I think that He gives us love and commands us to love each other, and not just those within the Body, but everyone, so that by loving our fellow human beings/image bearers, that we honor and praise Him.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 5 21“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

In this statement Jesus reinforces what God told us through Isaiah, that while we have something against another, or if they have something against us we need to do what we can to make it right BEFORE our offering of praise and worship is acceptable to God.

The last two Sundays my wife and I have been fighting. I know that for me I was unable to stand in the presence of God to offer an acceptable praise and worship. My mind became so focused on me and my problem that I could not offer a sacrifice that God would find pleasing. There was strife in this very important relationship. Relationship, which is a product of Love, is so important to God that He wants us to go as far as we can to reconcile our relationships before entering His presence and offering praise and worship.

If there are any of you who are experiencing strife in any of the relationships in your life I pray that the Holy Spirit will descend upon you and give you the power to heal those broken relationships as far as it is up to you.

Love, coming from these passages and Dr. Oord’s definition, then requires a sacrifice. We need to sacrifice self for the well being of others. Sacrifice self like Jesus sacrificed Himself for our well being. Through Jesus sacrifice God forgives us our sins, we are required to forgive the sins of others in the same way. This applies to everyone, ax murderers, child molesters, prostitutes, drug addicts, even those who offend us ever so slightly, everyone. Further we need to go and make amends to others whom we have offended, whether that offense was intentional or accidental. Jesus tells us in Matthew that when we become aware we are required to go and try to make it right.

I know that I very often, as I go through life, cause people offence. Most of the time it is not intentional or deliberate, but still I do it. As I become aware of the offence I caused I need to offer my apology. I need to put down self and make amends. Treat others as more important than myself.

So, we started with Hebrews 13:15 & 16, let us look to this chapter to get the context in which these verses reside to see whether or not we followed the right path in finding the source of Authentic Sacrificial Worship.

13 1Let mutual love continue. 2Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. 4Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 5Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”

For me verses 1-6 bring to mind the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:40, 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” This seems to link loving others with showing love to God. It is oft said that imitation is the highest form of flattery (praise). How many of us in here today are parents? How many of us parents have heard our children say, “When I grow up I want to be just like you Daddy/Mommy,”? And even if we haven’t heard it, how many have fantasized about it? We would like our children to grow up to be like the positive we see in ourselves. When we hear those words, whether from our Children or in our imaginations we feel flattered/praised (and we are imperfect beings.) How much more does God feel praised when we strive to imitate Him, to be like Him? This IS the highest form of praise we can offer God. To try to give the love, the sacrificial love that Christ gave us when He freed us from bondage to our sins and darkness. When we give comfort to the least of these we are being like Christ, like our Father in Heaven and He feels honored, praised and worshiped. Not when we do it expecting Him to give us something, for Jesus did not give Himself for us expecting something in return, but from a heart full of perfect love. Matthew 5 we hear Jesus tell us what perfection, Christian perfection is, 43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

To be perfect like your Father is perfect is to love with a love like He shows to us. To love Him and others with this same perfect love. When we do we are perfect, entirely sanctified in that moment. And we also give unto God the perfect sacrifice of praise.

Lest we think that these passages only speak of loving others in the church let us look at what Hebrews says,

10We have an altar from which those who officiate in the tent have no right to eat. 11For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. 13Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. 14For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

Roger Hahn, Professor at NTS, wrote about this passage, “In Judaism the undesirable parts of the sacrificial animal were burned outside the community boundaries. Jesus accomplished his sacrifice outside the city wall of Jerusalem. Therefore, in some way he resembles the undesirable parts of the Jewish sacrifices. The author then exhorts his readers to share with Christ the low esteem that comes from being outside the walls.”

So we have Love of others in the first verses of the chapter on sacrificial praise. Then we come down to demonstrating the Love from God not just to those inside the walls of the church, but to do like Jesus and extend Love to those outside our walls as well. This then becomes the Sacrificial Praise that God is looking for, to love each other, those within and without the faith. We need to act intentionally in response to God and our fellow beings to promote overall well being, while not considering our desires, our standing, our riches, our selfishness.

Let me summarize with the words of Dr. Hahn, “Authentic worship will offer to God our best confessions of who he is and what he has done. Authentic worship will also demand that we come to the sanctuary with integrity in our relationships with others and that we leave the sanctuary to serve our fellow human beings. The continual aspect of the sacrifice of praise is not continually saying or singing praise songs, but daily living lives that honor God.”

Let’s look once again at our questions that started this message:

Is sacrificial praise getting up early on a Sunday morning, dragging ourselves to “church”, singing (or listening to) a few songs and then a sermon, then going to lunch with our friends? Is this sacrificial praise, the kind of praise that is pleasing to God?

If this is solely what we think of as praise and worship then the answer in a resounding, “NO!” But when we come to church on Sunday and offer our voices and our ears in praise and worship as the culmination of a week of worship and praise through Love of God and others, then, Yes, it absolutely IS sacrificial praise and IS pleasing to God.

Let us take this message with us when we leave here today and put it into practice. We Christians have a bad reputation in the world for being self-righteous, judgmental, and condemning hypocrites. This perception goes back a very long time, Augustine called these people, “Evil and false Christians.” Let us show the world Christ by our Authentic Sacrificial Praise. Let us not Honor Him with our lips, but our hearts be far from Him. When our hearts flow with love for God and everyone else then He will hear our petitions and answer in the positive. It isn’t too hard for He gives us His love so that we too can love, we just need to distribute it to everyone we come into contact with.