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Sacrificing for Joy

The Old Testament Lectionary passage for the first Sunday in Lent, cycle C is Deuteronomy 26:1-11.  It’s kind of an odd text for this season.  You might almost use it as a text for Fat Tuesday.

I’m going to comment more on the lectionary texts this week, if for no other reason than because I’ve been asked to teach the weekly Lectionary at Lunch group at First United Methodist Church of Pensacola for my friend Rev. Geoffrey Lentz.  I plan to provide another set of comparisons between various study Bibles and what they contribute to the study.  But first I want to note two things from this passage.

First, Christians often assume that grace is our contribution to religion and that the Israelite religion was one of works and rituals.  But in the confession of faith in this passage, Israel’s faith and worship is clearly rooted in God’s gracious acts to Israel.  God reaches out first and people respond.

Second, the people bring a sacrifice of first fruits, and it’s not just given in thanks, it’s given for the purpose of having a celebration together.

It’s easy for us to look down on rituals and ceremonies or on good works in general.  Often this reflects a lack of such works on our own part.  But the real issue is not whether one worships in high or low liturgy, or whether one engages in good works.  Rather, it’s where those acts of worship and good deeds are rooted.  When we are expressing God’s grace through our deeds, and responding to God’s grace in worship, our worship will tend to be filled with God’s presence, and truly be good.

Without being rooted in God’s grace, we will engage in empty rituals and deeds done for the purpose of earning God’s favor.  Such acts are dead and do not lead to joy.

Note that the confession comes before the party, just as God’s salvation comes prior to the response.  That is a pattern that is repeated in both the Old Testament and the New.

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