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A Sacrifice of Thanksgiving
Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God…
Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High.
–Psalm 50: 7, 14-15
I read this passage earlier this week in my morning devotions and it has stuck with me, like a song that replays in your head over and over again. Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Throughout the prophets and the psalms, the prophets and singers proclaim that God does not desire sacrifice as the people understand it. God does not desire dead animals burning on fires. We learned from the story of Abraham and Isaac that God does not want people to be sacrificed, and indeed, the idea of sacrificing a living being was put to death at the cross in Christian thought.
God does, however, desire a different kind of sacrifice. Again, both the prophetic tradition and the Wisdom tradition offer this idea of a “sacrifice of thanksgiving.” Sacrifice literally means to give up, to hand over. A sacrifice of thanksgiving is to give up or hand over our thanksgiving to God. In the past, that may have also meant lighting incense or other small rituals to go along with that sacrifice of thanksgiving, but the thread remains in our Scriptures: a sacrifice of thanksgiving.
I will not accept a bull from your house, or goats from your folds.
For every wild animal of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the air, and all that moves in the field is mine.
If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and all that is in it is mine.
If everything already belongs to God, there is nothing we can give God of earthly means that will truly mean anything—because it already belongs to God. There really is nothing we can do, no earthly sacrifice we can make—for all is God’s already. We can’t earn grace—it has been already given and is continuously given.
But what we can do is give a sacrifice of thanksgiving—in other words, to give our thanksgiving to God. This is what many of the psalmists do and what the prophets remind us to do, as well as to live into God’s ways of justice and mercy—to give our thanks to God.
Now I don’t know about you, but I know for myself, in my day-to-day walk with God, in my daily life on this earth—I’m not a very thankful person. Some days I’m just treading water and many days I am going through the motions of life. Get up. Give my son his medicine. Eat breakfast. Go for a walk/jog if I can. Shower. Get the daily tasks done. Think about what to make for dinner at some point. And pray. I do pray every day, in my own way. I may think of someone I know who is suffering and ask for God’s presence to be made known to them. I may hear the sound of an emergency vehicle and ask for God’s help and hope. Someone may ask me to pray for them. I do pray every day.
But I don’t always remember to give thanks. And this, really, is what God asks us to do—to give thanks. To remember. As we do at Communion, the Eucharist (which comes from the Greek to give thanks), we remember and we give thanks. This is what we are called to do—indeed, perhaps what we were born to do. However, both of these things: remembering, and giving thanks—that seem so simple—are often forgotten.
We are heading into the last seventy days of the election season. It’s going to be dicey. There are going to be things we hear that make us lose faith in the decency of human beings. Personally, I’ve already heard enough that my stomach turns. There are local politics and referendums to consider as well that are going to explode. There will be much to distract me from the goodness of the earth and I will, at some point, just want to say “To hell with it all!”
Nonetheless, as I reflect on these words from the psalmist, I recall that all of the earth is God’s. I recall that I own nothing, but I am called to help care for God’s world and to be a good steward of God’s creation. And for that, I breathe a thank-you , and I pray that I might have the wisdom to remember to give thanks, every day, for this wondrous world that God made, for all the people in my life, but most of all—I give thanks because it is what we are called to do.