Passages: Isaiah 1:2-15; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 12:1-8 (Mark 2:23-28, Luke 6:1-5)
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
In 1941, an American classical music composer and teacher Katherine Kennicott Davis composed the now famous children’s Christmas carol, “Little Drummer Boy.” Loosely based off of other stories, in the lyrics, the singer relates how, as a poor young boy, he was summoned by the magi to the Nativity of Christ. Without a gift for the infant, the little drummer boy played his drum with approval from Jesus’s mother, Mary, recalling, “I played my best for him” and “He smiled at me”. This beautiful carol teaches us an important lesson, but also begs the question, what does God want from us?
In the Gospel of Matthew today, the famous words of Jesus are quoted often, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” What is mercy? And what about this sacrifice? Back in Jewish practice, Israelites had to go to the temple and perform a sacrifice as atonement for their sins. We know as Christian’s that Christ Jesus was the last and greatest sacrifice for our sins. That is why He came to die upon the cross for our sins and free us from sin through his own death and resurrection. It is that sacrifice that we remember here every Sunday, especially during the Eucharist, Holy Communion, as the body and blood of Jesus Christ being offered up for us to consume and be cleansed of sins. Therefore, as Christians, we do not make new sacrifices. Yet, Christ here is not speaking to us about ancient Jewish practices.
Perhaps the sacrifices that we must think about is what was happening a few verses back, when the Pharisees asked Jesus why his disciples are not fasting and are working on the Sabbath? This must be it! God does not need us to fast from foods or make other personal sacrifices. God is love and He accepts us as we are. Yet, again my dears, as we said last week, why we fast, why we come to Church and sacrifice ourselves by picking up our Cross, as Christ says, is not for God but it is for us. Christ teaches us to fast and come to Church and to.do these things for a reason: We do all this as a response to God’s love in order for us to grow in our communion with Him. So what is this sacrifice that God does not want but rather in its place desires mercy? For this we look to the passage from Isaiah today, “Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! ‘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 he-goats.’” (vv.10-11)
My dear brothers and sisters, when we come to Church, when we fast, when we open our eyes in the morning or when we get ready to go to bed, do we take moment and pause to reflect on the life we lived that day? When we do community service, when we sign a check for a charity, when we come and volunteer our time, do we take a moment and pause to reflect on the decisions and thoughts we have had that day? When Christ Jesus here is teaching the Pharisees and us, that God desires mercy and not sacrifice, what he is emphasizing is the why and not the what of our faith. Why do we come to Church, why do we make sacrifices, why we volunteer, why we do all this, why do we lift up our cross? If it’s because we think God wants all of this, or if we think we are being good Christian’s and checking off the list of things we must do before we die, then we are missing the mark and to us God says, I don’t need it. I don’t need your superficial sacrifices.
As St. Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 13 “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (vv. 1-3) This is what mercy is my dears. When we describe God how often do we say God is love, merciful, compassionate, caring, vs. God is sacrificial? When Christ says he desires mercy, what he is directing us towards is, he desires us to be like God. To be compassionate, self-sacrificing out of love, merciful out of a desire to be like God our Heavenly Father. To have a heart after God and not after a goal. A deeper communion where we love the Lord God with all our heart, soul and mind and not just our hands and feet. A communion, as Psalm 50 (51) says, through which we are cleansed and made whiter than snow, we receive a new spirit, our lips are opened to speak praise always, for God is a merciful God and desires that mercy from us.
Should we fast, should we pray, should attend Badarak and receive Holy Communion? Should we volunteer, should we sign a check and pick up our cross? Yes, Yes and again Yes! But do it not out of obligation but out of love and mercy. The ultimate sacrifice to save us from our sins has already been made through Christ. All that God desires from us now, is that we be in communion with Him, imitate and be like Him. No matter how rich or poor we may be, whether we can sing solos in the Church, or if all we have is a tiny drum in our hands. When we play our best for him, when we love and care for each other, then just as the song says, He will smile at us!
May we always have a desire to grow and be like God our Father, the Son and Holy Spirit, not out of obligation or for some agenda, but out of love and mercy for one another. May we fast, pray, volunteer and imitate the works of God not out of hope of recognition or some other superficial idea that God needs any of this, but out of mercy and love for one another. Ultimately we do all this for us, to grow in our communion and faith. May our actions, decisions, choices, thoughts, purpose, all reflect a merciful God, to whom is due all glory, dominion and honor, now and forever Amen!