Sacrifice - Audio Service 27.03.22
with Revd. David Burrow
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Here is Love, vast as the ocean:
I the Lord of sea and sky:
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Hello and welcome to this audio service by the Rossendale Methodist Circuit, what you'll hear shortly is a recording of a service that usually takes place at Longholme Methodist Church in Rawtenstall on Tuesday mornings at 10am. This is a live recording so do expect some background noise, although we've tried to reduce this as much as we can, the hymns, unfortunately, have to be removed for copyright reasons but we've suggested some links to versions of the hymns below this video. This weeks service is entitled sacrifice and you'll hear Revd. David Burrow begin the service now...
Since ash Wednesday, we've have put our minds to thinking about repentance, forgiveness, hope and trust. This morning I want to turn to sacrifice, big subject. But I wonder what you think of when you hear that word sacrifice? Perhaps in light of all that's happening in the world, you think of the sacrifices being made by the people of Ukraine in defending their country or perhaps you have thought about possibly, maybe giving up one of your spare rooms for a Ukrainian refugee and sacrificing some of your time and your energy or maybe you've just sacrificed some of your money already and given to the cause. Sacrifice is a word that conjures up all kinds of images in our minds, from giving up things for lent, not sure, anybody gave up chocolate for lent this year? Coffee, alcohol. No. Okay, not many sacrifices there then. But from something as simple and as trivial maybe as that to Jesus's self sacrifice on the cross. And yet, didn't Jesus say twice in Matthew's gospel, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. And the answer to that question is yes, of course he did, he did say that twice. Once in Matthew chapter nine, and once in Matthew chapter 12. And both times when he was being criticised by the religious leaders for mixing with people who were sinners. So what did he mean? I desire mercy, not sacrifice. Sacrifice was such an important part of most religions, that it was in danger, even in the temple in Jerusalem, of being carried out mechanically. They were just going through the motions. And then the people that were criticising Jesus were people who did all the sacrifices that were necessary, and there were so many of them, so many of them. But the problem was that they were forgetting about the reason why God had ordained sacrifice in the first place. What it was there for. So Jesus is saying, and reminding his listeners that mercy, which is another way of speaking about God's compassion, is what is really important. So when he came across Matthew the tax collector and said, follow me and then went and had a meal with him, compassion and mercy that he was showing was far more important than any sacrifice that was needed for ritual cleansing because of course, the tax collectors hadn't been ritually cleansed by any sacrifice. They were outcasts. Jesus was eating with sinners. Jesus reached out to them he showed them mercy and he showed them the compassion of God's love in action. It was mercy as sacrifice. That's what it was. He was showing mercy as sacrifice. In the words of the writer Sally Welsh, 'we are called to practice mercy in a truly selfless way. Setting aside our own needs for the needs of others, putting down our grievances, and the injustice is offered to us so that we can offer forgiveness and peace to others. To live a truly sacrificial life is to offer to God all our trials, and all our joys, all our challenges, and all our triumphs and praise God throughout them all.'
Photo by Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash
And let us come to God in prayer. Let us pray. Almighty God, we do come to praise you, to worship you to bow down before you to offer our praise with that of the whole of creation. And on this day, we thank you for the wonder of all that you have made. And as we look at that wonderful creation, we offer our prayer of repentance too, recognising our own part in the damage that has been done to it and so we ask once again for your forgiveness. Forgive us those times when we take for granted all of you have made and we take for granted the love that you've poured out into our lives. When we take for granted the sacrifices that so many have made that we might worship you in freedom and so we come with a sacrifice of praise. Time put aside to offer to you, for you alone are worthy, worthy of our time, worthy of our praise. And we thank You. We thank you for the forgiveness, which is ours in and through Jesus Christ and we thank him for his self sacrifice on the cross. As we look upon him on the cross we can only bow, in wonder and in love, so fill is now we pray with the gift of your Holy Spirit, that we might rejoice in your love. And be ready always to make sacrifices ourselves, that might mean others come to know you and we ask it all in Jesus's name. Amen
So let's begin at the end we're not going to begin at the very beginning as a famous film person once said, start at the very beginnings, nevermind. I'm going to start at the end. I'm going to start at the end, I'm going to start at the end with Jesus on the cross and any journey through Lent is ultimately a preparation for Good Friday and Jesus' self sacrifice on that cross. And Jesus' sacrifice was a once and for all event. No one needs to make any more sacrifices in order to receive God's forgiveness, his mercy, his love and of course to inherit eternal life. Jesus has done everything that is necessary. But where did it all begin? This need for sacrifice? Well, the Bible tells us that there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood. Sin is a serious business and it separates us from God. So something had to be done about it, God wants us to be reconciled to him to have that wonderful relationship with his people that he had at the beginning of creation. Something had to be done about this terrible barrier of sin that gets in the way of our relationship and without going into lots of detail or into depth and discussing the whole sacrificial system that God set up with Moses so that people could be forgiven for their sin. Let's just take one example. You've heard I expect the term scapegoat, yeah? Good, someone or something that takes the blame on your behalf. It's nice to have a scapegoat isn't it. I often need a scapegoat in our house. The dogs are pretty good victims at the moment. I'm sure we've all done it. We've done something that we're really sort of embarrassed about and we try and pass the blame somewhere else. Many years ago, Jasper Carrett, you know, remember, remember Jasper Garrett, the comedian. He built a whole routine on reading out car insurance claims where drivers tried to blame others for crashes, which were entirely their own faults. 'Coming home I drove into the wrong house and collided with a tree I don't have, I collided with a stationary truck coming the other way. I left work this morning at 7am as usual, when I collided straight into a bus. The bus was five minutes early.' Anything to try and blame something else. I'm so grateful that he's just made that needs the scapegoat sometimes and the Israelites needed what they needed a scapegoat in Leviticus chapter 16. We read these verses. Aaron as Moses. Aaron was the priest of course, is to lay both hands on the head of the lions goat and confessor Rachel, the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites all their sins, and put them on the goat's head. He shall send the goat away to the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place and the man shall release it in the desert, the scapegoat carried away everybody's sin, Aaron had laid upon it confessed all the sin of the people on this goat which probably was wondering what was going on. And then it was taken off into the wilderness and set free. Everybody's sin, take it away. I mean, how wonderful is that? A brand new start, thanks to a goat and to God, of course. Now, you'll notice that it said Aaron is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat. Well there were two goats. The first one had been sacrificed as a sin offering for the people. So the two goats together became the scapegoat. They took the blame for all the sins of all the people who was all laid upon them. So you come forward in time now from the days of Moses and Aaron, to the last week of Jesus's life, a week that began with such joy as Jesus rode into Jerusalem, but of course, things changed pretty quickly. The authorities were out to get Jesus and get him they did but who are, who were these authorities that were out to get Jesus? Who can we blame for Jesus's crucifixion? Who can we make the scapegoat? The Roman centurion in charge of the crucifixion? Well, if we'd accused him of being the one responsible for Jesus's death, he may have said something like this. Yes, I oversaw all that happened on Golgotha. I ordered the nails to be driven home but hey, I was just following orders. If you want someone to blame, look to him who gave the order. Pilate. He he's your man. He's the scapegoat.
Was Pilate to blame? Only the Romans had authority to put people to death but pilot hesitated. Do he really want to crucify Jesus? Or would he rather have seen Barabbas nailed to that cross? Maybe Pilate would have said something like this if we'd accused him. Slow down! I washed my hands of the whole thing, in front of everybody. Jesus was no threat to Rome, he had no army, only a few fishermen and some other Galileans, it wasn't me that wanted him dead. I found no case against him. I am innocent of this man's blood, I said. But those religious leaders, they got the crowd going. If I had given in to them, there would have been a riot. I had no other choice. So if you want a scapegoat, don't look at me. Look to the ones who handed him over to me. They might as well have driven the nails in themselves. Speak to Annas and to Caiaphas. There's your scapegoat. Not the centurion and not Pilate then. So how about Caiaphas the high priest. Could he be the scapegoat? What might Caiaphas have said, it was the only way, Jesus had to die. There was no other way to save ourselves. Even his own followers conspired against him, but only one of them saw the need to get rid of Jesus. The man who turned him in and saved us all, Judas Iscariot, he's your man. He's the scapegoat. So Judas then, can we pin the blame on Judas Iscariot? Or what might Judas have said. 30 pieces of silver for what? Jesus didn't need to suffer. There was no need for him to die. That would lead nowhere. Look at the power he had over nature. The 1000s who followed him, we needed action, a real leader, not someone who turned the other cheek and told us to love our enemies. That kind of behaviour doesn't change the world. It's just weak. And then he seemed to stop leading altogether, he just let things happen to him. He only had himself to blame. Jesus is a scapegoat.
So is he? Is Jesus the scapegoat? Well, Isaiah, the prophet in Isaiah 53 says this, 'All we like sheep have gone astray. We have all turned to our own way. And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all, the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.' So yes Jesus is our scapegoat. He is the sin offering on our behalf, he is the sacrifice for our sins. But it still doesn't answer the question, who is responsible for nailing him to the cross? The answer isn't simply the Roman Centurion or Pilate on Caiaphas or Judas, but they all played their part and bear their share of the guilt. The answer is before us. The Lord has laid on him the iniquity that was all. It was our sin, our sin, that took Jesus to the cross. We might as well have hammered in the nails ourselves, just as if we'd been there on Calvary, I'm guilty, like I said last night, you know, I'm not a Christian because I'm good, I'm a Christian because I need to a savior. That's why I follow Jesus. But although I'm guilty I thank God that it doesn't end there. God in Jesus became our scapegoat. He became our sin offering the sacrifice for our sin. But in so doing, he has set us free from the power of sin to live lives that are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. That's Paul in Romans chapter six. On the cross Jesus deals with sin, once and for all, he takes it to himself all these agonies all these consequences. He takes it freely. And in one great act of love we are forgiven, Good Friday is the worst of days. The very worst of humanity is there for all to see. All our selfishness, our hatred, our jealousies, our failures. It's all there in the hammering of the nails. But Good Friday is also the best of days. From the cross, we say in Jesus's self sacrifice, the very best of humanity. Humanity as it's meant to be, selfless, forgiving, merciful, and overflowing with love. And so what of today, does God still require a sacrifice from us? A sacrifice of some kind. Certainly not a blood sacrifice. And what about mercy. Jesus said didn't he that we need to take up our cross and follow him. But even before we get to the point of following Jesus, we need to recognise our sin and turn away from it. We need to repent. Listen to King David after he has committed adultery and murder and has been accused of it, Psalm 51 says this 'Have mercy on me, Oh God, according to your steadfast love, according to your abundant mercy blot out by transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and sustain in me a winning spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodshed, oh god. Oh, God of my salvation. And my tongue shall sing aloud and your deliverance. Oh Lord open my lips and my mouth will declare your prayers. For you have no delight in sacrifice. If I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased the sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart oh God, you will not despise.'
David begs God to give him a clean heart and a new and a right spirit, unless that happens any sacrificial offering taken to the, to the place where God is, will mean nothing. But the sacrifice the sacrifice of a broken heart is a recognition before God of our own sin. In that moment, in humble repentance, we seek God. We recognise the seriousness of our sin of how it separates us from God and from his love. And we ask, we beg we cry out, for our sin to be taken away. And thanks to Jesus' sacrifice on our cross on the cross, there comes forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace with God. And then comes praise and rejoicing. Not just in our lives, but in heaven too. So not just on Good Friday, but every day, let us humble ourselves at the foot of the cross as we reflect on Jesus's sacrifice, let us confess our sin and that we deserve nothing but judgement but then let us thank God that he loves us and in Jesus sacrificed himself for us. Let us receive from our Heavenly Father that full and free forgiveness and the promise of eternal life. The cross let us lift it high and proclaim the awesome story of Jesus's sacrificial love. Amen.
So let us pray. Lord God as we think about Jesus's sacrifice on the cross we thank you again for the love that that shows to us, that willingness to put us right at the very heart of all that you desire. A relationship with us to be reconciled to us and not just to us but to the whole of creation. And we thank you that through Jesus's self sacrifice that was achieved. What a story, what a wonderful gift. And Lord how we pray for those who do not yet know you, with no idea of the love that you have for them. Who are missing out on so much, Lord may we as your children be always ready, always willing to share something of your love with all whom we know with those whom we have yet to meet. So they too might rejoice in their forgiveness, in their reconciliation. And father as we come to you, we just want to offer ourselves and offer our lives to you so that we might serve you each and every day in all that we do and all that we say. We thank you that with the help of your spirit, with your infilling indwelling Holy Spirit in our lives, that that is all possible. So father as we come to you we pray for your world and once again we pray for peace in so many troubled parts of the world. But we pray especially for the peoples of Ukraine. And we pray for an end to that war, Lord we pray for the families of all who have lost loved ones in Ukraine and in Russia too, we pray you would strengthen those who seek peace. You would give wisdom to our leaders that they might find a way to make peace. Not just the absence of war, but peace where people can live again in freedom and go about their daily lives without fear. Where laughter is heard once more in the schools and in the homes of the families, where there is joy and wonder at all that you have made. And Father we pray for peace. And we pray too for your church, your people, especially remembering our brothers and sisters who suffer persecution, we pray that you'd fill their lives once again with your spirit and give them the courage that they need to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, crucified, died and risen in the places where they are. We pray for their protection and we ask your blessing upon each one. Father we pray for those whom we know and love and in the stillness, we bring them to you, that they might know your presence with them today. So Father, we offer our prayers in the name of Jesus Christ who taught us to say, Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever, Amen.
Let us pray, Lord Jesus as we hear your call to follow you, help us to acknowledge that sinful as we are, we cannot hope to earn your love. Help us to rejoice that the love, that the love we desire is given to us freely. So that we might live joyful lives trusting in you, teach us to be merciful and help us to show mercy to ourselves and to others. For we ask it in Jesus's name. Amen.
And as we give thanks to God for the sacrifice in his son, and that Jesus' sacrifice accomplished everything that sacrifice can, let us share the grace, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore, Amen.
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